Professor and Land O'Lakes Chair in Marketing Kathleen Vohs shares answers to five questions that reveal the issues she's studying, following, teaching, and reading about today. Plus a peek into the life she imagines, were she not teaching at the Carlson School. 

Q: What is/are your current area(s) of research? What business challenges are you helping to solve?

A: I continue to work on the limited resource model of self-control, using it to understand decision fatigue, which is something that has really taken hold of the social sciences and caught the attention of policy makers such as President Obama.

In my most recent work we’re finding that when people make decisions for others it’s not so depleting of their self-control resources compared to when they make decisions for themselves. People who make decisions for others find it more enjoyable and this is especially true for people who are more self-oriented. Meaning that when you make decisions for other people but you’re still largely concerned with yourself the impact of decision making on subsequent self-control seems to be mitigated. But for people who are very other-oriented, making decisions for others looks a lot like making decisions for oneself among people who are self-oriented.

Faculty5 Decision Blue

In my most recent work we’re finding that when people make decisions for others it’s not so depleting of their self-control resources

Q: What current business issues or stories in the news are you following and why?

A: My homepages on Google Chrome are CNN, BBC, the New York Times, The Economist and Yahoo. I’m constantly reading about the news and what the current issues are. Oil continues to be something I’m interested in, although more from a personal perspective. I just heard the oil inside a drum is worth less than the drum itself. And of course politics is something that lots of people are interested in.

Q: What is your favorite class to teach?

A: I love teaching my Behavioral Economics class. It’s about how to make small, subtle and often really unobtrusive changes to the environment in order to yield big differences in people’s behaviors. This is a new class that I have recently developed and am teaching to the MBA students (and now to the undergrads). Students seem to really be liking it. I think the power of the situation comes through. As marketers and business leaders we can’t control the personality traits of our employees, so one of the most tractable things to do is change the situation in order to see changes in people’s behaviors in a desirable sense.

Faculty5 Behavior Maroon

[The class] is about how to make small, subtle and often really unobtrusive changes to the environment in order to yield big differences in people’s behaviors

Q: If you weren’t a business school professor, what would you be doing?

A: I’d be a psychology professor, which is in large part similar to what I’m doing right now.

Q: What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

A: I’m reading a book of short stories right now by B.J. Novak who is one of the creators of The Office and he has a lot of fun tidbits and insights. Another I read for pleasure was "A Wild Swan and Other Tales" by Michael Cunningham. Michael Cunningham wrote "The Hours" and the idea here is he took classical fairy tales and other lore and made them wicked and strange and weird and updated them in a modern sense.

As for work-related books: I read Max Bazerman’s "The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See." I continue to read lots of things for my classes such as "Predictably Irrational" and "The Upside of Irrationality" by Dan Ariely and I liked Nir Eyal’s book "Hooked: How to Make Habit-Forming Products."