Professor of Behavioural Science
Warwick Business School
University of Warwick

Address:   Warwick Business School
                 University of Warwick
                 Coventry, CV4 7AL
Phone:       +44 (0)24 7652 4306

am Professor of Behavioral Science at Warwick Business School, University of Warwick. and I was previously Professor of Strategy and Decision Making at University of Oxford and Associate Professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business. During the academic year 2017-2018 I am visiting Professor at Sloan School of Management, MIT, teaching courses in decision-making, economics, and modeling.  

 My research examines the implications of learning and decision-making for Strategy and Organization Theory. I have explored how learning, sampling, and chance mechanisms can offer novel explanations of persistent performance differences, existence of strategic opportunities, risk-return associations, and provide new interpretations of in-group bias and conformity. 

 My work on performance dynamics in strategy has explored the implications of learning and chance mechanisms for the interpretation of persistent performance and the diffusion of best practice. In a series of papers I have shown that high and sustained performers can be an indicator of risky and inefficient practices. For example, in Denrell and Liu (PNAS, 2012) we show that rich-get-rich processes imply that the highest performers in fact are not the best (do not have the highest expected skill). The intuition is that extreme performance indicates the presence of strong rich-get-rich dynamics rather than exceptional skill. Persistent high performance can therefore be an indicator of inferior capabilities; a topic that we explore empirically in Denrell, Fang, and Zhao (Strategic Management Journal, 2013).

    An important theme in my research is how randomness at the micro-level can give rise to patterns at the aggregate level which can offer parsimonious explanations of many regularities in strategic management and organization theory. For example, in Denrell (2004, Management Science) I proposed that a random walk model could account for much of the empirically observed persistence in performance. In Denrell and Kovacs (2008, Administrative Science Quarterly), we show how the common practice of studying only widely diffused practices and relatively large and successful industries can lead to spurious findings such as spurious non-monotonic density dependence. A survey of this line of research was published in Organization Science, 2015.

    My research on learning and sampling mechanisms has shown how individuals and managers might develop and maintain inaccurate beliefs because they rely on the biased samples of information they obtain from their experiences. In a series of five papers published in Psychological Review during the last ten years I have shown how a simple learning mechanism - the Hot Stove Effect - can offer novel interpretations of discrimination, ingroup-bias, social influence, and risk aversion (Denrell, 2015, 2007, 2005; Denrell and Le Mens, 2007; Le Mens and Denrell, 2011). I have shown how these biases can emerge from the biased set of experiences people are exposed to instead of from cognitive limitations of human learners. The key idea is that the tendency to avoid alternatives with unfavourable past outcomes generates a biased set of experiences.