Cornell Keynotes podcast: Are noncompetes really dead?

Professor Stewart Schwab discusses Robert Katzmann's book "Judging Statutes" at a 2016 Book Talk.

When the Federal Trade Commission’s recent ruling takes effect in September, noncompete agreements will be over. Or will they?

In a new episode of the Cornell Keynotes podcast from eCornell, Cornell Law School professor Stewart J. Schwab and host Chris Wofford discuss the history of noncompetes and why the FTC might not have the final say.

The FTC estimates that one in five American employees are bound by noncompete agreements that impose time or location restrictions on their ability to pursue work with or create competitor companies. In April, the FTC issued a rule banning noncompetes with the intent to “generate over 8,500 new businesses each year, raise worker wages, lower health care costs and boost innovation.”

Will a court issue an injunction against the rule? Does the FTC even have the power to make the call on noncompetes?

Listen to Episode 34: “Are Noncompetes Really Dead?” and read more on the Chronicle.

Navigate Change with eCornell

We know the saying — the only constant in life is change.

Are you prepared to thrive in an ever-changing professional landscape? Being able to navigate change plays a pivotal role in shaping successful careers and organizations. That’s why we’ve designed a diverse range of online certificates and courses, all authored by faculty experts at Cornell University, to equip you with key skills and knowledge needed to pursue change and excel amidst change. 

Here’s a curated list of our programs that support change:

 

1. Change Management Certificate

Learn to anticipate change as a leader and sustain the momentum of your change management initiatives.

  • School: Cornell SC Johnson College of Business
  • Courses: 4 core, 2 elective, plus access to a Live Leadership Symposium
  • Time Commitment: 3 months
  • Faculty Authors: 
    • Cathy Enz, Professor Emeritus, Cornell Nolan School of Hotel Administration
    • Samuel Bacharach, Professor, Cornell ILR School
    • Glen Dowell, Professor, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business
    • Kate Walsh, Dean, Cornell Nolan School of Hotel Administration
    • Jan Katz, Senior Lecturer, Cornell Nolan School of Hotel Administration
    • Risa Mish, Professor, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business
    • Rohit Verma, Professor, Cornell Nolan School of Hotel Administration
    • Angela Noble-Grange, Senior Lecturer, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business
    • Tony Simons, Professor, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business
    • Robert Bloomfield, Professor of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business
    • Christopher Collins, Associate Professor, Cornell ILR School

 

2. Change, Disruption, and Growth Course 

Assess industry disruptions, evaluate organizational responses, and devise strategies for successful adaptation and growth.

  • School: Cornell SC Johnson College of Business
  • Course Length: 2 weeks
  • Faculty Author: Justin Johnson, Professor, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

 

3. Communication Planning for Change Course 

Analyze audiences affected by anticipated organizational changes and develop a communication plan.

  • School: Cornell SC Johnson College of Business
  • Course Length: 2 weeks
  • Faculty Author: Amy Newman, Senior Lecturer, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

 

4. DEI: Dialogue for Change Certificate

Gain essential skills and insights for driving diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives within your organization and community.

  • School: Cornell ILR School
  • Courses: 3 courses plus access to a Live DEI Symposium
  • Time Commitment: 2.5 months
  • Faculty Authors: 
    • Lisa Nishii, Professor and Vice Provost, Cornell ILR School
    • Adi Grabiner-Keinan, Executive Director for Academic DEI Education and Director of the Intergroup Dialogue Project, Cornell ILR School

 

5. Equitable Community Change Certificate 

Learn to manage development and changes across all sectors of society to build more equitable, just, and sustainable communities.

  • School: Cornell ILR School
  • Courses: 6
  • Time Commitment: 3 months
  • Faculty Authors: 
    • Sam Magavern, Senior Policy Fellow, Partnership for the Public Good
    • Russell Weaver, Director of Research, Cornell ILR Buffalo Co-Lab

 

6. Healthcare Change Management Certificate 

Understand, measure, implement, and lead successful change management initiatives in the healthcare sector.

  • School: Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy
  • Courses: 4 courses plus access to a Live Leadership Symposium
  • Time Commitment: 2 months
  • Faculty Author: Nick A. Fabrizio, Senior Lecturer, Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy

7. Leading Organizational Change Course

Explore your own leadership style and practice skills to translate transformative ideas into organizational results.

  • School: Cornell ILR School
  • Course Length: 2 weeks
  • Faculty Author: Samuel Bacharach, Professor, Cornell ILR School

 

8. Leading Strategic Change Initiatives Course

Cultivate your ability to assess the need for strategic change within your organization.

  • School: Cornell Nolan School of Hotel Administration
  • Course Length: 2 weeks
  • Faculty Author: Cathy Enz, Professor Emeritus, Cornell Nolan School of Hotel Administration

 

9. Making Strategic Change Happen Course 

Assess organizational readiness to effectively carry out change initiatives that drive growth and success.

  • Course Length: 2 weeks
  • Faculty Author: Cathy Enz, Professor Emeritus, Cornell Nolan School of Hotel Administration

 

Whether you’re looking to advance your career, drive organizational transformation, or make a positive impact in your community, we’re here to support your journey.

Leaders expand management accounting expertise in new certificate program

Global businesses often wrestle with operational inefficiencies and overlook critical touchpoints that can turn those challenges into opportunities. Expanding management accounting operations is one such avenue for improving business efficiency – not just with a finance-oriented approach but through a leadership lens.

Designed by Robert Bloomfield, the Nicholas H. Noyes Professor of Management at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, the Management Accounting for Leaders certificate program aims to change the perception and application of accounting by bridging theoretical knowledge with tangible, actionable insights. Bloomfield hopes “to endow students with a superpower to deliberate and find ways to improve accountability systems.”

The program offers practical tools to identify, analyze and rectify inefficiencies that are pervasive in modern businesses. Central to this unique approach are the “deliberation guides” – theoretical constructs and hands-on tools designed to help accounting professionals and senior leaders improve their businesses and honor accountability as a core value.

Bloomfield explains, “for every module in each of these six courses, there is a deliberation guide that they can download and take back to their team and walk through the steps to make improvements.”

Through case studies, the coursework exemplifies strategies for enhancing performance metrics such as profitability, efficiency and employee motivation while fulfilling stakeholder demands. Courses include:

  • Improving Governance
  • Improving Margins
  • Improving Capacity Investment and Consumption
  • Improving Coordination and Efficiency
  • Improving Direction, Motivation, and Society
  • Accountability in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The program takes a broad view in the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” course that explores artificial intelligence, managing remote workers and navigating new business opportunities as they present further accounting possibilities.

Designed for leaders at all levels, from CEOs to new managers, the program offers insights not just for accountants or financial experts, but for anyone looking to enhance their organization’s operational efficiency.

“The program uses a general framework that applies to any type of organization and accountability for any type of performance. It’s incredibly versatile,” Bloomfield said.
Bloomfield emphasizes that his approach offers a unified framework for problems that allows leaders to address a wide range of issues.

“Management accounting was originally developed for addressing concerns about financial performance, entirely for the benefit of investors. That’s not enough for leaders, who must now address concerns about social, environmental and even moral performance, for the benefit of communities, employees and countless other stakeholders,” Bloomfield said. “This program helps leaders address any concern for any stakeholder as Cornell supports ‘… any person … any study.’”

Enroll in the Management Accounting for Leaders certificate program and unlock a framework for improving accountability and operational efficiency in any business.

Cornell Keynotes podcast: The American South braces for a huge unionization push

Auto worker using tools on metal car parts

Will auto industry unionization in Tennessee and Alabama galvanize a new labor movement in the South?

In a new episode of the Cornell Keynotes podcast from eCornell, Andrew Wolf, a professor of global labor and work at Cornell’s ILR School, joins host Chris Wofford to discuss the opportunities and challenges ahead for both auto manufacturing companies and labor organizers.

Unionization is shaking up the auto industry, delivering meaningful gains toward fair pay and other benefits for workers in the U.S. The efforts are particularly significant in the South where a legacy of racist labor laws continues to propagate disparity within the workforce.

Listen to Episode 32: “The American South Braces for a Huge Unionization Push” and read more on the Chronicle.

Cornell public health certificate closes 8 primary skill gaps for students

Recent global events have underscored a pressing truth: our ever-expanding interactions with the natural world can lead to unforeseen health challenges. At the juncture of urban development, climate change and health concerns, the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic raised the necessity to strengthen our public health infrastructure.

Through its new Public Health Essentials online certificate program, Cornell seeks to help leaders proactively address today’s global health challenges.

“COVID-19 came and showed us that our public health workforce was underprepared and that our public health systems were not equipped to detect and respond to an emerging pandemic,” said Gen Meredith, associate professor of public and ecosystem health and associate director of the Cornell Master of Public Health (MPH) Program.

Meredith, co-author of the university’s Public Health Essentials certificate program with Alexander Travis, professor and MPH program director, developed the coursework to address real-world applications for health professionals, community health advocates, volunteers and other emerging leaders in public health. The program begins with the basic foundations of public health, including the latest terminology, and moves into topics such as driving action with data and supporting behaviors that prevent disease. Courses include:

  • Public Health Foundations
  • Assessing and Implementing Public Health
  • Using Public Health Data for Action
  • Supporting Public Health Behaviors
  • Public Health Preparedness

Participants complete the facilitator-guided online program with a cohort of fellow professionals within four months. Research from Meredith, Travis and coauthors from the MPH program shows significant improvement among learners across eight critical skill areas: systems and strategic thinking; community engagement; cross-sectoral partnership; policy engagement; diversity, equity and inclusion; data-informed decision making, effective communication and programmatic expertise.

“The way that globalization is happening around the world and the way that humans are using the natural environment around us is creating real risk for the emergence of new diseases, and this comes at a time when humans are already vulnerable because of chronic diseases and other environmental conditions we are facing on a day-to-day basis,” said Meredith.

The Public Health Essentials program intends to drive actions that contribute to disease prevention and global community well-being. In earning the certificate, leaders can gain new knowledge and skills to navigate the complexities of worldwide health challenges, strengthen healthcare systems and enhance preparedness.

Enroll in Cornell’s Public Health Essentials certificate program to explore the global challenges alongside best practices from experts.

A culture of intrapreneurship: 3 practices for organizational innovation

A worker sitting in front of a laptop and holding a lightbulb in his right hand

In business, reinvention does not happen overnight. It is the result of scaled innovation – years of experimentation to identify and implement solutions to evolving challenges.

However, some senior leaders see innovation only as a one-off like a new product, service upgrade or go-to-market strategy. The misconception can stall a company’s progress toward significant goals and lasting industry impact. Expert faculty from the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business and ILR School recently shared three tactics organizations can use to integrate innovation throughout their operations.

1. Create a culture of intrapreneurship.

Rather than limiting out-of-the-box thinking to specific projects, executives and managers can guide employees to operate like entrepreneurs within their businesses. Through this approach, known as intrapreneurship, leaders help team members function with the autonomy and accountability to contribute new creative ideas on a continuous basis.

“As I work with companies globally, the primary reason I see innovation ‘getting stuck’ is that organizations approach it as a singular task,” said Neil Tarallo, senior lecturer of management and organizations at the Cornell Nolan School of Hotel Administration. “Innovation is an ongoing process, and it requires commitment, adaptability and a willingness to embrace change.”

Great innovation, according to Tarallo, begins with the C-suite and moves downward throughout an organization. Executives can foster creativity from the top by dismantling rigid hierarchies and empowering employees at all levels to share ideas. Additionally, managers can encourage cross-functional collaboration among teams.

“The companies best positioned to innovate when it is most necessary are those that innovate in small ways every day,” said Tarallo. “These organizations operate in teams that bring a range of specialties and perspectives to each challenge they face. This approach leads to a more forward-thinking culture than can sustain a business in the long term.”

2. Support risk-taking and long-term thinking.

Innovation often requires risk. To help employees adopt a positive risk mindset, leaders can encourage – and reward – experimentation, set realistic expectations for results and make it clear that failures are opportunities to learn and not stairsteps to punitive consequences.

Yuan Shi, assistant professor of management and organizations at the Nolan School, offers additional guidance for executives and managers discussing innovation with backers and shareholders.

“External investors might not immediately grasp the value of ideas that bridge different fields, despite the eventual significant impact of these cross-domain concepts,” Shi said. “Breakthrough innovation demands considerable patience from investors and may face threats from short-term thinking in the market. Firms should embrace longer time horizons and prioritize longer-term returns.”

Shi advises leaders to communicate with transparency, detail the competitive advantages and financial value of innovation and provide regular progress updates with evidence of impact.

3. Earmark resources for innovation.

A lack of resources can be a barrier to success for innovation, but oftentimes the greatest obstacle can be the tendency not to view innovation as an initiative that requires tangible support. According to Brian Lucas, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Cornell ILR School, leaders may want big ideas but they are unlikely to receive them unless they make provisions for creativity.

“People believe a breakthrough idea is something that just pops into someone’s head, maybe while taking a shower, riding the bus, talking with a colleague or just by thinking hard enough,” said Lucas. “Leaders think that they just need to put out a call for innovation, and eventually one of their workers will have a good idea. Sometimes this happens. But more often breakthrough ideas are the result of deliberate creative work that requires resources.”

Lucas encourages executives to consider the four categories of people, time, space and funding in their efforts to support innovation: “Ask yourself how many people do you have working on new ideas and can these people bring in other people if needed. Do the people have dedicated time for innovation, or are they expected to multitask? Is there dedicated space for creativity and conversation? Do they have money to buy data and research, materials for prototyping, consulting services, travel and more?”

As the use of artificial intelligence (AI) increases, companies can also take steps to ensure that human knowledge and the latest technology can coexist successfully. Businesses can use tech as a tool for employee innovation and provide upskilling resources necessary for new job opportunities.

“Historically, tech advancements lead to employment and economic growth,” Lucas said. “Companies and leaders who view innovation as ongoing work are best equipped to use AI as a resource for creativity and to benefit from its potential.”

Gain expertise in cutting-edge innovation practices in one of Cornell’s more than 30 online leadership certificate programs, including IntrapreneurshipInnovation Strategy and Leadership Agility.

3 strategies to keep your best employees

Three cheerful employees working at laptops.

Though U.S. employers kicked off 2024 with the addition of 353,000 new jobs, the job-switching trend that catalyzed The Great Resignation continues at near record-setting levels. Some sectors are experiencing greater churn than others. At 5 percent, the quit rate in hospitality is significantly outpacing other industries, and engineers are increasingly seeking new professions altogether.

Hiring is just half the battle — particularly in an employment landscape transformed by artificial intelligence (AI), flexible work options, economic uncertainty and worker disengagement. Employers must adapt quickly to stop the revolving door.

As director of the Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies and the William J. Conaty Professor of Strategic Human Resources at the Cornell ILR School, Bradford Bell contends that while attracting top talent remains crucial, retention is the real test of organizational resilience. He recently shared three steps organizations can take to keep their best employees.

1. Foster a skills-based culture.

One challenge in the talent management space is the rapid transformation of jobs due to technologies like generative AI that have shifted the competencies employees must have to be successful at work.

“Companies can address this challenge by becoming more skills based. Understand and assess your employees’ current competencies and figure out what future skills employees will need to be successful in their work as their jobs and your business evolves,” Bell said.

Through industry research and trend analysis, leaders can identify skill gaps and train current employees to close them. Some organizations might see benefits in relaxing degree requirements for internal upward mobility and providing personalized learning in mentorship programs, on-demand courses and external online certificate programs instead. Leaders can also restructure performance reviews to evaluate employees based not only on past performance but also on skill development.

“The future of work is a whirlwind of automation and disruption,” Bell added. “Help your employees navigate change, solve complex problems and increase their value within your organization.”

2. Learn to lead from a distance.

Remote and hybrid work models are changing the nature of leadership. Organizations need new strategies to make up for the distance — real and perceived.

“Leaders must set the course for their teams, making sure that all members are clear about the mission, goals and expectations to avoid the conflict and confusion that can arise particularly when members are virtual,” Bell said. “Managers should also support the social climate by being more purposeful about orchestrating interactions and building relationships among team members.”

Department heads should empower employees to be more responsible for managing their own work. To assist workers, Bell encourages organizations to facilitate the effective use of technologies by ensuring all team members have access to necessary tools.

“Now that employees and organizations have experienced flexibility and the benefits that it can offer, hybrid work models are here to stay,” Bell said. “No matter where employees are located, leaders must ensure they are using technologies and tools in the right situations and can adjust based on how tasks and environments shift over time.” 

3. Drive a positive employee experience.

Replacing experienced personnel can incur considerable costs in recruitment and training. High turnover can erode morale in a manner that damages current team dynamics and fosters a reputation that repels new talent. By effectively engaging employees, organizations can mitigate these risks.

“When we look at the research, we see a few key factors that impact employee engagement: the design of work itself, learning and career development and leadership,” said Bell, who asserts that it is important for employees to perform meaningful, varied tasks and view their work as significant.

Bell encourages leaders to consider how they can design jobs themselves to be more engaging and ensure that employees have access to professional development opportunities that present clear career paths within their organizations.

He encourages managers to look inward as well: “Leaders who are more transformational as opposed to transactional — those who can build strong relationships with their employees — are able to drive higher levels of engagement within their teams.”

Bell also encourages leaders to examine how they listen to employees, formally and informally. He recommends that leaders capture employee sentiment and voice through surveys and one-on-one discussions.

“This needs to be a multichannel and ongoing process in which organizations and leaders are constantly listening to employees, identifying the pain points employees are experiencing, taking action on the feedback and communicating back to employees the changes they are making,” he said. “Through that listening process, you create a productive cycle that enhances employee engagement and increases retention over time.”

Learn the latest best practices for talent management in one of Cornell’s online human resources certificate programs, including several coauthored by Bell: Hybrid Work StrategyHR AnalyticsRecruiting and Talent Acquisition and Strategic Human Resources Leadership.

Is It Time to Return to the Office?

Many Americans favor the flexibility that comes with working from home, a sentiment captured in recent surveys showing that more than two-thirds prefer remote work options, and nearly a third would willingly accept a lower salary to maintain this work style.

While introducing remote work or hybrid models can meet employee desires for greater autonomy, it raises concerns of potential disconnect, reduced team synergy and decreased retention rates. Employers are faced with the challenge of evolving a work environment that respects individual preferences and maintains the integrity and collaborative spirit of a cohesive workforce. Finding a balance is critical.

In a recent Keynote webcast, “Work from Wherever,” Nick Fabrizio, a distinguished senior lecturer at Cornell’s Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, shared his views on the return-to-office debate and key perspectives of both employees and employers.

What are the main causes for dissatisfaction among remote employees?

Fabrizio: “In a new Gallup survey, it’s stated that only 28% of workers feel connected with the organization and that is at an all-time low. Last year it was 32%. You would think that with a variety of different work arrangements, people would be really satisfied. But in terms of being connected with the organization, it’s not there. And that should be alarming to organizations.

People complain that they don’t really know what’s going on in the company. They know what’s going on with their projects and their responsibilities, but they often feel they are losing connection to the whole organization.”

Why do companies want employees back in the office?

Fabrizio: “There are a few things that are complicating this. One is the feeling of disconnectedness at work, one is retention and another one is losing bright young workers because there is no process for them to be evaluated, connected and advanced in the organization. Organizations feel like they can’t create those opportunities being disconnected.

A lot of these organizations now are paying a lot of money in real estate for empty offices. That can’t continue. Some industries are going to force people back because of that. While others are going to force workers back because they are working on recruitment and retention, and others will force people back because they have a hybrid arrangement strategy.”

How can remote leadership be practiced in virtual work environments?

Fabrizio: “As an organization, what you want to create is touchpoints. Managers must deliberately try to create connections so that remote workers can make connections with other people in the organization.

There are five or six different modes for us to communicate, and some workers are saying they feel overwhelmed by that. Organizations should pick one method and do that. It’s very hard even for the worker then to realize and look at a Teams meeting at 3 p.m., [a client Zoom meeting] at 2 p.m., something else happening at 4 p.m., so they start to feel disconnected because there’s so many different mediums to keep track of.”

How can employers encourage productivity among remote employees?

Fabrizio: “Certainly not more forced interactions, but I think it’s the employee’s responsibility to be deliberate about keeping track of what they’ve accomplished. Sort of your value to the organization. It’s like a personal self-inventory of what you have accomplished, what you feel like you mean to the organization, how the organization is a benefit to you.”

Which work arrangement will become the new standard in the future?

Fabrizio: “I’m very effective working at home. Now, [I’m] hybrid, so I have that client-facing part of my work, but when I come back to the home office, I’m very productive.”

I think we’re going to quickly go to a hybrid scenario where better-performing organizations will have to define what their work arrangements are for different business units within the organization. I think organizations will have to do a better job of defining within the same organization what roles [will] be five days a week in office, two or three days in office and what roles are going to be completely remote.”

​​Discover how Cornell’s remote leadership and hybrid work strategy online certificate programs can make you a better manager and equip you with the competitive advantage needed in today’s evolving world of work.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. Experience the full Keynote “Work from Wherever” online.

Content Writing certificate teaches leaders to engage and persuade

By Justin Heitzman, eCornell marketing intern

From internal planning documents to external media releases, a convincing piece of writing can be a key to success for business initiatives – and for the professionals who lead them.

Cornell’s Content Writing online certificate program, offered through eCornell, empowers students with techniques to present information succinctly and engage readers with actionable next steps. Lauren Chambliss, senior lecturer in the Department of Communication at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is the faculty author. Chambliss was a journalist for 20 years in Washington, D.C., before coming to Cornell. She previously served as director of communication for the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability and now teaches full time.

In developing the certificate program, Chambliss noted a trend: Organizations expect professionals across career fields to take on – and excel in – writing-focused responsibilities. Recent studies on effective management, such as Google’s Project Oxygen, show that employers view strong communication skills as essential and closely associated with good leadership, no matter the sector.

“In today’s professional landscape, writing is not just a task for copywriters. It’s a valuable skill across various roles and industries,” Chambliss said. “Regardless of your job title, having a strong writing portfolio sets you apart, paves the way for career advancement and opens doors to leadership opportunities.”

Even standard presentations are being replaced with written content in some organizations. At Amazon, PowerPoint slides have been phased out in favor of six-page memos at executive meetings. The company’s leaders contend that the practice encourages employees to pack as much information as possible into their proposals, creating more convincing narratives.

Students earning Cornell’s Content Writing certificate complete two courses on conciseness and persuasiveness in copywriting and three courses on effective writing for digital contexts: websites, online media and social media. In addition to gaining an understanding of copywriting fundamentals, participants learn an increasingly important skill: content targeting. Students complete a variety of writing and self-editing exercises throughout the program, building toward a final project.

The program also offers a symposium: three days of live, interactive virtual sessions that enable students, Cornell faculty and industry experts to engage in real-time conversations about pressing topics in marketing and communications.

“Creating engaging, lively content across multiple platforms is critical in today’s professional world, whether you are a content creator, a business owner or a copywriter in a big company, government agency or non-profit,” Chambliss said. “Dynamic writing requires us to keep adapting and improving our skills.”

Cornell’s Content Writing certificate program prepares professionals to craft content that engages and persuades. Are you ready to discover current best practices for your business communications? Learn more and enroll now.

This story was drafted by eCornell marketing intern Justin Heitzman.

Crunching Numbers: Understanding the Power of Statistics

Hand holding pen pointing at graph

Imagine being able to transform raw data into actionable insights, shaping the direction of your business and your daily life. This power lies in understanding and applying statistics – the foundation of informed decision-making, the catalyst for impactful change and the key to unraveling the complexities of our world.

Cindy van Es, professor of practice at Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and author of the Business Statistics certificate program, is expanding our comprehension of the study of statistics and its practical application in diverse fields. From agriculture to digital analytics, her work equips us with tools to navigate the complexity of both the corporate realm and our everyday lives, with statistics as our guide. Van Es shared her insights in the Keynote webcast “Statistics: What Everyone Should Know.”

How has statistics changed over the years?

“There are so many things after teaching it all these years, but . . . it’s present in every field these days. Even when I was going through education, it was very much the scientists, but it’s moved into so many fields now. The explosion I’ve seen over my career, from the very quantitative fields, to now: Every field has a metric. So it’s good to have a little idea of what goes behind some of these things.”

What are some surprising ways statistical information is used?

“When I think about the kinds of jobs my former students have now, they work for Airbnb, or Expedia, or Hilton or in finance. Even in marketing, now: A lot of stores will track your eyes . . . to see how long you look at a product, and they can correlate that data with the scanner data to see whether you bought it or not, and did the red label make you buy it more than the blue label . . . . There are experiments going on all around you, even when you’re not aware of it. Maybe you work in a nonprofit and you’re doing an amazing job, and it’s a very meaningful project, but in order to get funding, you may have to quantify why it’s amazing: What are the outcomes, and what are the metrics? There’s so much now: It’s kind of ubiquitous.” 

Which type of statistics is the most challenging to learn?

“Statistics has two branches: Descriptive and inferential. Descriptive is when you take a sample, you describe what you have and you ask the questions: Do I want to make a graph of this? Or do I want to make a table? Or calculate what we call ‘summary statistics?’ Most people are pretty good at that. Inferential is where you want to make an inference about a broader group, about a population. If you see a poll in the news, you’ll see a little plus-or-minus margin of error. That’s because they’re doing inferential statistics. When you see ‘this percent of people in the country think this,’ it’s based on a sample – so what you’re doing is making an inference. That part of statistics is a little harder for students and people in general, I think, because first of all, the language of inference is probability . . . understanding risk, understanding probabilities, the human mind really doesn’t think that way. So inferential is usually more challenging.”

Is artificial intelligence being used in statistical processes and interpretation of data?

“Each new technology – computers, and then supercomputers, and then desktops – influenced how people teach statistics and use techniques . . . . Now the merger is more with computer science and info science, as opposed to just being applied to agriculture, or medicine, or biology. Now the whole discipline is merging. Statistics hasn’t caught up with how to use [artificial intelligence] yet . . . statisticians are just starting to look at it.”

Harness the power of data interpretation in Cornell’s Business Statistics online certificate program. You’ll develop a dynamic set of skills that can heighten your confidence, fortify your decision-making, and catalyze meaningful change.

Drafted by eCornell writing intern Milan Lengyeltoti, with first round edits from marketing intern Justin Heitzman.