Ricky Guo, PhD Candidate ’12

Wuhan, China

“If I don’t make sense to a law student, then I reflect on how it is that I can make my proposal meaningful to others. If we stay in the business school, we take too many things for granted.”

PhD studies citizen actions on issue resolutions

Growing up in a big factory town in central China, Ricky saw businesses cope with mass layoffs even as they tried to innovate with new technologies to survive.

From those early beginnings in Wuhan, Guo, now 32, became fascinated with how change happens.

“Wuhan was like Pittsburgh with heavy industry trying to be high tech but still struggling with that transition,” says Guo.

For much of his life, Guo has been at home in overlapping disciplines and their real life applications. And his search for answers has taken him far from his home. Guo ventured to New Zealand for his Master’s and still has a slight Kiwi accent from seven years in Auckland. Fortunately his parents encouraged his adventurous nature. “My parents think you go out there and find your own life; it’s a coward who stays at home.”

After finishing his schooling, Guo remained in Auckland to work as a consultant. He says he was struck by the way that people with varying interests and backgrounds overcame conflicts to complete projects. “That’s what was exciting about consulting, pulling people from very diverse backgrounds together,” he says.

It was an experience that resonated for him because during his Master’s studies a professor in New Zealand had suggested he contact School of Management associate professor of information systems Paul Carlile because of Carlile’s focus on innovation from a social relations perspective.

“Carlile is curious about how people from diverse backgrounds can come together under one roof and create something totally new,” says Guo. Carlile responded to Guo and soon they struck up a brisk correspondence between New Zealand and Boston. It was a critical exchange—one that led Guo to his academic future.

That prompted him to apply to doctoral programs, focusing on a lifelong dream of earning a PhD in the US and adding to his dream the chance to study with Carlile.

In 2008, Guo started working on his PhD at SMG. His relationship with Carlile has grown, he says, to more of a “discipleship,” and Guo’s interests have evolved from studying information systems to a focus on strategy.

Now he has a cutting edge dissertation proposal that he will defend in September on how the actions of various stakeholders have influenced the outcome during the 10-year permitting and approval process for Cape Wind, America’s first offshore wind farm planned off Cape Cod. Views of the project changed over time in the public and in various agencies and government offices, he says.

“I want to look at what happened and what actions people took to induce what outcome,” Guo says. As a project in a bold new industry, Cape Wind blazed a trail in an area that lacked much regulatory structure. “I looked at the impacts on views of how issues were raised, studied, and evaluated over time from 2001 to now” for everyone from the Army Corps of Engineers to the opposition group the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.

Guo’s research, which is still preliminary, has focused on why the actions of some stakeholders are more effective than others. For instance, he is comparing the impact of a group that invests in scientific studies to make their point with ones that stage protests or post signs advocating for or against the project.

The research, he says, is more about the process than the wind farm per se. It could be based on any significant public project. “The question is which strategy have people taken and how those strategies have produced different results.”

The dissertation would break new ground, he says, because prior research has not linked people’s actions with outcomes.

Guo says that a year from now he plans to be writing his dissertation and looking for a job in academia.

Already, he says, he has learned a lot by living on campus and keeping company not only with his own cohort but also with graduate students outside SMG. He said he loves to engage the mathematicians, biologists, and law students on his research.

“If I don’t make sense to a law student then I reflect on how it is that I can make my proposal meaningful to others,” he says. “If we stay in the business school we take too many things for granted.”