Strategy Forum / Panelist

Erik Brynjolfsson

Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI

Stanford University

United States

Erik Brynjolfsson is the Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Professor and Senior Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI, and director of the Stanford Digital Economy Lab. He is also the Ralph Landau Senior Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, and professor by courtesy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Stanford Department of Economics. Professor Brynjolfsson’s research examines the effects of information technologies on business strategy, productivity and performance, digital commerce, and intangible assets.

Voting History

Statement Response
Online education and specialized degrees will supplant the traditional two-year full-time MBA.  Disagree “The key word here is supplant — that is “supersede and replace.” That's too strong a claim. Yes, online education and specialized degrees (many offered by the same B-schools that offer MBAs) will continue to grow substantially, but they will mostly expand the market, reaching new customers. Top-shelf MBA programs may even see growing demand, because there’s no substitute for meeting your peers face to face, while the midtier ones will be forced to sharpen their value proposition, their price point, or both.”
Sanctions against Russia will cause multinational companies to consider human rights protections in supply chains more broadly. Strongly agree “Many companies (and nations) were playing a dangerous game by doing extensive business with regimes like Putin’s. With the invasion of Ukraine and the atrocities there, that has become untenable. Responsible boards and managers will demand closer attention to human rights going forward, for both ethical and business reasons.”
Blockchain is more likely to be a sustaining innovation than a disruptive innovation in the financial sector. Disagree “The blockchain gives entrants a way to work around some of the existing protocols, institutions, and relationships that sustain the major players in the financial sector.”
The field of strategic management has overlooked the role of corporate purpose in driving business performance. Agree “Corporate purpose is important to the success of companies but difficult to model rigorously. As a result, academic researchers, especially in economics but also in strategy, haven’t studied it as carefully as they should have (but that’s changing!).”
Socially responsible mutual funds are more of a marketing tool than a solution to environmental and social problems. Disagree “There’s a growing interest among some investors in socially responsible investing. Making ESG investing easier and more salient is likely to drive management to pay more attention to environmental and social problems. That said, this sector is still rife with sloppy metrics and accounting that enable pretenders to mimic firms making real efforts to address these challenges.”
When hackers take data hostage, companies should pay the ransom. Strongly disagree “Paying ransom provides incentives for more attacks.”
Relaxing the rules around physical presence in the office will improve employee productivity and firm performance. Agree “There are too many pros and cons to having physical presence in the office to list in this short comment, and they vary by type of work done and other circumstances. Firms should experiment with new arrangements and explore where there are opportunities for remote work, flexibility, and hybrid workplaces that now make sense.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed how companies should think about business strategy. Strongly agree “I’m going to interpret “business strategy” broadly to include work arrangements. Work-from-home in the U.S. went from 16% before COVID-19 to over 50% at the peak of the pandemic, spurring big changes in the use of digital technologies, the geography of work, and the nature of interactions. After the pandemic, some of these changes will persist.”
The COVID-19 pandemic will lead companies to relocate infrastructure and employees away from dense urban locations. Agree “Companies have discovered that a lot of the work they do can be done remotely. Digital tools and infrastructure have been put to the test and mostly passed.”
The California Consumer Privacy Act will undermine the targeted advertising market by giving consumers the right to opt out of allowing companies to sell personal data to third parties. Disagree
In the wake of recent climate-related disasters and related events, such as the bankruptcy of PG&E, corporations are now planning for the increased operational risks and potential liabilities caused by climate change. Agree “Most smart corporations are certainly planning for the increased risks of climate change. Are they planning enough? Most certainly are not.”
Antitrust policy should intervene more decisively to limit the scope of large technology platforms. Neither agree nor disagree “There are novel and disparate challenges for economics and society created by platform technologies. While antitrust policy can be useful in some cases, it is often the wrong tool for addressing other challenges. This is especially true when policy makers don't yet understand the principles of digital, networked, platform economics, which can create unintended outcomes.”
U.S. regulations have been rolled back in a number of areas, including emissions standards and clean water. Companies will decide to voluntarily adhere to rules that closely resemble the original standards. Disagree “Pollution is a classic example of an externality: The costs are paid by others. Therefore, firms don’t have a direct economic incentive to reduce pollution. That justifies intervention, e.g., via government regulations. In some cases, executives will do the right thing anyway — because of their own values or public pressure — but those levers generally fall short of creating the optimal reductions.”
The Business Roundtable’s new Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation indicates a shift away from shareholder value maximization as the sole purpose of the corporation and toward a broader view of value creation.
This shift will have material impact on the well-being of U.S. workers.
Agree
“Corporations, like all organizations, have multiple stakeholders with varying interests. Workers are among those stakeholders — and recognizing this fact will likely increase their bargaining power and thus, their well-being whenever there are economic rents to be shared.”
In the next decade, we will see the first sustainably profitable private commercial activities in space. Agree “Virgin Galactic claims $80M in deposits. Blue Origin has a similar program underway. Both aim for service within a few years. Both the supply and the demand for space tourism will be significant within a decade, as costs come down and the ranks of the ultrarich grow. Note: I’m writing this as I use Virgin Atlantic’s Wi-Fi at 35,000 feet over the ocean — there is no great stagnation.”
Introducing 5G networks 3-5 years ahead of other countries will give Chinese firms an advantage. Strongly agree “5G is a big deal, and the U.S. is fumbling its rollout.”
The increase in stock market volatility that began in 2018 will last for another three to five years. Neither agree nor disagree
A hard Brexit will have a significant negative impact on many businesses, even if they do not have a U.K. or European presence. Agree
China is no longer the most attractive growth opportunity for Western multinationals. Neither agree nor disagree “China is an enormously attractive opportunity for businesses, but there are also many other growth opportunities, particularly when applying new technologies for digitization and AI.”
In the next five years, the blockchain will have a transformative effect on finance in emerging markets. Strongly disagree “The blockchain is an intellectually interesting technology in search of a problem it can solve better than good old, public-key cryptography plus a traditional database or ledger. So far at least, the use cases have been driven more by hype and outright scams than practical benefit.”