by James K. Sebenius
Harvard Business School
Roger Fisher’s career and writings not only offer lessons about negotiation but also about how an academic, especially in a professional school such as law or business, can make an important, positive difference in the world. By his relentless engagement in vexing disputes—whether in South Africa, at Camp David, on the Peruvian-Ecuadorian border, or elsewhere—Fisher gained a firsthand sense of the issues as negotiators actually experienced them. This enabled him to ask better questions and to formulate more valuable answers. Fisher collaborated across academic disciplines and wrote a series of books, mostly coauthored with junior colleagues, that are best understood as project around an evolving theme—an interest-based, problem-solving conception of negotiation—rather than as a series of one-off products. His commitment to expressing powerful insights simply, concisely, and memorably led to the remarkable influence of Getting to Yes, which has sold over eight million copies and has spawned endless academic and popular offshoots. While the most familiar form of intellectual capital in the social sciences is the deductive proposition, supported by experimental and observational evidence, other forms of knowledge can be both valid and useful. In particular, Fisher and his colleagues constructed frameworks of prescriptions that, on average, respond to widely felt practitioner needs and systematically direct the focus of negotiators to aspects of the situation that generate helpful insights.