Developing Strategy

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Mastering Strategy

  • Interview
  • Read Time: 15 min 

How can executives develop their skills as strategists? One way is to learn from the masters. The book Strategy Rules: Five Timeless Lessons From Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs (HarperCollins, 2015) explores insights drawn from the careers of these former CEOs of Microsoft, Intel, and Apple. In a Q&A, the book's authors, David B. Yoffie of Harvard Business School and Michael A. Cusumano of MIT Sloan, explain how strategic thinking is a capability that leaders — even the superstars — develop over time.

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From the Editor: Disruption Everywhere?

The Fall 2015 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review has two big themes: developing tomorrow's leaders, and disruption. In a special report on leadership, four articles explore how to engage, keep, and train the next generation of managers. “Preparing for Disruptions Through Early Detection” highlights the detection techniques to become more resilient. And “How Useful Is the Theory of Disruptive Innovation?” takes a deep dive into Clayton M. Christensen’s influential theory of disruptive innovation.


The Leaders’ Choice

The next generation of business executives will face a choice: What kind of companies do they want to lead? Organizations that will treat most employees as costs to be minimized — or ones where both employees and the company prosper together? So-called “high-road” companies begin with different values and assumptions about the workplace. But few MBAs are learning about high-road strategies in their courses, and they don’t learn that they will have distinct choices in how to compete.

Image courtesy of Flickr user A. Strakey.

How Useful Is the Theory of Disruptive Innovation?

Clayton M. Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation has been very influential. But how well does the theory describe what happens in business? The authors of this article surveyed industry experts for each of 77 case examples of disruptive innovation found in two of Christensen’s seminal books. The results suggest that many of the cases do not correspond closely with four elements of the theory of disruptive innovation — and the theory may not fit as many situations as is often assumed.

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How is Digitization Affecting Your Business?

  • Blog
  • Read Time: 2 min 

How much of a threat does digital disruption present to your business? A short online questionnaire from Peter Weill and Stephanie L. Woerner, both of MIT Sloan's Center for Information Systems Research, helps assess digital risk. “Although sweeping technology-enabled change often takes longer than we expect, history shows that the impact of such change can be greater than we ever imagined,” they write. “Think steam engines, cars, airplanes, TVs, telephones and, most recently, mobile phones and e-books.”



Thriving in an Increasingly Digital Ecosystem

Research from MIT Sloan School of Management’s Center for Information Systems Research says that to prepare for a future of digital disruption, companies need to consider which of four business models to adapt. "Given the amount of turmoil digital disruption is causing, it’s time for companies to evaluate these threats and opportunities and start creating new business options for the future — the more connected future of digital ecosystems," write Peter Weill and Stephanie L. Woerner, both of CISR. Companies also need to develop new capabilities in two areas: learning more about their customers and becoming "more of an ecosystem."


Why Corporate Social Responsibility Isn’t a Piece of Cake

Corporate Social Responsibility "is fraught with contradictions, subject to political challenges and demands deep commitment," argue José Carlos Marques and Henry Mintzberg. Responsible corporate behavior, they write, isn't simply “doing well by doing good.” Instead, six changes need to be considered, within and beyond our private institutions. These changes include fostering ethical judgment within the enterprise, rethinking compensation and acknowledging the benefits of regulation.


The New Mission for Multinationals

Something strange is happening as globalization marches forward: Increasingly, powerful local companies are winning out against multinational competitors. Some 73% of executives at large multinational companies say that “local companies are more effective competitors than other multinationals” in emerging markets. To compete effectively, multinationals need to let go of their global strategies and embrace a new mission: Integrate locally and adapt globally. That means becoming embedded in local distribution, supply, talent and regulatory networks as well as in the broader society.

Image courtesy of The Walt Disney Company
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Is It Time to Hire a Chief Legal Strategist?

  • Blog
  • Read Time: 3 min 

Here’s a strategic angle that most businesses don’t think about: how they can use the law to secure strategic business goals. Leading companies such as the Walt Disney Company have managed to deploy their legal departments to shape the legal environment in order to secure long-term competitive advantages. But approaching legal issues in sophisticated and creative ways isn’t generally a specialty of most C-suite executives. That’s where a “chief legal strategist” comes in.


The Power of Asking Pivotal Questions

Good strategic thinking and decision making often require a shift in perspective — particularly in environments characterized by significant uncertainty and change. Managers can make better decisions by examining both broad market trends and less visible undercurrents. But the questions leaders pose sometimes get in the way of solving the right problem or seeing more innovative solutions. Here, the authors present six questions that challenge executives to incorporate broader perspectives.



Adapting to the Sharing Economy

Instead of buying and owning products, consumers are increasingly interested in leasing and sharing them. New strategies can help companies embrace this “collaborative consumption.” For instance, Ikea and Patagonia have found that helping people resell or give away products both enhances the companies' reputations and helps customers create space in their homes for new Ikea and Patagonia items. Companies have also found value in embracing opportunities to share existing assets and capacities.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Mikel Ortega.
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The Key to Business Success: 'Stringing Multiple Opportunities Together'

  • Blog
  • Read Time: 2 min 

New research looks at the strategies executives use in capturing new growth opportunities. “Resist jumping at the first potential opportunity,” write Christopher B. Bingham (Kenan-Flagler Business School), Nathan R. Furr (Marriott School of Management) and Kathleen M. Eisenhardt (Stanford University). Instead, evaluate whether one opportunity will it set you up for future ones — what the authors call “sequencing opportunities.” They write: “Sustained business success appears to depend not just on capturing one opportunity but also on stringing multiple opportunities together.”

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From the Editor: Strategy in the Midst of Change

How do you develop strategy in a business environment characterized by rapid change and considerable uncertainty about the future? That’s a question that many executives in fast-changing industries face. The Fall 2014 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review features a special report on strategy in changing markets, with articles on creating new strategic narratives, capturing new opportunities and finding the right strategic role for a board.


Beyond Forecasting: Creating New Strategic Narratives

In rapidly changing industries, it can be hard for established companies to build momentum for new strategic directions. But by rethinking the past and present and reimagining the future, managers can construct strategic narratives that enable innovation. A new study helps to understand how managers actually make strategy in conditions of considerable uncertainty, and do it in a way that is coherent, plausible and acceptable to most key stakeholders in the organization.


The Opportunity Paradox

How can companies capture new opportunities most effectively? When evaluating new business opportunities, there’s a paradoxical tension between strategic focus and flexibility. Managers tend to be opportunists or strategists, and while most managers focus their attention on opportunity execution, opportunity selection appears to matter as much. Sustained business success seems to depend not just on capturing one opportunity but also on stringing multiple opportunities together.



Finding the Right Corporate Legal Strategy

How can companies use the law to gain strategic advantages? Some companies move beyond viewing the law just in terms of compliance and use their legal environment to secure a competitive advantage. Companies can adopt one of five types of legal strategies: avoidance, compliance, prevention, value or transformation. The right strategy for a company will depend on factors such as its business model, managers’ attitudes toward the law and the legal department’s ability to collaborate with managers.


Asia Pulp & Paper and Greenpeace: Building New Directions, Together

When two organizations are on opposite ends of the spectrum with regard to sustainability issues, it may seem like there’s no hope of ever reaching agreement. Such was the case when Greenpeace and Asia Pulp sat down to negotiate a truce after Greenpeace’s hard-hitting campaign to change Asia Pulp’s forestry practices, which Greenpeace saw as destroying endangered rainforest habitat. But as Asia Pulp’s Aida Greenbury explains, it’s possible even for two polar opposites to find areas of common ground and work together for sustainable business practices.


Crafting Health Care’s Future at Kaiser Permanente

Dr. Yan Chow is a director in the Innovation and Advanced Technology group at Kaiser Permanente. While a physician with over two decades of primary care clinical practice experience, Dr. Chow also has a keen interest in technology (he’s founded several technology startups). His areas of expertise: health care IT innovation, telehealth, big data and analytics. Here, he talks about innovation and the future of health care.

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The Digital C-Suite

A new study finds that executives at large companies are unhappy with their digital strategies and ability to make decisions on technology. The problem? Lack of cohesion and coordination among departments. Having all C-level executives engage with technology and digital business strategy might be the answer.


From the Editor: Decision Making in the Digital Age

Business executives today have access to far more data than any previous generation, and that transforms the way business decisions are made. The Winter 2014 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review features a special report investigating how, even with plenty of data, making wise decisions about topics like strategy can be challenging. No matter how much data we collect and analyze, our perspectives are still colored by human foibles.

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