Strategy

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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.

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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.

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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.

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How Strategic Is Your Board?

Strategic thinking at the top of a company is more important than ever for business survival. But boards of directors have no clear model to follow when it comes to developing the strategic role for the companies they oversee. Should they supervise, cocreate or support strategy? A structured assessment of a board’s strategic responsibilities can bring clarity to its role in creating strategy, and boards should be prepared to change their role in strategy if the industry context changes.

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Creating More Accurate Acquisition Valuations

Deal markets can be “hot” or “cold,” and the state of the economy can bias executives’ evaluation of potential acquisitions. For instance, relying on discounted cash flow scenarios can bolster managers’ sense of confidence and create unrealistically low perceptions of uncertainty. Executives can mitigate valuation biases by having a checklist — the list tempers natural inclinations to focus on the value of growth options in “hot” markets and risk of investment in “cold” markets.

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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.

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Is Your Company Addicted to Value Extraction?

Is your company focused on creating value — or on siphoning it off from others? Capturing value from other stakeholders by manipulating the competitive market process to the company’s advantage exposes a company to reputational or legal risks. It also can undermine corporate values. Value extraction is typically easier than developing a competitive advantage through ongoing value creation. Companies can get hooked on the practice, to the detriment of real value creation.

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How to Win With a Multisided Platform Business Model

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“Increasing awareness of business models and the spectacular MSP successes from the past decade have prompted many entrepreneurs and investors to attempt building or identifying ‘the next eBay,’” writes Andrei Hagiu, an associate professor in the strategy group at the Harvard Business School. But successful MSPs such as PayPal, eBay and Alibaba are the exception rather than the rule. Haigi offers four observations about what new companies can do to position themselves to be among the winners rather than the losers.

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When Should You Fire Customers?

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Many customers are simply not profitable. Letting them go is one option, but so is trying to train them out of expensive behavior. Options suggested by Jiwoong Shin and K. Sudhir, both of Yale School of Management, include reducing services to unprofitable customers and educating them to use less costly service channels. “We recognize the mix of concerns, both ethical and practical, that swirl around firing customers,” write Shin and Sudhir. “We advocate firing customers only as a last resort.”

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Strategic Decisions for Multisided Platforms

Some of the fastest growing businesses in recent years — companies such as Facebook, eBay and LinkedIn — are “multisided platforms” that enable interactions between two or more sets of participants. The spectacular success of some of these MSPs has caught the attention of many entrepreneurs and investors. But building a multisided platform business requires savvy decisions on everything from design to governance to pricing.

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How Big Data is Influencing Big Companies

A recent data and analytics survey sheds light on what large organizations are actually doing with big data initiatives.

The Big Data Executive Survey 2013: The State of Big Data in the Large Corporate World surveyed nearly 100 senior executives from Fortune 1000 companies, who reported increasing commitment to big data projects. Most executives (70%) are looking to improve their “time to answer” with big data.

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Acquisitions That Make Your Company Smarter

It’s challenging to successfully integrate any acquired company. It’s even more complicated when you purchase a business for its knowledge. From Pfizer Inc.’s acquisition of Icagen Inc. to Walt Disney’s acquisition of Pixar, knowledge-based acquisitions are focused on acquiring new knowledge — related to product features, customer needs, processes or technologies — and depend on assimilating the two companies’ expertise. Included: a sidebar on “Six Steps for Smoother Knowledge Transfer.”

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The Hidden Costs of the U.S. Government Shutdown

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Standard & Poor’s estimated the short-term cost of the recent U.S. government shutdown at $24 billion. MIT Sloan professor and former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson discusses the potential long-term consequences if trust in U.S. currency is undermined by continuing political uncertainty.

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The Sweet Spot of Sustainability Strategy

Today’s fringe issues in the sustainability world often become tomorrow’s mainstream and generic market expectations, writes Gregory Unruh of George Mason University. Between these two extremes lies a third territory, which Unruh calls “strategic.” “It is in this strategic territory that proactive companies have the best opportunity to influence the sustainability standards for their industry,” he writes.

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Driving Change Through Corporate Programs

CEOs of large companies introduce corporate programs as a way to foster strategic renewal. But whether the goal is boosting profitability, improving business models or establishing new directions for growth, it’s important to match the design of the program with the desired outcomes.

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Strategic Choices in Converging Industries

As industries converge and seemingly unrelated businesses suddenly become rivals, managers must understand the new challenges and the long-term implications. A six-year study of convergence in the telecommunications, information technology, media and entertainment sectors by the authors shows that savvy companies choose one of four strategic paths: they become a technology pioneer, a market attacker, an ecosystem aggregator or a business remodeler.

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Transparency as a Competitive Advantage: Think Very Carefully About Communicating Your Data Sharing Initiatives

In the weeks following revelations that the NSA has a domestic spying network that taps the electronic and telephone communiqués of nearly every American, consumers have intensified their concerns about corporate complicity in government data snooping. That leads to the question: Are we at the beginning of a consumer backlash that will stymie expected economic growth related to data-sharing? Or are consumers resisting the inevitable: a new era of diminished privacy?

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The Pitfalls of Using Online and Social Data in Big Data Analysis

Is Twitter a litmus test for how a segment of society is acting — or thinking — at any given moment? Not quite. Striking new research out of Princeton University and the University of North at Carolina Chapel Hill suggests that inferences based on how people use social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook should be reconsidered because these platforms represent skewed samples from which it is difficult to draw accurate conclusions.

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Why Making Money Is Not Enough

The authors, who include Ratan Tata, the former chairman of the Tata Group, argue that that “it is possible to build and lead companies that retain a deeper purpose.” Tata calls for companies to launch “corporate lifeboats” — such as new business experiments in next-generation clean technologies and serious business initiatives in the underserved space at the “base of the pyramid” — to transform their operations for sustainability.

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