Graham Brown

Name: Graham Brown
Current Position: Associate Professor and Tim Price Entrepreneurship Fellow
Institute & Organization: Peter Gustavson School of Business,University of Victoria
Main Research Interests: Territoriality, psychological ownership, entrepreneurship, work place design
Short Biography: Dr. Brown joined the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business in 2012 to teach entrepreneurship.  He has taught previously at the University of British Columbia and at Singapore Management University.

Graham’s research focuses on territoriality and psychological ownership. He applies these two threads to a variety of research topics including negotiation, creativity, and workplace conflict. His recent research focuses on the impact that feelings of ownership have on innovation and new venture success with the thesis that feelings of ownership are both positive in that they propel efforts but simultaneously negative in that they create resistance to help and feedback from others. He hopes to achieve a better understanding of the factors that lead to entrepreneurial success. His work has been published in the Academy of Management Review, Organization Science, and Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes and featured in Harvard Business Review online. His teaching focus is in the areas of human resource management, leadership and negotiation and he applies these concepts to help others discover and use their passion to lead and create.

As an active entrepreneur Graham has been involved in several ventures in the travel and education industry including one company that he started while a student at the University of Victoria. His most recent project involves developing a training program to help high school students become social entrepreneurs. Graham also lives on and operates an active berry farm in Metchosin with his wife and four children.

Contact Information: see e-mail
Website: Graham Brown at the University of Victoria


the interview

(1) How do you define ownership in your research?

Graham Brown: I am really interested in the psychological dimension of ownership and specifically how individuals feel something is theirs (and then extending this to the idea that something is mine but not yours).

(2) How does your research relate to ownership? What are you interested in specifically?

Graham Brown: I have explored psychological ownership from many different lenses and with a variety of methodologies. With Jon Pierce and Craig Crossley we developed measures of the paths to ownership and linked this to actual performance outcomes. While many people have looked at the beneficial outcomes of ownership, I also enjoy exploring potential negatives from these feelings. My work reflects this as much of what I study is how people claim and mark territories and then what happens when they perceive that someone has infringed on what they believe is theirs.

(3) How did you first get involved with the topic and why? Are there any specific events or people from your academic or your personal life that have influenced your interest in ownership research?

Graham Brown: My first degree was in psychology and I became fascinated by the idea of territoriality. I continued to study this phenomenon in the context of urban revitalization and community planning. Yet, in all of this research I did not come across the idea of psychological ownership. The research on territoriality (most of it from animal studies, environmental psychology, and anthropology) talked about territory and infringement but did not get into the feelings that drove the original claims. As I explored doctoral programs, I saw an opportunity to continue my interest in territoriality by applying these ideas in an organizational setting. It was fascinating and I was well on my way to creating a complete theory of territoriality when I met Kurt Dirks at a speaker seminar series. I shared some of my ideas and he then mentioned that he was working on a similar idea with Jon Pierce and Tatiania Kostova. Naturally (as most doctoral students do) I panicked and also had a slight tinge of frustration that someone was infringing on my idea. In the end it was extremely helpful as I was able to draw on their work and build my own theory of human territoriality.

(4) What surprises you about ownership as a human phenomenon?

Graham Brown: That these feelings can overpower rationality. People overvalue their possessions despite objective information. People will confront others who they feel have infringed on their “territory” even if those people were trying to help.

(5) In Your Opinion:

  • What is the most influential article or piece of writing relevant to the phenomenon of ownership? Pierce, Kostova and Dirks (2003).
  • What is your favorite personal possession? ? [I can’t think of something specific].
  • Would you share it? It depends. I think I am surprisingly not very territorial.
  • Which of your own contributions are you most proud of? [The paper I co-authored with Markus Baer (Baer & Brown, 2012)]. I think the design of this study was quite interesting and created strong emotions in the participants. It exposed the dilemma between wanting to improve something but not willing to let others get involved to help.

(6) What do you think are the most promising avenues of ownership research in the future? Where do you see the field of ownership in the future?

Graham Brown: Applying it to other established domains. For example, psychological ownership has great implications for entrepreneurship but in turn entrepreneurship is a great context to learn about ownership – how it forms, the challenges when founders pass on their ventures (or fail to because they cannot let go), how they (over)value their businesses, etc…

Editor’s note: For references see Links & Resources