Our Guide to the Fall 2023 Issue

These summaries will help you navigate our fall 2023 lineup.

Reading Time: 7 min 


Unleash the Unexpected for Radical Innovation

Wenjing Lyu, Gina Colarelli O’Connor, and Neil C. Thompson

Key Insight: Giving more new ideas the opportunity to develop over time can give rise to unexpected breakthrough innovations.

Top Takeaways: Research shows that innovators have a poor track record of predicting which of their own ideas will result in breakthroughs. This matters because some ideas that appear to be incremental at first eventually prove to be blockbusters. Discovery is a necessary first step, but it is not sufficient for assessing how promising an opportunity might become. Rather, taking more ideas to incubation gives both the company and the broader market a chance to learn about them and their potential. It also allows for unanticipated use cases to emerge.

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Rethinking Governance for Digital Innovation

David L. Rogers

Key Insight: Organizations must reevaluate their approach to governance and design new models to better support digital transformation efforts.

Top Takeaways: Rapid, iterative, customer-centric innovation is possible in large companies — but not within traditional ways of working. In this excerpt from his new book The Digital Transformation Roadmap: Rebuild Your Organization for Continuous Change, the author argues that innovation is often held back by outmoded business rules and inefficient supervisory structures. To battle that, organizations need a new approach to governance for digital innovation initiatives. That includes designing management practices that free innovators to move quickly. It also means giving managers better tools and processes for go/no-go decisions and resource allocation.

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Lego Takes Customers’ Innovations Further

Michela Beretta, Linus Dahlander, Lars Frederiksen, and Arne Thomas

Key Insight: Gains from open innovation are more likely to stick if customer collaboration is deeply fused into a company’s processes.

Top Takeaways: Lego Group has long been a model for tapping the creative power of crowdsourced idea generation. New research into Lego and BrickLink, a consumer-led channel that Lego acquired in 2019, shows that if open innovation initiatives are going to create value over time, they need to be integrated into an organization’s core processes. This strategy should include providing an outlet for external creative contributors whose ideas are rejected, and enabling customers to profit from their innovations.

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The Profound Influence of Small Choices in Digital Collaboration

Wietske Van Osch and Burcu Bulgurcu

Key Insight: Digital collaboration tools can set innovators on a disruptive or incremental path, depending on how teams choose to use them.

Top Takeaways: Digital collaboration tools, which enable virtual teamwork when employees are physically remote, have an effect on group creativity. These tools can enable teams to build either loose, open networks or tightly controlled, closed groups. Deciding which approach to take depends on the scope of a project’s ambition and the stage of the innovation process. Open organizational forums can help workers bridge across groups to find solutions to tricky problems through serendipity or unexpected sources. Private groups, on the other hand, often build a strong sense of community and produce more breakthrough innovations.

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How Outlawing Collegiate Affirmative Action Will Impact Corporate America

Derek R. Avery

Key Insight: To find high-potential talent and offer equitable opportunities to members of disadvantaged groups, organizations must reconsider their workforce pipelines.

Top Takeaways: The U.S. Supreme Court ruling outlawing the use of race and ethnicity as factors in college admissions will have wide-ranging effects. Research on three decades of state-level affirmative action bans shows that there are likely to be dramatic changes in racioethnic diversity in colleges that will lead to more homogeneous college-to-workplace talent pipelines and subsequently less diverse workplaces. Organizations committed to diversity and equity must reconsider their recruitment strategies and the emphasis they may place on hiring from elite universities.

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Procurement in the Age of Automation

Remko Van Hoek and Mary Lacity

Key Insight: Automating negotiations enables buyers to be more efficient, but the process needs to be carefully managed to address stakeholders’ concerns about fairness.

Top Takeaways: Companies that successfully automate their procurement negotiations see a wide range of benefits, including cost savings, increased supply chain resilience, and access to an expanded pool of qualified suppliers. But there is often resistance from business unit leaders, buyers, and suppliers. Six practices can help, including asking (rather than requiring) buyers to try the new process, making success visible, and creating a formal support structure to keep negotiations from becoming too complex, difficult to use, or bureaucratic.

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Using Federated Machine Learning to Overcome the AI Scale Disadvantage

Yannick Bammens and Paul Hünermund

Key Insight: A promising new technology could help smaller companies train their machine learning models on larger, decentralized data sets.

Top Takeaways: Companies with limited amounts of data are at a disadvantage compared with Big Tech companies: More data leads to better AI tools, which help attract more customers, who generate more data, and so on. Organizations can battle this shortcoming by joining forces in collaborative AI projects. A new technology, federated machine learning, has emerged as a key tool because it keeps proprietary data private. The authors describe the successful use of this approach among pharmaceutical companies and argue that it can be effective across a range of business sectors.

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Identify Critical Roles to Improve Performance

Boris Groysberg, Eric Lin, Abhijit Naik, and Sascha L. Schmidt

Key Insight: Leaders can use data analysis to identify their organization’s most critical roles and ensure that they’re filled by top performers.

Top Takeaways: Rather than building strategy around the people they have, organizations should focus on determining which roles are most valuable to their strategy and getting their top performers into those spots. Data can help identify both the most influential positions and an organization’s current stars. The authors demonstrate this with examples from professional soccer, where good teamwork is critical but the highly integrated nature of the sport can obscure what the critical roles are.

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Who Should Price a Gig?

Jovana Karanovic, Elizabeth J. Altman, and Carmelo Cennamo

Key Insight: When pricing control is shared among stakeholders on a platform, the marketplace is healthier and better serves all participants.

Top Takeaways: The question of who sets prices and what discretion other parties have to alter them is a complex one for platform operators, from ride-hailing companies such as Uber to freelance marketplaces. Successful platforms balance economic considerations and social dynamics when they decide whether the power is held by the customer, the service provider, or the platform itself. To ensure long-term sustainability and financial performance, platform managers might want to share some pricing control through hybrid approaches.

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Taming the Counterfeiting Epidemic

Robert Handfield, Anand Nair, and Thomas Y. Choi

Key Insight: Businesses must take a multilayered approach to effectively identify, contain, and prevent product counterfeits and illegitimate sales on the gray market.

Top Takeaways: Many companies lose significant revenue to counterfeiters who sell fake copies of products, and to unscrupulous supply chain partners who divert legitimate goods for unauthorized sales. To effectively combat both sources of illicit trade, leaders need to embrace a multilayered approach. In addition to keeping close tabs on the markers of suspicious activity in the supply chain, it requires using traceable packaging and educating consumers about the dangers of buying from the black market.

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Harnessing Grassroots Automation

Ian Barkin and Thomas H. Davenport

Key Insight: Teaching nontechnical employees how to automate mundane, repetitive, and time-consuming processes can result in more time for higher-value tasks.

Top Takeaways: Companies are increasingly embracing the idea of helping employees who have deep business-area expertise learn to directly automate their own work processes. With minimal training in low-code and no-code technologies, these employees are automating their most mundane and repetitive tasks. AT&T, Dentsu, Johnson & Johnson, PwC, Voya Financial, and Wesco have all taken steps into this movement, offering structured support, organization recognition, and financial rewards to “citizen automators.”

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CEOs Can Make (or Break) an Organization Redesign

Herman Vantrappen and Frederic Wirtz

Key Insight: Full CEO engagement is needed when a company is going through change, but many CEOs have difficulty staying in control.

Top Takeaways: Continual organization redesign is a fact of corporate life. In most cases, there are good business reasons to consider a redesign, despite the significant extra time, resources, and emotional energy it tends to consume. During the process, the most effective CEOs have near-continuous engagement. Leaders who lose control tend to have one of four weaknesses: half-heartedness, overappeasement, indecisiveness, or incapacitation. The authors present a framework to help leaders first recognize and then overcome their vulnerabilities.

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