Challey Spotlight: Dr. Clay Routledge

The Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth is highlighting the impact of our faculty and students at NDSU and in the community. This month, we are shining a spotlight on Challey scholar Clay Routledge.

Challey Spotlight: Clay Routledge, Ph.D.

Challey Professor of Management

Clay Routledge is a professor of management at the Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth at NDSU. A psychologist by training, much of his work focuses on the need for meaning in life. He has published over 100 scholarly papers and authored or co-edited five books. Clay's work is frequently featured in the media and has appeared in outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, CBS News, ABC News, BBC News, CNN, CNBC, The Atlantic, The New York, and more. As a social commentator, Clay has authored articles for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, National Review, and Entrepreneur. He wrote the TED-Ed animated lesson Why Do We Feel Nostalgia? and appeared on NBC's The Overview. He is a senior research fellow at the Archbridge Institute, a nonresident scholar at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion, and faculty affiliate at Harvard University's Human Flourishing Program. 

Research and outreach highlights: 

Click here for a video from Dr. Clay Routledge

Can you talk a little bit about your research at the Challey Institute?

I’m a psychologist by training and so what I think I offer uniquely to the Challey Institute is thinking about how an individual’s own mental processes, their personalities, their goals, and their motivations influence a lot of the outcomes that we’re interested in, including things like entrepreneurship and innovation. Within that, my specialty is existential psychology, which is a fancy way of saying I study how people think about the meaningfulness of their lives. What gives them meaning? What makes them feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves? It turns out there are a lot of things that motivate people, but one major thing is wanting to feel like they matter, that they are making an impact on the world and that they are valued. So that’s what I’m focused on: what is it that gives people meaning, and how can you channel the pursuit of meaning into positive, productive activities that make the world a better, more prosperous, more flourishing place.

Are there any new projects you are excited about?

One project that I’ve been working on looks at what I refer to as ‘existential entrepreneurship.’ There are a lot of reasons people start businesses, from very practical reasons to big, transcendent reasons like wanting to change the world. There’s a bunch of research on what motivates and inspires entrepreneurs, but, amazingly, there’s almost no research on how meaning in life connects to entrepreneurship. So that’s an area that I’m doing some research. One of the things that we found already is that among people who want to start a business, the more they believe that they have the ability to live a meaningful life – what we call existential agency – the more motivated they are to pursue entrepreneurial ambitions and to persist and be resilient as they face challenges. That’s one big area I’m looking at, and there are others around that theme such as how meaning might influence innovative thinking or new ways of solving problems. I think all of that has connections to the big themes of the Challey Institute, and I’m definitely excited about pursuing them.

How has philanthropic support helped you?

With donor support, we are able to do really interesting work. The research I am doing now is connecting people’s pursuit of meaning to their entrepreneurial ambitions. We’ve done other work looking at how people support a broader culture of entrepreneurship and the extent to which people see the value of businesses. We wouldn’t be able to ask these questions without support, because all research takes funding. The Institute also creates energy and that is in large part thanks to donors and the people who have the vision behind it to help make those aspirations a reality.  

The Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth aims to advance understanding in the areas of innovation, trade and institutions to identify policies and solutions that enhance economic growth and opportunity. Learn more at
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