Harvard

Andrew Hill

Clayton Christensen (Peter Foley/Bloomberg)

Clay Christensen is a gentle man, of devout Mormon faith, prone to sentimentality and beloved by many – not least for his lessons to students on how to find fulfilment, which he turned into an unexpected bestseller, How Will You Measure Your Life?

But the avuncular Harvard Business School star is hot under the collar about this week’s New Yorker attack on the book (The Innovator’s Dilemma) and theory (disruptive innovation) for which he is best known.

What seems to have made him particularly angry is the fact that the author, Jill Lepore, who is also a Harvard academic, did not drop by to chat to him about her detailed allegations that his theory does not stand up. 

Andrew Hill

David Willetts, Britain’s universities minister, has a bee in his two-brained bonnet about flawed incentives for British business academics.

Prestige in business schools comes from doing research and being published in peer-reviewed journals, he told an audience of managers, academics and members of parliament in London on Tuesday, launching a discussion of whether poor management is holding back growth. It’s a theme he’s touched on before in relation to wider scientific and academic research. Mr Willetts says that as the lead journals are US-based, they tend to be interested in sophisticated analysis of historical, mainly American, industry data:

We’re rewarding British academics and British business schools for analysing American industries… It’s not at all clear to me that this the right set of incentives.

This has an unwelcome tinge of nationalism but it is hard to argue with the underlying point. 

Andrew Hill

Harvard Business School has launched its big US competitiveness project. It’s a full-bore research-led effort dedicated to improving “the ability of firms operating in the US to compete successfully in the global economy, while supporting high and rising living standards for Americans”. How will non-American alumni feel about that?

Michael Porter, HBS’s competitiveness expert, is in the vanguard. He talked to me about how the US was starting to lag behind when I interviewed him in September, and he and colleague Jan Rivkin reiterate some of these themes in a video interview for the competitiveness project with Justin Fox of Harvard Business Review. As Porter says:

The US’s vitality and dynamism [are] really very fundamentally important to the global economy.

Fair enough. But the project does underline that HBS, for all its aspirations to attract more international students and faculty, is an American business school, with American preoccupations. There is something a little odd about hearing Nitin Nohria – the first HBS dean born outside the US – declare in another video interview that he “can’t think of a problem that affects everybody in the world, not just in the US, more than this question of US competitiveness”. Really?  

Andrew Hill

It is a shock to hear Muhtar Kent, chief executive of that quintessentially American company Coca-Cola, suggest that the US is now less friendly to business than China.

But Mr Kent’s comments – “In the west, we’re forgetting what really worked 20 years ago” – echo what I heard two weeks ago at Harvard when I talked to Michael Porter, perhaps the world’s best-known expert on competitiveness. 

Andrew Hill

Where consulting meets academia, there is a grey area. Where consulting and academia meet regime change, the grey area can be red-hot.  Monitor Group – the management consulting firm co-founded by Harvard professors – is the latest to concede that it was burnt by work it did in Libya.