Getting to Know Szu-chi Huang
Meet the social scientist, scuba diver, underwater photographer, and certified yoga teacher who’s passionate about consumer motivation.
You can learn a lot about people from their tattoos. And Szu-chi Huang is no exception. Her tattoo features manta rays and lotus flowers which signify an ongoing quest for freedom, fun, growth, and learning. That might be the best description of what drives Szu-chi — inside and outside the classroom.
Drawn to Creativity from the Start
Szu-chi grew up in Taiwan in a family that valued creativity. Her father was a landscape photographer and her mother a music teacher. “I was always drawn to creativity,” she says, “but just art itself wasn’t enough because I’m really intrigued by strategy and business.” That merging of interests turned into a career in advertising. But before long, her insatiable curiosity led to a complete career pivot. Wondering why some ad campaigns succeeded while others failed made her want to dig deeper into customer psychology. Seven years later she had earned a masters in advertising and a PhD in marketing at University of Texas, Austin, and ultimately, a faculty position at Stanford.
Making It Real
Conducting field research is important in academia, especially for Szu-chi’s field of study: motivational science. “Motivation science is very different from other disciplines. We focus on real behavior because people will often say they care about something, but then they behave in the opposite way. I need to uncover people’s actual actions, not just a survey response, to know if something’s working.”
Szu-chi brings that real-world research into the classroom, believing that there are strong synergies between research and teaching and even a symbiotic relationship between professor and program participant. “I get inspired in the classroom based on the questions participants ask, and they often fuel my next research project.” Teaching executives, in particular, helps her connect her research to real-world impacts in businesses.
Learning Is a Lifelong Journey
A scuba diver, underwater photographer, certified yoga teacher, and social scientist, Szu-chi is the very definition of a lifelong learner. Yoga, in particular, has taught her that learning is an everyday practice. She brings this mindset to her own research and encourages participants to do the same. “I want them to go out there and try their ideas and test them, and focus more on what they learn from the process, and not so much about the outcome.” She also reminds them to never stop talking, surveying, interviewing, and observing their stakeholders’ behavior. “The moment you think that you know everything is the moment things get dangerous. You might be taking risks that you really don’t need to be taking,” she advises.
The Last-Mile Connection
On the first day of class, Szu-chi encourages participants to make “the last-mile connection.” “It’s impossible for me to cover every market or behavior in every industry. So, you may come from the software industry, and my example is on investing, but that doesn’t mean the behavioral science underlying that example — such as people’s tendency to take risks — is not relevant for you.” She believes that those who constantly question in real time, “How do I use this in MY business? How do I use this for MY challenges?” will be the ones who get the most out of the class.
Immersion Is Magic
It’s no wonder that Szu-chi cites a psychological mechanism — immersion — to explain the benefits of Executive Education programs. She believes being immersed in an environment that talks about behavioral science all day long really changes your perspective. “You and your colleagues are living and breathing that science every day, and you’re challenging each other. For executives who have been successful and feel like they’ve reached some kind of ceiling or bottle neck in their fields, this is such an important transformative experience to have.”