Kalle Lyytinen

Kalle Lyytinen, innovator in shaping brain-technology relationships, awarded Distinguished University Professorship

Kalle Lyytinen’s work can be found at the intersection of two kinds of computing: wet computing—done by our brains—and the so-called dry computing of silicon microprocessors.

Kalle Lyytinen
Kalle Lyytinen, in his first semester at CWRU, 2001 (courtesy of University Archives)

By studying how complex sources of data can fit together, Lyytinen has helped design and influence the inner and outer workings of software and devices that are ever-more ubiquitous and relied on in a globalized world—used in stock markets, electronic health records, the internet and other large systems spanning cultures, languages and technological capabilities.

“At a fundamental level, Kalle shows us how new technologies are different from a hammer or a car—and how meaningful this can be,” said Youngjin Yoo, who holds the Elizabeth M. and William C. Treuhaft Professorship in Entrepreneurship at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve.

“He was one of the very first scholars to demonstrate how we design and use digital tools, which can tell us a lot about ourselves, our beliefs and behaviors and what we might become,” Yoo said.

Lyytinen, the Iris S. Wolstein Professor of Management Design, will be honored as one of four new Distinguished University Professors during fall convocation on Wednesday, Aug. 30, at 4:30 p.m. at Severance Hall.

Separating fads from the foundational

An avid reader and cinephile, Lyytinen looks to literature, history, film and philosophy to provide insight into the human condition, of which technology is a reflection.

He cites one of philosopher Isaiah Berlin’s essays that divides thinkers into two camps—foxes and hedgehogs—for his multidisciplinary approach to research: while hedgehogs write only about what they understand well, foxes are intellectual grazers.

“I like learning what I don’t know,” Lyytinen said. “I prefer the approach of the fox.”

This innate need to feed his curiosity helps Lyytinen navigate a topic that continues to fascinate and inform his research: the symbiotic (and perplexing) relationship between our brains and technology.

“Changes to the technologies we use also change our brains,” he said. “How can we improve this relationship? Meanwhile, our changed brains create faster, smaller, more powerful technologies. What makes one just hype and another stick around, like the iPhone?”

Lyytinen bookLyytinen’s prolific output speaks to his pursuit in answering these and other tall questions. One of the most widely published scholars in his field, he has generated more than 24,000 citations from 300-plus publications—staggering figures that only hint at the virility and staying power of his research, writing and ideas.

Meanwhile, he has mentored hundreds of Weatherhead School students to advanced degrees, while holding top editorial roles at many academic journals and working with private companies, such as Ford and Intel, to put his research into practice.

“He’s a disciplined, efficient workhorse who is never dull and never takes himself too seriously—an achievement in itself given his accomplishments,” Yoo said. “He’s able to not talk about work, which makes conversations even richer when work is discussed and references a Tolstoy novel to make a great point.”