HBR’s 10 Must Reads 2017: A book review by Bob Morris

9781633692091_p0_v3_s118x184HBR’s 10 Must Reads: 2017
Various Contributors
Harvard Business Review Press (November 2016)

Here’s another year’s worth of management wisdom, all in one place.

This is the latest volume in a series of anthologies of articles selected by the editors of Harvard Business Review because they offer “the definitive management ideas of the year from Harvard Business Review.” The bonus article, “What Is Disruptive Innovation?” all by itself is worth far more than the total cost of this volume. Moreover, the total cost of the eleven articles would cost about $70 if purchased individually as reprints.

The material provided will help executives to achieve strategic objectives that include these, each preceded by “How to”:

o Rethink the way they work in the face of accelerating automation
o Transform their business using a platform strategy
o Apply design thinking to create innovative products and/or services
o Identify where excessive collaboration may be holding their people back
o See the theory of disruptive innovation is a new light
o Recognize the signs that their cross-cultural negotiation may be falling apart

According to the HBR editors, “Despite all the amazing advances new digital tools have brought, people still matter. Businesses need individuals who can exercise intuition and judgment, who can see the gaps in data, who can assess new ideas. Most of all, they need leaders who can inspire employees and set them up for success. Competitive advantage lies not in the latest smart devices but in the way we effectively combine the potential of both technology and people.”

In this context, I presume to add comments expressed in 1924 by 3M’s then chairman and CEO, William L. McKnight: “If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need.” If anything, that is even more important now than it was 92 years ago.

Here in Dallas near the central business district, we have a Farmer’s Market at which several merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples of their wares. In that spirit, I now share a representative selection of brief excerpts from four of the eleven articles in this volume.

First, “Collaboration is indeed the answer to many of today’s most pressing business challenges. But more isn’t always better. Leaders must learn to recognize, promote, and efficiently distribute the right kinds of collaborative work, or their teams and top talent will bear the costs of too much demand for too little supply. In fact, we believe that the time may have come for organizations to hire chief collaboration officers. By creating a senior executive position dedicated to collaboration, leaders can send a clear signal about the importance managing teamwork thoughtfully and provide the resources necessary to do it effectively. That might reduce the odds that the whole becomes far less than the sum of its parts.” Rob Cross, Reb Rebele, and Adam Grant, “Collaborative Overload”

Next, “Disruption theory does not, and never will, explain everything about innovation specifically or business success generally…But there is cause for hope: Empirical tests show that using disruptive theory makes us measurably and significantly more accurate in our predictions of which fledgling businesses will succeed. As an ever-growing community of researchers and practitioners continue to build on disruption theory and integrate it with other perspectives, we will come to a better understanding of what helps firms innovate successfully.” Clayton M. Christensen, Michael Raynor, and Rory McDonald, “What Is Disruptive Innovation?”

And then, “Chief executives have no choice but to start investing in the infrastructure, processes, and people needed to develop products in emerging market. Doing so will allow multinationals to benefit from the ‘ rural engineering’ (as Renault’s Carlos Ghosn labeled it) that’s possible there. Because of abundant skilled talent — especially engineers — and relatively low salaries in those countries, the costs of creating products there are often lower than in developed nations. But no amount of investment will result in portfolios of successful new products and services if companies don’t follow the design principles that govern the development of reverse innovations.” Amos Winter and Vijay Govindarajan, “Engineering Reverse Innovation”

Finally, “The strategy that will work in the long term, for employers and the employed, is to view smart machines as our partners and collaborators in knowledge work. By emphasizing augmentation, wee can remove the threat of automation and turn the race with the machine into a relay rather than a dash. Those who are able to smoothly transfer the baton to and from a computer will be the winners.” Thomas H. Davenport and Julia Kirby, “Beyond Automation”

The material in this volume will be especially valuable to those who reply on only a few sources for a briefing on cutting-edge thinking in several separate but interdependent dimensions of doing business. The eleven articles in this volume average 14 pages in length and are exceptionally well-written as well as authoritative.

I also highly recommend the previous HBR 10 Must Reads for 2015 and 2016. A few of the exempla applications of key issues may be somewhat dated but the issues themselves are timeless.

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