Strategy

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Is Hostility to Blame for Sustainability’s Leadership Gap?

When a conservative think-tank challenged Apple’s sustainability programs at a recent shareholder meeting, CEO Tim Cook didn’t back down, refusing to bow to its calls to suspend any activities that didn’t “add to the bottom line.” Apple’s shareholders rewarded him with resounding support. If sustainability is to increase its profile as a business priority, more executives will need to follow Cook’s lead.

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The Science of Managing Black Swans

In business, a black swan is neither a bird nor a ballerina — it’s a very rare convergence of factors that leads to catastrophe. New research suggests that by exploiting all types of data, managers can help prevent some black swan events, and reduce the hazards of other risky blind spots. The caveat: less intuition; more data.

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The Art of Selling with Social Tools

“Our lives have increasingly migrated online in recent years, so why wouldn’t [sales] reps want to connect with customers on the social media front as well?” That’s the logic of Hearsay Social, whose platform lets sales people keep track of what their customers are posting on Twitter, LinkedIn and even Facebook. Says Gary Liu, vp of marketing, “social media can be used very effectively to enhance real-world interactions.”

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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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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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Stories That Deliver Business Insights

Companies are gaining value from ethnography, the in-person study of how people actually use a product or service. Through its attention to the details of people’s lives, ethnography can be a powerful tool to help executives gain insights into their markets. Ethnographic stories can also be indispensable in helping executives rethink their assumptions about what customers care about and about overall strategic direction.

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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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The Art of Strategic Renewal

What does it take to transform an organization before a crisis hits? How can leaders initiate major transformations proactively? The key often lies in strategic renewal — a set of practices that can guide leaders into a new era of innovation by building strategy, experimentation and execution into the day-to-day fabric of the organization. It’s not easy: leaders find it much easier to resist change than to embrace it.

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How to Revitalize Your Digital Business Model

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What should a company do if its digital business model isn’t working very well? Peter Weill, chairman of the MIT Sloan School of Management’s Center for Information Systems Research, has created some principles to revamp the fortunes of a digital business. His framework focuses around three planks: content, experience and platform. Executives should decide which plank offers competitive advantage and develop a world-class version of it online, partnering with others for the other two planks.

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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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Bringing Sustainability Metrics to Purchasing Decisions

When hotel chain Hilton Worldwide looked at supply chain sustainability, it lacked tools to help weigh sustainability factors. Hilton partnered with sustainability consultant BSR to create the Center for Sustainable Procurement. In this interview with MIT SMR’s David Kiron, Hilton’s VP of supply management William Kornegay and Eric Olson of BSR discuss how the initiative evolved.

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Video: Making Social Business Work in Organizations

Companies are getting better at managing social tools. A new survey finds that 40% of companies say they’re getting value out of social business, double the rate of a year earlier.

Behind the increased usefulness of social business are companies that have leaders committed to making the technology work. These leaders are also putting it into corporate strategy plans and developing ways to measure social business and to reward employees for using the technology. Still, at many companies, social business remains stuck in first gear.

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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 Nine Obstacles to Digital Transformation

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To get real transformation from technology requires company leaders to set digital priorities and work together across departments to reach those goals. A new survey identifies nine significant leadership, organizational and cultural challenges that work against digital transformation. But leaders who present a strategic vision and continue to articulate it will get buy-in from employees, a large majority of whom see technology as a way to gain real competitive advantages. Digital transformation is a challenge — but a manageable one.

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How Serious Is Climate Change to Business?

The fifth annual global executive survey about sustainability and innovation conducted by MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group suggests that climate change has yet to become a very urgent issue for most companies — and that only a minority of companies are preparing for its effects. In a preview of our upcoming report (due out in the fourth quarter of 2013) we present six charts that provide a snapshot of report statistics.

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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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