How do successful scholars get their best research ideas? An exploration

  • Cathy Cao
  • Xinyu Cao
  • Matthew Cashman
  • Madhav Kumar
  • Artem Timoshenko
  • Jeremy Yang
  • Shuyi Yu
  • Jerry Zhang
  • Yuting Zhu
  • Birger WernerfeltEmail author


We interview 24 marketing professors to ask how they got the ideas for 64 of their papers. More than three-quarters of the papers were inspired by holes in the literature, by a “stylized fact” that the current literature cannot explain, or by an interaction with a manager. The rest fall into several smaller categories that to a large extent can be seen as special cases of the three big ones. We describe how papers from each of the three big categories help move the literature forward. We also illustrate the range of situations contained in each category by way of several examples. Among the authors we interview, most do not use a single source. As these authors become more senior, managerial contacts play an increasing role, while the balance between literature and stylized facts appears to be unchanged.


PhD students Research ideas Marketing academia 


Supplementary material

11002_2019_9506_MOESM1_ESM.docx (25 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 24 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.MIT Sloan School of ManagementCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.NYUNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.NorthwesternEvanstonUSA

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