HBR 2006-12

August 23, 2007

Printed magazines aren’t selling so well with so much free content online – this should be of no surprise to anyone. Why would someone pay for Vanity Fair when you can get the same smug cutting edge humor and social commentary free of charge on Wade Olson’s blog? I sincerely doubt that many magazines factored my blog’s future popularity when projecting earnings. And that shall be their undoing.

However you do sometimes actually get what you pay for. Am I talking about sex? Not that you know of; I’m officially referring to the Harvard Business Review. Can a magazine really be worth $17 USD when any opinion on any topic is just a google search away? In my opinion: definitely. From my sampling pool, every magazine is like a great album: there’s nary a weak track to be found. Every article is well written by someone who has clearly a vested interest and background in the topic, and avoids the expected and banal angles of other periodicals.

To tell you how highly I prize this magazine, when I travel I only focus on 4 things at the airport: pondering why the ghost of Richard Reed still has sufficient power to make my shoes come off in the security line, getting a bag of overpriced Peanut M&Ms to smuggle onto the flight as a snack, finding a Ms. Pac-Man game to dominate while waiting for my invariably delayed flight, and buying this month’s Harvard Business Review. Then while on the flight, I look intimidating reading such a high-brow magazine and little do others know I was just debating whether to use my last power pill to get all four ghosts or chase down that banana for 5,000 points. Suckers.

On my flight to Frankfurt in November of last year, I got the December edition of HBR and once again it delivered the goods. I can’t believe I’ve failed to write about that magazine yet, but such is life. My attraction? As you may guess from previous blog posts, I’m interested in investigating business strategies and thinking about what’s works with OSS, what fails, and what is just plain orthogonal, non-applicable and non-sensical. The magazine is referenced here (unfortunately must be purchased still); here’s a brief run-down of what I found noteworthy:

Strategy and Society: The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility: This article talks about the very applicable idea of CSR. Corporate Social Responsibility is really a fascinating topic because you can never truly know the motivations of individuals/business units/organizations. What are the motives, intentions and goals? Are they actually noble? Or are the just looking for good press through good deeds? In essence, are they buying goodwill and a competitive advantage/differentiator or are they interested in stewardship and charity?

I’d strongly recommend reading up on this topic and thinking about the organizations that you deal with, and the organizations the KDE deals with. CSR is very hot right now (and unfortunately the term “trendy” might be all too accurate). In fact, CSR is unfortunately tied with “damage control” measures for firms in trouble. Worth thinking about.

How Many Women Do Boards Need?: Don’t be turned away thinking this is a condescending hiring quota piece. The strengths of female directors and executive are discussed, and how male-dominated boards can suffer from myopia without the fairer sex involved in decision making. Further, the impact of female involvement can be dampened and minimized when they feel isolated or outnumbered. So the question how many really points to “Strength in numbers.” Even one or two female executives may not balance out the testosterone in a board room.

Disruptive Innovation for Social Change: The term “catalytic innovation” is used to describe a type of disruptive innovation. I’d like to be so bold as to quote from the summary here since I can’t paraphrase any better:

Unlike disruptive innovations, though, catalytic innovations are focused on creating social change. Catalytic innovators are defined by five distinct qualities. First, they create social change through scaling and replication. Second, they meet a need that is either overserved (that is, the existing solution is more complex than necessary for many people) or not served at all. Third, the products and services they offer are simpler and cheaper than alternatives, but recipients view them as good enough. Fourth, they bring in resources in ways that initially seem unattractive to incumbents. And fifth, they are often ignored, put down, or even discouraged by existing organizations, which don’t see the catalytic innovators’ solutions as viable.

Sound familiar?

Managing the Right Tension: There are typical choices a company must make: focus on long-term or short-term goals, growth or profitability, and the good of the organization vs what’s best for the business units. Choosing one side all too often has consequences for the other. So how to find the right “tension” to maximize the success and health of the organization? That’s the question to be answered. Now think about the e.V., our Board, the community at large, and the decisions we have to maintain a growing community. What decisions might possibly have detrimental impacts and how to find the right “tension” between competing options?

I hope these far-too-brief summaries at least give you a direction for some thought or further reading. And hopefully you’ll realize that a stuffy over-priced Ivy League magazine has more applicability to KDE than at first glance.

The August 2007 edition is sitting on my desk. It talks about branding and success factors. I’ll try to go more in depth on this next set of articles. and I’ll try to write a review sooner while it’s still fresh in my mind.


One Response to “HBR 2006-12”

  1. jospoortvliet Says:

    Sounds indeed as an interesting piece of paper. But I think many scientific magazines are a good read. The articles are generally of high quality, cuz they’re not written by a journalist but by scientists. They do have a whole different target audience compared to regular magazines, of course…

    Anyway, I think I’m gonna see if my University has a subscription 😉

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