How Interdisciplinary Studies Develop Career Path - Hammans Stallings

In Chapter 4 of 12 in his 2011 Capture Your Flag interview with host Erik Michielsen, innovation strategist Hammans Stallings shares how blending social science and arts studies at University of Virginia (UVA) shaped his career. Stallings first focuses on economics and, having the luxury of not having area requirements, then focuses on psychology. He channels his passion trying to understand people and their behavior. Over the years, Stallings works in business trying to understand personal decision making and then in creative roles understanding how market mechanisms work.

Hammans Stallings is currently a Senior Strategist at frog design. Previously he worked in business strategy at Dell and investment banking at Stephens. He earned an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, a MS in Technology Commercialization from the University of Texas McCombs School of Business and a BA in Economics and Psychology from the University of Virginia.


Erik Michielsen:  How did blending your studies of social sciences and the arts at the University of Virginia impact your career development?

Hammans Stallings:  I was pretty spoiled in that I was allowed to be in a program that at UVA where we didn’t have any area requirements and so I’d spent the first two years really knocking out the economics and that allowed me to really explore and move into a much more an interdisciplinary academic approach, more so than I think most people are able to do, we didn’t have any area requirements so I came in, was able to take graduate classes pretty quickly and work in labs, in psychology and – and for whatever reason, the – this contrast of economics and psychology really was this – this kind of an annoying bug.  They had so many assumptions about people and behavior and how things work that are in contrast that drove me nuts for years and so I kind of in a lot of ways, there’s this –that has actually kind of come through with me throughout all of my – all of my jobs since.  I spent time in – in business, thinking about how poorly understood people are. 

I spent time - a little bit now - in the creative world where there isn’t a really sharp understanding of how market mechanisms work and why businesses are sort of strange in a way that people are too.  Organizations are made of people and they have their own kind of strange psychology and so I think that early experience in academics really prepared me for studying in my later career across functional areas and so I’ve been much more of a generalist than I have been a specialist.  You know I’ve – maybe it taught me the value of it and as well it gave me something to always kind of be struggling with in terms of like reconciling things and it’s that letting your subconscious kind of reconcile things and being able to live and sleep with that – you know that –that stress that I think you’re able to come out with interesting solutions that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise if you just so deeply believed any one thing. 

So, I think that’s kind of, I love more than anything bringing kind of an interdisciplinary approach and seeing how all these different areas, different people, and different perspectives in their own contexts see this elephant differently and I think that’s kind of a neat future is you know reconciling all these things and see kind of at the intersection, what do you learn.