Strategy Forum / Panelist

Joshua Gans

Rotman School of Management

University of Toronto


While Gans’ research interests are varied, he has developed specialties in the nature of technological competition and innovation, industrial organization, and regulatory economics. He is the Strategy Editor of Management Science. He has written several books including The Disruption Dilemma (MIT Press, 2016) and Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence (HBR Press, 2018).

Voting History

Statement Response
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s proposed ban on noncompete agreements will impact innovation and entrepreneurship outside of existing technology hubs. Strongly agree “The ban will be a potentially very significant positive for innovation, both within and outside of existing technology hubs. Research has clearly shown this.”
The diametric experiences of Disney and UEFA illustrate that firms should refrain from making political statements in support of particular stakeholders. Strongly disagree “If there is one thing corporations should be allowed to speak on, it is on policies that impact their employees or customers, regardless of political consequences. They may want to take that into account, but it seems a mistake for corporations not to express views when it impacts stakeholders or related parties.”
BP’s decision to dial back plans for cutting oil and gas production shows that short-term financial performance pressure will make it difficult for many firms to transition their strategies toward more sustainable business models. Agree “I am not sure what folks were expecting. BP is in the oil business. Why would it want to cut back production when oil prices are high? This isn’t about short-term financial performance pressure but about how such firms actually make money. Hoping for a change in objectives will always be a secondary measure compared with actual government regulation.”
Digital platform companies like Uber and Netflix have lost their first-mover advantage. Disagree “There are weak and strong versions of first-mover advantage. The strong version (which hardly ever happens) is that you move first and get a monopoly. The weak version is that you move first and guarantee your place in the industry. Uber and Netflix have that. Uber had first-mover disadvantages (having to change regulations), as well as advantages in terms of riders and drivers on the same platform. Netflix had to reinvent its business, but its global outlook has given it a greater competitive advantage over rivals owned by older incumbents in nonstreaming media.”
New salary transparency laws will cause companies to increase bonus pay and other nonreportable perks as a share of total compensation. Neither agree nor disagree “This is one of those claims where “it depends.” Increased transparency impacts employee expectations and also employer benchmarking. By changing the salary share of total compensation, employers can distort the signal that salary disclosures are sending. That might be useful when negotiating with employees, but that transparency sends useful information to other firms in setting expectations in negotiations with employees. Do they want other firms to know that they pay their employees well, or not? It depends. Do they want employees to base their application decisions on salary statements? It depends. Hence, it is hard to predict the impact here.”
Artificial intelligence is reducing wasteful holiday giving (i.e., deadweight loss) by helping online retailers to better match people to presents. Strongly disagree “If a retailer is employing AI to recommend products to consumers and the AI has been trained on what people usually shop for around Christmas, then in all likelihood it is exacerbating rather than mitigating waste. Put simply, it takes some serious AI to find customers who will pay for a “fish tie,” and the more it finds, the more waste there is.”
Charging for user verification will lead to increased user engagement and trust on Twitter. Agree “It has to be real user verification — that is, someone verifies that the user is a real person. Then people can choose to follow verified users and be assured that they are not bots or unknown entities. If it is a label of verification for pay, that won’t help at all.”
Corporate investments in diversity, equity, and inclusion should be expected to generate a monetary return on investment. Neither agree nor disagree “To the extent that entrenched bias leads to less productive people, then eliminating that bias is profitable. No argument there. But as for investments to eliminate that bias, these often include brief interventions that I don’t see leading to long-term change. Change is hard. It requires management with a vision as to how a company ought to run, the building of relational contracts, and a broad strategy that integrates internal alignment with external positioning. As soon as these things get a name, like DEI, I worry that means that the hard work of change is being packaged into the lure of the easy out. Then people want to identify costs and measure benefits. This is an area where that simply isn’t going to cut it.”
The era of dominance for Tesla in the EV market is coming to an end. Strongly disagree “There are new entrants in EVs against Tesla from startups and old non-EV incumbents. But the design of a Tesla so integrates software and hardware that it is architecturally difficult to replicate. Add to that the likelihood that its brand and quality are a decade ahead, and you have to conclude that it is premature to believe its market leadership will be effectively challenged anytime soon.”
Online education and specialized degrees will supplant the traditional two-year full-time MBA.  Disagree “The death of the MBA has been forecast for years. While it is easy to imagine the knowledge taught going online, the credentials and the cohort effects are another matter. The best bet at the moment is that it will continue, although a reduction to one year is not out of the question with a more specialized add-on. (Basically, it would be convenient for me if the MBA doesn’t die before 2038.)”
Starbucks’s plans to increase wages for nonunionized workers is a shortsighted strategy. Agree “Unionization is coming back. It was short-sighted policies that led to that. If Starbucks is trying to stem that trend, it is unlikely to be just an issue of wages. It is more likely to be broader work conditions. But changing those requires investment and a longer-run focus.”
Sanctions against Russia will cause multinational companies to consider human rights protections in supply chains more broadly. Neither agree nor disagree “The sanctions against Russia have shut down many multinational corporations’ activities in Russia. Had they considered human rights obligations, would they have preemptively mitigated that risk? It is unlikely. Human rights abuses didn’t lead to this degree of sanctions. Russia’s military aggression did, and companies had assessed a low probability that would have taken place. I think this might make some more mindful, but the real effects are hard to parse.”
Blockchain is more likely to be a sustaining innovation than a disruptive innovation in the financial sector. Disagree “A sustaining innovation is, at its heart, aligned with the architecture of the current system. Blockchain — at least in its more talked about forms (i.e., permissionless) — is not at all aligned with that. Importantly, it seeks to operate safely without usual trust mechanisms, which is precisely the opposite of what goes on in finance. To the extent it succeeds (still a big if), blockchain will end up being disruptive, as it will require new substitute architectures to emerge.”
The field of strategic management has overlooked the role of corporate purpose in driving business performance. Strongly disagree “The usual assumption on corporate purpose is that it is maximizing shareholder value and occasionally some other stuff. The hard part is measuring business performance. If it is simply profits or equity value, then the literature is pretty clear that having a corporation focused on that yields better performance on that metric. The only twist comes when we think of the time dimension in that those managing the corporation may have a different time horizon than those measuring performance. But this is largely a semantic issue.”
Socially responsible mutual funds are more of a marketing tool than a solution to environmental and social problems. Neither agree nor disagree “I mean, who really knows? If you forgo profitable investments because they aren’t socially responsible, that is a potentially expensive marketing campaign. But given that there are lots of funds out there, does doing this really raise the cost of capital for socially irresponsible investing? It seems unlikely. There just isn’t a substitute for directly impacting the returns to social irresponsibility.”
When hackers take data hostage, companies should pay the ransom. Agree “OK, clearly if paying the ransom won't release the bits held hostage, they shouldn't pay. But if it will solve the problem, it makes sense for them to do it, get over the immediate crisis, and then invest heavily to stop it [from] happening again. Sure, that makes it more likely others will be hacked, but that is a broader policy question. These days companies with critical systems online now have to spend [money] on security. Add that to the list of expenses caused by crime.”
Relaxing the rules around physical presence in the office will improve employee productivity and firm performance. Agree “I think the pandemic has shown people what they value about the office and what they don’t value. It is likely that what they value is less than the five to six days a week they were in the office, and part of the reason is productivity improvements. But also, if there were rules, they were likely causing anxiety with family and other requirements for flexibility. Being more flexible will help but, at the same time, it will require more coordination to ensure when people are present, other people are present. It will be more of a change in culture and norms.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed how companies should think about business strategy. Agree “Business strategy is the process by which you choose things. Will that process change? Yes. The pandemic gave rise to lots of forced experimentation, which may lead to changes in choices. The takeaway should be that businesses were doing too little experimentation before. This is what may well change.”
The COVID-19 pandemic will lead companies to relocate infrastructure and employees away from dense urban locations. Agree “COVID-19 and future pandemics make cities unsafe. To the extent that the benefits of being located in a denser place are marginal, we would expect relocation to be seriously entertained, especially as companies become more familiar with online interactions.”
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 “My guess is that there are ways to get data in any case by self-collection rather than a market. But even so, it is unclear how many consumers will opt out as a result of this law. So in the end, targeted advertising will likely be just fine.”