Research Feature

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The Truth About Behavioral Change

  • Research Feature
  • Read Time: 14 min 

In this article drawn from his new book, How Behavior Spreads, UPenn professor Damon Centola explains how the thinking about social networks is changing. Recent research reveals that depending on long-established concepts such as “weak ties” and “long bridges” to drive the adoption of new innovations and organizational change can be a prescription for failure.

A New Playbook for Diversified Companies

  • Research Feature
  • Read Time: 17 min 

Scholars have argued for years that high levels of diversification harm company performance and value creation. But multi-business companies can do quite well. Those that thrive tend to do three things: They limit the number of business models in their portfolio and support them with a cohesive operating model. They tailor the corporate parenting strategy to the needs of individual business units. And they allocate resources according to the role played by each business unit.

Bill It, Kill It, or Keep It Free?

  • Research Feature
  • Read Time: 14 min 

Many B2B companies seek to grow beyond traditional product lines by venturing into new services. Yet they often overlook the opportunity to capture sales from free services they provide. This article outlines the free-to-fee, or F2F, service transition. It shows how to inventory free services (categorizing them as profit drains, distributor delights, competitive weapons, or gold nuggets) and lays out a path for profitably generating revenues.

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Breaking Logjams in Knowledge Work

Despite the well-documented costs of overload, many leaders still think organizations thrive under pressure. They have a lot to learn from manufacturing, where managers have adopted a “pull” system to manage task flow, improving productivity and performance. This concept can be used to prevent overload in knowledge work, too. And “visual management” techniques make it easier to apply pull thinking to a portfolio of projects by rendering nonphysical tasks tangible. Two recent changes at the Broad Institute, an MIT-affiliated biomedical and genomic research center, illustrate how.

How to Launch Products in Uncertain Markets

How should companies launch products in times of uncertainty? Should they “wait and see” until uncertainty resolves — or commit to a full-scale launch and ride it out? Conventional wisdom says being early to market is the right choice, but that is not always the case. Many companies can benefit from a mixed, “act and see” approach.

Selling Solutions Isn’t Enough

Rather than trying to sell standardized products or services to the biggest possible set of buyers, B2B companies need to develop ways to help specific customers achieve better outcomes. Instead of describing their solutions, companies first need to understand customers’ specific challenges, objectives, operating practices, and competitive environment, then create offerings to deliver value within a customer’s specific business context and culture.

A More Profitable Approach to Product Returns

A relatively small number of purchase and return metrics can accurately predict customer profitability — and the likelihood of policy abuse. By using analytics to identify the few customers who cost the company the most money by abusing return policies before they make their next purchase, companies can prevent abusive returns, avoid PR disasters, and boost their profitability.

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Building an Ethically Strong Organization

Unethical behavior and misconduct has been a persistent problem in the business world. A company’s ethical norms are a cumulative outcome of how daily ethical dilemmas are addressed in the workplace. Over time, these micro-level issues can evolve into a corporate ethics scandal — unless organizations work to help employees make ethical choices day to day.

The Changing Face of Innovation in China

The art of bian lian — or “face changing” — is integral to Sichuan opera: A main character changes masks to avoid capture by foes. The transformation is quick and surprising, the new face clearly different. In the theater of business, Chinese performers are undergoing a rapid transformation of their own as they seek to evolve from backroom producers to the world’s leading face of innovation.

Why High-Tech Commoditization Is Accelerating

Technology-intensive product manufacturers, automakers, or white goods makers used to be able to capitalize on their longstanding engineering and design leadership to cement their positions. But that’s no longer the case. Today, young upstarts in many product segments, especially from China, can develop world-class design and production capabilities in a short period of time. In some cases, they are closing gaps with long-established incumbents and becoming market leaders within a decade.

The Mindsets of a Leader

Researchers have identified six distinct mindsets that contribute to leaders’ portfolio of leadership styles by asking one simple question: Whom do the leaders serve? Identifying these mindsets can help companies recognize how the leader’s styles are helping — or hurting — their performance.

Building the Right Ecosystem for Innovation

As digital disruption expands, many legacy businesses seek partnerships with tech companies to maintain competitiveness in the digital sphere. But instead of a centralized “hub” partnership, some companies find greater success through an adaptive ecosystem model, where partners develop significant projects or innovations together. This type of strategy requires imagination and flexibility.

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Finding Applications for Technologies Beyond the Core Business

Too often, companies with products that have alternative potential markets miss their opportunity: Either they fail to see the possibility of alternative markets, or they simply lack the will to do the necessary groundwork to explore the opportunity. Leveraging existing technology for new uses can be tricky, but the return is greater profit and a revitalized business model.

The Hybrid Trap: Why Most Efforts to Bridge Old and New Technology Miss the Mark

Mature companies often lack the vision and the commitment to fully commit to new technologies — even when consumers are ready for them. This leads firms to develop watered down products with limited capabilities and leaves them exposed to upstart competitors.

The Store Is Dead — Long Live the Store

At the same time that many traditional retailers are closing offline stores, digitally native vertical brands such as Bonobos and Warby Parker are aggressively expanding into offline locations. And both online and offline retailers are converging in experience-oriented “showrooms.”

What to Expect From Agile

What happens when a company whose roots go back over a century — a bank, no less — decides to adopt agile management methods developed in the software industry? Though ING bank in the Netherlands is less than three years into the process — and it’s therefore premature to declare the initiative a success — taking a deep dive into the organization’s early experience with agile is nonetheless instructive.

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