Bucknell students are taught to think. I incorporate my approach to research in class to help them do just that.

Jonathan Bean

What does it mean to have good taste? How does one acquire taste? For Professor Jonathan Bean, management, taste is "not just about showing off" — it is also something people internalize and associate with their feelings and emotions. The assistant professor studies taste in the residential homebuilding and apartment design industries and how that taste is shaped and sold to consumers. "Entire industries are built around commodifying and marketing taste," he says.

Bean says the homebuilding industry, despite its central position in the U.S. economy, is unusual in that it has resisted large-scale consolidation and mainly consists of small, independent contractors. In fact, the top-10 builders build fewer than one in four new homes. "This industry is also unique in that contractors are not only producers, but they are also consumers. They have to purchase materials to construct the houses that they sell," he says. Contractors will often build homes on "spec," purchasing land and constructing a home in anticipation of a future buyer. Bean wants to know: In this risky enterprise, how does taste play into what kind of home potential customers will want to purchase?

He has applied his research into how taste is marketed and examined specific modes of residential design by working with apartmenttherapy.com, a website geared towards young professionals that shows off the latest styles in apartment decorating, renovation and space use. To answer the questions of how media outlets shape consumer taste, Bean wrote for Apartment Therapy for a year to gain firsthand insight into the field. In a co-authored article, he describes Apartment Therapy and similar outlets as a "taste regime, an aesthetically regulated domain of practice designed to mold tastes."

Having done graduate work in architecture, business and information studies, Bean brings multidisciplinary perspective to the Markets, Innovation and Design program in Bucknell's School of Management. He has also taught courses on blogging and social networking, tools that he plans on incorporating into his Bucknell courses.

One exercise Bean uses in teaching is based on Edward De Bono's metaphor of "Six Thinking Hats." The six "hats" represent different kinds of thinking: concrete/informational, intuition/gut reactions/emotional, negative thinking, positive thinking, creativity, and process control. "The thinking hats technique — while it seems a little corny at first — gets students to get at marketing and design decisions from a number of important perspectives and gain a more complete view of a problem," he says. Using these and other methods to engage students, Bean teaches management students how to look at and understand all sides of a decision, something that he thinks will be valuable to future employers. "Bucknell students are taught to think," says Bean. "I incorporate my approach to research in class to help them do just that."

Posted Oct. 10, 2013


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