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  • Executives On: Innovation, Financial Risk, Hiring

    For business executives, knowledge is power and time is money — so when information arrives too late, it isn’t worth much. Yet many insights about business behavior come in one of two forms.

    Upstart: Management

    For business executives, knowledge is power and time is money — so when information arrives too late, it isn’t worth much. Yet many insights

    Courtesy: Galina Barskaya/PhotoXpress

    about business behavior come in one of two forms: minute-by-minute anecdotes from news outlets or social media, or long-term studies from industry groups and academia that take years to complete.

    A new type of survey research from Wharton attempts to uncover insights that are both timely and deep. Through brief online surveys of a wide spectrum of industry executives, researchers have compiled data about what these executives are thinking today. For example, a survey on the risk of innovation found that while most companies understand that it is important to learn from failures, only a small number do the important legwork that best helps prevent them.

    Another survey, this one on corporate social responsibility, found that companies are partnering with more social causes even though they don’t believe it will boost short-term sales. A third survey, on the global financial crisis, hints that employers want to hire but feel unable to, and are worried that existing talent will leave as soon as the economy turns around.

    The surveys are part of a project from the Wharton Behavioral Laboratory called APEX, short for the Advisory Panel of Executives. A select group of several hundred industry leaders at the manager level or above — members of the APEX panel — agreed to respond to brief questionnaires on a variety of hot business topics. In exchange, panel members have access to survey results before they are released to academic journals or business media.

    APEX executives also earn reward points for participating in surveys, redeemable for Wharton publications or the chance to win free courses in Wharton’s Executive Education program. In January 2010, after six months of testing, APEX officially began its ongoing series of surveys. More than 200 industry professionals participated in the first round of surveys. Over time, the program expects to grow the pool of executives to 1,000 globally across a variety of industries. (Executives interested in applying for membership in APEX should click here.)

    The “rapid response” survey process “generates a dialogue” between Wharton professors and the business community, says Wesley Hutchinson, a professor of marketing at Wharton and director of the Wharton Behavioral Lab. Since the surveys are short, the turnaround time can be as fast as two weeks, he notes. “It fills the gap between same-day journalism and academic research, which takes a year or more to collect.”

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