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 Wernerfelt*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)221-232
Number of pages12
JournalMarketing Letters
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019


  • Marketing academia
  • PhD students
  • Research ideas

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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