Industries are in flux. Google’s driverless cars are waiting at the intersection of internal combustion and search engines. Payment companies such as M-Pesa, Stripe and PayPal are testing the locks on banks’ safe deposit boxes. Samsung, Apple and Google’s Android have put BlackBerry and Nokia on hold. If you are the chief executive of a carmaker, financial institution or mobile phone maker and you are not yet worrying about the blurred edges of what was once a clearly demarcated border between sectors, you are lost.
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? Read more
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. Read more