2023 Best 40-Under-40 MBA Professors: Shai Davidai, Columbia Business School

Congrats to Shai Davidai of Columbia Business School for being named a 2023 Best 40-Under-40 MBA Professor.

Shai Davidai

Columbia Business School

“Shai is one of the most genuine and supportive teachers I know. He goes out of his way to make sure everybody gets a chance to be heard and to connect the materials we discuss in class (i.e., negotiation strategies) to people’s lived experience. He is also a phenomenal researcher who studies inequality and zero-sum thinking. Given the current state of affair in the US and around the world, those topics are absolutely essential to both broader society and business. What I love most about his work is that he not only describes the nature of the challenges we face but also offers tangible solutions for how individuals and businesses can address them.”Sandra Matz, Associate Professor at Columbia Business School

Shai Davidai, 39, is an assistant professor of business at Columbia Business School.

His research examines people’s everyday judgments of themselves, other people, and society as a whole. He studies the psychological forces that shape, distort, and bias people’s perceptions of the world and their influence on people’s judgments, preferences, and choices. 

His work has been published in top-tier journals such as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Perspectives on Psychological Sciences, and the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. His research has been featured on media outlets such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and The New Yorker among other outlets, and podcasts such as Freakonomics Radio and The Atlantic Podcast.

After graduate school, he spent a year as a post-doctoral researcher at the School of International and Public Relations at Princeton University and then three years as an Assistant Professor of Psychology at The New School for Social Research. 

In 2020, he was listed as a “Rising Star” by the Association for Psychological Science (APS). He says his biggest achievements to date have been the births of his son Orion, 7, and his daughter Toren, 2.


At current institution since what year? 2019


  • B.A. in Psychology and Cognitive Science from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel
  • Ph.D. in Social and Personality Psychology from Cornell University

List of MBA courses you currently teach: Managerial Negotiations


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I realized that teaching MBAs can have a real impact on the world. I used to be a professor in a psychology department, where most of my students were undergraduates. Although I deeply enjoyed having the opportunity to shape and form my students’ views on life, I wanted to interact with people who have already forayed into “the real world” and have had various life experiences. Don’t get me wrong – I loved teaching undergraduates. But I wanted to have a more immediate impact on the world and to see the spark of learning in my students’ eyes turn into action. Fortunately, teaching at a business school allows me to do just that. One of the things I like most about my job is getting emails from past students describing how taking my class helped them approach a negotiation or resolve a conflict at their new job. I see teaching as something akin to dropping a stone in a lake: long after the stone sinks to the bottom, the impact can still be felt in the ripples it makes. Since joining the Columbia Business School, I feel like my teaching has been making many more ripples. 

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?  I am fascinated by how people make sense of success and failure in the world, be it economic or professional. In a way, all my research touches on some aspect of this question. I have found that Americans are overly optimistic about their and others’ chances of upward economic mobility, which helps explain why they are so willing to accept extremely high levels of economic inequality. My research on social comparisons has found that people consistently compare themselves to better-off others, which explains why even extremely successful people (like many of my MBAs!) so often feel like they don’t measure up. And my research on zero-sum beliefs finds that people also tend to believe that others succeed at their expense—a belief that reduces their willingness to help their peers and colleagues and increases their willingness to use aggression in order to get their way. 

If I weren’t a business school professor… I would probably still be in academia! I have always dreamed of owning a used bookstore, mostly just so I can be around people and books all day long. But, if I am being honest with myself, nothing gives me a greater rush than teaching and doing research. I love how being a professor keeps me on my toes and forces me to challenge my views about the world. It’s a huge privilege to be a professor in the current academic climate, and I feel so extremely lucky to be part of this institution.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?  I think it must be the fact that I take my work extremely seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously at all. I don’t see myself as “the professor” – I’m just someone who happens to think and read a lot about certain topics and who comes into the classroom to share their knowledge with their students. In fact, my favorite and most memorable moments in teaching are when a student challenges me and forces me to change my views on whatever subject we are discussing. 

One word that describes my first time teaching: Energizing!

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: That the students, not the professor, determine how good a class will be. The more invested I can get my students to be, the better I can perform as a professor. 

Professor I most admire and why: I think highly of many professors, but the one I admire most is my graduate school advisor – Prof. Tom Gilovich of Cornell University. There are many reasons to admire Tom and the one that most readily comes to mind is his warmth and good nature. There are many brilliant people in academia, but brilliance only takes you so far. It’s the interpersonal skills such as knowing how to listen so that people feel heard that distinguish truly exceptional professors from everyone else. 


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? Hearing what they have to say. I get such a thrill when students apply course material to their own personal and professional lives and then come back to share it in class. I guess my most enjoyable classes are ones in which the line between students and professor gets blurred. I loved those courses as a student, and I try to recreate them as a professor. 

What is most challenging? Getting through all the material! There’s so much interesting and important ground that I want to cover with my students, and every semester I have a difficult time narrowing it down. I start each course with a (perhaps overly ambitious) goal: make this the best class my students have ever taken. And I end every course with a reflection: how can I make this class better next time?

In a word, describe your favorite type of student: Awake! I love when my students have open eyes and open minds.  

In a word, describe your least favorite type of student: I don’t have a least favorite type of student. There are, however, traits that I think make it more difficult for students to learn, such as closed-mindedness and overconfidence. But at the end of the day, it’s my job to meet each student where they are, not the other way around. 

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… tough but fair. I expect a lot from my students, but only because I believe that they can meet (and sometimes exceed) my expectations. However, I must say that I find grades meaningless—they’re just an antiquated way of incentivizing students to do the work. My goal is for students to learn and grow. The grade they receive at the end of the semester may loom large for a day or two, but what really matters is what they (hopefully) retain from my course months and years down the road. 


What are your hobbies? This is either the most interesting or the most boring thing about me, but the two things I cannot live without are books and music. At any given point in time, you can find at least two books on my nightstand: one fiction and one non-fiction. And one of the biggest reasons I love living in NYC so much is the number of amazing bands and musicians that perform here on their tours.

How will you spend your summer? I will spend this summer as I have been spending every summer for the past 13 years: visiting family and working in Israel. 

Favorite place(s) to vacation: With all its faults and complexities, Tel Aviv is by far the best city in the world. I have lived in the U.S. for more than a decade, but every time I spend even a short afternoon walking around Tel Aviv, I feel at home. It has a grittiness that feels familiar in a way that no other city does. 

Favorite book(s): There are so many, I wouldn’t even know where to start. The last two books that made me feel like I was punched in the stomach were Yishai Sarid’s The Memory Monster (translated by Yardenne Greenspan who, among other things, is my partner) and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America.

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? I recently watched “Strange Negotiations” – an incredible documentary about the musician behind the band Pedro the Lion. But it’s about more than just music. It’s about art, family, addiction, and loss of faith. I love the feeling I get after watching a good movie – lying awake in bed, running scenes and dialogues through my mind, wondering what I would have done in similar situations. Most movies don’t have that kind of impact on me, but when they do, it is an exceptional experience.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? In the past few years, I’ve really been getting into hardcore and post-punk. To me, punk is one of the last bastions of camaraderie and social rebellion in music. From the outside, punk seems violent, aggressive, and nihilistic. But, when you dive into it, you find the exact opposite—an embracing and inclusive community that is all about empathy and understanding. It’s about tearing down sexism, racism, xenophobia, and toxic masculinity with angry music and compassionate lyrics. 


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Open discussions about what we owe each other and what we owe society. Open discourse about the strengths and weaknesses of capitalism, and how we can make it work for everyone. A re-evaluation of the role of business in society and making ethics and morality a more central piece in every business leader’s education. And, of course, more fun. We should make higher education something students want to get rather than something they want to get over with. People spend weeks looking forward to seeing a band they like. Why can’t it be the same with university classes?

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… thinking about the long-term implications of the decisions they make. We live in a complex world where our actions have immense social, economic, and environmental impact. Indeed, some of the biggest issues facing society right now (for example, climate change and economic inequality) are ones that require making difficult short-term sacrifices for sustainable long-term gains. Yet, the economic realities of society often force companies to think more about generating future profit than about profiting future generations. 

I’m grateful for… having a platform to make my voice heard. I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to teach, research, publish, give conference presentations, participate in podcasts, write popular press articles, and reach out in so many other ways. I don’t take this privilege lightly, and hopefully I can use it throughout my career as a force for positive change.


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