Ten Questions with Michael Smith
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Posted by: Brook Pritchett
This month AIS is delighted to present a feature on Michael D. Smith, Professor of Information Systems and Marketing and the Co-Director of IDEA, the Initiative for Digital Entertainment Analytics at Carnegie Mellon University. Beyond publishing in leading academic and professional journals, his work has been covered by global outlets including The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Wired and Business Week. He answers questions on the challenge of doing research that is interesting and impactful in IS, with insights for doctoral students in particular. He also offers perspective on how the value of research can bridge the divide between the academy and practice. You can learn more about him from http://www.heinz.cmu.edu/~mds/
1. Henry C. Lucas Jr asks you, how can we make IS research more interesting and impactful?
That’s a great question. The exponential growth of the capabilities of Information Systems is affecting just about every aspect of business and society. Our field is best positioned to understand these changes and to help businesspeople and policymakers respond effectively. That’s an amazing opportunity, and we need to embrace it. I’d love to see us spend more time engaged in two-way dialog with business and policy communities, understanding their needs and pressing questions, studying those questions, and then sharing those results in meetings and industry conferences as energetically as we share our results in academic conferences.
2. What do you consider the most interesting research questions (or research domains) of the next five years?
I’m fascinated by the impact of information systems on our business and social institutions. My recent research is focused on how technology is changing the entertainment industries, but I think the impact of IS on health care, security, and particularly education are also vitally important areas, and ones where IS researchers have a unique opportunity to make important contributions that will extend beyond just journal publications and citation counts.
3. In your opinion, do IS researchers pay enough attention to research on consumer technologies?
I don’t know that we should spend more time on consumer technologies per se, but I think there are very interesting questions about how these technologies are being applied to change markets and society. For example, I don’t find personalization technologies all that interesting by themselves, but when you think about the value of personalization as a driver of consumer loyalty and the strategic value of consumer data as a source of market power, that (at least in my view) is where things get really interesting.
4. Early in your career, you worked in industry. How has this shaped your academic research program?
I think being in industry gave me a better appreciation for the value academic research can provide to busy business managers (see my answer to question 5 below) and for just how fortunate we are to have the time and freedom to pursue our interests as academics (see my answer to question 6 below). As a consultant, I spent a lot of time studying the questions other people (i.e., our clients) found interesting, and that has helped me appreciate just how fortunate we are to study questions that we find interesting.
5. How can doctoral students and faculty without industry experience strive to bridge the gap between academia and practice in their research?
I don’t know that industry experience is the critical component. I think the critical component is a natural curiosity about how businesses and markets work, and a willingness of ask questions of people who have first hand knowledge. I think academics also tend to undersell the value we can bring to businesses. Businesses have a lot of very interesting and very important questions that they don’t know how to answer (or don’t have time to answer), and frequently these questions are very relevant to the academic literature and are ones that we as academics (and particularly doctoral students) can help support. Our value proposition is our independence, training, and willingness to dig deep. We should spend more time selling that value proposition.
6. Can you share one of your favorite sayings or quotes with our readers?
I don’t know if it qualifies as a quote, but I think it’s important for us all to remember that we have the greatest job in the world. We get to study questions we find interesting, interact with other experts about what we are finding, share our results with students and future leaders, and really make a difference in our students’ lives. There is no other career that offers that level of joy and opportunity.
7. If you were to do it all over again, what would you have done differently?
I wish I had spent more time as an undergrad learning how to write. We think of it as a “soft skill”, but it is incredibly hard, and incredibly important.
8. Tell us something very few people know about you?
I graduated in the top two-thirds of my high school class (which is a polite way of saying that I graduated in the bottom half of my high school class). It wasn’t until my senior year that I found a topic that I was really passionate about, and being passionate about a question-- at least in my case--made a huge difference in my performance as a student in college.
There may be a lesson here for you as a doctoral student. Doctoral students spend a lot of time trying to figure out what are the hot research questions or what classes/training will be most important to getting a job and getting tenure. I think that puts the cart in front of the horse. I think we are better served by trying to figure out what questions we are passionate about, and what training we need to answer those questions. If you are passionate about a question and have the training necessary to answer it, the other things (job prospects, tenure...) will typically take care of themselves.
9. What is you most rewarding service activity? And why?
I have had a couple of opportunities to serve on the ICIS doctoral consortium and I have really enjoyed the opportunity to mentor future faculty members early in their careers.
10. Finally: Who would you like to see answer these questions next? And what would you like to see her/his thoughts on?
I nominate Alessandro Acquisti. I’d love to hear more about how he balances his public and academic roles as a leader in the privacy community.
I’d also love to hear Anindya Ghose’s thoughts on how he is able to maintain such an impressive level of research productivity.
David Agogo, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
For questions about this series or suggestions of who you would like to see interviewed, please contact David Agogo (email@example.com). Also, view more information about the column, a list of past features and links to the full interviews here. http://agogodavid.com/ais-10-questions-with/