Course Information

Time: Fridays 9am – 12pm
Location: 210 South Hall, School of Information
Professor: Morten T. Hansen (
Office Hours: By appointment
Course Website:
Tutor: Lazar Stojković (


Important Note

This course is completely revised this semester. Please do not rely on past syllabi. Review this one carefully to make sure you’re still interested in this course.

While the prior versions focused on the design and management of organizational processes (innovation, collaboration, decision making), this version now focuses on the question of what it takes for individuals and small teams to achieve extraordinary results in information-intensive organizations. It is more focused on what individuals can do and less on the design of processes. (The innovation module is completely gone, while elements of the decision and collaboration modules haven been kept.)


Course Overview

This course is offered by the School of Information. It focuses on how individuals and small groups can achieve great results in highly information and knowledge-intensive organizations, such as firms in the high-tech, biotech, pharmaceutical, media, consulting, and investment banking industries, as well as in healthcare and educational institutions.

Have you ever wondered, why do some people accomplish great things at work, and others don’t? The sales person who lands a big account, the product developer who creates a great new product, the doctor who turns around a failing department, the manager who builds a new business within a large company, and so on. Is it just luck? Sheer genius? Self-promotion? Or perhaps other factors explain better?

In this course, we will draw on a select set of theories from the organization behavior field to explore why some individuals and teams accomplish great things and succeed at work, while others don’t. We are not interested in merely success, but great work. We are not primarily concerned with individual level explanations (work ethic, individual talent etc.). The main focus is at the interaction level: how individuals interact with organizational contexts to create excellent performance. The objectives are (1) to gain a deeper understanding of why some succeed greatly when others fail at work, and (2) to help you succeed in your next job.

This course is useful for students who want to work in high-tech companies, consulting, healthcare, investment banking, and other knowledge-intensive companies and institutions. You will soon be asked to manage teams in those settings, and this course will equip you with skills to do that. The course is also useful for PhD students who wish to examine the key questions raised in this course from organization behavior perspectives.

The course is divided into four modules.

Module 1. Aspirations. Rethinking work and ambitions; focusing and simplifying; leading.
Module 2. Connections. Building and managing teams; collaborating.
Module 3. Change. Learning, experimenting; influencing others.
Module 4. Implementation. Using mobile technology to embed behaviors at work.


Pedagogical Approach

The course will rely on a mix of pedagogy, with a clear emphasis on cases. Class attendance and weekly preparation and participation are critical to make this class fun, interesting and useful. Each session will typically have a case on a protagonist in an organizational setting. We will spend the first part of each class discussing the case and then take a step back and discuss the main concepts. Because we will discuss a case in every class, you will need to study the case beforehand for each class and be well prepared to discuss it in class. This is an absolute requirement for taking the course. You will be randomly called upon to offer comments on the case under discussion.


Grading & Assignments

Your course grade will have three components:

  • Class participation (40%)
  • 5 assignments, due as we go along (30%)
  • Project (30%)

There is no final exam.

Class Participation. Your class participation will be graded based on the quality (and not quantity) of your comments. Quality means rigorous insightful comments that are succinctly delivered at an appropriate time. Delivering quality comments requires a careful preparation of the case and a thorough reading of the conceptual material for the day.

Because this is a discussion-based class, we will observe the following etiquette regarding electronics during the portion of the class devoted to discussing the case; no laptops or smart phones to be open and/or in use during this time, not even for taking notes (the point is to listen intensely and participate, not to take notes). More than two offenses on this will lead to an automatic B grade in class participation.

Also, we will start promptly at 9.10am. Late attendance is disruptive to class. A habit of attending late will result in a B grade for participation.

4 individual assignments and 1 team assignment. These are due on the following dates:

  • Assignment 1. Individual. Due February 7. Writeup of the Jiro case.
  • Assignment 2. Individual. Starting on February 24. Using the course app regularly over the next weeks. Usage completion tracked every week.
  • Assignment 3. Individual. Due May 2. Personal reflection using the course app.
  • Assignment 4. Team. To be assigned.
  • Assignment 5. Individual. Ongoing. Active participation in the course’s blog, by posting new entries of interesting stories, examples, and comments.

Project.You will need to deliver a written report (max 5,000 words) based on an analysis of a person or small team in an organizational setting. You can do this in a team or by yourself (team is best). The project should ideally be a field study, which involves interviewing a manager or other persons in an organization. You can also go deeper and investigate one topic in the course (you will then need to find case examples to apply ideas). Examples include:

  • a manager who tried to create team culture of debate and commitment
  • a manager who change an unfocused team to a sharply focused one by cutting products
  • a person who redefined her job to create more value and challenged conventions
  • an entrepreneur who used the minimum viable product idea and A-B testing
  • an investigation of the concept of “pain points” in business


Course Material

There is no reader for this course. Most of the course material will be available on the course webpage.


About the Instructor

I am a professor at the School of Information at UC Berkeley. Previously I was a professor at Harvard Business School where I taught in the MBA program. I have also been a professor of entrepreneurship at INSEAD, a leading business school in Europe, where I led the executive education program for SAP (the software company) and where I taught in the MBA and executive education programs. My research has been on knowledge sharing, networks and collaboration in companies. I have also spent a number of years working as a consultant and senior manager in the London, Stockholm and San Francisco offices of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). I received my PhD in business administration from the Stanford Business School.


Detailed Schedule

Note: Always check the course website for the latest updates on cases, readings, and other assignments. No other paper version will be distributed.



Session 1. January 24, 2014
Managing in Information-Intensive Companies — Overview

We will discuss one case in order to (a) introduce the main topics for the course and (b) provide guidance for how to use cases in class. We will then go through the main syllabus and talk about the project required for the course.

Please note: You must read and prepare the case for this session. You can e-mail Lazar to get a copy or get it online.

Case: “The Bell Curve”, by Atul Gawande. The New Yorker, December 6, 2004

Assignment questions:

  • The key protagonist in the article, Dr. Warren Warwick, challenged the assumptions in the traditional treatment of Cystic Fibrosis. What assumptions do you think he challenged?
  • How would you describe the ambitions of Dr. Warwick?
  • Why do you think Dr. Warwick has been more successful in treating CF than others?
  • How do you assess his teamwork?


Module 1: Aspirations

In examining why some individuals achieve extraordinary performance at work, while others do not, we begin with the first topic of work domain and aspirations for those domains. Think of it as “the What” of work. We investigate whether those who succeed at work on different things, have different aspirations, and shape their work differently. We also investigate whether they lead differently than others.

Session 2. January 31, 2014
Bigger Dreams

We will examine the aspirational and “think different” dimensions of work.

Case: principal Greg Green at Clintondale high school. Clintondale became the first high school in the country to completely “flip” its classrooms, whereby students watch lectures at home (videos) and do “homework” at school. This has become a movement in the U.S. K-12 system.

Readings on Clintondale:

Other assignments to be completed:

  • Read this article on “pain points” in business
  • Watch this video about Carl Blake, an Iowan farmer who set out to develop the perfect tasting pig
  • Read this article about Jorge Odon, a car mechanic who developed a medical device for easing difficult births
  • “Exploration and Exploitation in Organizational Learning”, by James March, Organization Science, 1991. (This is the classic reading that sets up the tradeoff between exploring and exploiting. You do not have to read the details about the simulations but pay attention to the key tradeoff arguments).

Assignment questions:

  • The standard model of schooling (lecture at school, homework at home) has been entrenched for hundreds of years. Why do you think Greg Green was one of the first in the country to flip classes, and why now?
  • What are some entrenched assumptions and conventions about how teaching and learning are done at UC Berkeley?
  • What was Greg Green trying to achieve? What were his ambitions? Could he have achieved this without changing the existing teaching/learning model?
  • In your own personal life the past week, identify two “pain points” in your encounters with products and service providers. (For example, really lousy taxi service.)
  • In the other two reading/watching assignments (Jorge Odon and Carl Blake), did they try to solve any pain points, and if so, which ones?

Assignment 1. Individual. This is due at 9am on February 7. You will need to send an e-mail to me and to Lazar with your writeup attached by then. Write a max 2 page analysis of the “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” case by answering the two assignment questions:

  • In your opinion, why is Jiro so successful (he is considered one of the best, if not the best, sushi chef in the world)?
  • Look up the chef “Gordon Ramsey” on the web. What’s the main difference between his and Jiro’s approaches? Who do you consider most successful, and what’s your metric for “great”?


Session 3. February 7, 2014
Do Less, Not More

In this session, we will discuss the dis/advanteges of focusing and simplifying work.

Two cases:

  1. “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”. Documentary film. You must watch the entire movie to prepare for this class. You can rent it at:
  2. “Leadership in Action: To the South Pole”. In 1911, two teams were racing to become the first humans to reach the South Pole.

Assignment questions:

  • In your opinion, why is Jiro so successful (he is considered one of the best, if not the best, sushi chef in the world)?
  • Look up the chef “Gordon Ramsey” on the web. What’s the main difference between his and Jiro’s approaches? Who do you consider most successful, and what’s your metric for “great”?
  • In the South Pole race, what were the benefits of the Norwegian approach to transporation methods, and what were the benefits of the British approach?
  • After you have studied these cases, what do you think are the requirements to carry out a focus-approach (i.e., narrow scope of work) successfully? What are some potential downsides of focusing work?


Session 4. February 14, 2014
Forceful Champions

Important update. In this class, we will NOT be using the SAP case (we will return to it in a later class). Professor Hansen will go through the fascinating story of “Leadership in Action: To the South Pole” and discuss the “do less, not more” principle in more depth. So for this Friday, no further reading.

In organizations, it is not enough to have a quest (a bigger dream) that is narrowly scoped (do less, not more). People who succeed also champion their quest. We will examine the concept of forceful champions, who use a mix of soft and hard levers to lead their projects through messy organizational contexts.

Case: “Corporate Entrepreneurship: Steven Birdsall at SAP”. INSEAD case.

Assignment questions:

  • How does Steven compel employees in SAP to support the Rapid Deployment Business?
  • What could Steven have done differently to build support for the RDB?
  • If you were Steven, would you have signed on to the RDS opportunity?



Session 5. February 21, 2014
Use of Mobile Technology to Embed Practices

Note: Special session

In anticipation of module 4, we will use this session to introduce the mobile app and assign tasks for you to complete over the next weeks.

We will cover three items in this class:

  1. Setting up the app on your smartphone and making sure it works.
  2. Completing the first assigned individual “Today’s Mission” in class;
  3. Creating a list of possible motivational (“gamification”) techniques for this app (group work in class).

The class will likely last two hours only.

This course will use a specifically developed course app that is built for iOS7 and that will be available through TestFlight. Hopefully you will have access to the use of an iOS7 device for this part of the course (if not, please contact Prof. Hansen or Lazar).

This course highlights principles that explain excellent performance in organizations. These principles translate into behaviors and daily habits. For example, the “do less” principle implies habits of prioritizing, focusing, culling, and saying no to distractions. These behaviors can be developed through daily practice, much like regularly exercise improves physical health. Building on the “quantified self” movement, we will use the mobile app in this course to practice the principles on a daily basis. The app will supply you regularly with new tasks to practice during the course of a day or two. We will use this experience to a) develop these practices and b) discuss the use of mobile technology for this purpose.

Assignment 2. Individual. Using the course app regularly over the next weeks. Starting on February 24, you will receive small and easy-to-complete tasks about three times a week. You will need to complete these tasks during the days, rate yourself afterwards and enter a brief comment (your completion counts as part of the assignment and is graded).



Session 6. February 28, 2014
Forceful Champions

In organizations, it is not enough to have a quest (a bigger dream) that is narrowly scoped (do less, not more). People who succeed also champion their quest. We will examine the concept of forceful champions, who use a mix of soft and hard levers to lead their projects through messy organizational contexts.

Case: “Corporate Entrepreneurship: Steven Birdsall at SAP”. INSEAD case.

Assignment questions:

  • How does Steven compel employees in SAP to support the Rapid Deployment Business?
  • What could Steven have done differently to build support for the RDB?
  • If you were Steven, would you have signed on to the RDS opportunity?



Module 2: Connections

People do not achieve alone. They work with and through others. What, then, are some principles of effective collaboration in modern organizations?

Session 7. March 7, 2014
Build, Fight, and Unite

We will examine the principles of building effective teams and instilling a culture that fosters both debate and commitment. We will analyze two famous cases. During the Kennedy presidency, the president’s team made a decision to support the Bay of Pigs “invasion” of Cuba. About a year and half later, the same team had to respond the Cuban missile threat. We will contrast and analyze these two decision making processes.


Assignment questions:

  • How did the problem-solving process compare in the two Kennedy administration groups (Bay of Pigs vs. Cuban Missile Crisis groups)?
  • What roles did the participants play in the two processes?
  • How did the two groups generate, handle, and resolve diverging ideas? Why were they so different?
  • How did John F. Kennedy’s role compare in the two groups?
  • The Bay of Pigs decision is widely perceived as a very poor one, while the Kennedy administration’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis is seen as an excellent approach. In your opinion, why may this be the case?
  • What is your assessment of the culture of debate at Reckitt Benckiser? Would you like working there?


Session 8. March 14, 2014
Disciplined Collaboration

Modern work requires seeking knowledge from and working with people across organizational boundaries, including across units in a company and across companies. Collaboration is, however, fraught with problems.

Case: “Transforming DNV: From Silos to Disciplined Collaboration Across Business Units – The Food Business (A)”. INSEAD case.

Assignment questions:

  • Why do you think the food initiative ran into trouble?
  • If you were appointed to head the food cross-selling project in its present state, what actions would you take to make it successful?
  • What decision would you make about the food business? See the options outlined at end of the case.



Session 9. March 21, 2014
Mid-Course Review

No readings for this session.




Module 3: Change

Modern work requires people to constantly change. This involves individual change—learning and experimenting—as well as getting other people to change behaviors. We will examine principles for learning and change.

Session 10. April 4, 2014
Influencing Others to Accomplish the Mission

In large companies, managers don’t automatically provide or secure support for an innovation. They have to work the informal organization, engage in politics, and assert influence to get the support they need.

Case: Internal Entrepreneurship at the Dow Chemical Company. This is about a manager who is trying to launch an e-services division and how he manages his relationships to sponsors and stakeholders to move the project forward.

Assignment questions:

  • What were the most critical actions Ian Telford took to build  What obstacles did they allow him to overcome?
  • What was de Fitte’s role in How effective was he in this role?
  • In your opinion, was Telford an effective internal entrepreneur?
  • Was the success of due to Telford or De Fitte? Why?



Session 11. April 11, 2014
Changing Behaviors and People

In this session, we will discuss how managers can change the behaviors of others. We will discuss a specific case and look more broadly at various levers of change based on various strands of research.

Case: “Rob Parson at Morgan Stanley (A)”. HBS case 498054.

Assignment questions:

  • In your opinion, should Rob Parson be promoted at this time — yes or no? You need to come to class with a clear decision and to be prepared to defend why you chose yes or no (you can’t choose ‘maybe’).
  • If you voted against the promotion, what would you recommend his boss should do? Fire him, pay him extra, coach him, or promote him next year?
  • If you were his boss Paul Nasr, how would you tell him what you have decided to do?
  • Assuming Parson needs development, how would you get him to change his behaviors? How will you motivate him to do so, and how will you help assuming he doesn’t really know how to?



Session 12. April 18, 2014
Learning and Experimentation: A/B Testing

Today’s class activity is an A/B testing simulation.



Session 13. April 25, 2014
Learning: Deliberate Practice

In this session we will discuss the concept of “deliberate practice.” There is no specific case to prepare. This is the research paradigm that has created the term “the 10,000 hour rule,” that you need 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything. As we shall see, that is not really the key point. Deliberate practice consists of two items: deliberate practice × quantity of practice. We will pay special attention to the idea of “deliberation” as a way of learning at work.

Most of the research in this tradition has centered around chess players and musicians. For a “crazy” guy, see this one!

There are quite a few readings for this sessions:

  • Ericsson is the “guru” in this field. His 1993 article is famous; please skim it to get the main points. His HBR article is more accessible. It outlines the whole paradigm.
  • Deliberate practice: Read the “piano” study. (Journal of Research in Music Education, 2009). What explains the most rapid improvement in playing the piece? We will discuss this case in class.
  • Controversy around the “10,000 rule”. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers,” popularized this term. Many now believe that is the key to being an expert (not the deliberation part). Read Goleman’s blog post and Ericsson’s letter (APS Observer).
When you have done all the reading, please prepare to share the following with class:
  • Identify the sustained expertise/skill development activity that YOU have done in your life that comes closest to the idea of deliberate practice.
  • What was/is it (work-related or not)?
  • What “deliberation” process did you engage in?
  • Estimate the total number of hours you have practiced this in your lifetime.
  • How effective have you been in developing that expertise? Score yourself from 1 (not effective at all) to 5 (extremely effective).


Module 4: Implementation (Mobile Technology)

So far in the course we have discussed seven principles of what to do to increase the odds of achieving something extraordinary at work. In this module, we will move to how to enact these principles through daily behaviors. Specifically, we look at the use of mobile technology to make this happen. This is “cutting edge,” as there is almost no leading practice out there in organizations, nor is there much research to draw upon. We will use our own experiences with the course app as the foundation.

Assignment 3. Individual. Email this to Prof. Hansen and Lazar before 9am on May 2. Write a 2-3 page essay on your personal reflection using the course app.  Your essay should be a double-spaced PDF (11 or 12 points font size). Note: this is your own personal reflection on your experience of using the app, and not your evaluation of the app per se. This is about what kind of impact it had on you. You can be highly critical of the app itself (there are no brownie points for liking it). The depth of your reflections and analysis is what matters.

  • Which specific missions helped you most with your improvement, and which helped you least? (You can go to the History section in the app to review the full list of missions.)
  • What features of the app were most effective for you, and which  least effective? Consider notification timing, frequency of missions, content of the tasks, point system (reward), social pressure, etc.
  • Do you use other apps to modify your behaviors? If so, have you been more/less effective in using those, and if so, why?
  • What changes in such an app would compel you to change your behaviors more?

Session 14. May 2, 2014
Use of Mobile Technology to Affect Behavioral Change at Work

Up until now, you have used the course app to practice daily behaviors for some of the principles of success (e.g., do less; champion forcefully; build, fight and unite). In this session, we will process our experiences from these daily behaviors.

Case: we will use your self-reflection from Assignment 3 as the “case” for our discussions

Readings: to be assigned

Assignment 4. Team project.  Due in class on May 2. You have been allocated into teams (see the list here). Pick one app out there that is focused on changing a person’s individual behaviors. It could be around fitness, weight loss, productivity, etc. (Sample apps include: Weight Watchers Mobile, Carrot FitMoodPanda, Lift, PactGratitude JournalChore PadHabit Changer, and many others.)

You need to select an app, and then evaluate it. Your team should meet twice: first time to select the app (which you can do via e-mail or using a tool such as Tricider) and second time to discuss it. To evaluate the app, use the list of behavioral change theories from this blog post and this presentation.

The only deliverable is a 7-minute presentation in class, but please make sure you send us your team’s slides before the class.

Analyze and evaluate the app in terms of the following:

  1. Which behavior(s) is it focused on? Is it clear and specific?  How many — too few, too many?
  2. Of the 10 behavioral change levers listed in the blog post, how many does it use and use well?  For example, does it use “power of one goal” by setting a clear goal, one at the time? Does is invoke social pressure in some form, and if so, how effectively? List the change strategies it uses (and add some more if the list of 10 is incomplete), and give the app a score ranging from 1 star (awful) to 5 stars (excellent) for how well it uses behavioral change strategies to compel people to change their behavior(s).
  3. Based on your analysis of this, what major change would you make in the app we have used in the course? (The INFO 225 app designed to change the main behaviors at work that we have discussed in class.)


Session 15. May 9, 2014

How do leaders ensure high team performance and robust decision-making in highly uncertain and unforgiving worlds — when sudden, unexpected shocks hit? We will examine this question by examining three Mount Everest expeditions.

Case: “Tragedy on Everest”, INSEAD case 2011. (slides)

Assignment questions:

The case details the journey and fate of two Mount Everest expeditions, led by Rob Hall and Scott Fischer. During a storm high on the mountain, both teams ran into trouble, and several climbers died.

  • Why did the teams run into trouble? Is it inevitable in such an unforgiving place as Mount Everest?
  • Hall had set a specific turnaround time, a time when climbers should turn around even if they had not reached the summit. Why did the climbers not stick to this rule?

David Breashears recounts how his team, an IMAX filming crew, ascended the mountain at the same time as Hall and Fischer and how their team approached the challenge differently. After you have read the accounts of the three teams (Halls’, Fischer’s, and Breashears’), please compare and contrast the actions taken by the Hall/Fischer group and that of David Breashears:

  • Why did two of the teams have such terrible outcomes while Breashears’ team succeeded in their mission?
  • As a leader, did Breashears do anything differently than Hall and Fischer, or was he just lucky?
  • In general, what does this contrast tell us about the requirements for highly effective teams?

Final Written Report

The written report is due on May 16 at 9am
(Email to and

Please read guidelines for writing the final written report.

Examples of  A papers: