Theodore J. Noseworthy – Canada Research Chair
Schulich Gains New Canada Research Chair in Entrepreneurial Innovation and the Public Good
Schulich School of Business welcomes the appointment of Dr. Theodore Noseworthy as its new Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Entrepreneurial Innovation and the Public Good.
The Canada Research Chairs Program (CRCP) stands at the center of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world’s top countries in research and development, and attracts some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds. The Chairholder aims to achieve research excellence and improves our depth of knowledge and quality of life, strengthens Canada’s international competitiveness, and helps train the next generation of highly skilled people through student supervision, teaching, and the coordination of other researchers’ work.
Dr. Noseworthy, an Associate Professor in Marketing at Schulich, is leading a research program to advance our understanding of how consumers respond to innovation. His goal is to develop theory while informing business and policy makers about the benefits of properly communicated innovation and the potential costs to susceptible consumers and society. His research project encompasses three branches that collectively examine how marketers can better communicate disruptive innovation, how consumers may be susceptible to certain food innovations, and how behaviours alter with monetary innovations. This research program is designed to help combat Canada’s innovation deficit by helping the private sector transfer knowledge into commercialized products and services to grow the economy.
Professor Noseworthy has been awarded a sole-applicant SSHRC insight grant to explore how innovative ambiguous foods (e.g., calcium enriched ice-cream sandwiches) can cause people to over-consume by confusing category membership. He hopes to increase public awareness about the role that food-marketing plays in obscuring the health costs of certain food products, and to inform policy-makers about how food ambiguity shapes consumer choice. Similarly, one of his more recent publications, which was published in the Journal of Consumer Research, was sparked by Canada adopting polymer currency. The project explored how peoples’ spending behaviour differs based on the visual appearance of banknotes. The study was picked up by over 1,600 newsfeeds around the globe. Some notable mentions were in the Financial Times, Forbes, The Smithsonian, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, and Time Magazine, as well as a host of Canadian outlets such as interviews with the Toronto Sun and a television interview with Global News and the CBC. The Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education (CCAE) awarded this research the silver medal for best English news release. The work led to connections with the US Federal Reserve, and led to speaking invitations at leading academic institutions (e.g., Kellogg at Northwestern). This research represents one of the newest extensions of Professor Noseworthy’s work, which focuses on the unforeseen impacts of currency innovation.
Furthermore, in recognition of his already impressive accomplishments, Professor Noseworthy has been awarded a sole-applicant institutional infrastructure grant from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to build “The NOESIS: Innovation, Design, and Consumption Laboratory,” a world-class behavioural lab to extend his primary research programs. The NOESIS lab is designed to foster innovative research into consumption, consumer behaviour, and design. He has developed this lab with the specific intent of conducting high quality research, training high quality personnel, and facilitating knowledge mobilization.
There are only few researchers at the same stage in their careers with this level of productivity and international coverage. Furthermore, there are even fewer who can boast multiple publications in the Financial Times top 45 ranked business journals in the world. While only three years removed from his PhD, Professor Noseworthy currently has eleven publications in these journals. To put this in the Canadian context, there is not an existing CRC-II this young in their career that can match this record of quality.
Earlier this year, the Schulich Research Office sat down with Professor Noseworthy and asked him some insights from his work and his vision for his new position at the school.
What pedagogical changes do you see on the horizon in your discipline through your research?
Although it’s hard to speak for my discipline, I can say that much of my research on innovation, and in particular on the role of creativity, has led me to alter the way I approach my teaching. I see a growing need to foster entrepreneurship. This requires training that incorporates calculated ambiguity (i.e., less structure) while facilitating an unthreatening environment that embraces failure, as opposed to stigmatizing it. I see more cross functional learning, with hands-on project-oriented curriculum. My MKTG 6440 “New Products” is the culmination of these efforts.
How do you engage students in research, more particularly what are your training strategies?
My approach to training resembles an apprenticeship model (probably from my career as a chef). I start by bringing a student on to a developed project, and expose them to the review process. We then get more technical around methodologies and the crafting of logical arguments. As we move further in our relationship, the student becomes more of a colleague and starts to drive their own projects. I then assume the role of a coach and critic. The goal is to develop their confidence along with their capabilities.
How do you motivate your existing students to pursue their career as an academic researcher?
It’s usually not hard to motivate students who have that natural tendency to ask “why” or to question conventional wisdom. I find it helps to put academia in perspective. I convey that our job is to inspire leaders, while researching pressing issues in a field of our choosing. If we’re lucky, we may do something to better society. If we’re really lucky, our legacy will be in our students who do something to better society. I promote the autonomy in the broader academic community. The greatest motivator, however, is showing a student how research works. This undoubtedly sparks the curiosity of anyone who has ever felt naturally inquisitive about the world around them.
Given your reputation as a high-quality researcher, what ordinary interests do you have that might surprise people?
It may or may not be surprising, given my background as a chef and my interest in category ambiguity, that I enjoy fusion cooking (combining different styles of cuisine from around the world). My wife and I do a lot of entertaining. I’m also a big basketball fan, and I regularly play basketball with members of the NOESIS lab. I also thoroughly enjoy working out, but it gets hard to keep up my routine with three kids and my research.
What academic breakthrough or advance would you like to see in your lifetime?
In my specific area of innovation, I am fascinated by artificial intelligence and creating a platform of self-awareness that mirrors human consciousness. It may sound like science fiction, but I’d like to see research that takes machine learning to a level where a computer can mirror episodic thought, and thus begin to situate itself in its surrounding environment and anticipate the environment’s response to it. Not to get too nerdy, but language and episodic projection may hold the key to synthesized consciousness. Once that happens, your Apple watch may be wearing you.
Have you ever had a great idea but been told that you could not implement it? How did you react? What did you do?
Tough question. Sure, I’ve been told, like many young scholars, that certain research questions shouldn’t be attempted or certain schools of thought should never be challenged. This is frankly one of the biggest problems with PhD training or advice to junior scholars. I didn’t react too well to this advice.
Instead, I made a point in the majority of my work to challenge existing conventions. It’s my view that we as academics signed up for this — theories are meant to be tested! That said, I can’t say this philosophy always yields success. It can make for a challenging, but ultimately rewarding career.
What are one or two of your proudest professional accomplishments?
One of my proudest accomplishments as an academic is undoubtedly being acknowledged by York University, as well as my peers, as a Canada Research Chair. As for my second proudest accomplishment, I’d have to say it’s a tie. The first, which I didn’t appreciate until much later, was landing tenure right out of my PhD. My second, was having one of my first graduate students hit a top publication. It made me remember how that felt. We academics lose that feeling over time and it just becomes “the job.” I remember what it’s like to do the fist-pumps in the air and yell a primal scream of joy… err relief.
You found in one of your research projects that “Peoples’ spending behavior differs based on the visual appearance of banknotes” – can you talk a bit more about it?
Yeah, it’s true. If I gave you a worn looking $20 bill you’d be more likely to spend it than if I gave you a crisp-looking $20 bill. Much of this has to do with the normative belief that money is dirty, and thus people infer that a bill that looks worn must have been handled more than a bill that looks brand new. The importance of this is that people then place values on the bills that differ from the nominal (i.e., face value) of the bills. Obviously there’s a bit more to it than this, particularly with the experimental design and the intuitive explanations we controlled for, but that’s basically the gist of it. This isn’t too surprising when we think about our own every day experiences. If grandma gives you a crisp and clean $50 bill for your birthday, you’re not going to go buy a case of beer (assuming you have such a proclivity), you’re going to go buy something more worthy of grandma’s approval. It’s in this respect that money can maintain an essence from those who have previously touched it. The reason these findings are important is because they suggest that money isn’t as fungible as we might think. In the same way that diamonds, art, and real estate is not suitable as money, bills too may carry subjective assessments of value.
Would you like to tell us how to guard against several well-known biases that can lead to overconsumption?
That’s a complicated question given the number of biases. Much of it comes down to awareness, a healthy skepticism, and understanding that there’s no silver bullet, despite marketing claims to the contrary. There’s a natural asymmetry in consumption whereby the marketer is often privy to more information than the consumer, and thus where the consumer is passively engaged as a recipient of the marketing message, the marketer is actively engaged in tactics of persuasion. This can manifest in numerous biases. For example, one of the most noteworthy is the fallacy of regression following claims that force a baseline response. What this means is watch out for those used car-salesmen claims like “have you tried every doctor prescribed remedy out there with no results? Well now you’re in luck” The baseline is that they catch you at your worst when you’ve exhausted all options. Thus, after you try this magic remedy you will undoubtedly regress back to a natural state (i.e., even the terminally ill do not feel awful every second of the day…there’s variance in everything). We tend to misconstrue variance as causality, and thus any perceived relief from our baseline state ends up being misconstrued a validation of the product’s efficacy. Marketers push these baselines in anything from amber teething rings for children to alternative medicines based on pseudo-science. It’s a real conundrum because people truly want to believe in magic, and marketers are very good at facilitating this desire.
How can food innovations have serious consequences to our health?
When given a choice of snacks that are branded ‘healthy’, it seems like a no-brainer to reach for that granola bar. And why not? After all, it tastes pretty darn good, and it’s healthy, right? Well, not really. Ignoring the fact that many granola bars have the equivalent caloric content as a Kit Kat bar, there’s another consequence whereby people will consume more than they normally would under the belief they are engaging in something healthy. The reality of many food innovations is not to improve health, but to mitigate unhealthiness. The two are not equivalent. Something that makes you healthy should indeed scale. That is, if something makes you strong, then eating more of it should make you stronger (ignoring the “too much of a good thing” argument for a second). Conversely, if something makes you fat then eating more will make you fatter. The problem comes with “health” innovation that makes you “less fat.” What do people do? We treat them as they make us healthy – we treat them as if they scale. Thus, we consume more, offsetting the purpose of the innovation. This problem is compounded when we try to fortify foods that are traditionally considered junk. We do nothing to negate the negative aspect of the food. Instead, we augment them with positive aspects. The two do not cancel out, but consumption increases leaving many to consume more calories than they normally would. A similar phenomenon is occurring with packaging innovation, whereby inflation is manifesting in smaller package sizes because consumers are more sensitive to price increases. Marketers are taking the opportunity to position these new offerings as healthy, when in fact it’s nothing more than price inflation masquerading as portion control. The consequence? Exactly as above… people end up consuming multiple portions after categorizing the product as “healthy,” and in some cases they exceed the caloric content of the natural, unmodified counterpart.
The Schulich School of Business takes pride in close-knit ties to its alumni community. How could your research engage our alumni?
My research speaks to how marketers can better communicate product and service innovations to maximize adoption and awareness. In this respect, I believe alumni engaged in anything from product design, innovation, R&D, or even product positioning could benefit.