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Winter 2014
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your career? Are you committed to recasting your thinking
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editor’s letter
editor’s letter

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Clear and Foggy Paths
Sometimes strategic routes in business are clear and well marked. Each
of the three types of companies described in “Proven Paths to Innovation Success” (page 42)—Need
Seekers, Market Readers, and Technology Drivers—has its own clear
R&D strategy to follow. As it happens, this annual study of the top
1,000 companies in R&D spending
(the Strategy& Global Innovation
1000) is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The key finding back in 2004,
articulated by founding author Barry Jaruzelski, remains just as true today: The size of R&D investments is
not closely correlated with financial
performance. (The debut report featured a photo of a plaintive-looking
executive wearing a shirt that reads,
“We spent $2 billion on R&D and
all we got was this lousy T-shirt.”)
On page 50, you’ll find another kind of path: so foggy you can’t
quite see where it leads, but you may
be compelled to take it anyway. This
is the road to the Internet of Things
(IoT), an environment where we’ll
all be living in the near future, which
will probably be a bit like Harry Potter’s world. Inanimate objects, such
as sensors, controllers, and personalized appliances, will all continually

come to life around us, connected
through a worldwide array of hubs
and networks. As digital technology
expert Frank Burkitt shows, the IoT
will thoroughly change the technology industry, along with the rest of
daily existence.
In the tech industry, of course,
much of the fog comes from the
cloud. Cloud computing is shifting
the way top companies in information and communications technology do business. In “Kings of the
Cloud” (page 22), the founders of the
annual Strategy& information and
communications technology rankings—the ICT 50—describe the
way top tech companies are rethinking their strategies.
This issue, as we do every winter, we take stock of current management thinking. In our ongoing best
business books roundup, we celebrate
the most impressive works published
during the previous 12 months
(page 62). Then on page 96, we interview Haier chief executive Zhang
Ruimin, arguably the most philosophically oriented corporate head
in the world today (and one of the
most dramatically successful). The
election of another leader from Asia,
Indian Prime Minister Narendra


Modi, provides an opportunity for
noted management author Ram
Charan, Wharton professor Michael
Useem, and Korn Ferry vice chairman Dennis Carey to consider the
qualities that compel confidence in
a head of state (page 6).
Other forward-looking topics in
this issue include the B2B sharing
economy (page 8), the prospects for
large companies adopting new forms
of digital video (page 17), and the
disruption facing food retail (page
28). There are also two new “Young
Profs” pieces: INSEAD’s Erin Meyer
on improving cross-cultural communication (page 11) and Columbia’s Dan Wang on learning from
cross-cultural employee migration
(page 14). With articles like these,
even the foggiest path gains the clarity needed to take at least the first
few steps.
And so executive editor Paul
Michelman is starting along his next
path. He has left our ranks to join
a digital library called Safari Books
Online. We wish him well.
Art Kleiner

leading ideas


Politicians for Prosperity
Ram Charan, Michael Useem, and Dennis Carey
National leaders, such as India’s new prime
minister, Narendra Modi, can make or break their
country’s business climate.


The Sharing Company
Robert Vaughan
Behind the hype of peer-to-peer economics is a quiet B2B


Erin Meyer Can Make Your Global
Team Work
Christie Rizk
The INSEAD professor shows how people can communicate
across cultures.


The Untapped Value of Overseas
Dan Wang
How skilled return migrants can be your company’s agents
of change.



Can Media Firms Become Digital
Video Mavens?
Christopher Vollmer, Sebastian Blum, and Kristina Bennin
Traditional entertainment companies are buying up new
multichannel networks in pursuit of online audiences.


s+b Trend Watch
Growth, Complexity, and the Profit Conundrum



Kings of the Cloud
Olaf Acker, Germar Schröder, and Florian Gröne
The leading companies in the tech industry are reworking
their business models to deliver everything-as-a-service.



What Mom-and-Pop Stores Can Teach
Grocery Chains
Tim Laseter and Steffen Lauster
To stave off online competitors, supermarkets should work
with their suppliers and get back to personalized service.




Proven Paths to
Innovation Success
Barry Jaruzelski, Volker Staack, and Brad Goehle
Ten years of research reveal the best
R&D strategies for the decade ahead.

38 Profiling the Global Innovation 1000
42 China’s Innovation Engine



The Nothing That’s Everything
James O’Toole


Greasing the Skids of Invention
David K. Hurst


John Jullens and Steven Veldhoen

Tomorrow’s Bottom Line
John Elkington

44 The 10 Most Innovative Companies



Daniel Gross

A Strategist’s Guide to
the Internet of Things


Frank Burkitt
The digital interconnection of billions of devices is
today’s most dynamic business opportunity.



Haier’s chief executive built a
winning global company by
continually reframing his
management philosophy.

Chris Curran

Best Business
Books 2014

Zhang Ruimin
Art Kleiner

57 Embedding the IoT in Your Business


All Things Being Unequal




The Security Risk in the Cubicle
Next Door
Matt Palmquist



To the Nimble Go the Spoils

Your own employees may pose a bigger IT hazard than
outside threats.

Ken Favaro


Brand Diving

Cover illustration by Harry Campbell

Catharine P. Taylor


The Human Factor
Karen Dillon

Issue 77, Winter 2014


Published by PwC Strategy& Inc.

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leading ideas

National leaders, such
as India’s new prime
minister, Narendra
Modi, can make or
break their country’s
business climate.
by Ram Charan, Michael Useem, and
Dennis Carey


hen a country elects
a new head of state,
business leaders watch
carefully. It’s understandable: Any
changing of the guard raises questions for their survival. How friendly will the incoming government be
to their company, and how supportive will it be of economic growth?
For answers, business leaders often
look to the policies and beliefs of
the political parties that control the
government. But the skill and temperament of the leader is generally a
better guide.

A good example is the election
of Narendra Modi as prime minister of India in May 2014. Once
poised to rival China, India has seen
its development prospects fall behind since 2012. At that time, India’s annual GDP growth topped
7 percent, but today it hovers under
5 percent. Modi was elected because
he promised to give the world’s largest democracy what it needs most:
economic growth, a government
that reduces corruption and promotes widespread transparency, and
improved quality of life.
However, politicians should be
judged not on their promises but on
their ability to deliver. Even at an
early stage, one can anticipate the
impact of a new leader on the country’s business climate by looking for
the following five signals. Applied
to Modi within months of his election as India’s chief executive, they
provide a glimpse of his potential.

is welcoming to business. That’s because this type of commitment is
closely linked to economic pragmatism and fairness. The leader’s focus
on progress, and on raising the standard of living, will trump any instinct to play favorites. It won’t just
be the cronies who prosper.
Modi’s parents were street vendors; before going into politics, he
worked at their tea stall. This background contrasts with that of most
of India’s previous prime ministers,
who were born into families of political leadership. Although a modest background doesn’t guarantee
success, it gave Modi a gut-level appreciation for the daily lives of the
people in his country. He understands the grass roots, because that’s
where he started; he is sensitive to
the needs of his constituents, and he
has developed connections with the
business community that will inform his political decision making.

1. How deep is the politician’s

2. Can he or she get things

insight into the public interest? It
matters whether a leader is a topdown or bottom-up candidate. The
more visible a political leader’s commitment to the common good, the
more effective that leader will be in
creating a political environment that

done? Virtually all leaders take of-

fice with an ambitious vision for
their country, but only a few succeed
in transforming that vision into
reality. Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore,
Margaret Thatcher of the United
Kingdom, and Sebastián Piñera of

strategy+business issue 77


Illustration by Francesco Bongiorni

3. Does the leader approach
governance with a business mindset? A head of state is, in effect, the
nation’s CEO. It’s a role that requires quick and decisive action,
along with a steady focus on driving
economic growth. Leaders who
have a business mind-set find the
obstacles to progress—and look for
ways to eliminate them. One example is unfolding in Mexico,

where president Enrique Peña Nieto
pushed through legislation to break
up the country’s telecom monopoly.
Just 11 days after his election
was announced, Modi reinforced
India’s standing in the “neighborhood” of nearby countries by inviting all the national leaders in the
region to his inauguration—including Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime
minister. Among other things, this
was seen as a signal that Modi would
not tolerate a bias against Muslims
within India. Then, before taking
office, he began opening doors to
other countries (and by extension
their companies) that might be
ready to invest in India or partner
with businesses there. Modi has
done this before: He brought companies from Japan, Korea, the U.S.,
and other countries into Gujarat.
In September 2014, Modi and
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo¯ Abe
announced that Japan would invest
US$35 billion in India’s infrastructure over the next five years. For
Modi, this was a powerful move in
the first 100 days in office, and it
will help change India’s reputation

as a place that rejects foreign economic involvement. It also suggests
an upward trend in foreign direct
investment; it is likely that Taiwan
will follow Japan’s lead.
Moreover, after assuming office, Modi quickly set 10 businessfriendly priorities for his new government. These include building
confidence in the state bureaucracy;
welcoming innovative ideas; focusing on infrastructure, education,
health, and energy; strengthening
transparency; and implementing
policy in a timely, stable, and sustainable manner. He’s running the
government like a business, which is
new for India.
4. How skilled is the political
leader at engaging others—particularly senior government employees?

One of the most essential factors for
national impact is the ability to
move people to pursue common
goals. It is critical for leaders to surround themselves with the right
people, and then to be able to motivate them to set and accomplish
goals that will benefit the country.
During his first two weeks on

leading ideas

Chile are among those who have
succeeded. Although many did not
agree with their respective visions,
few disagreed that they were exceptional at implementing them.
Modi is cut from the same
cloth. He has a history of making
things happen. Before his election
to India’s highest office, Modi ran
one of its major states, Gujarat—
which has a population of more
than 60 million—for a dozen years.
His rule was controversial at the
time; he and his Bharatiya Janata
Party were blamed for favoring Hindu interests over Muslim interests,
and especially, as the New York
Times put it, “for failing to stop
bloody [anti-Muslim] riots in his
home state in 2002.” As a result, he
was banned from entering the United States for more than a decade.
At the same time, however,
Modi grew the Gujarat economy
and created jobs at a rapid clip. In
one oft-cited example, when Tata
Motors was thwarted in 2008 in its
effort to build an auto assembly line
in the state of Bengal, Modi sent a
text message to the CEO of the automaker’s parent, saying he would
pave the way for the plant to quickly
open in Gujarat. Fourteen months
later, the facility was up and running. Now, as India’s chief catalyst
of economic development, he is promoting similarly favorable practices
and generating momentum.


5. Can the politician attract and
hold broad support? There is always

potential for reaching across partisan lines to earn the goodwill of the
general public, but many politicians
fail to do so. The struggles of the
U.S. Congress come to mind.
Here, Modi’s contentious past
might suggest he has difficulties,
but the grand sweep of the last election indicates that he must be aware
of the problem, is acting as a pragmatist, and is actively seeking the
trust and confidence of the whole
country. He and his party were
given an absolute majority rule in
India’s fractious parliament. Compared, for example, with the divided U.S. Congress, India’s parliament has relatively broad public
support. It should be able to muscle
through useful legislation in the
months ahead, with Modi at the
helm. In July 2014, Modi’s government increased the foreign direct

investment limit in the defense and
insurance industries from 26 percent to 49 percent, to help raise the
game in both sectors. It is likely that
more business-friendly legislation
will follow.
Of course, no one can know for
sure how political events will unfold. But any politician with a firm
grasp on these five indicators should
inspire confidence; they are universally linked with stability, consumer
confidence, and growth potential.
In the case of India, Narendra Modi
knows how to execute, and has the
mandate he needs to do so effectively. India’s vast and growing consuming public has long made the
country a good economic bet, and
now its national leadership may also
make it a good investment bet. +
Reprint No. 00280

Ram Charan
is a business advisor, best-selling author,
and speaker who has spent the past 35
years working with top companies.
Michael Useem
is the William and Jacalyn Egan Professor
of Management and director of the Center
for Leadership and Change Management
at the Wharton School of the University of
Dennis Carey
is vice chairman of Korn Ferry, where he
specializes in CEO and board recruitment
and has served more than 75 Fortune 500
Charan, Useem, and Carey are the authors
of Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge,
When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of
the Way (Harvard Business Review Press,

Behind the hype of peerto-peer economics is a
quiet B2B revolution.
by Robert Vaughan


ince the mid-2000s, the socalled sharing economy has
grown from almost nothing
to a pool of global businesses valued
in the billions of dollars. The concept—people using technology to
find and purchase one another’s extra resources—represents a triumph
of trust and crowdsourcing. Peer-topeer financial firms such as Lending
Club, transportation services such
as Uber, and lodging brokerages
such as Airbnb have all rapidly taken off, using Internet-based platforms to connect people directly
without highly paid intermediaries.
It’s no wonder investors are so intrigued, and the rest of us are a little
enervated by all the hype.
But there’s a less flashy trend
emerging from the sharing economy, and even though it’s just beginning to attract media attention,
it probably presents a larger opportunity than consumer sharing. It is
the open sharing of resources among
businesses: peer-to-peer enterprise
exchange. In just a few years of activity, it has become clear that the
unfettered exchange of otherwise
unused major assets, including
physical space and industrial equipment, allows a sharing company to
operate more efficiently than its
non-sharing rivals. Companies that

strategy+business issue 77

leading ideas

the job, Modi cut the number of
government ministries by almost
half. He then appointed ministry
secretaries—the nation’s highestranking civil servants—who he believed were ready for rapid change.
He selected people who were action
oriented and battle tested. Modi
also asked his ministers for a set of
priorities for the next 100 days,
summarized in just a few PowerPoint slides, compared to the usual
hour-long bureaucratic presentations. And he had them determine
what they could tangibly accomplish. He requires his ministers to
maintain visible lists of these priorities for their departments, and uses
dashboards to monitor progress and
ensure accountability. Early results
have been impressive; for example,
ministries have accelerated the traditionally long and complex process
for granting licenses to businesses.

Illustration by Daniel Pudles

owners and renters and help them
use these assets more effectively., for example,
offers a service connecting shortterm tenants to businesses with
spare office space. Similarly, as Rachel Botsman noted in the September 2014 issue of Harvard Business

If you’re reading this in a typical office, half
the desks around you may be vacant. But
businesses can now find digital platforms that
help them use these assets more effectively.
Review, the Marriott hotel chain has
converted empty conference rooms
into rentable work spaces through
the online platform LiquidSpace.
This and Botsman’s other examples were largely related to
business-to-consumer opportunities. But the real power of peer-topeer enterprise exchange may be

purchases of materials with low environmental impact.
The sharing market for intangible assets—a company’s brainpower, knowledge, and intellectual
capital—shows just as much promise. In many companies, for example, technical expertise is severely
underused, simply because the work

leading ideas

go further still, wholeheartedly embracing the sharing of less tangible
assets, may benefit from a different
sort of change, one involving their
culture, that builds new types of
connections with, and sensitivity to,
the world outside. By tearing down
the walls and airing their secrets—
whether they are “we have underutilized talent” or “we have great knowhow but aren’t sure how to turn it
into something people want to
buy”—these companies can both
improve their own bottom line and
contribute to the collective good.
Probably the most widespread
sharing-company practice to date
involves unused real estate, which is
an increasing burden on profitability. If you’re reading this in a typical
office, half the desks around you
may be vacant. But businesses can
now find digital platforms that create global connections between

found in B2B transactions. Take
manufacturing, where the versatility
of digital fabrication and other flexible manufacturing technologies allows companies to share their production facilities and equipment.
This matters when today’s factories
operate at an average of 20 percent
below capacity. In 2011, MedImmune (the biologics unit of pharma company AstraZeneca) agreed
to share its manufacturing facilities
with fellow pharma giant Merck—
pairing the former’s excess capacity
with the latter’s desire for greater
flexibility. As online platforms that
are oriented toward industrial companies emerge, it will be more feasible to share large raw materials,
distribution infrastructure, and other capital costs. For example,
FLOOW2, a Dutch startup, facilitates the sharing of equipment,
manufacturing assets, and employee
time by making them transparent
and tradable on its online exchange.
The company also develops proprietary technological platforms that
allow companies to build sharing
into their product offerings. Shared
sourcing platforms could also improve sustainability efforts, making
it easier for companies to pool their


Recognizing this, in 2013, General Electric injected $30 million
into its partnership with Quirky, an
online inventor community. The
deal gave Quirky’s inventors open
access to GE’s patents and technology, and GE benefited from Quirky’s
“playful” consumer product inventions. The companies plan to bring
several products to market over the
coming months, including a smartphone-controlled window air conditioner; a propane tank gauge that
indicates when fuel is low; and a
home monitor that consumers can
set up to track motion, sound, light,
or temperature at their discretion.
(In September 2014, Quirky lost access to GE’s appliance patents when
Electrolux acquired GE’s appliance
business, a bid that Quirky didn’t
win, but the partnership is continuing in other areas.)
The potential here is not just
to garner ideas from outside inventors through open innovation. Nor
is it to open up a platform for thirdparty developers to introduce ancillary products and software, as computer companies have done for
decades. The real potential is for
new platforms to evolve that offer a
segment of a company’s intellectual
property base to the world at large,
so that others may do things with it,
and the patent holder may profit.
In the current form of this relationship, the two parties collaborate
to bring innovations to market. The
Chinese appliance company Haier,
for example, invites inventors from
outside the company to propose innovations they could produce together (see “The Thought Leader
Interview: Zhang Ruimin,” by Art
Kleiner, page 96). But collaboration
might not always be necessary. A
company with a patent for a new
type of battery technology, for in-

stance, might choose not to develop
it, but by placing the battery technology on an exchange, the company
could make a connection to another
company with a complementary
technology that would otherwise
never have been made.
In some technology-intensive
industries, a more liquid market in
intellectual property is seeing competitors become collaborators. Apple
announced a wide-ranging patent
licensing deal with HTC in 2012.
Google and Samsung have just
agreed to share all new patents filed
over the next decade. There is potential for such deals to help prevent
costly patent wars, freeing up resources with which companies can
focus on innovation.
Experience with consumersharing efforts like Airbnb suggests
that participants become more collegial and empathetic because their
experience is not just transactional.
They are staying in one another’s
homes. Something similar could
happen in business, as executives
and employees share their resources,
their intellectual property, their
time, and their work space. That
could be the greatest benefit of all,
resulting in greater efficiency, a more
energized workforce, and new products and services that meet consumers’ needs. The opportunities are
constrained only by the imagination
of decision makers. As they create
exchanges that facilitate more B2B
connections, and use those exchanges efficiently and creatively, they will
find more and different ways to
profit from their efforts as sharing
companies. +
Reprint No. 00281

Robert Vaughan
is an economist with PwC’s economics and
policy team, and is based in London.

strategy+business issue 77

leading ideas

of the R&D staff doesn’t fit with the
company’s current strategic priorities. But rather than divest its facilities, a company can share its staff.
In a sense, companies have been
exchanging their brainpower this
way for years. Early-stage R&D investment in the pharmaceutical and
automotive industries often takes
place through a consortium of partners, with secondment of key people
occurring whenever leaders see the
right opportunity. But now experts
can be lent to other companies in a
much more fluid, comprehensive
fashion, through platforms for staff
exchange. One online staffing market run by Elance and oDesk, exchange sites for freelance work that
merged in 2013, brokered US$750
million worth of work that year.
Such platforms allow firms to
recruit a flexible, task-oriented workforce without worrying about how
to keep them busy during a downturn. They are also likely to draw
more talented people, who can now
gain the kinds of creative opportunities at multiple companies that are
typically available only to short-term
contractors, while retaining the substantial benefits that accrue to valued staffers with a single employer.
This best-of-both-worlds approach
could come to be seen as the most
enviable way to work: It’s like freelancing with a pension.
Intellectual capital is another
intangible asset with sharing potential. Technology-intensive companies amass huge stockpiles of patents. The top five U.S. patent
filers—IBM, Samsung, Canon,
Sony, and Microsoft—together filed
more than 21,000 in 2013 alone.
But only a fraction of all patents
filed are put to productive use, because of the investment involved in
bringing products to market.

The INSEAD professor
shows how people can
across cultures.
by Christie Rizk

Photograph courtesy of Kim Durdant-Hollamby, KDH Creative


n a multicultural workplace,
misunderstandings happen. If
your British manager tells you
something is “interesting,” does he
really mean the opposite? Why do
your Dutch coworkers feel so comfortable talking back to the boss?
Erin Meyer helps companies
navigate these subtle cultural cues.
In her new book, The Culture
Map: Breaking through the Invisible
Boundaries of Global Business (Public
Affairs, 2014), the affiliate professor of organizational behavior at
INSEAD looks at the ways people
from different cultures can learn one
another’s social cues in professional
settings. According to Meyer, multinational companies have spent significant time and energy trying to
figure out how to appeal to a wide
array of consumers, and not enough
time figuring out how to help their
own employees work together.
It all starts with communication, Meyer says—being open about
a colleague’s behaviors that might
seem different from yours, talking
about those differences, and sharing
that knowledge with other colleagues. Her research has powerful

S+B: What are some of the key
challenges multinationals face when
designing global teams?
MEYER: Most multina-

tional companies think,
“Cultural differences, that’s
about how to exchange
business cards, or what
kind of gifts to buy,” instead of recognizing that [managing
these differences] is really about understanding psychology—the subtle differences in what types of arguments we find persuasive and what
leads us to trust a person from another part of the world. Companies
often put someone in a leadership
role abroad simply because that person was a top performer at home.
They think, “This guy’s a dynamo,
let’s give him more responsibility.”
But sometimes, the people who have
been the most successful in their
own culture—especially, for instance, if they’re over 40, and they’ve

had some 20 years of thorough conditioning on how to succeed—
struggle when put in charge of a
team in another country because it
calls into question much of what
they have learned over their career.
The people companies hire for
global positions need to be extremely
flexible. They need to understand,
for example, that in Denmark it motivates people when the boss acts like
a facilitator among equals, but in
Russia the staff responds better when
the boss is clearly in charge. Fifteen
years ago, when companies weren’t
so globalized, managers mostly just
had to be good at motivating people
from their own country. But now
multinational companies need to
think hard about how to prepare
their managers to adapt their leadership style to be effective in all the
different countries they might be
working in, and that’s complex. [For
more on the challenges that come
with international work, see “The
Untapped Value of Overseas Experience,” by Dan Wang, page 14.]
Of course, you’re not going to
find someone who knows how to
motivate employees in every world
culture. Even if you could, trying to
adapt to every member of a global
team just leads to chaos and inefficiency. What you need is someone
who knows when to adapt to different team members’ cultural norms
and when to set a strong team culture to supersede those norms and
bring everyone onto the same page.
S+B: When looking for managers
to lead global teams, how valuable
is international experience?
MEYER: I generally see that people

Erin Meyer

who are living in a foreign country
react one of two ways: either by
learning a lot or by totally shutting
out the new culture. The best

leading ideas

Erin Meyer
Can Make
Your Global
Team Work

implications for managers leading
multicultural teams. Meyer (@ErinMeyerINSEAD), who appeared on
the 2013 Thinkers 50 “On the
Radar” list, recently spoke with
strategy+business about how her work
can help companies make the most
of their global resources.


S+B: What are companies doing
wrong in their hiring process?
MEYER: One problem that arises—

and this often happens with U.S.
companies—is that they have a
strong American culture in their organization. When they’re in China,
for example, and are hiring Chinese
employees for their company, they’re
choosing the most “American” Chinese talent they can find. Internally,
that makes things easier. But it has
two clear disadvantages: First, it
may make it more difficult for these
firms to be close to their customers.
I worked with one Brazilian sales
director for a big American consulting firm. His explicit communication style and task-based approach
was perfect for his American boss,
but not at all suitable for his Brazil-

ian clients. It’s because [company
leaders] hired him with their American lens.
Second, people in various parts
of the world are trained since childhood to see things differently. If you
recognize that, and you manage a
global team, it can be a huge advantage to have some team members
who see the forest while others see

and Thai coworkers, the Americans
did 90 percent of the talking, and
their interpretation of the situation
was that their Thai counterparts
were shy and had nothing to contribute. Neither point was true. In
an American environment, we are
trained to make our voices heard at
all costs. We sometimes interrupt
one another, and we don’t like si-

How to Lead a Successful
Global Team
INSEAD professor Erin Meyer
discusses how companies can boost
the efficiency of their multinational
teams by focusing on how they
communicate across cultures.

the trees. But if you’ve hired the people who are the most similar to your
own culture, then you lose out on
the advantage of diversity.
S+B: Has the type of cultural
sensitivity that we’ve fostered,
especially in the U.S., impeded
multinationals’ efforts to approach
multiculturalism as you’re suggesting? How do we work around that?
MEYER: In the United States, be-

cause of our history, we are sensitive
about discussing group identity.
And culture is the personality of a
group. People worry, “If I start talking about culture, then I may be
suggesting that everybody from that
culture is the same.”
But the problem is, if you don’t
talk about culture, everyone continues to view everything through their
own lens. And then they make erroneous or negative assessments of
what’s going on. For example, when
I worked with a team of American

lence. In Thailand, people are conditioned to wait carefully for the
other person to finish speaking.
They leave a moment of silence to
really consider what the other person has said, and then they speak. If
the Americans had known this, they
would have realized it wasn’t about
personality, but rather about cultural differences—and they could have
implemented a few simple meeting
rules to achieve a more balanced
We all come from somewhere.
Where we come from affects the
way we view things, and the way we
understand one another. In every international situation, some things
are cultural, and some things are
personal. If it’s cultural, then you
need to help people in the room understand that, for example, when
someone speaks in a way that is startlingly direct, that’s because where
he comes from, that communication
style is appropriate, and is not con-

: Meet the next generation of business thought leaders

strategy+business issue 77

leading ideas

interview technique to find out if
someone is going to be good at
working in another country is to ask
them, “When you were living
abroad, what are some things that
you noticed and learned about how
people there work differently?” People who are going to be effective will
give positive descriptions of what
that other culture did differently. If
they say, “What’s great about them
is that they are so hierarchical in
that culture that when the boss says,
‘Go right,’ everyone goes right, and
it creates this beautiful efficiency,”
it’s a sign they can look at something
that would be foreign to their own
culture and see the positive in it.
But many people, when you ask
them that question, will respond
by telling you what people from another culture did inappropriately:
“They’re not good communicators.
They’re chaotic. They don’t voice
their opinions in front of the boss.”
And that is a sign that those individuals may have more difficulty.


S+B: Are there trade-offs or negative aspects to multiculturalism?
MEYER: The advantage to having

people from all over the world on a
team is that you may find that you
have more innovation and creativity,
and that you’re closer to your local
markets. The disadvantage is that
multinational teamwork is usually a
lot less efficient than monocultural
teamwork. When we’re all from the
same culture, we don’t have to talk
about how we work together. We
have the same assumptions—we just
get to work. If we’re from all over the
world, and if we don’t spend time
talking about how we’re going to
work, we end up wasting a lot of
time because we have different assumptions. Global teamwork has
big rewards, but it also requires a
big investment.
Some companies today are just
starting to focus on what Germans
do best, what Indonesians do best,
what Brazilians do best, and so on,
and how they can take those skill
sets and leverage them as assets for
the company. If you’re mixing up
cultures in a random way, without
encouraging openness and dialogue
and preparing people to understand
how to truly collaborate, then you’re
losing those benefits. Companies
need to think about all of these
things when designing multicultural teams. +
Reprint No. 00282

Christie Rizk
is associate editor of strategy+business.


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leading ideas

sidered rude. If it’s personal, then
you need to sit down with that person and teach him to improve his
communication skills. Once the dialogue gets going and everyone has a
language with which to start articulating these differences, it’s much
easier. It’s not a big deal anymore.

How skilled return
migrants can be
your company’s
agents of change.
by Dan Wang


iktor had worked for several
years as a programmer for a
global software company in
Eastern Europe when his manager
chose him for a prestigious assignment in the company’s Silicon Valley
headquarters. The experience opened
his eyes to several operations practices that he knew would be valuable
back in his home country. But when
he returned a year later, he was surprised to find himself ignored.

growth, skilled immigrants are being lured back home in large numbers. These workers are often heralded as catalysts of their countries’
future economic development.
In China, for example, enticing
skilled workers to return is a key
part of the government’s talent strategy. Research by Haiyang Li at Rice
University revealed that China has
experienced a 17-fold increase in the
annual return migration rate over
the past 10 years. And in Brazil, the
wealth generated by natural resources has fueled the growth of knowledge-based industries. A 2008 study
by the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development
(OECD) found that nearly 11 percent of the Brazilian skilled migrants

Only 48 percent of employees returning from
overseas assignments reported having shared
knowledge and then having seen it implemented.
overseas assignments, and they increasingly view such assignments as
essential for would-be leaders. According to PwC’s “Talent Mobility
2020” report, annual international
assignments will increase by 50 percent between today and 2020—
having already increased by 25 percent over the last 10 years.
Voluntary return migration is
also on the rise, as more skilled
workers around the world who have
been working abroad are attracted
by economic opportunity at home.
According to the National Science
Foundation’s annual survey of doctoral recipients, since 2000, the
United States has seen a yearly decrease in the percentage of foreign
nationals with Ph.D.s from U.S. institutions who wish to stay in the
country. In particular, as developing
countries experience unprecedented

abroad were attracted home, up
from an estimated rate of return of
less than 2 percent in 2000. Other
countries in Asia, Eastern Europe,
and South America have reported
similar trends.
Senior leaders expect these employees, often called returnees, to
bring back new ideas and technical
skills, the social and professional relationships to connect their firms to
foreign markets, and the ability to
bridge cultural gaps. As companies
explore new markets abroad, having
a local understanding of regulatory
and cultural differences is critical to
making a successful entry. Firms
such as eBay—which lost out to domestic competitors despite firstmover and resource advantages in
both Japan and China—know this
painfully well.
To understand why the impact

Illustration by Carlo Giambarresi

leading ideas

Value of

“There was plenty that I could contribute, but my coworkers—even
my supervisor—did not listen.”
Viktor’s story is all too common: Many companies that send
employees abroad or hire people because they’ve worked overseas are
not taking advantage of that global
experience—either because the
companies are not prepared to learn
from the employees or because company leaders have not made
an effort to overcome cultural barriers. Yet at the
same time, international
work experience has become a critical part of the
path to success in multinational
firms. Such firms are developing or
expanding programs for temporary

returnees have on home companies
is falling short of leaders’ expectations, I conducted the largest survey
of skilled return migrants ever collected. The 4,108 respondents represented 81 countries of origin, and
had spent between three months
and two years in the U.S. at some
point during the years between 1997
and 2011 under a category of the
J-1 visa designated for professional
training. All had bachelor’s or master’s degrees, as well as work experience in fields such as aviation engineering, software development,
architecture, and financial services.
They spent time alongside U.S. colleagues in large firms such as Google
and JPMorgan Chase, as well as
thousands of small startups and
midsized companies.
The results confirmed our worst
suspicions about global knowledge
transfer: Almost all of the respondents reported having learned about
practices overseas that they could
implement in their home countries,
but only 67 percent reported having
shared any of this knowledge upon
their return. Worse, only 48 percent
reported having shared knowledge
and then having seen this knowledge
implemented. This means that on
average, for every two workers with
international experience hired by a
given firm, only one will successfully
share knowledge from overseas at
some point during his or her tenure.
But the survey results also offer
senior leaders a way to rethink their
expectations, and to set up their returnees for success. Although I focused on workers who traveled to
the U.S. for their overseas experience, the following three findings
can apply to people going to any
country, including the rising number of U.S. employees who are sent
to developing markets.

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just as much as experience abroad.

As part of my survey, I developed
a five-point workplace “embeddedness” scale to measure the richness
of returnees’ work experiences in
their home country before going
overseas, and also in the U.S. during
their time abroad. (A 5 indicated the
richest experiences.) The scale relies
on questions about the workplace
activities in which respondents participated—for example, group presentations, technical training sessions, town hall meetings, and
socializing with coworkers—and

work experience, and 25 percent of
returnees scored a 5 for their home
country experience, only 2 percent
of returnees achieved the highest
score on both.
2. Not all knowledge is created
equal. The traditional model of

sending workers abroad or of hiring
workers with international work experience has focused on technical
skills. The idea is that people will
acquire technical knowledge about
the procedures needed to perform a
specialized task, whether it’s testing
a new pharmaceutical drug or developing components for an aircraft,

Microsoft. When a developer writes
code for a new software project, he
or she has to have it tested by a coworker before it is formally implemented. The procedures for peer
code review can be complex, especially in ensuring quality control
and maintaining efficiency in rotating review assignments, and can potentially slow down development
cycles. Returnees who shared this
practice often faced initial challenges from their domestic coworkers,
but many reported eventual success
through a combination of demonstrating and localizing the process.
3. Cultural bias can thwart the

The returnees who most successfully shared
knowledge had engaging work experiences at
home as well as abroad.
the frequency with which they took
part. I found that having a rich work
experience abroad means little for
returnees if they lack a strong cultural and professional familiarity
with workplace practices in their
home countries. Thus the returnees
who most successfully shared
knowledge had engaging work experiences at home as well as abroad;
that is, they had a high embeddedness score for both workplaces. A
high score in only one area did not
increase their success.
The importance of having an
engaging experience abroad may
seem obvious. The importance of
the home country experience is less
so—yet upon reflection it makes
sense: People who have a deep understanding of and connection to
their home country workplace will
know how best to reintegrate themselves and share their knowledge
upon their return. Unfortunately, I
found that although 30 percent of
returnees scored a 5 for their U.S.

that might otherwise be unattainable in their home country. My survey, however, showed that the currency of international talent mobility
lies not in these types of skills,
but rather in realizable practices. Returnees were more likely to transfer
nontechnical knowledge about managing relationships and coordinating
work among employees than assetor industry-specific technical knowledge—and they placed a much
higher value on the former, as well.
Workflow knowledge tends to
be tacit, difficult to demonstrate or
describe. This is why the returnee is
valuable. Respondents who were effective at transferring such workflow
practices were also skilled at adapting them to local environments. Respondents who worked in software
development often cited their attempts to institutionalize peer code
review practices that they had
learned in the United States. Peer
code reviews are a standard practice
in companies such as Google and

best intentions. Firms often, unfor-

tunately, ignore the cultural barriers
to incorporating workplace practices
from abroad. Indeed, many of the
returnees in my survey reported resistance from their home country
colleagues, not because of the quality of their knowledge, but because
it came from a culturally unfamiliar
place. Further analysis revealed that
returnees to countries that scored
high on a standard xenophobia scale
or held negative attitudes toward the
U.S. were less successful at transferring knowledge, even controlling for
other country-level economic and
political factors.
It’s not just their coworkers’ attitudes in play, either. Returnees often reported experiencing reverse
culture shock. Earlier research has
shown that instituting cultural diversity training among all employees
can facilitate the readjustment process for returnees by fostering a
mind-set more open to new and
foreign ideas. Repatriation or readjustment training, through which
workers regularly discuss their expectations and experiences with cultural training professionals, is also
critical. Back in 1999, in a study of

strategy+business issue 77

leading ideas

1. Experience at home matters

Illustration by Justine Beckett

Reprint No. 00283

Dan Wang
is an assistant professor of management at
Columbia University.

Can Media Firms
Become Digital Video

leading ideas

multinational companies based in
Europe, INSEAD’s Hal Gregersen
and his colleagues found that more
than half of those who returned to
their home country offices quit
within a year of coming back, largely because of reverse culture shock.
However, the researchers also found
that readjustment training reduced
the quitting rate to less than 25 percent. For those who began this
training prior to their return, the
rate dropped to less than 10 percent.
Fifteen years later, this advice remains sound, and can help ease cultural barriers to knowledge sharing.
For multinationals, the potential payoff of integrating employees
with overseas experience into their
workforce is huge. But it won’t come
easy. An overwhelming majority of
respondents to my survey reported
that although they were hired because of their overseas experience,
their home country workplaces offered little opportunity for them to
share the skills or knowledge they
had gained abroad. When instituting policies on international work
experience, whether for current employees or potential new hires, companies need to understand the value
of such policies—and how to capture that value. It’s critical for them
to do so. When returnees bring
home practices, they are almost never replicated exactly. But it is through
the process of adaptation that new
practices can emerge, making these
workers a wellspring of innovation
that in all too many companies today remains untapped. +

Traditional entertainment companies are
buying up new multichannel networks in pursuit
of online audiences.
by Christopher Vollmer,
Sebastian Blum, and Kristina Bennin


ach month, YouTube draws
1 billion unique visitors who
watch a combined total of
more than 6 billion hours of video.
Attracted by this massive user base,
which is equal to 40 percent of the
worldwide online population, a new
breed of company—the multichannel network (MCN)—has emerged
in recent years. MCNs aggregate
thousands of digital video channels
and large communities of content
producers, partnering with YouTube
to syndicate and monetize their content as well as distributing videos on
their own websites. For example,
Maker Studios, the largest MCN,
has 55,000 channels and more than
5.5 billion video views monthly.
About 80 percent of the Maker
Studios audience is in the highly desirable 13-to-34 demographic, and

half of it originates outside the U.S.
These numbers have captured
the attention of major media companies, which are now trying to get
in on the action by buying stakes in
MCNs or acquiring them outright.
In 2013, DreamWorks Animation
paid US$117 million to purchase
the youth-focused AwesomenessTV.
In April 2014, Disney purchased
Maker Studios in a deal that could
total nearly $1 billion if certain performance milestones are met. And
in the autumn of 2014, Otter Media—a joint venture between telecommunications giant AT&T and
media and entertainment portfolio
company the Chernin Group—acquired a majority stake in Fullscreen,
valuing that MCN at a reported
$200 million to $300 million. For
established players, these deals all
follow a similar strategic logic: Secure a leading content and distribution position in the digital video
ecosystem as audiences and advertisers begin to shift online.
However, if these investments
are to truly drive growth, media
companies will need to rethink their
old playbook. The same strategies
that drove success in broadcast
TV, cable, and film won’t be sufficient to expand, monetize, and integrate MCNs. For one, the content
is markedly different. Although
MCNs are typically organized by


such as gaming, e-commerce, merchandising, and licensing.
As both sides begin to see the
value in combining their complementary capabilities, more deals are
likely to move forward. The following strategies can help large media
companies make multichannel networks a growing and profitable part
of their portfolios.
• Platform diversification. In
general, YouTube is the principal
platform used by MCNs, yet thus
far, MCNs that depend on YouTube
alone have struggled to build a
sustainable, stand-alone digital business. Currently, MCNs reportedly
share about 45 percent of their revenue with YouTube and pay an additional 35 to 40 percent for creative
talent. As a result, MCN margins
may lie between 15 and 20 percent,
but this arrangement leaves little
room for profit, because they also
have to invest in technology, marketing, sales, overhead, and so on.
So although YouTube will remain a
must-have partner for MCNs in the
foreseeable future, it shouldn’t remain their only partner. Options
include other major digital platforms such as Facebook, Yahoo, and
AOL, as well as other digital video
services such as Hulu and Netflix.
In addition to seeking distribution alternatives to YouTube, media
companies should consider building
out their MCN’s digital properties
under the MCN’s own brands. For
instance, they could use YouTube to
acquire online video users, and then
migrate these fans to other, wholly
owned digital assets with more favorable economics. Large media
companies’ experience in pushing
content and audiences across different channels and driving cross-promotion should give them an advantage here.

• Global expansion. Cisco pro-

jects that consumer Internet traffic
from video use will account for 79
percent of all traffic worldwide in
2018 (up from 66 percent in 2013).
In the U.S., millennials are increasingly likely to watch online video in
place of traditional television. But
the effect is even more pronounced
in emerging markets. According to
a 2013 Nielsen report, some 15 percent of mobile users in Brazil and 17
percent in China watch videos online three times a day. These users
in emerging markets will play an
ever more important role in driving
digital video consumption. Media
companies partnering with MCNs
should actively pursue these new
audiences, even as they continue to
grow their positions in the U.S. and
Europe. To do so, MCNs should
broaden their content offerings to
suit markets around the world, especially through mobile video, and focus increasingly on pursuing local
• Content creation. MCNs already aggregate and create their own
content through their “maker” communities. But media companies
should prioritize investment in more
original content, supporting their
MCN partners in moving from
pure aggregator to aggregator–
producer—similar to how Netflix
has produced original programming
such as the series Orange Is the New
Black and House of Cards. The goal
is to more cost-effectively create distinctive content that still appeals to
younger audiences who are seeking
alternatives to traditional video programming. Armed with data from
their thousands of online video
channels, MCNs can generate insights on what’s working, what’s being viewed, and what’s being shared.
Such insights are not typically a

strategy+business issue 77

leading ideas

programming genres similar to
those of cable/pay-TV networks—
such as news; sports; entertainment;
and lifestyle interests like cooking,
shopping, and fashion—the tone
and production value of MCN content emphasizes an unfiltered “authenticity” that is designed to appeal
to a young audience. Most important, MCNs produce content that is
designed from the start not just to
be watched, but also to be shared on
social media.
And it’s not content alone that
sets MCNs apart. These new, highgrowth companies have succeeded
in building large audiences on YouTube by moving rapidly and being
willing to experiment and innovate.
Big media companies therefore aren’t
just buying digital market growth
when acquiring MCNs. They are
hoping to add a variety of attractive,
digital-first capabilities that they
have struggled to develop from within, by leveraging the creative talent,
technology, and ideas that make
MCNs so appealing to the next generation of video consumers.
Of course, larger players bring
many capabilities to the table that
can complement MCNs and make
their business models more viable.
They’re typically better at monetizing content (via both advertising
and subscriptions), they know how
to package and integrate brands
across distribution platforms, and
they have well-established relationships with marketers and the advertising-buying community. The big
media companies also have significant intellectual property—such as
brands and characters from television and film—that MCNs can access and distribute via their digital
channels. And large companies can
also accelerate MCN revenue generation in other high-growth areas,

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business models so that growth is
not just sustained or even accelerated, but turned into profit. +

such as the ability to upload and
share selfies of their makeup looks.
Media companies will need to pursue these kinds of opportunities aggressively in order to maximize the
revenue generation potential of multichannel networks.
Large media companies recognize how important digital video
is today and how important it will
be tomorrow—and they know that
they’ll need new digital capabilities
that have thus far eluded them if
they are to succeed in the rapidly
transforming video ecosystem. Increasingly, they see MCNs as their
way in. But the question is whether
they, as owners, can support and
eventually expand MCNs and their

Reprint No. 00284

Christopher Vollmer
is a partner with Strategy& based in New
York. He leads the firm’s global media and
entertainment practice and is the global
managing director of Strategy&’s Digital
Sebastian Blum
is a principal with Strategy&’s communications, media, and technology practice, and
is based in New York.
Kristina Bennin
is a senior associate with Strategy&’s
communications, media, and technology
practice, and is based in New York.

s+b Trend Watch
The Profit Conundrum
As companies develop new products, expand their geographic reach, and add distribution channels,
their revenues increase. But according to a new cross-industry analysis of more than 300 firms,
this complexity also raises the cost of goods sold (COGS)—and often means that operating margins
fail to meet expectations.

Revenues go up...

but so do costs...


(% of


US$ Billions
Avg. Revenue, 2007–12: 9.2%



and even with overhead cuts...





company leaders don’t see
the expected benefits of scale.
Operating Profit Margin









Source: “Winning with complexity: Operations capabilities that drive profitable growth,” by Rich Kauffeld,
Arvind Kaushal, and K.B. Clausen, Strategy& white paper, Aug. 2014,;
additional analysis provided by Strategy& senior analyst Jennifer Ding

strategy+business issue 77

leading ideas

strong suit of incumbent media and
entertainment companies, which
still largely use viewer metrics and
programming development processes that lack a digital-first focus.
• Monetization.
dollars are beginning to follow the
growth of MCNs. Major buyers like
Verizon Wireless and Mondele¯z International, for instance, have recently shifted double-digit portions
of their television ad budgets to online video. But for media companies
looking to monetize their newly acquired MCNs, the focus should not
be solely on selling ads. Several lifestyle-focused MCNs have begun to
explore business models that go beyond digital advertising, such as
product placement and sponsored
reviews—especially where they can
match the tone of the clips they precede. Others are pursuing B2B partnerships in content production.
Finally, licensing and merchandising is emerging as a potentially
attractive revenue stream, in which
an MCN personality or content
brand embeds products or merchandising into the programming, such
as Kohl’s move to launch a new juniors fashion line—the S.o. R.a.d.
Collection—via a Web video series
developed with MCN AwesomenessTV titled Life’s S.o. R.a.d. Another example is Endemol Beyond’s
Michelle Phan, YouTube’s top beauty guru, whose most popular episode has garnered more than 50
million views. Phan struck a deal
with global cosmetics firm L’Oréal
to launch her own cosmetics line.
The brand speaks authentically to
Phan’s core audience, and the video
star credits her young followers with
inspiring her to develop the new
products. Likewise, the makeup
line’s dedicated online store boasts
features targeted at young shoppers,


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Kings of the Cloud
The leading companies in the tech industry
are reworking their business models to deliver
by Olaf Acker, Germar Schröder,
and Florian Gröne


he transition to a digitized
business environment is
happening with remarkable
speed. Companies are gathering and
analyzing huge amounts of data,
transforming their manufacturing
processes with digital fabrication
and other technologies, and incorporating the Internet of Things in
their products and processes (see
“A Strategist’s Guide to the Internet
of Things,” by Frank Burkitt, page
50). The companies at the forefront
of these technology industry trends
have already gained a competitive
edge over their slower rivals.
A key factor has been the move
to cloud computing. Virtually every
large organization is using interconnected, shared infrastructure—
comprising servers, software, connections, and information—in a

utility-like fashion, connected over
the Internet. Both public clouds
(shared by customers) and private
clouds (dedicated to one company) are rapidly increasing their

business digitization possible.
Current technology trends are
lowering the prices of IT services
and software, and shifting them
from outright purchases to flexible
subscriptions. For the suppliers of
digitization, this may initially push
down IT revenues, but in the longer run it could lock in customer
relationships, enable speedier customization of products and services,
and intensify innovation and global
expansion. The net effect may be to
concentrate business further around
the top few industry players, which
will all offer cloud-based platforms
at a massive global scale.
These trends are evident in
Strategy&’s third annual analysis
of the Global ICT 50, the leading
providers of enterprise computing.
Each year, we analyze and rank the
influence and business success of the
50 largest publicly held companies
that supply digitization-related products, services, and infrastructure to
businesses, governments, and other
organizations around the world.
Our goals are to provide the industry

Current trends are lowering the
prices of IT services and software,
and shifting them from outright
purchases to flexible subscriptions.
power and prevalence. Without the
cloud, it would be far more difficult for companies to gather, store,
analyze, and use the mountains
of data so critical to success today.
And as cloud computing becomes
ubiquitous, it affects just about
every aspect of the information and
communications technology (ICT)
industry, the industry that makes

with a view of its strongest companies and to help large customers better understand their technological
options, especially in building their
own distinctive capabilities.
The Global ICT 50 rankings
are based on a carefully weighted
formula that takes four critical criteria into account: financial performance, portfolio strength, go-to-

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

essay technology


HW and Infrastructure

Software and Internet

IT Service Providers

Telecom Operators



Accenture (global)




Atos (regional)


Cisco Systems


Capgemini (global)

China Mobile



Cognizant (offshore)

Deutsche Telekom



CSC (global)



• Amdocs

HCL (offshore)



• Sage

IBM (global)



• Symantec

Infosys (offshore)

Orange / France Telecom


TCS (offshore)



Wipro (offshore)



• Automatic Data



• Capita



• Intel

• Fidelity National


• Lenovo

• Fiserv


• Qualcomm


China Telecom
China Unicom

• Entered ICT 50
*Fast-growing companies with expected significant impact on ICT services industry


Source: Strategy& analysis


market footprint, and innovation
and branding. We select the 50 largest public companies serving enterprises overall, divide them into four
major sectors based on how they
generate the most revenue, and rank
them within those sectors (see Exhibit 1). Because the Global ICT 50
rankings are weighted toward business-to-business activity, they tend
to favor companies in that sphere.
Major consumer-oriented companies, such as Apple and Google, tend
to appear on the list, but not at the
top. The sectors are:
• Hardware and infrastructure. Companies such as Apple,

Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard
(HP), and Xerox make the PCs,
smartphones, tablets, routers, and
telecom networking equipment
that underpins our digital world.
As their products become commoditized, many hardware makers are
diversifying into software, services,
and other businesses.
• Software and Internet. Companies such as Google, Microsoft,

Oracle, and SAP produce programs,
data systems, and Internet-based
(increasingly cloud-based) services.
This sector has seen considerable
change; three of the eight companies
on last year’s list have been replaced.
• IT service providers. These
companies offer critical IT services, including network hosting,
enterprise-level business application
management, and hardware and
software integration. There are three
subcategories: Global service providers, such as Accenture, CSC, and
IBM, serve clients around the world.
Regional service providers, whose
business is limited to local relationships, continue to struggle; five out
of seven dropped off the 2013 list,

replaced by a new five. Offshore service providers, including HCL, Infosys, and Wipro, are mostly based
in India but offer their wares worldwide. They continue their long and
robust expansion into new markets.
• Telecom operators. Companies such as AT&T, NTT, and
Vodafone offer a variety of communications services—including fixed
and mobile voice and broadband,
and often Internet-based television.
This year’s results suggest that
competition in the ICT industry
is much more difficult than it was
even 12 months earlier. Enterprise
customers for hardware, software,
and services have more options and
are becoming more sophisticated in
linking their technology purchases
to strategy. Consolidation is also
having an effect: For example, although telecommunications companies continue to struggle for growth,
their profitability is improving after
a year of mergers and acquisitions.
Global reach, in the form of a broader geographic footprint, is becoming
a prerequisite for success in this industry, particularly in services.
Most important, activity is rapidly migrating to online interconnected computing resources. The
top competitors in the Global ICT
50—particularly the top five, which
are IBM, Microsoft, SAP, Oracle,
and Cisco Systems—might not have
been considered one another’s direct
competitors a few years ago (see Exhibit 2, next page). Now they offer

This year’s results suggest that
competition in the ICT industry
is much more difficult than it was
even 12 months earlier.

essay technology

Exhibit 1: The 2014 Global ICT 50, plus Watch List




















Cisco Systems































Source: Strategy& analysis

a number of similar products and
services, all with a cloud-based portfolio. Elsewhere on the Global ICT
50 list, companies with a cloud orientation are moving up, while others move down or even drop off the
list. The industry leaders are seeking dominant positions, wanting to
become the kings of the cloud. As
a group, they are putting distance
between themselves and the second
tier of followers.
Changing Currents

On the surface, the Global ICT
50 list might seem relatively stable,
especially for its highest-ranked
companies. Only two firms moved
out of the top 15 this year. Atos, a
services firm based in Europe, lost
ground to companies with broader
geographic markets, and Adobe
dropped all the way out of the top
50 because of a steep one-time decline in revenue following its abrupt
shift from a licensing to a subscription software model. Its revenues
are expected to revive soon, at which
point it will likely rejoin the list.
Replacing those two in the top 15
were EMC, a U.S.-based cloud stor-

age and services company (and the
fastest-growing among the top 15),
and HCL, an offshore IT services
firm, which is also rapidly moving
into cloud-based services.
Nonetheless, a full 22 percent of
the list is different from last year’s.
A few well-known global companies slipped off, including Adobe
(as noted), BlackBerry (RIM), Dell
(because it is no longer a public company), and Yahoo. Companies joining the list include Intel, Lenovo,
Qualcomm, and Symantec (see
“Lenovo Goes Global,” by William
J. Holstein, s+b, Autumn 2014). We
also keep a watch list of companies
whose rapid growth suggests they
could be contenders for future lists.
These include the Japanese telecommunications firm SoftBank;
four Chinese companies (Huawei
and ZTE [hardware] and China
Telecom and China Unicom [telecom]); and four U.S. companies
(Adobe,, and two
telecom companies that provide Internet-based services, CenturyLink
and Windstream Communications).
The financial picture also indicates significant underlying change.
Together, the companies that make
up this year’s Global ICT 50 posted
US$2.22 trillion in revenues, 2 percent more than they did the year
before, while the companies’ average profit margin stayed stable, at
15.4 percent. Software and Internet
companies, as usual, performed disproportionately well, with revenues
up 11 percent, to $284 billion. But
their margins, although the strongest of any category, were down
from the previous year—from 25
percent to 22.5 percent of revenues.
This supports the conclusion that
the ascending products and services,
such as cloud computing and other
subscription-based services, don’t

produce the earnings that licensebased services have in the past.
The hardware and infrastructure sector experienced respectable
growth in revenues this year, reaching $858 billion, up 3 percent from
the prior year, but margins overall
have not improved at all in what is
increasingly a commodity business.
Most of the companies in this category made little or no profit. The
exceptions included Apple, which
captured more than 40 percent of
the profits in smartphones and tablets, and Samsung, Intel, and Cisco,
which each had profits of more than
$10 billion.
Given maturing markets and
legacy technologies, it isn’t clear how
well the IT services sector can keep
up with the changing market—
particularly the move to the cloud,
which makes some traditional outsourcing offerings less relevant.
As for telecom, although its profit
margins rose in 2014 by 3 percentage points, to 18 percent, the reason
probably had to do with short-lived
events: consolidation and costoriented restructuring efforts. The
boom in mobile telephony helped
revenues, but at the same time competition intensified. If you are a telecom company leader, this is not a
time for complacency.
The data on geographic footprints shows the increasing importance of global expansion. Among
the service providers, for example,
global companies are thriving most,
thanks to their ability to apply their
capabilities around the world. Some
are building massive hubs in lowcost labor centers such as India.
The offshore IT services players are
similarly broadening their footprint,
aggressively buying up market share
in mature, high-spending markets.
Their footprints remain small, much

strategy+business issue 77

essay technology

Exhibit 2: The Top 15 in the ICT 50

it, through innovation and M&A,
and this has given each of them an
advantage in scale and scope. If the
ranking criteria (financial performance, portfolio strength, go-tomarket footprint, and innovation
and branding) are, as we believe,
accurate predictors of digitization
impact, then IBM, Microsoft, SAP,
Oracle, and Cisco Systems could become the pacesetters of cloud computing, competing to bring enterprises a new level of proficiency.
IBM has been an active proponent of migration to the cloud.
Starting with its “on-demand” offerings in the early 2000s, it has filed
more than 1,500 cloud-related patents, and has made at least 15 cloudrelated acquisitions valued at more

All five of the top-ranked
companies appear to be basing
their future on cloud computing.
In 2014, six of the 10 most innovative companies from the Strategy&
Global Innovation 1000 study (see
page 34) were also in the top 15 of
the Global ICT 50: Amazon, Apple,
Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Samsung. This is significant because
the Global Innovation 1000 contains companies from all industries.
There is also some correlation with
Interbrand’s 2013 study of brand
reputation, which placed six Global
ICT 50 companies among its top 10
global brands: Apple, Google, IBM,
Amazon, Microsoft, and Samsung.
Fighting for the Cloud

All five of the top-ranked Global
ICT 50 companies appear to be basing their future on cloud computing. They have invested heavily in

than $7 billion. In 2013, it took in
$4.4 billion in cloud-based revenue,
up 69 percent from the prior year.
IBM’s offerings for the cloud
include infrastructure-as-a-service
(IaaS) for underlying storage and
computing capacity, platform-asa-service (PaaS) for application development and deployment, and
software-as-a-service (SaaS) for serving end-users within enterprises.
Together, these represent one of the
company’s three main strategic imperatives. The others are big data
and analytics, and enterprise mobility. The cloud is particularly critical
to the company’s strategy, because
it provides the underpinning fabric
that makes the other two imperatives possible.
Microsoft is similarly intent on

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essay technology

smaller than those of the global giants, but with strong momentum.
Telecom companies remain tied to
their investments in local infrastructure, but the cloud makes it easier
for global competitors to move in.
ICT growth in emerging markets has slowed, particularly as
economic growth has peaked in
countries such as Brazil, India, and
Russia. China is still a major ICT
purchaser, on a par with Japan, but
ICT market activity is shifting to
mature economies, at least in the
short term, as organizations convert
their legacy IT systems to the cloud.
The final component in our
ranking involves the relative strength
of the companies’ innovation efforts
and the value of their global brands.

the human capital software company SuccessFactors. SAP recently
announced the creation of a new
business unit devoted to cloud-based
products for vertical industries, including the Internet of Things and
e-health offerings.
SAP’s move into the cloud has
led to a growth rate of 60 percent
in cloud-based revenues in early
2014, even as it plans to maintain
its slower-growth but higher-margin
non-cloud business. In the Global
ICT 50, the company is currently
ranked number three in its subsector
in financial health, and, should its
combined cloud and non-cloud plan
work out, it should maintain or even
improve that ranking.
Oracle was both early and cautious in moving to the cloud. It
introduced its CRM On Demand
offering in 2006, and made a number of high-profile, cloud-relevant
acquisitions: J.D. Edwards, PeopleSoft, Sun Microsystems, and Responsys, a provider of cloud-based
B2C marketing software. Oracle
ranks first among the Global ICT

No single provider can be all
things to all enterprises, and there
are plenty of profitable niches.
IT professionals is a critical strength.
Its brand is ranked number five by
Interbrand, and it has more than
$80 billion in cash to help it fight
the battle for the cloud.
SAP, which offers enterprise
computing infrastructure, data
analytics, and software platforms
tagged to industry verticals, is a
relative latecomer to the cloud. It
began the transition around 2012,
with help from the acquisition of

50 in portfolio strength, and its
cloud services are increasingly responsible for this, especially in private systems tailored to individual
companies. It is launching its own
cloud-based database platform to
compete with similar offerings from
Amazon and others.
But Oracle also lags behind its
rivals in offering cloud-based CRM,
SaaS, and office productivity solutions. Just 3 percent of its 2013

revenue was derived from its cloud
offerings; its success has largely depended on providing database and
CRM software through a noncloud, premises-based model. It is
reframing its software portfolio as an
enterprise app store, letting customers decide whether to go the cloud
route or maintain their existing system behind its corporate firewalls.
Whether it decides to more tightly
integrate all of its acquisitions into a
full-service cloud offering for enterprises remains to be seen.
The fifth-ranking company,
Cisco Systems, takes a distinctive approach. Rather than offering cloud
services directly to enterprise endusers, it provides them with the infrastructure and platforms needed to
build computing clouds themselves.
Cisco isn’t the first entrant into this
market, but according to the Synergy Research Group, it sells more
of the hardware on which the cloud
is based than does any other player.
It also emphasizes integrated solutions; for example, Cisco’s Unified
Data Center and UCS IaaS products
unite computing, networking, storage, management, and virtualization into a single system oriented to
improve operating efficiencies.
Given this focus on selling
underlying components—especially
networking hardware and servers—
it is natural for Cisco to pursue an
open, standards-based approach. Its
goal is to help customers avoid being locked into a single vendor or
platform—while relying on Cisco,
of course, for a good share of the
technology. Cisco has a long history of supercharging its innovative
capabilities through strategic acquisitions. It has acquired more than
170 companies since 1993. Over
the next two years, it plans to invest
more than $1 billion to build its ex-

strategy+business issue 77

essay technology

migrating its enterprise infrastructure and application business to the
cloud. Despite the challenges this
company has encountered on the
consumer-facing side of its business,
it is extremely successful overall. The
enterprise division, which is made
up of the servers, cloud computing,
and programming tools businesses,
represents almost half of Microsoft’s
total $80 billion in revenue, and almost two-thirds of its $60 billion in
gross earnings.
The firm is expanding its cloudbased software-as-a-service business,
which has consistently had doubledigit annual growth or better, and
which currently has more than $1
billion in annual revenues. The twoyear-old cloud-based Office 365 offering has also been successful, more
than doubling its revenue in its second year. Microsoft’s other cloudbased offerings include Azure (IaaS)
and customer relations management; it competes directly with the
category leader, The
company’s well-established capability for building relationships with

Consolidation and Competition

What are the implications for companies in the technology industry?
This year’s study shows just how
competitive and concentrated the
industry has become. The battle for
a share of the cloud services market
is fierce, but the same can be said for
providers of big data and analytics,
social media, and, increasingly, the
Internet of Things. Size matters,
too, especially when selling to large
corporations—as IBM’s number one
spot in the rankings this year demonstrates. And the fact that all of the
top five Global ICT 50 companies
are growing their businesses aggressively through acquisition suggests
the importance of building complete portfolios quickly.
But no single technology provider can be all things to all enterprises, and there are plenty of
profitable niches to be found in the
market. Success will come to those
ICT companies that focus on a distinctive edge, finding a combination
of capabilities and product portfolios that best enable them to pursue
their chosen strategy.
The greatest opportunity in
this story is for the technology users;
the companies that purchase ICT
and use it to serve their customers in their own distinctive ways.
The rise of the cloud has leveled
the playing field, broadening access
and lowering costs for many types
of ICT offerings. Specialized access to enterprise ICT is becoming
a commodity; small companies can
benefit from the same services as in-

dustry leaders. Cloud-based services
can build on modular designs to
create unique capabilities that fulfill
their own strategies, without having to replicate the functions, or the
best practices, of their competitors.
Technology can now more easily be
a vehicle for strategic choice: a way
to determine what a company can
do best, and to put that understanding into practice. The information
and communications technology
providers that realize this, and make
it more feasible through their offerings, will be the leaders of the Global ICT 50 for many years to come. +

Germar Schröder
is a partner with Strategy& based in
Frankfurt. He focuses on communications
clients and ICT service providers, and has
led several initiatives for product development, go-to-market, and operating model
design, specifically for the cloud.
Florian Gröne
is a principal with Strategy& based in New
York and Berlin. He works with communications, media, and technology companies
on new customer experiences, products,
and services, and building operating and
technology models for the digital age.
Also contributing to this article were
Strategy& senior associate Florian Muhss,
associate Markus Weiss, and s+b contributing editor Edward H. Baker.

Reprint No. 00285

Olaf Acker
is a partner with Strategy& based in
Frankfurt and Dubai. He focuses on
business technology strategy and digital
operating model transformation programs
for global companies in the telecommunications, media, and technology industries.

essay technology

panded cloud business. Thanks to
its strong cash position, it can afford
to keep building out its portfolio.
It will probably become a key enabler of the growth of the Internet
of Things.

This article is based on the third annual
Strategy& Global ICT 50 study. For the full
report, the methodology, and previous
years’ studies, see



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What Mom-and-Pop
Stores Can Teach
Grocery Chains
To stave off online competitors, supermarkets
should work with their suppliers and get back to
personalized service.
by Tim Laseter and Steffen Lauster


t a typical suburban home
in the year 2020, Cecilia receives a text message
from her favorite grocery store. It’s
a reminder that the family-sized
box of cereal she or her husband,
Andrew, typically buys every two
weeks might be running low. In fact,
she poured the last bowl for her son
this morning. She adds the item to
the family’s virtual shopping basket
with a simple voice command. She
then reviews and confirms the rest
of the staples in the basket—coffee, bananas, chicken, bread, milk,
and diapers—and texts Andrew to
remind him to pick up the groceries
on his way home.

Two days earlier, in anticipation of her family’s typical weekly
shopping trip, night-shift employees
at the store had gathered the longshelf-life items from Cecilia’s virtual basket in the backroom. Now,
triggered by Andrew’s arrival in
the parking lot, the pickup counter
employee adds the perishable items.
When Andrew enters the store with
his reusable jars and containers, he
is greeted by a professionally trained
chef, who offers a dinner menu suggestion based on the chicken breast
in his order and a few seasonal
vegetables delivered to the store by
a local farmer that morning. Andrew has her scan a prepackaged
box of ingredients and place it in
his cart. As he heads toward the

pickup counter, he grabs a bottle of
wine recommended by his frequent
shopper store app. Just 15 minutes
after he arrived, Andrew heads out
of the store with the bulk of his
family’s grocery needs, plus a few
special items.
For traditional grocers, this
tailored and engaging customer experience harks back to the days before the self-service model came to
dominate the industry. It’s only in
the last century that supermarkets
have relied on customers entering
their stores, wandering the aisles,
and largely helping themselves. But
reestablishing a customer-centric approach today is possible, and it
won’t require a technological breakthrough in hardware or software.
All the pieces exist. It will, however,
require a fundamental rethinking of
the customer’s grocery shopping experience, as well as the supply chain
and store operations to support it.
At first glance, the prospects for
supermarkets may not seem dire.
Overall, groceries remain an exception to the impressive growth of
Internet retailing over the past two
decades. According to estimates by
Brick Meets Click, online grocery
sales in the U.S. currently hover just
above 3 percent. In the United Kingdom, which has among the highest
penetration rates, research by Kantar Worldpanel puts the share at
only 5 percent. PwC’s 2014 Achieving Total Retail survey of more than
15,000 online shoppers worldwide
reported that only 13 percent of
consumers shop online for groceries, compared with 32 percent of
consumers in all category purchases.
A 2014 Nielsen survey found that
74 percent of shoppers believe that
shopping for groceries in the store is
more convenient than shopping for
them online. And the industry lag is

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

essay consumer products


History Repeats Itself

Nearly a century ago, Piggly Wiggly and other regional chains began
experimenting with the self-service
format and ushered in the modern
grocery industry paradigm: an ever-

increasing selection, in ever-larger
stores. Prior to this model, however,
small general merchandise stores
served customers dry goods and other nonperishable staples at a counter
typically staffed by no more than
two or three clerks. Located within
neighborhoods and small communities, these stores also delivered goods
to their customers (often on credit,
because the store owners personally
knew their clientele).
The self-service innovation
marked the first step in the transition away from service-based to

of packaged goods and perishables,
dominated grocery sales in the newly
developed suburbs. Unfortunately,
some of the behemoths of the industry failed to make a smooth transition. For example, A&P, a company
dating back to 1859 and once the
world’s largest retailer, with nearly
16,000 stores, began a long decline
in the early 1960s, ultimately declaring bankruptcy in 2010.
In the late 1980s, even the most
successful grocery stores started
to feel squeezed by the entrance
of a new player. It was then that

Over the coming decade, growth
will be flat or will decline across all
grocery formats except online.
price-based competition. The second step was the nationwide expansion of grocery chains, designed to
capture the scale benefits in purchasing. During the 1920s, these chains
began stocking perishable meats
and produce, but the first modern
supermarket didn’t come into existence until 1930. That year, Michael
Kullen opened a massive store, King
Kullen, on the fringes of New York
City that was scaled to sell 100 times
the volume of a typical chain store of
Kroger or A&P, his former employers. The no-frills store housed within
a former warehouse offered wider variety and rock-bottom prices.
Over the next 20 years, the
national chains converted their
small-footprint stores into the new
supermarket format, generally reducing their overall store counts but
expanding the average size of each
store. In the 1950s and ’60s, what
today’s shopper would recognize as
a modern grocery store, with a mix

Walmart entered the grocery business with its first “supercenter.” This
Wall Street darling had achieved
$1 billion in sales a mere 10 years
after its 1970 IPO—faster growth
than any company, in any industry,
had previously achieved. Kmart, one
of the former kings of discount retail
(along with Sears), followed suit, but
struggled to keep up as Walmart’s
growing scale advantages fueled further price reductions and a greater
variety of offerings.
Other retail formats—most
notably convenience stores and club
stores—also emerged during the
latter part of the last century, but
as of the mid-1990s, supermarkets
still controlled more than twothirds of the grocery channel. Over
the last 20 years, however, supermarket revenue growth in the U.S.
has been flat in real dollar terms.
Meanwhile, supercenter sales have
grown nearly 7 percent annually—
the lion’s share going to Walmart. At

essay consumer products

not driven just by deeply ingrained
consumer habits and preferences.
The grocery category itself presents
challenges to an online model—for
example, product perishability, temperature-controlled (“cold chain”)
distribution requirements, and items
with a low value-to-weight ratio.
However, the competitive dynamics are changing, especially
in the United States. Online competitors want to claim their share
of grocery sales, which account for
roughly half of U.S. retail spending. Our forecasts suggest that over
the coming decade, growth will be
flat or will decline across all grocery
formats except online, which will
have double-digit growth rates.
Amazon established Prime Pantry as a national subscription program for dry goods and expanded
AmazonFresh from Seattle to Los
Angeles and San Francisco; expansions to Washington, DC/Baltimore
and New York/New Jersey are rumored to be in the works. Not to
be outdone, Google has announced
a US$500 million “war chest” to
support Google Shopping Express,
which delivers products from retailer shelves—including groceries—to
customer homes.
Because online players can
provide more variety than a physical store, clinging to the self-service
model is fruitless for traditional
grocery stores. To survive and thrive
in the coming decade, supermarkets
need to return to the customer-centric mind-set of old—while leveraging the digital tools of today.


Start with the Customer

The grocery industry recognizes
that the same consumer will choose
among the various channels available at different times for different
needs. Thus, rather than segmenting by customer demographics, the
industry focuses on trip types: the
“stock up,” the “fill in,” and the
“quick trip.” Historically, supermarket chains sought all three trip
types by building stores close to a
critical mass of customers, with convenient parking. And although they
understood that the same customer
makes different types of trips, they
inevitably hoped shoppers would
impulsively buy more as they wandered the aisles regardless of their
original intent. (Did you ever wonder why high-volume staples such as
bananas, bread, and milk are typi-

cally in opposite corners of a grocery
store?) Supermarket chains have thus
been reluctant to aggressively pursue
the online model, including curbside pickup. And for good reason:
Academic studies such as the 2008
Harvard Business School working
paper “I’ll Have the Ice Cream Soon
and the Vegetables Later: A Study of
Online Grocery Purchases and Order Lead Time” have shown that the
delays typical of ordering online reduce shoppers’ impulse to purchase
hedonistic goods.
But the emerging online subscription models—such as diapers from or Amazon
Mom—turn the old approach on its
head. They apply a customer-centric
alternative by targeting the needs of
a specific customer segment rather
than seeking to be all things to all
people. Having found a valuable segment, these online players focus on
recurring “stock up” purchases and
offer exceptional service to build a
loyal customer base. Over time, they
hope to offer a wider range of products through partner sites, whether
personal hygiene products from or grocery dry goods from
Amazon Prime Pantry. A focus on
such staples offers a successful entry
point for emerging online grocery
models as they seek to retrain supermarket shoppers. But these staples
could also offer the foundation for
traditional grocers to rethink the instore shopping experience.
However, supermarkets can’t
do it alone. They will need to partner with the large brand manufacturers, which desperately want to
move from the brute-force tools of
mass advertising and trade promotion dollars to more precise techniques for consumer engagement.
Although social media advertising
has made steady progress in erod-

ing investment in mass media, the
real challenge for packaged-goods
manufacturers is to wean their retail
partners away from trade promotion, which exceeds $100 billion annually and represents the largest category of marketing spending. This
is still the case despite the fact that
a large percentage of trade promotions fail to deliver a positive return
on investment.
These dollars could be reallocated to more targeted and profitable investments if the combined
data of the retailers and manufacturers were leveraged. For example,
global brands—including CocaCola, Kraft, Nestlé, and Procter
& Gamble—have partnered with
inMarket, a mobile platform, to
provide in-store marketing via consumers’ smartphones for nearly five
years. And, using Apple’s iBeacon
feature, which was released in 2013,
inMarket partnered with the Giant
Eagle supermarket chain to beam
ads in grocery stores in Cleveland,
Seattle, and San Francisco. The ads
generate tailored offers based on the
customer’s specific location in the
grocery aisle.
Such spatial precision, combined with the wealth of data minable from retailer loyalty programs,
producer websites, and social media, could enable an unheard-of
degree of micro-segmentation. Our
experience has shown that placing
a product offer through collaboration with a retailer site increases the
click-through rate by an order of
magnitude over independent online
placement. Imagine the potential
of further collaboration to improve
in-store digital engagement. And,
as illustrated by the experience of
Andrew above, digital tools can also
enhance personal interactions in the
store. The idea is to restore the lost

strategy+business issue 77

essay consumer products

48 percent, traditional supermarkets
still account for the largest share of
the grocery market in the U.S., but
supercenters now have a 23 percent
share and club stores 11 percent.
Convenience stores retain the 14
percent of the market they had 20
years ago, but drugstores now capture 5 percent as they seek to own a
larger share of wallet of their pharmacy customers.
That brings us to the present, with online behemoths such
as Amazon entering the mix. And
although the extra cost of delivery
to the home adds expense in comparison with the self-service model,
customer perception has shifted as
Amazon and other online retailers tout “free shipping.” (Amazon
spends $6 billion on shipping while
collecting only $3 billion in shipping fees—but it still makes a profit,
albeit a small one.) Traditional supermarkets are feeling more pressure
than ever, and from all directions.

A Tailored Supply Chain

Digital tools can personalize the
grocery shopping experience, but
the key challenge for traditional
grocery stores is to cost-effectively

items from the shelves just as the
customer would have done. That
said, with some fresh thinking, grocers can cut needless costs. For example, why put high-volume staples
such as toilet paper on the shelves
for customers to sort through when
they can be more efficiently packaged with other staples for customer
pickup? What other products could

The emerging online subscription
models—such as diapers from or Amazon Mom—
turn the old approach on its head.
transition away from the self-service
model. The grocery supply chain
has been designed to ship full truckloads containing pallets of cases for
shelf display in a store—where customers do their own “picking.” In
online retailing, individual items are
processed in fulfillment centers and
aggregated for delivery to the consumer’s home. Although the “last
mile” of home delivery adds significant cost, bypassing the stocking of
store shelves can create offsetting
savings—at least in theory. That
was the investment thesis of Webvan
a dozen years ago, and it remains the
dream of online grocers today (see
“The Last Mile to Nowhere: Flaws
& Fallacies in Internet Home-Delivery Schemes,” by Tim Laseter, s+b,
Third Quarter 2000).
Traditional supermarkets face
the worst of both worlds if they
don’t rethink the supply chain. Delivery from the store or even curbside pickup of a grocery order placed
online currently requires the incremental cost of an employee serving
as a “personal shopper” to collect

be cost-effectively processed in the
backroom of the store and picked up
at a service counter, in the tradition
of the local general merchant establishment in the days before the selfservice supermarket?
The packaging itself offers another potential opportunity. Amazon has already demonstrated the
ability to rethink packaging in the
purely online environment. Focusing on the customer experience,
Amazon introduced its “frustrationfree packaging” initiative in 2008. A
key target was the heat-sealed plastic
shells and wire twist ties common
in consumer electronics. Traditional
packaging simultaneously provides
visibility of the product on the shelf
and hampers shoplifting—neither
of which is of concern to Amazon.
In partnership with its suppliers,
Amazon now lists 200,000 items
as “frustration free.” Suppliers have
reported reduced costs, as the new
packaging eliminates much of the
dunnage and double handling previously used to secure the product for
visual display.

Packaging for groceries on the
store shelf needs to grab the consumer’s attention in less than two
seconds in order to trigger a purchase
decision. It also must be designed for
efficient handling in case quantities
in the distribution network and for
individual use in the home environment. For items ordered for in-store
pickup through a subscription model, however, package design could
focus on different parameters. If
the item is packed in the backroom
for pickup at a store service counter, it doesn’t have to “pop” on the
shelves, but it needs to be most easily
“picked” at the item level.
The iQ Shelf Maximizer introduced by Campbell’s offers a hint of
what might be possible. Campbell’s
red-and-white soup can represents
one of the most iconic brands in
grocery, but it was stagnating a decade ago. Among other innovations,
Campbell’s developed a gravity-fed
dispenser that reduced shelf clutter
and allowed shoppers to find and
grab the desired individual can.
Such shelving could also simplify a
store-based picking operation, but it
doesn’t go far enough in streamlining the full supply chain, since stock
clerks still feed the dispenser by hand
from traditional cardboard shipping
boxes. Following the example of the
automotive industry’s lean supply
chain practices, the soup cans could
be shipped with returnable containers machine-loaded at the Campbell’s factory. A just-in-time flow of
dispensers for soup and other canned
goods into backroom picking
operations could reduce handling
costs and help move grocery toward
the high inventory turns achieved
in automotive. Other products in
cylindrical containers, such as Morton Salt and Gerber baby food,
would be obvious candidates for

essay consumer products

art of service and personal engagement that the small-town general
merchants offered before the era of
the self-service grocery store.


Grocers, Take Heart

Some traditional grocers have responded to online pressures by
partnering with services such as
Instacart. This startup connects
people online with crowd-sourced
personal shoppers who receive a
cut of the fee for picking up the
customers’ requested items in the
store and delivering them within
two hours. Venture capitalists are
responding—having finally recovered from the haunting memories
of Webvan—bidding up Instacart
to an eye-popping valuation of

A better customer experience that
leverages both digital and physical
assets will be the key to success.
customers (environmentally and
digitally conscious millennials, in
particular) to forgo the expedited
home delivery of AmazonFresh and
embrace next-day pickup points as a
better trade-off.
The space savings from moving
high-velocity items off the shelves
and into the backroom could free
up space dedicated to key suppliers to create an engaging customer
experience. Imagine knowledgeable
sales clerks trained by General Mills
or PepsiCo to educate consumers
on the benefits of a new product
with in-store trials, and perhaps
even signing them up for a new
subscription service. The stateof-the-art “live chat” feature of a
purely online retailer pales in comparison with what a physical grocery store could provide. Would
a permanently staffed counter offer more value than an ephemeral end-cap display funded by
traditional trade promotion dollars?

$400 million. Although the service
is still prohibitively costly for most
consumers, the venture’s funding
portends further disruption of the
status quo. But traditional grocers
can’t stop there.
Sheltered for the first 20 years
of the Internet retailing era, supermarkets and their vendors can now
learn from other retail categories
that weathered earlier attacks. For
example, Best Buy has teamed with
key vendors such as Apple, Microsoft, and Samsung to enhance
the customer experience and avoid
simple price-based competition
with Amazon. Supermarkets would
be wise to learn from this formerly
high-flying retailer as it battles the
online onslaught. Providing a better
customer experience that leverages
both digital and physical assets will
be the key to success.
Both traditional supermarkets
and grocery manufacturers need
to develop capabilities aligned to

the emerging digital world, and to
break the single-minded pursuit of
low cost and wide variety that has
driven the industry for a century.
The specific capabilities will vary by
company, product, and region, but
will in all cases require intercompany collaboration between grocers
and their suppliers, and intracompany collaboration across functions
including marketing, merchandising, distribution, and operations.
Few things are certain about the
future of the traditional grocers in
the digital world, except that decline
awaits those who sit back and do
nothing. But supermarkets should
take heart—recent research from
Cardlytics shows that loyalty to grocery store chains is higher than loyalty in any other retail category. The
shoppers are supermarkets’ to lose.
It’s time for grocers to stop thinking
about the coming threat, and start
planning for the opportunity. +
Reprint No. 00286

Tim Laseter
is a senior executive advisor at Strategy&,
a contributing editor of s+b, and a professor of practice at the University of Virginia’s Darden School. He is the author or
coauthor of four books, including Internet
Retail Operations (Taylor & Francis, 2012)
and Balanced Sourcing (Jossey-Bass, 1998).
Steffen Lauster
is the lead partner of Strategy&’s consumer and retail practice, and is based in
Cleveland. He has more than two decades
of experience leading corporate growth
strategies in the U.S. and Europe, with a
particular focus on channel relationships
and trade promotion effectiveness.
Also contributing to this article were
Strategy& partners Michael DuVall,
Rich Kauffeld, and Martha Turner.

strategy+business issue 77

essay consumer products

similar gravity-fed dispensers.
Or, to save packaging and provide greater customization, perhaps
some products could be shipped in
bulk and packaged in a store pickup
zone. Just as many consumers now
carry reusable shopping bags, they
might also embrace the reusable
containers of the past, such as milk
bottles, or new special-purpose containers such as plastic cereal or coffee storage containers designed to be
refilled through a subscription model with their favorite grocer. Such a
sustainability focus could lead some

feature innovation



Ten years of research reveal the best
R&D strategies for the decade ahead.

Illustration by Harry Campbell

by Barry Jaruzelski, Volker Staack,
and Brad Goehle

The success of corporate R&D is on every
C-suite agenda. Yet wide disparities persist
in how well innovation investments actually
pay off. As a consequence, R&D is often
seen as a black box, where large sums of
money go in and innovative products and
services only sometimes come out. One of the
aims of the Global Innovation 1000 study,
our annual analysis of R&D spending, has
been to demystify the process—and to find
universal principles that can be applied by
any company, in any industry.

feature innovation

Paths to


feature innovation

Volker Staack
is a partner with Strategy&
based in Chicago, and is a
senior leader of the firm’s
innovation practice. He works
with automotive, industrial,
and technology companies,
helping them build competitive
innovation capabilities from
strategy to execution, improve
new product development
efficiency and effectiveness,
and achieve strategic product
cost reduction.

This year, the 10th anniversary of the study, we
looked back at a decade’s worth of research on R&D
spending patterns and surveys of innovation executives,
plus anecdotal insights about how companies have been
improving their innovation performance. We also surveyed more than 500 innovation leaders in companies
large and small, across every major region and industry
sector, to ask what they have learned in the last 10 years
about why some investments work and others do not.
We found that it’s really not that mysterious: Over the
years, we’ve identified the core strategies that can improve a company’s return on its R&D investment, and
we’ve witnessed some consensus around the key success
factors that drive results. For example, one of the main
messages we heard is that innovation leaders feel they
have made real progress in better leveraging their R&D
investments, particularly by more tightly aligning their
innovation and business strategies, and by gaining better insights into customers’ stated and unstated needs.
And in fact, 44 percent of our 2014 survey respondents
say that their companies are better innovators today
than they were a decade ago, while another 32 percent
say they are much better. Only 6 percent say they are
doing worse.
For our 2014 study, we also looked ahead to the
next decade, asking our survey respondents how they
expect their innovation practices to evolve. We found
tremendous opportunities for improvement: Only 27
percent feel they have mastered the elements they will
need for innovation success over the next 10 years.
Gaining that expertise will be important as companies’
innovation goals change in the future. Many of our respondents said their companies plan to shift their R&D
spending mix over the next decade—from incremental

Brad Goehle
is a principal with Strategy&
based in Washington, DC,
and is a member of the firm’s
innovation practice. He works
with aerospace and defense,
industrial, and automotive
companies to drive growth
and innovation performance
in areas that span the product
life cycle, including front-end
strategic planning, product
development, and portfolio

Also contributing to this
article were s+b contributing
editor Rob Norton, and
Strategy& senior campaign
manager Josselyn Simpson,
senior analyst Jennifer Ding,
and campaign manager Kristen

innovation to new and breakthrough innovation, and
from product R&D to service R&D.
Our study also provides some insight into trends
in R&D spending during the last decade. The rate of
growth in innovation expenditures for the Global Innovation 1000 slowed sharply in 2014, to just 1.4 percent—the slowest rate of growth in the past 10 years
for the 1,000 global companies that spent the most on
R&D. (R&D spending declined only once during this
time period: in 2010, in the wake of the financial crisis
and recession, and then only modestly.)
The last two years of decelerating growth—3.8
percent growth in 2013 and 1.4 percent in 2014—
could be attributed to the general mood of uncertainty
overhanging today’s global economy or the unusual
amount of geopolitical turmoil in the world. Looking
at 10 years of data, however, suggests another, simpler
explanation: reversion to the mean. The slowdown
followed two years of above-average growth in 2011
(10.3 percent) and 2012 (9.7 percent), and R&D spending growth will likely move closer over time to the average 5.5 percent compound annual growth rate from
2005 to 2014. It also may be that innovation spending
slows about five years after a market disruption. After
all, the next-lowest year of R&D spending growth was
in 2006, five years after the 2001 dot-com bubble burst
(see Exhibit 1).
Another possible explanation for the slowdown in
R&D spending growth is that companies, over time,
have been learning to do more with less. The long-term
rate of R&D intensity (innovation spending as a percentage of revenues), for example, has declined over
the last decade at a compound average rate of 2 percent
per year. This also reflects one of the major findings of

strategy+business issue 77

Barry Jaruzelski
is a senior partner with
Strategy& in Florham Park,
N.J., and global leader of the
firm’s engineered products and
services practice. He created
the Global Innovation 1000
study in 2005 and continues
to lead the research. He
works with high-tech and
industrial clients on corporate
and product strategy and
the transformation of core
innovation processes.

Only 27 percent of respondents feel
they have mastered the elements
they will need for innovation
success over the next 10 years.

Exhibit 1: R&D Spending Growth, 2005–14


Total R&D Spending
US$ Billions


Mr. Innovation himself, the late Steve Jobs, put it
more pointedly in Fortune magazine in 1998: “Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars
you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM
was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not
about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re
led, and how much you get it.”
Software—and China—Rising










1-yr. Growth Rate


9.3% 12.2% 7.3%



9-YR. CAGR: 5.5%

–5.6% 10.3% 9.7%



Source: Bloomberg data, Capital IQ data, Strategy& analysis

our Global Innovation 1000 research, which has been
reaffirmed in each of the last 10 years: There is no statistically significant relationship between sustained financial performance and R&D spending, in terms of
either total R&D dollars or R&D as a percentage of
revenues. Our inaugural study, in 2005, “Money Isn’t
Everything,” found that R&D spending levels have no
apparent impact on sales growth, gross profit, enterprise
profit, market capitalization, or shareholder return.
Since then, we have conducted more than 10,000 statistical analyses of the relationship of research and development spending to corporate success, which have all
led to the same conclusion. The only exception is when
companies’ R&D spending falls into the bottom decile
compared with their peers’ spending, which does compromise performance.

The industry shares of total R&D spending among the
Global Innovation 1000 during the previous 10 years
have been consistent: The computing and electronics,
healthcare, and auto sectors have together accounted
for two-thirds of total spending. The largest percentage increase in R&D spending, however, has been in
the software and Internet category, which over the last
three years accelerated from single-digit to doubledigit growth. Growth in the computing and electronics and healthcare sectors decelerated over the last two
years, while spending in the auto and industrials sectors continued to rise steadily (see “Profiling the Global
Innovation 1000,” next page). Interestingly, growth in
R&D spending in the latter two sectors, along with
aerospace and defense, may primarily reflect new outlays on software within those companies, resulting from
the increasing prevalence of software and computercontrolled systems in both the products they make and
the factory automation they deploy.
“Ten years ago, a car radio was a radio with a twoline display and a bunch of buttons,” says Tim Yerdon,
vice president of design, marketing, and connected services at Visteon, which supplies cockpit electronics and
heating and cooling thermal management systems to
automakers. “Today, the radio is basically a computer
(continued on page 40)

feature innovation

With one exception, each year of the Global Innovation 1000 study has
witnessed an increase in R&D investment.


Profiling the
Global Innovation


gains in 2011 and 2012 as innova-

Exhibit A: R&D and Revenue

tion spending bounced back after

R&D spending totaled US$647 billion in 2014,
an increase of just 1.4 percent over 2013.

the financial crisis. Revenues for the
Global Innovation 1000, meanwhile,


$18.4 trillion) in 2014. As a result,


mid an unsettled world out-

R&D intensity—innovation spend-

look, R&D spending among

ing as a percentage of revenue—fell

the Global Innovation 1000 totaled

slightly to 3.5 percent, close to its

US$647 billion in 2014, just 1.4 per-

long-term average (see Exhibit A).

cent more than in the previous year.



The slow growth in total inno-

This is the second year in a row of

vation spending for 2014 is a big-

below-average growth, following

company phenomenon: The top 100

unusually strong (about 10 percent)

innovation spenders accounted for


R&D Spending
as a % of Revenue





Source: Bloomberg data, Capital IQ data,
Strategy& analysis

Exhibit B: The Top 20 R&D Spenders

The two biggest spenders from 2013, Volkswagen and Samsung, held their positions. Although their industries, along with healthcare, continue to
dominate this list, the software and Internet sector increased its presence in the top 20 this year, with Amazon making its first appearance.
Companies that have been among the Top 20 R&D Spenders every year since 2005



2014 2013

R&D Spending






US$ Billions

from 2013

As a %
of Sales












South Korea

Computing and Electronics







North America

Computing and Electronics







North America

Software and Internet



























Johnson & Johnson




North America






North America

Software and Internet

Merck & Co.




North America




North America








General Motors
















North America








North America

Software and Internet







North America
























North America

Computing and Electronics











Cisco Systems




North America

Computing and Electronics





Source: Bloomberg data, Capital IQ data, Strategy& analysis

strategy+business issue 77

feature innovation

Indexed to 1998

increased by a solid 3.7 percent (to


less than 1 percent

percent. This was a continuation from

of the 2014 increase

2013, when telecom R&D spending

in R&D spending,

was down 2.2 percent. Pricing pres-

compared with 45

sures, combined with the need for

Exhibit C: Change in R&D
Spending by Industry, 2013–14
Five industries decreased their R&D spending this
year, but the software and Internet sector forged
ahead—increasing spending by 16.5 percent.

percent the previous year. Yet despite

increased capital expenditures to up-

the slowdown among the 100 larg-

date networks to the latest technolo-

Height = Change in spending from 2013
Width = 2013 R&D spending

est, overall, nearly 60 percent of the

gies, likely led telecom companies

Software and Internet 16.5%

companies that were also on the list

to shift investment away from R&D.

in 2013 increased their R&D spending.

Innovation spending was up modestly

(Calculations are based on compa-

in the chemicals and energy, industri-

nies’ reported R&D spending in the

als, and auto sectors, with the biggest

last fiscal year, as of June 30, 2014.

increase—a solid 16.5 percent gain—

For more details, see “Methodology,”

in the software and Internet sector

page 48.)

(see Exhibit C).

Although big companies scaled
back their rate of R&D spending

At nearly 12 percent, that sector
has had the highest compound average growth in R&D spending over the

lion’s share of total R&D spend-

10-year history of the Global Innova-

ing. The top 20 companies, in fact,

tion 1000 study—boosted significantly

accounted for more than 25 percent

by double-digit increases in each

of the total in 2014. Several newcom-

of the last three years. This is not

ers joined the ranks of the top 20,

surprising, given the dynamism of

including Amazon (at number 14),

the industry. What may be surprising,

Ford (number 15), and Cisco (number

however, is that the chemicals and

20) (see Exhibit B). Overall, however,

energy sector and the industrials sec-

the top 20 list has remained fairly

tor had the second- and third-highest

consistent over the 10 years that

rates of growth, respectively, both in

we’ve analyzed the Global Innova-

2014 and over the last 10 years.

tion 1000. Thirteen companies have

Despite the impressive growth of

Industrials 4.1%
Other 3.2%
Auto 2.1%

Aerospace and
Defense –0.5%
Healthcare –1.2%
Computing and Electronics –1.8%
Consumer –1.8%
Telecom –7.5%

Source: Bloomberg data, Capital IQ data,
Strategy& analysis

Exhibit D: Spending by Industry,
The computing and electronics segment
remains the top R&D spender, with healthcare
close behind.
Computing and Electronics 25.9%
Other 1.7%
Telecom 2.1%

been listed every year: GlaxoSmith-

innovation spending in the software

Kline, Honda, IBM, Intel, Johnson &

and Internet category, four other

Johnson, Microsoft, Novartis, Pfizer,

industries spent more absolute dol-

Roche, Samsung, Sanofi, Toyota, and

lars on R&D in 2014: computing and

Chemicals and Energy 6.5%


electronics, healthcare, auto, and in-

Software and Internet 9.2%

dustrials (see Exhibit D). In fact, three

Industrials 10.7%

The slowdown in total innovation
spending growth for 2014 reflects

of them—computing and electronics,

declines in five of the nine industries

healthcare, and auto—have spent

we track. Although R&D spending fell

more on R&D than the software and

less than 2 percent in the aerospace

Internet industry in each of the last 10

and defense, healthcare, computing

years. This shows that there has been

and electronics, and consumer sec-

and continues to be a huge amount of

tors, these cutbacks are particularly

innovation spending going on outside

notable because the four sectors’

Silicon Valley and other tech clusters.

Aerospace and Defense 3.3%
Consumer 3.3%

Auto 16.2%
Healthcare 21.1%

Source: Bloomberg data, Capital IQ data,
Strategy& analysis

(see Exhibit E, page 40). Japan, mean-

Looking at the regional data, R&D

while, continues to retrench. R&D

total Global Innovation 1000 R&D

spending growth in 2014 has slowed in

spending was down 14 percent for

spending. The telecom sector posted

both North America (a 3.4 percent

Japanese companies in 2014,

the steepest decline, dropping 7.5

increase) and Europe (2.5 percent)

(continued on page 40)

spending represents 53 percent of

feature innovation

growth, they still accounted for the

Chemicals and Energy 4.2%


Exhibit E: Change in R&D
Spending by Region, 2013–14

(continued from page 39)
following a 3.4 percent decline in

of slower growth, despite a few

Companies headquartered in China continued
to invest heavily in R&D, even as growth in
other regions slowed or decreased.

2013. Innovation spending in the rest

standouts, but the story of the last

of the world, a category that includes

10 years is one of sustained invest-

Brazil and India, rose by a solid 12.9

ment. Even at the depth of the Great

percent, but that also represents a

Recession, spending contracted only

slowdown from the 13.7 percent in-

modestly, far less than the decreases

crease in 2013. The clear exception to

in capital expenditures or revenues.

2014’s generally downbeat trend was

In fact, the level of spending needed

China, where R&D spending was up

for a company to be included in the

an impressive 45.9 percent—a further

Global Innovation 1000 has more than

acceleration from the 34.4 percent

doubled, from $37 million in 2005

rate of increase in 2013. (For a closer

to $83 million in 2014. And the

look at China’s continuing rise as an

amount of spending needed to break

innovation power, see “China’s In-

into the top 20 list has grown by 46

novation Engine,” by John Jullens and

percent—from $4.1 billion in 2005

Steven Veldhoen, page 42.)

to $5.9 billion in 2014.






North Europe

Bloomberg data, Capital IQ data,
Strategy& analysis


(continued from page 37)

that’s attached to the car and comes with a large display,
anywhere from six inches to as much as 17 inches in a
Tesla, for example. The software enables a reduction in
the complexity of the hardware because as you add software for that display, it can be applied across different
vehicle lines.”
The pervasiveness of software, Yerdon continues,
means that auto suppliers are innovating more—and
more quickly—than ever before. “If you think of the
auto sector as three spinning gears, automotive is a
fairly large gear and spins on a four-year cycle, because
that’s how long it generally takes to develop a vehicle.
The consumer electronics wheel is spinning six to eight
times faster, because every six months there’s a new
phone or other device or app. As a global supplier, we’re
the meshing gear between the two.”
Across regions, we have seen both incremental and
radical change in R&D spending patterns over the last
10 years. On the one hand, companies headquartered in
North America, Europe, and Japan continue to dominate the total amount of global R&D spending. Yet despite their dominance, Europe’s share has been flat over
the last decade at around 30 percent, North America’s
share has declined from 42 percent to 40 percent, and Japan’s share has fallen from 24 percent to 18 percent. The
rise of China as an innovation powerhouse, on the other
hand, has been startling. China’s R&D spending is rock-

eting upward at sustained double-digit rates, and recent
studies suggest that more innovation and fiercer technological competition with established Western players are
on the way from Chinese firms (see “China’s Innovation
Engine,” by John Jullens and Steven Veldhoen, page 42).
Alignment and Insight

Our 10-year analysis shows that companies have been
raising their innovation game by focusing on two areas:
business capabilities, and organization and processes.
The five specific capabilities and processes that respondents most often report having improved over the last
decade were, in order of selection frequency: (1) aligning the innovation portfolio with customer needs and
wants, (2) developing and retaining people with the
right technical knowledge, (3) ensuring that innovation
leaders and business leaders are aligned, (4) understanding new product- and service-related technologies and
trends, and (5) pursuing lean product development. Our
analyses have also shown that such focus pays off: The
top 25 percent of companies measured by sustained financial performance concentrate on a shorter, more coherent list of innovation capabilities rather than trying
to be good at everything.
These observations correspond to key findings
from our earlier studies. For example, almost two-thirds
of our respondents report that their company’s innova-

strategy+business issue 77

feature innovation

Rest of

The story in 2014 may be one

“There has been a strong push
over the last 10 years to align
what you do in R&D with what
you do in the business,” says
Nestlé’s Oliver Nussli.
panies or industries defined what the markets needed.
Nowadays, consumers are not just asked for their advice
and input—they are defining what the products and
services should look like, and can even drive and create
products themselves on [crowdfunding] platforms like
As we noted in our 2007 study, “The Customer
Connection,” companies can spend more money, hire
the best engineers, develop the best technology, and conduct the best business market research, but unless their
R&D efforts are driven by a thorough understanding of
what their customers need and want, their performance
may fall short. We tested this hypothesis and found that
over a three-year period, companies that directly captured customer insights had three times the growth in
operating income and twice the return on assets of industry peers that captured customer insights indirectly,
as well as 65 percent higher total shareholder returns.
The Need Seeker Advantage

Ten years’ worth of research and insights also illuminate the strengths and challenges of the three different
ways that companies approach innovation. In 2007, the
Global Innovation 1000 study identified three fundamental kinds of companies, each with its own distinct
way of managing the R&D process and its relationship to customers and markets. Every company tends
to follow one of these three innovation models; we thus
categorize companies as being Need Seekers, Market
Readers, or Technology Drivers.
Of course, all three models share the same broad
innovation goals. Every company wants to have superior product performance and quality, to make a strong
connection with customers, and to feel passion and pride

feature innovation

tion strategy has become better aligned with its business
strategy. This has been a theme throughout our Global
Innovation 1000 work, developed most fully in our
2011 study, “Why Culture Is Key.” We have found that
companies with more tightly aligned business and innovation strategies had 40 percent higher operating income growth over a three-year period, and 100 percent
higher total shareholder returns, than industry peers
with lower strategy alignment.
“There has been a strong push over the last 10 years
to align what you do in R&D with what you do in the
business, and it has gotten better,” says Oliver Nussli,
head of project and portfolio management at food and
beverage manufacturer Nestlé. “Many companies have
streamlined their R&D portfolios because there were
too many things going on that were leading nowhere
or had little chance of success.” Recently, Nussli says,
Nestlé completed a study to design foods that would
better meet the needs of elderly people (whose nutritional requirements differ from those of younger people
because of bone, joint, and muscle conditions). Both the
business and the R&D organizations were intensely involved, and as a result, he says, “the business side knows
what it’s going to get, and the R&D side knows what it
has to work on.”
Nestlé’s recent study also ties into another key finding from previous years: the importance of gaining deeper insights into customers’ wants and needs. This year,
more than three-quarters of the participants said their
understanding of customers had become notably more
detailed over the last decade. “One of the big changes
is the way companies bring in consumer insights,” says
Frank Dethier, innovation manager at chemical manufacturer Huntsman Corporation. “Ten years ago, com-


by John Jullens and Steven Veldhoen


tens of millions of midmarket con-

they don’t reflect the significant R&D

sumers. Innovation is often a C-suite

spending in the country by multina-

responsibility, in Chinese companies,

tionals headquartered in other re-

which are trying to catch up with

gions. For example, in 2008, when the

more experienced competitors from

Global Innovation 1000 study factored

developed countries. And because

in the R&D activities of multinationals

Chinese companies must migrate into

in China, the country was already the

higher-value-added activities quickly

n 2005, only eight China-based

fourth-largest for corporate inno-

if China is to move beyond the so-

companies ranked among the

vation spending—and undoubtedly

called middle-income trap, innovation

would be ranked even higher today.

is also a top priority of the central

Global Innovation 1000. By 2014, the
number had risen to 114—a 1,325

feature innovation

innovation activity in China, because

China’s emergence as an engine

Our studies have found that

percent increase. Chinese companies

of innovation has been driven by

are also increasing their R&D spend-

a characteristically Chinese ap-

contrary to common perceptions

ing much faster than companies in

proach—one that is top-down, fast,

outside the country that associate

other regions: The rate of increase in

and decisive. In the country’s dynamic

Chinese companies with rigidity and

2014 was 46 percent, compared with

market, fierce rivalries have devel-

a copycat mind-set, these companies

rates in the low single digits in Europe

oped between domestic and multi-

embrace a combination of openness

and North America. Moreover, these

national firms, as they compete to

to outside ideas, a pragmatic ap-

numbers understate the full extent of

fulfill the needs and wants of China’s

proach to experimentation, and ruth-

regarding its portfolio. And all three models pursue capabilities for understanding emerging technologies,
engagement with customers, and product platform
management. Each model, however, also has distinct
characteristics and priority capabilities that influence
how the company develops and launches new products
and services.
Need Seekers, such as Apple, Procter & Gamble,
and Tesla, make a point of using superior insights about
customers to generate new ideas. They gain this insight through direct engagement with customers (for
instance, Apple routinely learns from interactions at its
retail stores) and through other means, including analysis of big data. Most important, they develop new products and services based on this superior end-user understanding. Their goal: to find the unstated customer
needs of the future, and to be the first to address them.
Their cultures encourage openness to new ideas from
customers, suppliers, competitors, and other industries,
and they prioritize directly generated consumer/customer insights and enterprise-wide launch capabilities.
We estimate that 25 percent of the Global Innovation
1000 companies are Need Seekers.
Market Readers, such as Samsung, Caterpillar, and
Visteon, make up some 40 percent of the Global Inno-

vation 1000 companies. They focus largely on creating
value through incremental innovations to products already proven in the market. They use a variety of means
to generate ideas; most involve closely monitoring their
markets, customers, and competitors. This implies a
more cautious approach, one that depends on being
a second mover or “fast follower” in the marketplace.
One of their specific innovation goals is customizing
products and services for local markets, and they seek
a culture of collaboration across functions and geographies. They prioritize capabilities for managing resource
requirements and engaging suppliers and partners.
Technology Drivers, such as Google, Bosch, and
Siemens, depend heavily on their internal technological
capabilities to develop new products and services. They
leverage their R&D investments to drive both breakthrough innovation and incremental change. They hope
and expect that by following the imperatives implied
by their discoveries, they will naturally meet the known
and unknown needs of their customers. Their distinct
innovation goal is to develop products of superior technological value, and their cultures reflect reverence and
respect for technical knowledge and talent. Approximately 35 percent of the Global Innovation 1000 companies are Technology Drivers.

strategy+business issue 77



less abandonment

Strategy& white paper, Sept. 2014).

of failing projects.

These efforts are paying off:

tion as one of their top three strategic
priorities (31 percent reported that

They are willing and

Two-thirds of the multinational

it is their number-one priority). They

able to rapidly adapt

executives in China who responded

are ready to move out of China and

their business models and pursue

to our 2014 survey said some of their

up the value chain, especially in B2B

strategic acquisitions of developed-

Chinese competitors are as good as

sectors where professional buyers

market firms to gain the technol-

or better than their own company at

tend to be less brand sensitive. And

ogy they need, as Lenovo has done.

innovation. In fact, leading Chinese

again, they will do it in a way that is

It’s perhaps not surprising, then,

companies such as Haier and Xiaomi

both characteristically Chinese and

that over the last three years, our

are already developing advanced

increasingly common among global

China Innovation Survey results have

innovation capabilities, enabling

companies everywhere—by acquir-

indicated that the advantaged Need

them to compete for share in global

ing and integrating capabilities in the

Seeker strategy is more prevalent

markets with in-demand, high-tech

locales to which they are expanding,

among Chinese companies (37

products (see “The Thought Leader

rather than bringing this knowledge

percent of companies in the 2014

Interview: Zhang Ruimin,” by Art

back home to their headquarters.

study) than in the Global Innovation

Kleiner, page 96).
As China’s companies globalize,

2014 study) (see Steven Veldhoen et

they will begin to push the innovation

al., “2014 China Innovation Survey:

bar higher. Eighty-seven percent of

China’s Innovation Is Going Global,”

Chinese “globalizers” named innova-

Based on our long-term view of these strategies,
we have determined that each can be successful and
can enable companies to outperform their competitors
Exhibit 2: The Success of Need Seekers
More often than Market Readers and Technology Drivers, Need Seekers
say their business and innovation strategies are highly aligned, and that
they financially outperform their peers.
Percentage of companies whose
business and innovation
strategies are highly aligned

Percentage of companies that
financially outperform their







Market Technology


Market Technology

Source: Strategy& 2014 Global Innovation 1000 survey data and analysis

John Jullens (john.jullens@strategyand and Steven Veldhoen (steven are
partners with Strategy& based in China.

if executed well: Apple, Samsung, and Google are all
highly innovative, and are recognized as such by the innovation leaders who vote on our study’s top 10 list (see
“The 10 Most Innovative Companies,” next page). In
general, the most important success factor is how well
companies execute on their chosen strategy—whether
they align their innovation strategy with their business
strategy, whether they have prioritized the right capabilities, whether they have the right culture to enable their
strategy, and whether they are using the tools that will
help them develop new ideas and processes that are consistent with their innovation model. The quality of the
alignment of all these elements is the key, and it trumps
the amount of R&D spending.
Increasingly, we have come to believe that the Need
Seeker strategy is inherently advantaged. This is not the
only successful model, but it is the most consistently
successful. Our 10-year analysis supports this conclusion. Need Seekers, for example, report being better
at innovation today than they were 10 years ago at a
significantly higher rate than companies following the
other two strategies, and they also more often indicate
that they are financially outperforming their competitors—a claim supported by our analysis (see Exhibit 2).
Our analysis of Need Seekers in the past has sug(continued on page 45)

feature innovation

1000 (25 percent of companies in the


once again outperformed the top 10
R&D spenders in market capitalization growth, revenue growth, and
EBITDA as a percentage of revenues

Exhibit F: The 10 Most Innovative
Amazon and Tesla continued to move up, both
placing in the top five. P&G returned to the list,
replacing Facebook in the 10th position.

(see Exhibit G).

Companies that have been among the 10 most
innovative every year since 2010

Several of the industries repRANK


R&D Spending

companies are also featured on the


resented by the 10 most innovative


globe consider to be the very best

top 10 spenders list: software and





at discovering and developing new

Internet, computing and electron-




products and services, and bringing

ics, and auto. But interestingly, no




them to market? We have posed this

healthcare companies have been







question in the Global Innovation 1000

selected by the R&D executives we’ve



Tesla Motors




survey in each of the past five years,

surveyed over the last five years as







and the majority of participants have

among the 10 most innovative, de-







consistently placed Apple and Google

spite the fact that at least four of the







at the top of the list. This year, Ama-

top 10 R&D spenders each year have







zon continued its rise up the rankings.

been healthcare companies. One pos-







It first appeared on this list at number

sible explanation is that healthcare

10 in 2012, jumped to the fourth posi-

companies’ innovations tend not to be

tion in 2013, and then rose to number

so closely identified with their brands,

three in 2014, moving Samsung down

except, perhaps, by healthcare

a spot. Tesla, which first appeared in


2013 in ninth position, rose to number

In contrast, the four most in-

five in 2014—likely reflecting not only

novative companies—Apple, Google,

its highly rated cars, but also its move

Amazon, and Samsung—all deliver

to unilaterally make its patents freely

branded products and services that

available to competitors. Procter &

are a part of most people’s daily

Gamble rejoined the list in 10th place

lives, and they make new product

after dropping off last year, while

announcements often. But making a

Facebook—number 10 last year—fell

media splash is by no means requi-

from the list (see Exhibit F).

site to a company’s selection: Slow

Consistent with one of the core

3M keeps a comparatively low media

studies over the past decade—that

profile but has products in wide use,

spending more on R&D does not drive

and has been voted among the 10

more innovation (or better financial

most innovative firms in each of the

performance)—the top 10 innovators

five years we’ve asked the question.








Source: Bloomberg data, Capital IQ data, Strategy& 2014
Global Innovation 1000 survey data and analysis

Exhibit G: The Top 10 Innovators
vs. Top 10 R&D Spenders
On an indexed basis, the top innovators led on
all three financial metrics for the fifth straight
SCORE: 100




and steady can also win. For example,

insights of the Global Innovation 1000





tion executives around the

as % of sales
US$ bil. Rank (intensity)


feature innovation


hich companies do innova-

5-yr. CAGR

as % of
5-yr. Avg.

Market Cap
5-yr. CAGR

Source: Bloomberg data, Capital IQ data, Strategy& 2014
Global Innovation 1000 survey data and analysis

strategy+business issue 77

The 10 Most


(continued from page 43)

The Next 10 Years

As part of our 2014 study, we asked participants to look
to the future—to tell us about their expectations for
their innovation agendas for the next 10 years. We found
that the Global Innovation 1000 companies have some
common expectations and goals, and that there is some
convergence around areas where they hope to improve
their innovation performance. They believe that aligning
business and innovation strategies will be the most important driver for innovation success. Interestingly, this
and other key areas are the same ones that Need Seekers
are already focused on today (see Exhibit 3, next page).
All respondents report that they plan to shift their
current R&D spending mix from incremental innovations to more new and breakthrough innovations.
Today, 58 percent of R&D spending is directed at incremental or renewal innovations, just 28 percent at
new or substantial innovations, and only 14 percent at
breakthrough or radical innovations. In 10 years, respondents expect the picture will look quite different
(see Exhibit 4, next page).
At Reliance Industries, the energy and chemicals
group that is India’s largest private-sector company,
Ajit Sapre, group president of research and technology,
anticipates that R&D spending on new, substantial, or
breakthrough innovations will rise. Reliance is focusing
on potential breakthroughs in energy and materials that
could help India meet its growing demand for energy
and infrastructure—particularly by leapfrogging existing technologies used in developed markets. “The outcomes are fuzzier, and they are much more risky,” says
Sapre, “but if we are successful, they could lead to paradigm shifts. If you focus too much on near-term goals,
you can miss the long-term opportunities.” The aspira-

feature innovation

gested that they tend to focus on more tightly aligning their innovation and business models. In our 2011
study, we found that what sets Need Seekers apart is
their ability to execute on their strategy—to combine
all the elements of innovation into a coherent whole,
with a culture that supports innovation. In a study we
conducted in 2012 in conjunction with the Bay Area
Council Economic Institute, we found that significantly more of the technical leads at companies classified as
Need Seekers report directly to the CEO, and that their
innovation agendas are much more likely to be developed and clearly communicated from the top down to
the rank and file of the organization. They were also
much more likely to point to product development as
the function with the most influence on their company’s power structure. (That same study also revealed
that Silicon Valley firms are almost twice as likely to
follow a Need Seekers model than the general population of companies—46 percent versus 28 percent, a
consequence of the startup/venture capital mind-set of
tightly aligned business and technology strategies.)
Our 2014 survey produced similar findings: A
much higher percentage of Need Seekers reported that
their innovation strategy was highly aligned with their
business strategy, compared with either Market Readers
or Technology Drivers (see Exhibit 2, page 43). Such
alignment comes naturally for Need Seekers, because
their whole ethos is rooted in understanding and being
close to the customer through direct exposure to the
end-user, rather than relying on market analysis or the
views of intermediaries. Interestingly, recent research
has found that the Need Seeker strategy is more prevalent among Chinese companies than among the Global
Innovation 1000.



Exhibit 3: The Key Areas of Innovation Focus
Survey respondents across all three innovation models report similar areas of focus for their R&D programs over the next 10 years—and most are
areas on which Need Seekers have already been focused.

Past 10 years

Next 10 years




Align business
and innovation

Align business
and innovation

Align business
and innovation

business, and



Align cultural
and innovation




business, and



Align cultural
and innovation



Source: Strategy& 2014 Global Innovation 1000 survey data and analysis

tion to seek out new and substantial innovations is understandable, and will certainly pay off for some innovators. To capitalize on such a significant reallocation of
spending, however, many companies will need to make
major changes in their approaches to innovation and in


Exhibit 4: Future R&D Investment
Survey respondents expect to shift their R&D investment mix from
incremental to new and breakthrough innovations.
Average allocation of R&D spending on types of innovation










in 10 Years

Source: Strategy& 2014 Global Innovation 1000 survey data and analysis

their capabilities. Breakthroughs, for example, involve
higher risk than incremental innovations, so it is important to make sure both that these innovation goals
make sense given the company’s market position and
strategy, and that the right risk management capabilities are established to handle a higher-beta portfolio. As
Fassi Kafyeke, director of advanced design and strategic
technology at Canadian plane and train manufacturer
Bombardier, told us, “New research projects will continue to involve more collaborators, including universities, suppliers, and other industrial partners. Ultimately,
this will make product development more robust and
enable greater technology leaps, while reducing risks
and cost.”
Companies also expect to allocate more R&D
spending to enabling services and less to creating products. The current allocation slightly favors product
R&D, 52 percent to 48 percent. By 2024, respondents
expect that relationship to flip—with R&D for services rising to 62 percent, versus 38 percent for R&D for
products. At Visteon, for example, Tim Yerdon is leading a group exploring services related to connected cars
and intelligent transportation systems. The group has
already delivered developments such as wireless charging

strategy+business issue 77

feature innovation


Align cultural
and innovation

business, and


“New research will involve more
collaborators,” says Bombardier’s
Fassi Kafyeke. “Ultimately, this will
enable greater technology leaps,
while reducing risks.”

Exhibit 5: The Capabilities of Top Performers
A closer look at the capabilities on which the top 25 percent of companies
by financial performance in each strategy model are focused.




Translation of consumer and customer
needs to product development
Market potential assessment
Open innovation
Technical risk assessment
Rigorous decision making
Directly generated, deep customer
insights and analytics
Enterprise-wide product launch
Resource requirement management
Supplier/partner engagement in the
development process
Detailed understanding of emerging
technologies and trends
Product life-cycle management

Source: Strategy& 2014 Global Innovation 1000 survey data and analysis

Prescriptions for Innovators

Despite the inherent advantages of the Need Seeker
model, it’s not the right approach for every company.
Indeed, many Market Readers will be more successful
if they concentrate on the capabilities, goals, and attributes that are distinct to Market Readers than if they try
to move too far toward the Need Seeker model and get
only partway there. The same is true for those following
a Technology Driver model (see Exhibit 5).
Need Seekers should hone their distinctive capabilities, which include their proficiency at directly generated
deep customer insights, enterprise-wide launches, and
technical risk assessment. One priority that Need Seekers cited in our survey this year as being important to
their future success—open innovation—complements
their approach by enabling them to seek new ideas and
insights from a networked community beyond the borders of the company and its traditional partners. They
should ensure that their products and services are advantaged by seeking out new ideas from customers, suppliers, competitors, and other industries, as well as by
building focused technical innovation networks across
the business. They should exploit front-end digital enablers such as visualization and engagement tools.
Market Readers should continue to develop their
capabilities in managing resource requirements and
engaging suppliers and partners. Their priority for innovation success going forward is to ensure that their
innovation and business leaders are aligned. Successful
Market Readers replicate and improve on competitors’
innovations quickly and adroitly. Their goals should include customizing their products for local markets, and
creating a culture of collaboration across functions and
geographies to facilitate rapid, seamless response. They

feature innovation

in the car, and is actively developing wireless communication technology enabling cars to communicate with
one another. “It’s not a traditional business model for
an automotive parts company based in the Midwest—
even for a global supplier like Visteon,” says Yerdon. “It’s
much more like a tech company in Silicon Valley.” As
more companies consider a significant shift to services,
it will be important to ensure that the company’s innovation goals are aligned with the needs of the enterprise
strategy, and that the business model includes a plan for
capitalizing on the envisioned service innovations.




performance metrics of each com-

ment, while continuing to exclude any

pany were indexed against the aver-

non-amortized capitalized costs. We

age values in its own industry.

s it has in each of the past

have now applied this methodology

nine editions of the Global

to all 10 years of our data; as a result,

has changed at companies over the

Innovation 1000, this year Strategy&

historical data referenced in the 2014

past 10 years and gain insight into

identified the 1,000 public companies

and future studies will not always

what to expect for the next decade,

around the world that spent the most

align with figures published in the

Strategy& conducted a separate on-

on R&D during the last fiscal year, as

2005 through 2012 studies.

line survey of 505 innovation leaders

of June 30. To be included, compa-


in calculating the total R&D invest-

For each of the top 1,000 com-

To understand how innovation

at 467 companies around the world.

nies had to make their R&D spending

panies, we obtained from Bloomberg

The companies participating repre-

numbers public. Subsid-iaries that

and Capital IQ the key financial met-

sented just under US$130 billion in

were more than 50 percent owned by

rics for 2009 through 2014, including

R&D spending, or 20 percent of this

a single corporate parent during the

sales, gross profit, operating profit,

year’s total Global Innovation 1000

period were excluded if their financial

net profit, historical R&D expendi-

R&D spending. They included com-

results were included in the parent

tures, and market capitalization. All

panies in all nine of the industry sec-

company’s financials. The Global In-

sales and R&D expenditure figures

tors and all five geographic regions.

novation 1000 companies collectively

in foreign currencies were trans-

account for about 40 percent of the

lated into U.S. dollars according to

world’s R&D spending, whereas the

an average of the exchange rate over

next 1,000 largest corporate spend-

the relevant period; for data on share

ers represent 3 percent.

prices, we used the exchange rate on

In 2013, Strategy& made some
adjustments to the data collection

the last day of the period.
All companies were coded into

process to gain a more accurate and

one of nine industry sectors (or

complete picture of innovation spend-

“other”) according to Bloomberg’s

ing. In prior years, both capitalized

industry designations, and into one of

and amortized R&D expenditures

five regional designations, as deter-

were excluded. Starting in 2013, we

mined by their reported headquar-

included the most recent fiscal year’s

ters locations. To enable meaningful

amortization of capitalized R&D

comparisons across industries, the

expenditures for relevant companies

R&D spending levels and financial

strategy+business issue 77

feature innovation


Innovation is a function that can
be managed: There are principles
that are known, capabilities that
can be built, and levers that can be
pulled to improve the process.
This list is more important than ever. For every
shining example of a market-shaking innovation breakthrough, there are many more examples of companies
that struggle to realize adequate returns from their
innovation investments. But innovation, although different from operations, sales, and marketing, is nevertheless a function that can be managed: There are
principles that are known, capabilities that can be
built, and recognized levers that can be pulled to improve the process over time. The stakes for making
these efforts are high—the disparities in innovation
performance show that there are tremendous opportunities for getting more from your R&D spending,
and for improving your competitive position and your
financial performance. +

feature innovation

need to be good at assessing feedback from sales and
customer support and traditional market research. Digital enablers such as monitoring tools and idea-capture
tools are critical, and are consistent with the needs of
this model.
Technology Drivers should continue to enhance
their product life-cycle management capabilities. Their
priorities are strategic platform management and gaining a detailed understanding of emerging product- and
service-related technologies and trends. They need to excel at technology road mapping and interacting with the
external tech community. Digital enablers will be particularly important for them, including big data, customer
profiling, and codesign tools, as well as collaborative
environments that connect far-flung teams, customer
relationship management systems, and ERP platforms.
Of course, some key imperatives have surfaced in
the Global Innovation 1000 studies that apply to all
companies seeking innovation success:
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throughout the organization, and identify the short list
of innovation capabilities that will enable it.
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with, and supportive of, your innovation strategy.
UÊ œVÕÃʜ˜Ê`iÛiœ«ˆ˜}Ê`ii«ÊVÕÃ̜“iÀʈ˜Ãˆ}…ÌÊLÞÊ`ˆrectly engaging and observing end-users of your product.
the table defining the corporation’s agenda.
UÊ -ÞÃÌi“>̈V>ÞÊ “>˜>}iÊ Ì…iÊ ,E Ê «œÀÌvœˆœ]Ê >}gressively winnowing out low-potential projects and ensuring that the right risk management capabilities are in
place to support big bets.

Reprint No. 00295


Barry Jaruzelski, “Why Silicon Valley’s Success Is So Hard to Replicate,”
Scientific American, Mar. 14, 2014: Further analysis of the themes
reported in the 2012 Strategy& white paper “The Culture of Innovation:
What Makes San Francisco Bay Area Companies Different?”
Steven Veldhoen et al., “2014 China Innovation Survey: China’s
Innovation Is Going Global,” Strategy& white paper, Sept. 2014: How
Chinese companies and multinationals are continuing to adapt their
innovation strategies in China, and the important role that innovation
plays in Chinese companies’ globalization strategies.
For links to previous Global Innovation 1000 studies, from 2005 to
2013, as well as videos, infographics, and other articles about innovation,
Strategy&’s online Innovation Strategy Profiler,
innovation-profiler: Evaluate your company’s R&D strategy and the
capabilities it requires.
For more thought leadership on this topic, see the s+b website at:


feature technology


by Frank Burkitt

Illustration by Lincoln Agnew

Humanity has arrived at a critical threshold in the

evolution of computing. By 2020, an estimated 50 billion devices around the globe will be connected to the
Internet. Perhaps a third of them will be computers,
smartphones, tablets, and TVs. The remaining twothirds will be other kinds of “things”: sensors, actuators,
and newly invented intelligent devices that monitor,
control, analyze, and optimize our world.
This seemingly sudden trend has been decades in
the making, but is just now hitting a tipping point.
The arrival of the “Internet of Things” (IoT) represents
a transformative shift for the economy, similar to the
introduction of the PC itself. It incorporates other major
technology industry trends such as cloud computing,
data analytics, and mobile communications, but goes
beyond them. Unlike earlier efforts to track and control large systems, such as radio-frequency identification

(RFID), the Internet connection gives this shift almost
limitless versatility. The IoT also opens a range of new
business opportunities for a variety of players. These
opportunities tend to fall into three broad strategic categories, each reflecting a different type of enterprise:
UÊ º ˜>LiÀûÊ̅>ÌÊ`iÛiœ«Ê>˜`ʈ“«i“i˜ÌÊ̅iÊ՘derlying technology
UÊ º ˜}>}iÀûÊ̅>ÌÊ`iÈ}˜]ÊVÀi>Ìi]ʈ˜Ìi}À>Ìi]Ê>˜`Ê`iliver IoT services to customers
UÊ º ˜…>˜ViÀÃ»Ê Ì…>ÌÊ `iۈÃiÊ Ì…iˆÀÊ œÜ˜Ê Û>Õi‡>``i`Ê
ÃiÀۈViÃ]Ê œ˜Ê ̜«Ê œvÊ Ì…iÊ ÃiÀۈViÃÊ «ÀœÛˆ`i`Ê LÞÊ ˜}>}iÀÃ]Ê
that are unique to the Internet of Things
How will your company build value in this new
world? That will depend on the type of business you
have today, the capabilities you can develop for tomorrow, and, most of all, your ability to understand the
meaning of this new technology.

feature technology

The digital interconnection of billions
of devices is today’s most dynamic
business opportunity.


Also contributing to this article
was s+b contributing editor
Edward H. Baker.

Evolution and Opportunity

feature technology

At present, the Internet of Things remains a wide-open
playing field for enterprises. It’s young, heterogeneous,
>˜`ÊvՏÊœvÊ՘ViÀÌ>ˆ˜ÌÞ°Ê Ã̈“>ÌiÃʜvÊ«œÌi˜Ìˆ>ÊiVœ˜œ“ˆVÊ
impact by 2020 (as tracked by the Postscapes information service) range from about US$2 trillion to more
than $14 trillion. Companies small and large, old and
˜iÜ]Ê>ÀiÊÃVÀ>“Lˆ˜}Ê̜ÊÃÌ>ŽiʜÕÌÊ̅iˆÀÊÌiÀÀˆÌœÀÞ°Ê Ý«iVÌ>̈œ˜ÃÊ>Àiʅˆ}…\Ê"˜iʈ˜ÊiÛiÀÞÊÈÝÊLÕȘiÃÃiÃʈÃÊ«>˜˜ˆ˜}Ê
to roll out an IoT-based product, and three-quarters of
̅iˆÀʈ˜ÌiÀ˜>Êœ«iÀ>̈œ˜ÃÊ>˜`ÊÃiÀۈViðʭ-iiʺ “Li``ˆ˜}Ê
the IoT in Your Business,” by Chris Curran, page 57.)
Much early work is likely to focus on boosting efficiency
and cutting costs, but the greatest long-term business
value of the Internet of Things will involve getting to
know customers—both consumers and businesses—
more intimately, and providing new digital services and
Rarely, if ever, has a single technological platform
global reach, and novelty among customers. Consider
the range of interconnected systems, products, and
services the IoT will enable, from simple monitoring
of home temperature and security to the “quantified
metrics), to fully networked factories and hospitals, to
automated cities that respond to the movements and
interests of thousands of people at once.
Yet for all its power, the IoT is still at the early-adopter stage; in the words of innovation theorist Geoffrey
Moore, it has yet to “cross the chasm” into the mainstream. It thus behooves business strategists now to figure out the role they want to play, the capabilities they

will need to move forward, and the types of innovation
they should pursue.
The IoT has its technological roots in the decadeslong effort to monitor and control the physical environment in which people work and play. Its most basic
Vœ“«œ˜i˜ÌÃÊ >ÀiÊ i“Li``i`Ê `iۈViÃÊ Ì…>ÌÊ …>ÛiÊ i݈ÃÌi`Ê
for years: thermostats that sense ambient temperature
and control heating and cooling systems, sensors that
manage braking systems in automobiles, pacemakiÀÃÊ Ì…>ÌÊ Ài}Տ>ÌiÊ Ì…iÊ …i>ÀÌ]Ê >ˆÀ«>˜iÊ L>VŽÊ LœÝiÃÊ Ì…>ÌÊ
track flight paths, and location devices that monitor
the whereabouts of industrial equipment. In the past,
some of these devices were wired together into more
Vœ“«iÝÊÃÞÃÌi“Ã°Ê ÕÌʈÌÊÜ>ؽÌÊ՘̈Ê̅iÞÊÜiÀiÊ«ÀœÛˆ`i`Ê
with some intelligence, connected to the Internet, and
empowered by a new wave of technological accessibility—through cloud computing, smartphones, and the
prototyping capabilities of digital fabrication—that the
IoT came into being. 
œÀÊ iÝ>“«i]Ê Ì…iÊ iÃÌÊ i>À˜ˆ˜}Ê /…iÀ“œÃÌ>ÌÊ «iÀforms the fundamental function of an ordinary smart
thermostat: It monitors temperature and turns heating
and cooling systems on and off to maintain the pro}À>““i`Ê Ì>À}iÌ°Ê ÕÌÊ Ì…iÊ iÃÌÊ >ÃœÊ Ãi˜ÃiÃÊ …Õ“ˆ`ˆÌÞ]Ê
activity, and light, and its built-in intelligence “learns”
how and when the user likes to adjust the temperature.
It can even optimize the house’s temperature for energy
ivwVˆi˜VްʏÊ̅ˆÃ]Ê̜}i̅iÀ]ÊÃ̈Ê`œiؽÌʓ>ŽiÊ̅iÊ iÃÌÊ
part of the IoT. But when it’s connected to a utility com«>˜ÞÊ œÀÊ Ì…iÊ iÃÌÊ VVœÕ˜ÌÊ ­…œÃÌi`Ê LÞÊ œœ}i]Ê iÃ̽ÃÊ
parent company) through a home Wi-Fi network, it
has far greater value. That connection allows people to
monitor and change the temperature from their smartphones, modify the heating schedule, and analyze their

strategy+business issue 77

Frank Burkitt
is a senior executive advisor
with Strategy& based in Los
Angeles. He leads the Internet
of Things and digital operations
services for Strategy&’s Digital
Services. He was formerly
the CEO and founder of
ReleasePlan, a cloud-based
enterprise software company.


Exhibit 1: Services Available through the Internet of Things




Simple Hubs

Integrating Hubs

Enhanced Services

GE Software Predix and other industrial platforms for interconnecting
analytics engines and business operations


Large-scale digital city systems like those under development at MIT
and in Barcelona




Stand-alone GPS

Progressive Snapshot and other auto insurance
telematics systems

Motion- or lightresponsive
alarms and

Google Nest and other Internet-connected
systems for heating, cooling, and ventilation

Simple thermostats and motion

Jawbone UP, Fitbit, and other fitness activity
sensors and hub systems

Smartphone apps that use location tracking

Estimote Beacon, iBeacon, and other Bluetoothenabled object identification sensor systems

Apple HomeKit and other protocol-based
platforms allowing diverse devices in a
building to interconnect to one another and the

Emerging systems for
setting insurance rates
based on health and
driving behavior

WeMo and other systems for controlling lights
and appliances through remote or mobile

Potential connected-car
traffic management

BodyGuardian and other medical wearables
that feed data to online diagnostic platforms


Source: Strategy&

home heating activity. It also allows utility companies
to offer incentives for using less power at peak times or
to offer additional services.
Similarly, the Jawbone UP, a personal activity monitor worn around the wrist, automatically establishes a
Bluetooth connection to a smartphone running the UP
app—creating what’s called a “proximity network”—
and provides detailed information on exercise levels, sleep
patterns, and food consumption. Through the Internet,
Jawbone’s users can reach a variety of fitness and nutrition services with their UP app, enabling them to analyze their levels of activity and overall health. For these
devices and many others, the greatest potential value of

feature technology

This list of IoT services is arranged on two critical dimensions. The horizontal rows (from monitor at the bottom to optimize at the top) represent the
value delivered to customers, in order of complexity. The columns (from endpoints to enhanced services) represent the technologies of the IoT as
described in this article, in increasing complexity from left to right. (Network and cloud services are not shown because they are not typically oriented
to end-users.)

the IoT lies in that connection to the Internet, and to
the many integrated services offered there (see Exhibit 1).
Technologies of the IoT

To deliver these products and services requires a
combination of five major types of technological offerings. As you progress up the technology “stack,” the
devices become more complex and their connectivity
1. Endpoints are the single-function sensors and
actuators that reach out and touch the world around
them, monitoring for changes and providing feedback
to adjust to those changes. Their connectivity enables

feature technology

two key capabilities: gathering and analyzing data from
the environment, and reaching out through the Internet
to control objects.
2. Simple hubs are the devices that connect endpoints to broader networks. When integrated into
products such as vehicle engines; washing machines; or
home heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC)
systems, the computing intelligence and storage embedded in a simple hub allows these products to adapt over
time to the user’s behavior and to optimize for efficienVÞ°Ê/…iÊ iÃÌʈÃÊ>Ê}œœ`ÊiÝ>“«iʜvÊ>Êȓ«iʅÕL°ÊÌÊ>VÌÃÊ
as a joining point for a relatively small number of sensors and actuators, typically located near one another.
A single building might have several simple hubs,
each controlling one function: HVAC, electricity, lighting, water, entertainment, communications, or security.
>V…Ê œvÊ Ì…iÃiÊ Ãˆ“«iÊ …ÕLÃÊ “ˆ}…ÌÊ LiÊ Vœ˜˜iVÌi`Ê ÌœÊ Ì…iÊ 
˜ÌiÀ˜iÌ°Ê œÀÊ iÝ>“«i]Ê iiVÌÀˆVˆÌÞÊ …ÕLÃÊ Ì…>ÌÊ “œ˜ˆÌœÀÊ
usage and cost can feed data to electric power utilities,
which can then suggest the best times to use power…Õ˜}ÀÞÊ>««ˆ>˜Viðʈ}…̈˜}ʅÕLÃÊV>˜Ê«ˆVŽÊիʈ˜vœÀ“>tion from multiple window sensors about the amount
of sunlight, and adjust the brightness of the artificial
lighting accordingly.
3. Integrating hubs that connect simple hubs and
œÕÌÈ`iÊVœ˜˜iV̈œ˜ÃÊ>ÀiÊÀi>̈ÛiÞÊVœ“«iÝÊ`iۈViÃÊ«Àœviding a diverse array of services that fit more or less
seamlessly together. In May 2014, Apple introduced
one of the first truly integrating hub offerings. Called
the HomeKit, this platform is designed to bring together simple hubs from different vendors and present all
of them in a single user interface on a smartphone or
tablet. A HomeKit hub might integrate functions such
as electric power (SolarGuard solar power systems),

ÃiVÕÀˆÌÞÊ ­œˆÊ Ó>ÀÌÊ œVŽÃÊ >˜`Ê iۈ̜˜Ê “œÌˆœ˜Ê >˜`Ê
ۈ`iœÊ “œ˜ˆÌœÀî]Ê 6
Ê ­Ì…iÊ iÃÌ®]Ê >««ˆ>˜ViÃÊ ­Ê
smart refrigerators), window shades (QMotion’s electric
shading systems), entertainment (Roku audio and video
ÃÌÀi>“iÀÃ]Ê Ü…ˆV…Ê ÕÃiÊ Ãi̜̇«Ê LœÝiÃÊ >ÃÊ …ÕLî]Ê >˜`Ê «iÀsonalized lighting (Hue). A family member might press
the “bedtime” button on his or her iPhone, and the service would then dim or turn off certain lights, lock the
doors, set the security system, close the garage door, and
lower the thermostat, all at the same time.
Apple’s role here isn’t to provide the underlying
HVAC or lighting service, but rather to offer the software development kit—much like the guidelines and
tools it publishes for developers of iPhone and iPad
apps—that developers can use to connect their services
with the HomeKit platform. The company also debuted
what it calls the HealthKit, designed to integrate all the
simple hubs being developed for the quantified self.
Several other major companies have begun to develop integrating hubs. Google recently introduced a
VœiV̈œ˜Ê œvÊ ÃÌ>˜`>À`ÃÊ vœÀÊ Ì…iÊ iÃÌÊ Ì…>ÌÊ ÜˆÊ Vœ˜˜iVÌÊ
to a wide range of home services from other companies.
Oracle has a sophisticated integrating hub, which it may
or may not offer commercially, but which has already
helped win the America’s Cup yacht race, in October
2013. The Oracle-sponsored foiling catamaran that
won the race was equipped with more than 300 sensors
and video cameras that monitored position, wind direction, boat speed, pressure on the wingsail, and more.
While the boat was sailing, the team’s technology specialists collected data on more than 3,000 variables per
second—a gigabyte of raw data and 200 gigabytes of
video daily—and analyzed it on Oracle servers reached
through high-speed wireless data connections. The sys-

strategy+business issue 77


programming languages, that can be used for IoT delivery
It provides endpoint connectivity, networking capabilities, and data storage and analytics, as well as a software
development kit used to write apps for customers.
5. Enhanced services is a nascent category, comprising the most technologically sophisticated com«œ˜i˜ÌÃÊ œvÊ Ì…iÊ œ/°Ê ˜…>˜Vi`Ê ÃiÀۈViÃÊ ÜˆÊ “>ŽiÊ ÕÃiÊ
of the information collected and analyzed by other
platforms and services to deliver broad-based interac̈ÛiÊ v՘V̈œ˜Ã°Ê œÀÊ iÝ>“«i]Ê Ìœ`>Þ½ÃÊ Ãˆ˜}i‡Vœ“«>˜ÞÊ
telematics systems, like Progressive’s Snapshot system,
are integrating hubs, connecting monitors on automobiles with software that links insurance rates to driver
«iÀvœÀ“>˜Vi°Ê ˜…>˜Vi`Ê ÃiÀۈViÃÊ vœÀÊ >Õ̜“œLˆi‡L>Ãi`Ê
monitoring could go much further. They could collect
data on multiple cars, aggregating it all with historical
and actuarial data to create new types of analytics related to overall insights about auto accidents. The insurers themselves might not be involved in the collection of that information, only in making use of it in the
ÃiÀۈViÃÊ Ì…iÞÊ œvviÀ°Ê ˜…>˜Vi`Ê ÃiÀۈViÃÊ VœÕ`Ê >ÃœÊ i>`Ê
to more sophisticated “connected car” applications, in
which real-time digital connection enables automobiles
̜ÊiÝV…>˜}iÊÈ}˜>ÃÊ܈̅ʜ˜iÊ>˜œÌ…iÀÊ>˜`Ê̅iÊi˜ÛˆÀœ˜ment, thereby reducing accident risk or enabling better
traffic coordination.
These five technological options, from endpoints
to enhanced services, provide a menu of diverse opportunities for companies building IoT businesses. Some
might start making stand-alone endpoints, and move
Õ«Ê ÌœÊ «Àœ`ÕVˆ˜}Ê …ÕLÃ°Ê "̅iÀÃÊ “ˆ}…ÌÊ «>À>ÞÊ Ì…iˆÀÊ iÝpertise at integrating hubs into providing network and
cloud services—or vice versa.

feature technology

tem sent the analysis back to the boat’s controls to improve its performance almost instantaneously.
Integrating hubs of far greater scope are also un`iÀÊÜ>Þ°Ê/…iÊ`ˆ}ˆÌ>ÊVˆÌÞÊVœ˜Vi«Ì]ÊvœÀÊiÝ>“«i]ʈÃÊLiˆ˜}Ê
`iÛiœ«i`ÊLÞÊ̅iÊ/Êi`ˆ>Ê>L]Ê̅iÊ7œÀ`ʜ՘`>tion for Smart Communities (based at San Diego State
1˜ˆÛiÀÈÌÞ®]Ê>˜`Ê«ÀˆÛ>ÌiÊVœ“«>˜ˆiÃʏˆŽiÊ̅iÊ ÊÃÌÀiiÌlight manufacturer Sensity Systems. It would install
integrating hubs with data analytics at a neighborhood
or citywide scale to monitor and control mass transit,
traffic controls, streetlights, and many other services
and systems. Barcelona is teaming with Cisco Systems
to develop one such system, which will manage lighting, parking, local Wi-Fi networks, and other critical
city functions.
4. Network and cloud services provide the infrastructure of the Internet of Things. They can either be
public (accessible to the population at large) or private
(protected behind an organization’s firewall). These services deliver the seamless and transparent connection
to the Internet that hubs require, along with the cloud
computing power needed to collect, store, and analyze
vast amounts of data from myriad endpoints. They can
also provide the infrastructure needed to build or connect to social networks, so that users of the IoT can
Some network and cloud services, like RacoWireless, manage machine-to-machine connectivity. They
enable IoT devices to communicate with one another
across a variety of transmission channels, including
Wi-Fi, cellular, and Bluetooth. They also provide data
management services: collecting, moving, tagging, and
aggregating information. Other network and cloud services provide software platforms, including high-level


Enablers: Building the Technology

Enablers are primarily technology-oriented companies,
such as Cisco, Google, HP, IBM, and Intel. They build
and maintain the critical IoT infrastructure that allows
Engagers to create their own connected services. Their
offerings include the endpoint, hub, and network and
cloud service technologies: devices, connectivity hardware and infrastructure, computing and data storage systems, software platforms, and more. (See “Kings of the
Cloud,” by Olaf Acker, Germar Schröder, and Florian
Gröne, page 22.) The market for all these elements of the

IoT is exploding. According to estimates tracked by Postscapes, the sheer growth in the number of endpoints—
expected to reach 50 billion or more by 2020—will push
that market from $6.6 billion in 2013 to almost $11 billion in 2020. The shift in connectivity and computing
intelligence from centrally located servers to intelligent
devices on the edge is creating a similar boom in the
semiconductor business. Revenues from the chips needed to run intelligent devices are expected to reach more
than $70 billion by 2017.
Many Enablers will remain content with relatively narrow businesses, as suppliers of endpoints to—or
partners with—other players that have larger ambitions.
Estimote, for example, makes tiny “beacons” that stick
to objects and send signals through low-frequency Bluetooth transmissions. These beacons can communicate
with enabled devices like smartphones and tablets in
environments such as retail stores. It’s up to the Engager
companies to develop capabilities in proximity marketing that incorporate the beacons; for example, a retailer
might use them to augment sales data with information
about what items customers pick up and how long they
spend considering a purchase.
The larger Enablers will fight over the enormous opportunities in integration. The systems they produce—
intelligent endpoints, hubs, cloud services, and plat-

Exhibit 2: The IoT Ecosystem
The overall IoT market will be divided among Enablers, Engagers, and Enhancers. These three kinds of companies will interact, working together to
provide the technology and services needed by all—both to market the IoT and to deploy it for their own operations.


ENABLERS provide
technologies, applications, and services that
underlie the integrated
IoT offerings.


Source: Strategy&

ENGAGERS provide products and services that connect the IoT
with customers.


EMBEDDERS: The IoT engenders new types of functional and
cross-functional business operations within all companies.

value-added IoT services
that augment and
integrate the offerings of
Engagers, reaching
customers in
unprecedented ways.

strategy+business issue 77

feature technology

With all these possibilities, companies run the risk
of moving in too many directions at once—and thus
being overwhelmed by more focused competitors with
more distinctive IoT-related capabilities. Hence the
importance of the three IoT strategic models—
Enablers, Engagers, and Enhancers. Few companies can
take on more than one of these ways of creating value.
The Enablers will focus on the underlying technologies
and services, from endpoints to network and cloud services. The Engagers will make use of hubs and network
and cloud services to provide market-facing offerings.
The Enhancers will focus on value-added enhanced services that extend and enrich customer engagement (see
Exhibit 2).

the IoT in Your

own operations and optimize their

manufacturing companies to monitor

own businesses. The idea of embed-

throughput and emissions. Sensors

ded things goes back at least 20

and integrated hubs are set up to

years, to Xerox Palo Alto Research

continually adjust operations, based

Center (the same research lab that

on the data, to reduce waste, cost,

produced the graphic user interface

and environmental impact. As the

and object-oriented programming),

Internet of Things evolves, its embed-

where it was originally called “ubiq-

ded use in day-to-day business will

ome companies may never

uitous computing.” A current-day

be a hallmark of the most successful

bring any part of the Internet

example is United Parcel Service’s

companies in every industry.

by Chris Curran

of Things to market, but their role

adoption of sensors and monitors

is just as significant as that of the

on its trucks and delivery services;

Enablers, Engagers, and Enhancers.

it is using the Internet of Things to

These are the Embedders: compa-

continually improve its throughput

nies that apply sensors, monitors,

and service levels. Another example

and other devices to improve their

is the use of the Internet of Things by

forms—must not just provide connections, but manage and bill for those connections, and allow users to
customize and develop their own services. Already, IoT
opportunities are driving some hardware companies
traditionally a maker of semiconductors, is developing
soup-to-nuts IoT systems that include not just chips
but development platforms that will enable others to
develop their own IoT services.
Bundles of IoT-related hardware, software, and
connectivity may be tailored to specific marget segments, such as particular industries. The IoT platform
`iÛiœ«iÀÊ ÀÀ>Þi˜Ì]Ê vœÀÊ iÝ>“«i]Ê vœVÕÃiÃÊ œ˜Ê ̅iÊ Vœ˜sumer products industry. It recently teamed with appliance maker Whirlpool to provide the technology
needed to connect refrigerators and washing machines
to the Internet. Homeowners can be alerted via their
smartphones when appliances need maintenance, and
they can order new supplies automatically. The key to
ÃÕV…Ê`i>ÃʈÃÊ̅iÊ«>À̘iÀň«°Ê7…ˆÀ«œœÊ…>Ãʏˆ“ˆÌi`ÊiÝpertise in connecting its appliances to the Internet, but
Arrayent provides the means to do it.
>V…Ê ˜>LiÀÊ “ÕÃÌÊ `iVˆ`iÊ Ì…iÊ >««Àœ«Àˆ>ÌiÊ ÃV>iÊ
and scope for its business, based on the capabilities it

Chris Curran (christopher.b.curran@ is a PwC principal and chief
technologist for the U.S. firm’s advisory

can muster. Should it spread its efforts horizontally, becoming a broad-based supplier of IoT technology to all
ˆ˜`ÕÃÌÀˆiÃ¶Ê "ÀÊ Ã…œÕ`Ê ˆÌÊ LiVœ“iÊ Ì…iÊ «Àˆ“>ÀÞÊ ˜>LiÀÊ
for a specific industry, bringing together the endpoints,
hubs, network and cloud services, and enhanced platforms needed in that vertical? If it collaborates with
œÌ…iÀÊ i˜ÌiÀ«ÀˆÃiÃ]Ê Ã…œÕ`Ê Ì…>ÌÊ LiÊ ÜˆÌ…Ê œÌ…iÀÊ ˜>LiÀÃ]Ê
to broaden their technology platform? Or should the
enabling enterprise seek to codevelop a customer-facing
œvviÀˆ˜}Ê܈̅Ê̅iÊÀˆ}…ÌÊ ˜}>}iÀÃÊ>˜`Ê ˜…>˜ViÀö
`ˆÃ̈˜V̈ÛiÊ V>«>LˆˆÌˆiÃÊ ˆÌÊ V>˜Ê œvviÀ°Ê Ã̈“œÌi]Ê vœÀÊ iÝample, currently doesn’t have the capabilities needed
to move beyond its current endpoint and connectivity
products, so it focuses on those. Arrayent has found
an appropriate scalable business in providing an IoTœÀˆi˜Ìi`ÊVœÕ`Ê«>ÌvœÀ“ÊvœÀÊVœ˜ÃՓiÀÊ}œœ`ðÊ Ê`iÛiops IoT systems for hospitals and factories because those
offerings make use of its well-established capabilities in
healthcare and manufacturing.
Engagers: Connecting to Customers

These companies provide the direct link between the
IoT and the market. They use the endpoint, hub, plat-

feature technology



œÀÊ ˜}>}iÀÃ]Ê Ì…iÊ Li˜iwÌÃÊ œvÊ }>ˆ˜ˆ˜}Ê >Ê ÃÌÀœ˜}Ê
foothold in hubs and connected services include continuous and sustainable relationships with customers.
Consider appliance makers like Whirlpool and Haier.
In the past, these companies would capture only basic
information about the purchaser of a washing machine:
his or her name, address, email address, phone number,
and perhaps some static demographic data. At most,
the companies would then use that information to
manage the warranty and send periodic notices about
˜iÜÊ «Àœ`ÕVÌÃ°Ê œÜ]Ê LÞÊ ˆ˜Žˆ˜}Ê Ì…iÊ Ü>ň˜}Ê “>V…ˆ˜iÊ
to the Internet, the appliance maker captures a wealth
of data about how the device is used—how often,
at what temperature, and with what kind of soap, as
well as what kinds of clothes are washed. It can offer
value-added services based on that knowledge, including status reports on the machine’s condition, suggestions for saving energy and water, and discount subscriptions for laundry detergent delivered to the home.
With that type of information, even tradition-bound
manufacturers can become innovators in human-centered design.
If the washing machine can be integrated with
the house’s hub, the possibilities multiply. The manufacturer could work with the power and water utilities
to establish a schedule for washing clothes at the least
ÊÃÞÃÌi“Ê̜ÊL>ance the heat and humidity generated by the washing
machine, and programming the entertainment system
with a playlist of laundry-day music. The company
would move beyond selling products to offering a powiÀvՏÊ>˜`Ê>ÌÌÀ>V̈ÛiÊVÕÃ̜“iÀÊiÝ«iÀˆi˜Vi]ÊLՈ`ˆ˜}ʏœÞalty even as it locks customers in through the many services it can offer.

strategy+business issue 77

feature technology

vœÀ“]Ê >˜`Ê ÃiÀۈViÊ œvviÀˆ˜}ÃÊ VÀi>Ìi`Ê LÞÊ Ì…iÊ ˜>LiÀÃÊ ÌœÊ
produce services for consumers and businesses. Though
most of them did not begin as IoT companies, and many
come from non-IT industries—appliance manufacturers, automakers, insurance companies, and retailers are
«Àœ“ˆ˜i˜ÌÊ>“œ˜}Ê̅i“p̅iÞÊiÝ«iVÌÊi˜œÀ“œÕÃʜ««œÀtunities as the IoT gains traction.
˜}>}iÀÃÊÌi˜`Ê̜ÊLiʓœÃÌÊ>V̈Ûiʈ˜Ê…ÕLÃÊ>˜`ÊVœ˜˜iVÌi`ÊÃiÀۈViðÊ-ÞÃÌi“ÃʏˆŽiÊ̅iÊ iÃÌÊ>˜`Ê««iÊœ“iKit, for instance, provide services to customers, while
collecting a rudimentary amount of data on customer
usage and maintaining a high degree of customer conÌ>VÌ°Ê "̅iÀÊ ˜}>}iÀÊ ÃiÀۈViÃ]Ê L>Ãi`Ê œ˜Ê ˆ˜VÀi>Ș}ÞÊ
sophisticated IoT cloud services and platforms, are
can provide a wealth of location-specific information to
users while collecting data about their movements (in
the real world and on the Internet), their purchases, and
their conversations. 
Ài>`Þ]Ê ˜}>}iÀÃÊ>ÀiÊVœ“«ï˜}Ê̜ÊVœ˜ÌÀœÊ˜œ`iÃÊ
of human activity: the smart home, the quantified self,
the connected car, the digital retailer, the intelligent fac̜ÀÞ]Ê Ì…iÊ ˜iÝ̇}i˜iÀ>̈œ˜Ê …œÃ«ˆÌ>]Ê >˜`Ê iÛi˜ÌÕ>ÞÊ Ì…iÊ
city of the future. The winners won’t necessarily have
the most sophisticated technology or the biggest cloud;
they will have the right capabilities. They will know
…œÜÊ ÌœÊ }>ˆ˜Ê ˆ˜Ãˆ}…ÌÊ ˆ˜ÌœÊ VÕÃ̜“iÀÊ ˜ii`ÃÊ >˜`Ê iÝ«iVÌ>tions, and how to use human-centered design to develop compelling services that change how customers
Li…>Ûi°Ê««iÊ>˜`Êœœ}i]ÊvœÀÊiÝ>“«i]Ê>ÀiÊLœÌ…ÊÃiiŽˆ˜}Ê̜Ê>««ÞÊ̅iˆÀÊi݈Ã̈˜}Ê«ÀœÜiÃÃpˆ˜Ê`iÈ}˜Ê>˜`ÊVœ˜sumer insight for Apple, in data gathering and analytics
will attract people to their integrating hubs.

Exhibit 3: IoT E-Health Offerings, 2014

Like the enhanced services that they often deliver, the
Enhancers are just beginning to appear in the IoT ecosystem. They provide integrated services that reframe
and repackage the products and services of the Engagers. They succeed by finding new ways of creating and
extracting value from the data, relationships, and insights generated from IoT activity.
The insurance industry offers a good example. Several companies, including MetLife, are developing ways
to gather data on health-related behavior to help design
their rate schedules and offerings. By and large, insurance companies will not want to create their own version of the quantified self. Instead, they will work with
services that already exist: the Fitbit, which measures
physical activity; emerging systems that monitor heart
rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, weight, and other
health-related metrics; and nutrition tracking devices
(set up to receive automated signals from the refrigerator and restaurants).
Once these health-tracking technologies are gathered into a hub, combined with data from additional
apps and services such as Strava’s fitness-oriented social
network, and integrated into an overarching service, the
insurance company can build and package value-added
services personalized to each individual. A health insurer already keeps comprehensive data on its customers’ health status and past medical treatments and expenses. It could augment that with individual electronic
health records—with customers’ permission, of course.
It could then combine that information with its own
actuarial data, supplemented with data from drug companies, market research firms, school lunch programs,
and the government.

Although there are many e-health offerings, they are all emergent. The
space is ripe for transformation by an Enhancer that can turn information
from connected health services and outside data providers into new,
value-added services. For Enhancers, partnering successfully with a
variety of companies will be a key capability.

Endpoints and Simple Hubs
Tracking devices
• Fitness trackers like Fitbit, Jawbone UP, ActiveLink
• Nutrition trackers like Weight Watchers, MyFitness Pal
• Insulin trackers like Lilly Diabetes monitors
• Internet-connected refrigerators from LG, Haier, and Whirlpool

feature technology

Enhancers: Creating New Value

Integrating Hubs
Quantified self
• Wearable multipurpose devices like Google Glass, Apple Watch
• Smartphone apps for fitness and activity tracking

Social Media (via Network and Cloud Services)
Online communities
• Athletic communities like Strava Social
• Health and weight-loss communities like MyNetDiary

Enhanced Systems
E-health payors
• Aetna and other health insurance companies offering online support
Source: Strategy&

By aggregating all this information, a health insurer could start building new services. It could offer
health insurance with coverage tailored to individuals’
needs, and premiums based on their fitness habits. Customers might receive regular health and nutrition status updates tagged to their individual medical needs,
along with reminders for scheduling regular exams and
remote consultations that take advantage of their past
data. There is also the possibility of teaming with other
healthcare companies to offer products and services catering to people’s specific health needs and interests (see
Exhibit 3).


feature technology

/…iÊ ˜…>˜ViÀÃÊ i“iÀ}ˆ˜}Ê Ìœ`>ÞÊ ÜˆÊ `iÛiœ«Ê ˜iÜÊ
types of services, many of which will undoubtedly disrupt or leapfrog past today’s business models. Compa˜ˆiÃÊ ÜˆÌ…Ê Ì…iÊ «œÌi˜Ìˆ>Ê ÌœÊ >VÌÊ >ÃÊ ˜…>˜ViÀÃÊ ÜœÕ`Ê `œÊ
well to begin planning for that future now. They can
«œÃˆÌˆœ˜Ê̅i“ÃiÛiÃÊLÞÊvœVÕȘ}Ê>ÌÌi˜Ìˆœ˜Êœ˜Ê̅iÊiÝ«irience they provide their customers. They should start
looking into technological and business issues, such as
how to structure business partnerships. They will also
need to develop a strong innovation capability, oriented
around developing and continually updating their suite
of services connected to the Internet of Things.
Your Company’s IoT Strategy


Ê Üi>Ì…Ê œvÊ œ««œÀÌ՘ˆÌˆiÃÊ i݈ÃÌÊ vœÀÊ i>V…Ê œvÊ Ì…iÊ Ì…ÀiiÊ
ÌÞ«iÃÊ œvÊ œ/Ê ÃÌÀ>Ìi}ÞÊ “œ`iÃ\Ê ˜>LiÀÃ]Ê ˜}>}iÀÃ]Ê >˜`Ê
˜…>˜ViÀÃ°Ê ˜ÌiÀˆ˜}Ê Ì…iÊ vÀ>Þ]Ê …œÜiÛiÀ]Ê Ã…œÕ`Ê ˜œÌÊ LiÊ
undertaken lightly. The IoT market’s newness and heterogeneity will make it difficult to negotiate, even by
those companies with the strongest capabilities and the
clearest, most compelling value propositions.
Many challenging issues remain. Customer de“>˜`ÃÊ >˜`Ê iÝ«iVÌ>̈œ˜ÃÊ >ÀiÊ Ã̈Ê …>À`Ê ÌœÊ `ˆÃViÀ˜]Ê >˜`Ê
the hardware and software standards for the IoT are still
evolving. Billions of endpoints and intelligent devices
must be integrated. The data they produce must be
managed and analyzed. This is no small task, especially
given increasing concerns about security and reliability.

œ˜ÃՓiÀÃÊ >ÀiÊ Vœ“ˆ˜}Ê ÌœÊ iÝ«iVÌÊ }Ài>ÌiÀÊ Vœ˜ÌÀœÊ œÛiÀÊ
their personal data, issues surrounding the privacy of
tracked information and sensitive data (such as e-health
records) are ongoing, and it is unclear how vulnerable
many of the devices and clouds that make up the IoT

>ÀiÊ ÌœÊ …>VŽiÀÃÊ >˜`Ê “>ˆVˆœÕÃÊ Vœ`i°Ê 7iÊ iÝ«iVÌÊ Ãœ“iÊ
companies, and perhaps some entire industries, to be
reluctant to share data with other enterprises in an IoT
and security.
If your company wants to stake a claim with the
Internet of Things, you first need to develop a distinctive “way to play”—a clear value proposition that you
can offer customers. This should be consistent with
your enterprise’s overall capabilities system: the things
you do best when you go to market, aligned with most
or all of the products and services you sell.
With those elements in place, if you tread carefully
and methodically, the time is right. To develop a strategy
for the IoT, you could proceed by addressing, in order:
1. Your own role in the IoT.ʈÛi˜ÊޜÕÀÊi݈Ã̈˜}ÊÛ>ue proposition and capabilities, are you best suited to be
>˜Ê ˜>LiÀ]Ê ˜}>}iÀ]ʜÀÊ ˜…>˜ViÀ¶Ê
2. Industries and markets. Assess how your business
environment is being (or could be) transformed by the 
œ/°ÊvÊޜÕÊ>ÀiÊ>˜Ê ˜}>}iÀʜÀÊ ˜…>˜ViÀ]Ê܅>ÌÊi˜`«œˆ˜ÌÃ]Ê
hubs, and services are already being sold in your marŽiÌ¶Ê œÜÊ >ÀiÊ Ì…iÞÊ iÝ«iVÌi`Ê ÌœÊ Vœ“Lˆ˜i¶Ê 7…>ÌÊ Ãi˜ÃiÊ
do you have of the demand for them? The more IoT
>V̈ۈÌÞÊ Ì…>ÌÊ >Ài>`ÞÊ i݈ÃÌÃÊ ˆ˜Ê ޜÕÀÊ ˆ˜`ÕÃÌÀÞ]Ê >ÃÊ ˆÌÊ `œiÃÊ
in healthcare, automotive, manufacturing, and homerelated sectors, the more rapidly you will have to move.
3. Customer or business engagement. Because value
in the IoT will be created through the transformation
iÝ«iÀˆi˜ViÊ`iÈ}˜°Ê Ûi˜ÊˆvÊޜÕÊ>ÀiÊ>˜Ê ˜>LiÀ]Ê܈̅œÕÌÊ
direct customer contact, or if opportunities for engagement appear limited in your industry, the IoT could
eventually transform your business. What capabilities

strategy+business issue 77


tures. You probably already have innovation processes
in place, but they may not be customer-centric enough.
You may also need to foster more opportunities for peo«iÊ ˆ˜Ê ޜÕÀÊ Vœ“«>˜ÞÊ ÌœÊ iÝ«iÀˆ“i˜ÌÊ >˜`Ê i>À˜Ê À>«ˆ`ÞÊ
about what works and what doesn’t.
One virtue of the IoT is the degree to which com«>˜ˆiÃÊ >VŽˆ˜}Ê ˆ˜Ê ÌiV…˜œœ}ˆV>Ê iÝ«iÀ̈ÃiÊ V>˜Ê i>˜Ê œ˜Ê
̅iÊ `iۈViÃÊ >˜`Ê «>ÌvœÀ“ÃÊ Ì…>ÌÊ œÌ…iÀÃÊ LՈ`°Ê Ûi˜Ê Ü]Ê
the creation and delivery of IoT services will require you
to design and prototype their new services, to manage
them once implemented, and to analyze the resulting
wealth of data.
As new and challenging as today’s IoT is, it offers
a large and wide-open playing field. The companies
that gain the right to win in this sphere will be those
that understand just how disruptive the IoT will be,
and that create a value proposition to take advantage of
the opportunities. +

feature technology

do you already have in this area, and what will you need
to develop?
4. Connected products and services. Assess your
current lineup of offerings to determine which can be
enhanced through IoT connectivity, and what new
launches and innovations, take into account how connectivity will be established, how your company will
analyze and use the resulting data, and which other
companies you might collaborate with—all set against
the proposed revenue model and income stream.
5. An enhanced connection.Ê œÃÌÊ ˜}>}iÀÃÊ ÜˆÊ
deploy an initial wave of basic connected devices and
services. Then they will build further services by using
analytics to gain insights from the wealth of new data
that the IoT provides them. As these deployments unvœ`]Ê ˜}>}iÀÃÊ܈ÊœœŽÊvœÀÊÜ>ÞÃÊ̜ʈ˜VÀi>ÃiÊÛ>Õi°Ê/…ˆÃÊ
ˆÃÊ Ü…iÀiÊ ˜…>˜ViÀÃÊ ÜˆÊ Vœ“iÊ ˆ˜°Ê 7…>ÌÊ ˜iÜÊ LÕȘiÃÃÊ
models might emerge? Would you want to develop any
of them, or do you want to partner with other companies that can help serve this need?
6. Your organization’s capabilities. Your company
will need to distinguish itself in this space. What will
you do that no other company does as well (or at all)?
What improvements and investments will you need to
make? Where will the necessary time, money, and attention come from; what activities will you need to divest or downplay so their resources can move here?
You may also need to develop some “table stakes”
capabilities that all IoT companies must have. These include the ability to manage and analyze huge quantities
of data, to integrate diverse portfolios of services, and
to build business relationships with other IoT-related
companies, some of which may have very different cul-


Reprint No. 00294

`Ü>À`Ê°Ê >ŽiÀ]ʺœœŽˆ˜}Ê"ÕÌÜ>À`ÊÜˆÌ…Ê ˆ}Ê >Ì>\ÊÊ+EÊ܈̅Ê/œ“Ê
Davenport,” s+b (online only), Mar. 31, 2014: The management scholar
Tom Igoe and Catarina Mota, “A Strategist’s Guide to Digital
Fabrication,” s+b]ÊÕÌՓ˜ÊÓ䣣\Ê >ÀˆiÀÊi˜ÌÀÞʈ˜Ê̅ˆÃÊÃiÀˆiÃʜvÊÃÌÀ>Ìi}ˆÃÌýÊ
guides describes a complementary technology.
Daniel Kellmereit and Daniel Obodovski, The Silent Intelligence—The
Internet of ThingsÊ­ Ê6i˜ÌÕÀiÃ]ÊÓä£Î®\Ê-ÌÀ>ˆ}…ÌvœÀÜ>À`ʜÛiÀۈiÜʜvÊ
the evolution and future of this technology.
David Meer, “The ABCs of Analytics,” s+b (online only), Feb. 26, 2013:
How to use the big data from the Internet of Things (and everywhere
else) for competitive advantage.
For more thought leadership on this topic, see the s+b website at:


B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14

for a slideshow of our picks for
the Best Business Books of 2014
in seven categories.

Top Shelf

B O O K S 2 014 —

For an interactive look
at this year’s top picks,
go to strategy-business



To the Nimble
Go the Spoils
Ken Favaro

Brand Diving
Catharine P. Taylor

The Human Factor
Karen Dillon

John P. Kotter, Accelerate:
Building Strategic Agility
for a Faster-Moving World
(Harvard Business Review
Press, 2014)

Niraj Dawar, Tilt: Shifting
Your Strategy from
Products to Customers
(Harvard Business Review
Press, 2013)

Phil Rosenzweig, Left
Brain, Right Stuff: How
Leaders Make Winning
Decisions (PublicAffairs,





strategy+business issue 77

best books 2014 introduction


B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14

The Nothing That’s
James O’Toole

Dave Eggers, The Circle
(Knopf, 2013)


book reviewer and contributing editor
David Hurst identifies three books
that explore not only the how-to of
technological innovation, but also how
technology is driving innovation in every
sphere of our lives. Triple-bottom-line
pioneer and first-time contributor John
Elkington reviews books that provide
actionable means for dealing with the
seemingly intractable challenge of
sustainability. And in the final essay,
another notable first-timer, economic
columnist Daniel Gross, reviews three
books that cut through the hot-button
issue of global income inequality to get
down to hard facts—the Cockney twist on
which is sometimes pegged as the origin
of the phrase get down to brass tacks.
Enjoy the reading—then, put it
to work.
—Theodore Kinni




Greasing the
Skids of Invention
David K. Hurst

Bottom Line
John Elkington

All Things
Being Unequal
Daniel Gross

Alex Pentland, Social
Physics: How Good Ideas
Spread—The Lessons
from a New Science
(Penguin Press, 2014)

Andrew S. Winston,
The Big Pivot: Radically
Practical Strategies for a
Hotter, Scarcer, and More
Open World (Harvard
Business Review Press,

Thomas Piketty, translated
by Arthur Goldhammer,
Capital in the 21st Century
(Belknap Press, 2014)




best books 2014 introduction

and directly
the seven reviewers in our 14th annual
best business books special section
get down to brass tacks. In the opening
essay, Strategy& senior partner Ken
Favaro picks the three books that offer
new thinking about strategy that is
practical and compelling. Marketing
expert Catharine Taylor peels away
the hype and spin of her discipline to
identify books that get to the essence of
the brand experience. Veteran business
editor and author Karen Dillon reviews
the books that will help you hone
your decision-making chops—with or
without an assist from big data. James
O’Toole continues his unbroken run of
best business books appearances by
taking on a perennially relevant topic
whose parameters he helped define:
organizational culture. Longtime s+b



B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / S T R AT E G Y

J.-C. Spender, Business Strategy:
Managing Uncertainty, Opportunity, and
Enterprise (Oxford University Press,

for a slideshow of our picks for
the Best Business Books of 2014
in seven categories.

Sanjay Khosla and Mohanbir Sawhney,
Fewer, Bigger, Bolder: From Mindless
Expansion to Focused Growth (Penguin
Portfolio, 2014)

John P. Kotter, Accelerate: Building
Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving
World (Harvard Business Review Press,

To the Nimble
Go the Spoils
by Ken Favaro

carefully plotted doctoral
dissertations, countless hours of research, and contentious discussions among serious management thinkers,
strategy boils down to three fundamental questions:
First, how can you differentiate yourself from the competition in the way you create value? Second, what capabilities do you have that are distinct from those of your
rivals and essential to your particular way of creating
value? Third, what businesses should you be in, and
what products and services should you offer, given your

chosen approach to creating value and your particular
set of distinctive capabilities?
Most companies fail to fully answer these questions—particularly in a fashion that views them as an
integral whole. This leaves leaders without guideposts to
navigate the most pivotal challenges of corporate management, including transformation, change, agility, and
invention. As a result, instead of growth and innovation, there is only incoherence and inefficiency.
Take, for example, eBay’s acquisition of Skype for
US$2.6 billion in 2005. With this deal, eBay hoped to
become more than an e-commerce company; it wanted to become a global networking player. But eBay’s
particular online capabilities and buttoned-down,
transaction-heavy culture were ill equipped to assimilate a company in the voice telecommunications market. Moreover, it was unclear how eBay’s approach to
marketplace differentiation complemented Skype’s, and

73 Sockwell, printed by Vote For Letterpress

best books 2014 strategy

B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / S T R AT E G Y

Innovative Strategy

In Business Strategy: Managing Uncertainty, Opportunity, and Enterprise, J.-C. Spender takes what he
calls the “entrepreneurial” path
to corporate growth and market
response. To the peripatetic business professor and retired dean of
the School of Business & Technology at SUNY/Fashion
Institute of Technology, strategy is the product of executive imagination and judgment, not just logic; the strategy process involves balancing the known, the unknown,
and the unknowable. The purpose of strategic analyses,
frameworks, and methods is to inspire inventiveness and
inform judgment.
Spender arrives at this position by comparing the
quantitative planning techniques popular in organizations after World War II—which were mostly developed by the military during the war—with the more
subjective, less rigid strategic methodologies that appeared in the 1980s and that are now widespread in the
business world. In the earlier era, the dominant idea was
to match a firm’s resources to the market’s demands.
The company’s business model was tailored to customer
needs, suppliers’ offerings, labor availability, logistics,
and the like. If a mismatch occurred, the resulting

inefficiencies would reduce profit and threaten the
firm’s survival.
By contrast, explains Spender, the modern strategy
process must be a much more forward-looking activity,
because efficiency is no longer enough to deliver a decisive strategic advantage in many industries; instead, a
so-called monopoly-based strategic advantage is needed.
He cites Apple’s dominance of the tablet business to illustrate the overwhelming necessity of innovation as a
means of securing sustainable, above-normal profits, “especially where the ‘windows of competitive advantage’
seem to be opening and closing with increasing speed.”
Business Strategy does an extremely thorough job
of surveying the consulting tools and academic economic models and theories available to corporate strategists. The
book describes in some detail
the salient facets of the most essential methodologies and concepts, including SWOT, Porter’s
five forces, the experience curve,
the balanced scorecard, the value
chain, horizontal and vertical integration, and more. But again and
again, Spender returns to the notion that companies must avoid
letting these tools stymie their
flexibility by over-objectifying decision making. Ultimately, he argues, added value stems from the
strategist’s choices—the entrepreneur’s imagination and judgment—not from reams of
analysis or data-based conclusions.
By way of example, Spender compares two strategic
milestones: IBM’s decision in the 1940s to turn down
the patents and processes for electrophotography developed by Chester Carlson, which became the basis of
the Xerox machine, and Intel’s ceding of the DRAM
market to low-cost Japanese competitors in the 1980s
in order to focus on microprocessors. Based on market
conditions at the time, IBM believed the customer base
for electrophotography was too small and chose to sit
on the sidelines; Intel, meanwhile, decided it could
build a monopolistic position in microprocessors when
neither the market potential nor the manufacturing
challenges were well understood. In Spender’s view,
IBM hewed to the safety of the known to its detriment,
whereas Intel rode the wave of strategic risk by using
data analyses as the basis of a calculated leap into the

best books 2014 strategy

vice versa. Five years later, after writing down nearly $1
billion in losses, eBay sold Skype.
EBay’s error was an all-too-common one: Corporate executives often conflate strategy with vision, mission, purpose, plans, or goals. Although these elements
may help to focus, inspire, mobilize, and challenge an
organization, they are not substitutes for a logical, articulated strategy, and they often lead to helter-skelter
corporate development.
So it is also with many business books that are supposed to be about strategy. In lieu of actually discussing
the subject, they frequently tiptoe around it. Nonetheless, several books released during the past year offer
unique ideas and new thinking for how strategy can
help businesses continually innovate, execute, and maintain the
dexterity needed to anticipate and
outpace competitive challenges
and market disruption. Each is
practical and simple without being
simplistic, and offers convincing
evidence for its core premise.


B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / S T R AT E G Y

The Opportunity Landscape

In Fewer, Bigger, Bolder: From Mindless Expansion to
Focused Growth, Sanjay Khosla, former president of
Kraft Foods’ developing markets unit, and Mohanbir
Sawhney, director of the Center for Research in Technology and Innovation at the Kellogg School of Management, propose a framework for sustainable growth.
Called Focus7, it consists of seven steps that begin with
searching for growth and
end with measuring and
communicating progress.
Developing strategy (or
picking your bets, as the
authors call it) is the second step of Focus7, and it
entails navigating the “opportunity landscape.” This
methodology has four dimensions, each with two lenses: (1) what you offer, with
brand and product lenses; (2) who you serve, with customer and partner lenses; (3) where you go to market,
with channel and market lenses; and (4) how you operate, with monetization and process lenses.
Along the way, the authors provide apt examples,
making this step refreshingly tangible. For instance,
regarding the customer lens, Khosla and Sawhney
aver that Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s number one position
(by revenue) in its category is based on the company’s
unique and relentless emphasis since 1957 on address-

ing a specific consumer problem—the need for a replacement car. While Enterprise’s competitors bloodied each other at the airports, Enterprise opened more
than 5,000 outlets in neighborhoods across the U.S. to
furnish autos to local people whose vehicles were being
repaired or who didn’t own a car, but needed one for a
special occasion.
Although entertaining and informative, this section, like much of the principal argument in the book,
avoids a coherent discussion of strategy itself. Presumably, a good strategy is the product of a “focused” set of
bets, whereas a bad strategy results from a “mindless”
one. It’s hard to argue with this view of the difference
between good and bad strategies, chiefly because it is
a tautology. This weakness aside, the notion of an opportunity landscape does provide the basis for a higherlevel strategy debate in which all companies must engage to succeed. And the authors present a useful series
of ideas to explore in assessing your company’s performance and prospects.
What most intrigued me about Fewer, Bigger,
Bolder—and what makes it well worth adding to your
reading list—are Khosla’s in-depth anecdotes about
how he altered the fortunes of the Kraft units he led.
In those sections, the book takes on a fly-on-the-wall
quality, providing a valuable insider and, yes, strategic
perspective of an executive’s thought processes as he effectively manages a turnaround.

“Even the body language of the
ranking executive can...inhibit the
openness that’s necessary for
best results.”
When Khosla joined Kraft in 2007, the company
had expanded wildly into international markets, but
its earnings were coming at a premium. Its sales campaigns lacked discipline, and there was no economic
justification for the vast resources that Kraft expended
on these efforts. To fix this, Khosla implemented a program known as 5-10-10, under which Kraft’s dozens of
product categories, 100-plus brands, and 60-country
portfolio were pared down to five strong categories, 10
brands, and 10 markets that the company would focus
on and support. Within six years, Khosla’s division tri-

strategy+business issue

best books 2014 strategy

unknown and unknowable.
Spender devotes a chapter in the book to the role
of executives in communicating the organization’s strategy to employees so that it is effectively executed. And
although he delves deeply into a variety of techniques
for disseminating a company’s strategic program (rhetorical, formal and informal, group and individual),
he concedes that if successful strategies—and, indeed,
successful companies—are built on imagination, motivating people to collaborate requires equally inspired
approaches. As Spender advises: “The rhetorical practice that shapes the creative actions of others is precisely
what makes the modern firm possible.”
Executives will ignore at their peril the fundamental
message of Business Strategy: Once-popular mechanistic planning methodologies no longer work; they have
been replaced by innovation-based models that demand
flexibility and creativity. A choice to use anything less,
Spender argues, is the precursor of corporate atrophy.

B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / S T R AT E G Y

The description of the international expansion
campaign that Khosla put in place is a guide to creative
executive decision making that C-suite readers can emulate to their advantage. And, although the definition of
strategy is somewhat nebulous in Fewer, Bigger, Bolder,
Khosla’s success at Kraft nods at the good things that
can happen when strategy and tactics align.
A Structure for Strategic Agility

Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving
World, by John P. Kotter, the Konosuke Matsushita
Professor of Leadership Emeritus at Harvard Business
School, is primarily about the ability to adjust strategy
quickly in response to changes in the global business
environment. This is a ripe topic
for discussion (as well as one in
which Kotter, a noted change expert, specializes).
Navigating the tension between maintaining a stable business model that has produced
consistent results and embracing
reinvention is a difficult challenge
for most companies. Strategic stability can be quite rewarding and
is the hallmark of great companies such as Wells Fargo, Southwest Airlines, Walmart, and Walt
Disney. But there are also many
once-dominant companies whose
strategies became obsolete faster
than they were able to respond to shifting market and
competitive conditions—for example, Blockbuster and
Research in Motion, two companies cited in Accelerate.
In Kotter’s view, businesses today cannot afford to
be complacent. (Can they ever?) Yet he offers a convincing portrait of a typical organization’s life cycle to demonstrate that, despite their best intentions, most companies naturally lose their innovative edge as they evolve.
As he depicts it, successful startups have a strong, market-focused vision, delineated initially by the entrepreneur founder. The company is more of a network than
a pyramid. At the center is the entrepreneur and his or
her closest advisors; linked to them like planets in a solar system are people managing various initiatives, often
associated with developing and testing new products
and services. At this stage, the organization chart is relatively flat and the company is fluid; a once-promising
initiative can be dropped on the fly in favor of a better

best books 2014 strategy

pled its revenue to $16 billion, and profitability grew by
50 percent.
The 5-10-10 buckets were populated through a series of global workshops that represented a substantial
shift away from Kraft’s centralized top-down structure—an approach that executive readers hoping to
simplify decision making in large organizations should
consider emulating. Kraft regional managers, as well as
vendors, consultants, investment bankers, and consumers, attended the workshops. Although the agendas were
strict, the participants were encouraged to speak freely,
share evidence and anecdotes to back up their points
of view, and propose practical solutions. Perhaps most
important, and useful from a management perspective,
Khosla demanded that the top
brass in these meetings, including
himself, be muted. “The point is
to let the discussion roam without
regard to past practices or current
favorite initiatives,” the authors say.
“Even the body language of the
ranking executive can tilt the proceedings and inhibit the openness
that’s necessary for best results.”
Khosla’s decentralized approach to the workshops opened
up the possibility of more autonomy at the local level throughout
Kraft, and regional managers were
given greater latitude in decision
making and enjoyed greater influence in the organization. This eventually led to the
most notable marketing success in Kraft’s recent history. During the 2013 Super Bowl at the New Orleans
Superdome, a power outage occurred just after the second half started, and the game was stopped for more
than a half hour. Almost as soon as the blackout hit,
Kraft’s Oreo marketing team came up with a creative
tweet to play off the cookie’s well-known “Twist, Lick,
Dunk” campaign: “Power out? No problem. You can
still dunk in the dark.”
That short, free ad was retweeted 10,000 times
in the next hour, and the publicity that Kraft received
for it over the next few days was priceless. The tweet,
though, was possible only because the company’s leadership equation had been altered. “The authority to approve the tweet had been pushed down far enough that
the decision could be made almost instantaneously,” the
authors write.


B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / S T R AT E G Y

it’s unclear, for example, how the right-side network’s
purpose—to make strategy and its implementation
more agile—is aligned with the company’s strategy itself. Some aspects of strategy, such as pricing the value
proposition or changing the portfolio, can be remixed
relatively quickly and frequently; but other elements,
such as the capabilities that differentiate a business or
the types of customers it chooses to target, cannot be
altered overnight.
Nevertheless, as a new way of looking at agility
and flexibility, Kotter’s thesis is extremely appealing. It
presents a valuable course of action that speaks to a particularly challenging conundrum for maturing companies—that is, how to combine the dexterity of the startup years with the knowledge gained from experience.
For this reason, I choose Accelerate as the best business
book of the year on strategy. It brings much-needed insight as to why big companies struggle with implementing strategic innovation, and it recommends a practical
approach to solving that problem. In doing so, it has the
potential to bring inside the walls of our most successful
enterprises the benefits of creative destruction.
All three books have a lot to offer. Readers who
have a solid foundation already in place—especially a
clear definition of their strategy in mind before starting
page one—will come away from these selections better
equipped with practical and compelling ideas to help
implement those strategies in the real world. +
Reprint No. 00287

Ken Favaro
is a senior partner with Strategy& based in New York. A
longtime advisor to business leaders and a co-teacher
of a course on strategic innovation at Columbia Business
School, he leads the firm’s work in enterprise strategy
and finance.

strategy+business issue

best books 2014 strategy

idea. “This kind of agility can enable a successful young
firm to run circles around more mature competitors,”
Kotter writes.
With success, however, come formal processes and
a management structure—an operational hierarchy to
ensure that the company can satisfy its growing market. At the same time, the original entrepreneurial system does not fade away. The hierarchy and the network
coexist to drive efficiency and innovation, respectively.
This period, Kotter contends, is extraordinary, marked
by widening profits, an excellent culture, and favorable capital markets. Unfortunately, the phase is usually short-lived. As growth escalates, operational needs
expand, and before long, the hierarchy, which increasingly controls company resources, begins to dwarf and
minimize the network. At the end of this evolution,
the company may have a strong market position, great
brands, good relations with customers, and economies
of scale, but it will have lost its agility and innovative
edge. In other words, it is now vulnerable to attack from
a nimbler startup.
Given this inevitable progression, Kotter argues,
the only way to sustain market share and simultaneously beat the competition into new markets is to re-create
the dual operating system that the company had when
it was at its best. The left side of the company would
consist of the traditional business and its hierarchy; the
right side would be populated by a “volunteer army” led
by a “guiding coalition” overseeing a dynamic network,
free of bureaucratic layers, whose job would be to drive
strategic initiatives that would stall if relegated to the
left-side bureaucracy. Kotter’s five principles for forming
and managing this network are the accelerators of the
book’s title.
To support his point of view, Kotter tells the story
of an unnamed B2B technology company whose global
market share was tumbling primarily because it lagged
behind competitors in Asian expansion and new product development. Within two years of implementing
the dual-operating approach, the company experienced
a marked turnaround: Annual revenue growth more
than doubled, to more than 60 percent, and the company rose from fourth to second in market share. Moreover, the company’s market capitalization ballooned 155
percent, to $10 billion-plus.
Because Accelerate delivers such a potentially valuable message, the fact that it does not address the significance of coherent strategy as a prerequisite for successful innovation creates a big hole. Absent that discussion,

B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / M A R K E T I N G

Niraj Dawar, Tilt: Shifting Your Strategy
from Products to Customers (Harvard
Business Review Press, 2013)

Barry Wacksman and Chris Stutzman,
Connected by Design: 7 Principles
for Business Transformation
through Functional Integration
(Jossey-Bass, 2014)

for a slideshow of our picks for
the Best Business Books of 2014
in seven categories.

Tim Halloran, Romancing the Brand:
How Brands Create Strong, Intimate
Relationships with Consumers
(Jossey-Bass, 2014)

best books 2014 marketing

Brand Diving
by Catharine P. Taylor

marketing is slowly, but steadily,
evolving in response to the fragmentation of media,
the digital empowerment of consumers, and, particularly, the shrinking attention spans of target audiences.
Across nearly every demographic, people spend less time
on—and have less patience with—marketing messages.
They’re not just tuning out and fast-forwarding past
ads, they’re also paying for services such as Netflix that
don’t include any marketing at all.
This is why there is a growing conviction among
marketing professionals that the brand experience is be-


coming the essence of their discipline. It’s also why this
year’s three best business books on marketing—not one
of which has the m word in its title, by the way—are
about deepening a brand’s relationship with its customers in ways that penetrate well below the surface transaction. Each articulates a different way of achieving
this, and they even differ in their rationales for doing
so, but the imperative is clear: If you aren’t doing it already, marketers, the only way to score is to go deep.
Paddling Downstream

In Tilt: Shifting Your Strategy from Products to Customers, Ivey Business School professor of marketing Niraj
Dawar provides the much-needed context for why companies have to view satisfying customers as paramount.
His argument is one that should make executives across
the entire enterprise take notice.


best books 2014 marketing

Dawar sets up a dichotomy between upstream value, “the value-creation activities related to production
and products,” and downstream value, which is created
“where companies interact with customers.” Most companies still put most of their emphasis on the upstream,
but they need to tilt their efforts (and their organizations) downstream.
The upstream, argues Dawar, is no longer a wellspring of competitive advantage; those days, which date
back at least to the Industrial Revolution, are over. In a
time when just about every IT behemoth is outsourcing some of its programming to India, and every major
clothing retailer can find cost efficiencies by producing
clothes in China or Mexico, competitive advantage in
the upstream is, at best, incremental and short-lived. “By now,
your business knows what it takes
to make and move stuff,” Dawar
writes. “The problem is, so does
everybody else.”
Upstream efficiencies must
continue to be realized, but they
are no longer going to yield the
competitive advantages they once
did. Thus, it is mandatory for
companies to focus on the downstream; they simply have no choice
but to seek competitive advantage
in how they interact with customers. Toward this end, Dawar says
the first thing companies must
ask is, Why do our customers buy from us rather than
from our competitors? The specifics of the answer differ for every company, but at a higher level, the right
answer will always lie in minimizing the costs and risks
that customers incur by doing business with you (see
“A Step-by-Step Guide to Winning the Customer,” by
Niraj Dawar, s+b, Spring 2014).
Dawar cites Hyundai, for example, which came
up with a brilliant response to the major slump in car
sales that followed the 2008 financial crisis. (He notes
that Hyundai saw its U.S. sales drop by 37 percent,
and it certainly was not alone among carmakers.) As its
competitors made the usual downstream adjustments,
mainly price incentives, Hyundai realized that the real
issue for consumers wasn’t price—it was the risk of taking on a big, new financial obligation while the economy was in a tailspin. The company minimized this risk
with Hyundai Assurance, a program that allowed car

buyers to return their car, with no penalties, within a
year of purchase if they suffered a job or income loss.
Hyundai’s sales doubled in the month the program
launched. The carmaker outsold Chrysler, which had
four times the number of dealerships, without having
to reduce prices.
It would be reasonable to assume that Hyundai’s
competitors responded by offering similar programs,
but they didn’t. To Dawar, this anomaly points up an
important nuance in leveraging downstream advantage: Most companies are better at assessing customer
costs than at discerning purchasing risks perceived by
the customer. Dealer incentives speak to cost, but they
don’t address risk. By focusing on risk, Hyundai gained
a competitive advantage.
ICI, a maker of explosives
used by quarries to blast rock, is
another company that gained a
critical competitive advantage by
shifting its emphasis downstream.
Finding itself in a classic commoditized price war, ICI took a step
back and realized its products were
just like Ted Levitt’s famous quarter-inch drill bits: ICI’s customers
didn’t want explosives (drill bits,
and value produced upstream);
they wanted blasted rock to sell
to their customers (drill holes, and
value produced downstream).
Since blasting rock is full of
customer costs and risks, ICI decided to clear a path out
of the price war by minimizing both. As with many of
Tilt’s examples, it turns out ICI already had the solution
at its fingertips. It had reams of data, which it had never
shared with its customers, about how to ensure a successful explosion—essentially, a blast that produces lots of
similarly sized rock.
Pooling this data and sharing it with quarries, along
with making a strategic decision to base its pricing on
blast outcomes rather than the explosives themselves,
enabled ICI to drastically reduce its customers’ costs and
risks. ICI was no longer just another company selling explosives, explains Dawar, “it was in the business of selling
a highly differentiated value proposition created by the
application of engineering expertise, marketing savvy,
and strategic acumen.” Even better, this new approach
delivered a cumulative advantage: “The more blasts ICI
conducted, the more data it collected,” adds the author.

strategy+business issue

B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / M A R K E T I N G

B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / M A R K E T I N G

“And the more refined its models and blasts became, the
further ahead it pulled from its competitors.”
I think Tilt is the best business book of the year on
the topic of marketing because it paints a big picture
that all company executives should consider. In fact,
Dawar sees the upstream-to-downstream shift starting
with the CEO, and then trickling down in a mind-set
shift that spreads through the entire organization.
Building Out the Ecosystem

Since blasting rock is full of
customer costs and risks, ICI
decided to clear a path out of the
price war by minimizing both.
Wacksman and Stutzman describe how U.K. retailer
Tesco created a smartphone app that lets its customers
build their shopping lists by scanning barcodes on the
products in their homes and turning those lists into online orders, or, in stores, into an aisle-by-aisle map. Tilt’s
Dawar would likely peg this as an effective use of the
downstream; and, like ICI, Tesco discovered that the
service has upstream applications. The data gives Tesco
better insights into how and what it should be offering,
in addition to enhancing its ability to provide customers
with more personalized shopping experiences.
The authors also point to high-tech “It Brands” such
as Apple, Google, and Amazon as obvious examples of
their ideas in action. More impressive, however, are the
examples of how companies whose main thrust is not
digital are using functional integration. These include
brands such as L’Oréal, General Motors, Nike, and, in
the book’s most surprising example, spice industry leader
McCormick & Company.

Love, Actually

In Romancing the Brand: How Brands Create Strong,
Intimate Relationships with Consumers, marketing
consultant and former Coca-Cola brand director Tim
Halloran urges marketers to go deep, too, but in an appealing, old-school kind of way. By distilling marketing down to the metaphor of a romantic relationship in
need of nurturing, excitement, and intimacy, Halloran
doesn’t have to rely on whiz-bang technological examples. Indeed, the ways in which digital technologies are
transforming marketing barely make it into his book.

best books 2014 marketing

In Connected by Design: 7 Principles for Business Transformation through Functional Integration, Barry Wacksman and Chris Stutzman, executives at R/GA, a leading
digital agency that has worked for Nike, Capital One,
and Beats by Dr. Dre, recommend pursuing functional
integration in order to create ecosystems that “succeed
by nurturing ongoing relationships with the brand’s
most loyal customers.” In short, they want companies to
build interlocking products and (usually digital) services
that add up to more than the sum of their parts.

During the Great Recession, McCormick found itself in one of those commoditization struggles that fill
the pages of Tilt, as newly thrifty consumers turned to
less expensive generic and store brands. But the company also discovered functional integration, as well as
an unlikely link between digital services and ground
cumin, with FlavorPrint, an algorithm-driven recipe
engine. Yes, there are many online recipe sites, but as
the leader in spices, McCormick had an unparalleled
knowledge of flavors that put it in a position to create
a much more robust and effective recommendation engine. FlavorPrint works like Pandora, in that it suggests
recipes based on your tastes. Tell the site that you like
raw tomatoes and cheesecake, but dislike jerk chicken
and black licorice, and it will begin to discern your palate, and suggest recipes based on it.
FlavorPrint was McCormick’s answer to categorywide commoditization—a service with daily utility,
which Wacksman and Stutzman identify as one of two
core elements in a successful functional integration.
(The other is context, which
comes from figuring out
how and when consumers
want to interact with your
brand.) And, they report,
people who engage with
McCormick online buy “upwards of 40 percent more”
of its products than the average McCormick customer.
Think of it this way: If one of the dimensions of traditional advertising messages is frequency, FlavorPrint
and the many other examples in Connected by Design
suggest a new kind of frequency—a frequency generated
by digital services that are used on an ongoing basis and
that offer such utility that they imprint a brand preference on their users.


B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / M A R K E T I N G

smaller brands. Consider the example of Mamma Chia,
a quirky health beverage “to be savored, not swallowed
in great gulps,” in which chia seeds are suspended in a
fruit-flavored Jell-O-like substance. A tough sell.
The passion of company founder Janie Hoffman
for her product and the chia seed won her distribution
in the 40 stores in Whole Foods’ southern Pacific region. But there was a catch: The buyer required that
Hoffman herself educate, and establish the connection
with, her potential customers. Otherwise the product would be “collecting dust on the shelf,” the buyer
warned, because the new brand didn’t fit the traditional
definition of a beverage.
So Hoffman set up tables in Whole Foods to teach
shoppers about the product, give out samples, and more.
“When a shopper showed interest,” notes Halloran,
“Hoffman enthusiastically told the story of the magnificent chia seed, why it was important to her, and how it
could add meaning to the shopper’s life.” (Later, Hoffman employed “word of mouth ambassadors,” but they
had to be people who shared her passion, not just workers handing out the sample of the day.) Hoffman went
on to be BevNet’s 2012 Person of the Year, and Mamma
Chia has since gained a slot in mainstream chains.
The Mamma Chia story is the centerpiece of the
“Meet Memorably” chapter, which focuses on the first
encounter between a product and a consumer. Not everyone can do this through the power of their personality, as Hoffman did, but Halloran uses the example
to emphasize that making an indelible first impression
matters, whatever the means.
The fact that this year’s best business books on
marketing use different lenses to highlight essentially
the same message underscores the need to build deeper
relationships with consumers and customers. In fact,
these authors all seem to regard traditional mass advertising as almost incidental. It’s not enough to sell
products—you must find ways to embed your brand so
deeply within your customers’ lives that they come back
to it, time after time. +
Reprint No. 00288

Catharine P. Taylor
has covered digital media since 1994, writing for publications including Adweek and Advertising Age. She currently
writes a weekly Social Media Insider column for MediaPost,
and is a frequent speaker on the impact of social media on
advertising, media, and behavior.

strategy+business issue

best books 2014 marketing

That’s one of the book’s strengths. Technology has
so enthralled us that it can become an end in and of
itself. Certainly, we’ve all seen online campaigns that
seem to exist solely because a marketing team has fallen
prey to the belief that being seen on a hot new platform
equals relevance. Instead, argues Halloran, “it is only by
keeping the consumers first, by making them special,
that brands live up to the definition of a relationship.”
He develops this premise by having each chapter mirror
a stage in a romantic relationship, showing brands first
how to “Know Yourself,” and then progressing onward
to steps such as “Meet Memorably,” “Deepening the
Connection,” and even “Making Up,” when a brand has
lost its customers’ trust.
Halloran offers the repositioning of Powerade, a
Coca-Cola brand that he worked on in the mid-1990s,
as a case in point. The solution for the brand, which
was running well behind the 88 percent market share of
industry leader Gatorade, wasn’t going to be competing
head-to-head for the category’s main demographic—
athletic men ages 20 and older. Rather, the brand team
targeted a younger demographic—athletic teenagers.
“Linking the brand to the key emotional drivers of teen
sports would be the way that Powerade would establish
a relationship with these boys,” Halloran writes.
The brand team achieved this by identifying 1 million top high school athletes (a feat that’s even harder
than it seems because this initiative was pre-Internet)
and sending each of them a Powerade sport bottle and
a coupon for the product itself. It was no small thing
then for a high schooler to get a piece of mail, especially
mail that his friends didn’t get. The team also asked the
athletes’ opinions about everything from packaging to
communication. Yes, Powerade was wooing them.
The brand team also wooed high school coaches
with Powerade-branded equipment, such as towels, that
they would receive if they agreed to install Powerade
vending machines in their schools. The ethics of aggressively imprinting a brand within the corridors of high
schools aside, this outreach to coaches and star athletes
began to create an emotional connection. (It’s hard to
tell how effective this connection was; Halloran tells
us only that Powerade’s brand loyalty in the under-18
demographic “began to equalize” with Gatorade’s.)
Of course, romantic campaigns are a lot easier if
you have the deep pockets and unparalleled distribution of the Coca-Cola Company backing you up. So
it’s a relief to report that Halloran demonstrates how
intimacy-enhancing marketing tactics apply to much

B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / E X E C U T I V E S E L F - I M P R O V E M E N T

for a slideshow of our picks for
the Best Business Books of 2014
in seven categories.

Phil Rosenzweig, Left Brain, Right Stuff:
How Leaders Make Winning Decisions
(PublicAffairs, 2014)

Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel B.
Rasmussen, The Moment of Clarity:
Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your
Toughest Business Problems (Harvard
Business Review Press, 2014)

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz,
It’s Not the How or the What but the
Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself
with the Best (Harvard Business Review
Press, 2014)

best books 2014 managerial

The Human
by Karen Dillon

in 2014. At the start of
the year, a study by IDG found that 70 percent of large
organizations had deployed or were soon to deploy big
data–related projects, at an average investment of US$8
million. And analytics enthusiasts were full of sweeping
predictions: Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla rankled


a crowd of doctors at Stanford Medical School by declaring that data crunching could and should eliminate
many of their jobs. “We are guided too much by opinions,” he said, “not by statistical science.”
Big data is touted as the holy grail of all manner
of business needs: eliminating human error and wasted
time in decision making; identifying prospective winners and losers long before executives can; minimizing
costly hiring mistakes; and even sussing out investment
opportunities, competitive advantage, and future strategy. From this perspective, big data not only can predict
the future—it is the future.
Not so fast, say the authors of this year’s three best
business books on honing your executive chops. The

science of big data does indeed hold the potential to
catalytically improve many areas of business, but they
argue that the human factor still makes the difference
between good and great corporate performance in the
long run. The key, these authors suggest in three different ways, is understanding and harnessing the power of
our own minds—in conjunction with having the right
analytical data and decision-making frameworks.
Context First

best books 2014 self-improvement

In Left Brain, Right Stuff: How Leaders Make Winning
Decisions, IMD strategy professor (and s+b contributor)
Phil Rosenzweig contends that the increasing emphasis on clear analysis and calculation—the so-called leftbrain skills—marginalizes the intangible “right stuff” necessary to
make high-stakes executive decisions. Borrowing the phrase made
famous by writer Tom Wolfe in his
chronicle of the early years of the
U.S. space program, Rosenzweig
suggests that great decision makers
must be able to summon seemingly excessive levels of confidence in
their own judgment and comfort
with risk to push past boundaries
and achieve peak performance.
Though left-brain analysis
and that less definable right stuff
might seem polar opposites, for
many decisions, both are essential.
The question is when and how do left brain and right
stuff come together? As you might expect, the author
of The Halo Effect...and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers (Free Press, 2007) is
no fan of sweeping generalizations or add-water-andstir solutions. Nor does Rosenzweig offer his readers a
simple answer in Left Brain, Right Stuff. Instead, each
chapter explains a slightly different decision context and
how to think through which tools are needed to make
the best choice.
At the heart of the book, however, is the idea that
human beings have been too sweepingly dismissed as
irrational decision makers. Rosenzweig doesn’t dispute
the value of decision-making models. Rather, he puts
them in their proper place by walking us through a series of decisions. For example, in 2010, a U.S. division
of Swedish construction giant Skanska put together
a winner-take-all bid for an enormous National

Security Agency contract to build a new computer facility, the Utah Data Center (UDC). Bill Flemming,
the president of Skanska USA Building, had numerous factors to take into account. He needed a bid low
enough to win, but high enough to earn a profit—even
though the government had hemmed him in with
spending caps, and his rivals were working equally
hard to find the magic number. His eventual answer
required a blend of left brain and right stuff. Flemming
wasn’t making a choice from options he could not control: With such a long-term project, there was every
possibility that Skanska could find real-time efficiencies and cut its anticipated costs. He was bidding in a
competition—there could be only one winner, and performance was relative. He could
draw on past history to craft the
best possible bid, but whether he
made the right choice would take
years to become clear. And finally, as an executive at such a wellknown company, he knew he had
to protect its reputation.
Eventually Flemming took a
leap of faith. He put in a bid that
came in under the government’s
stated goal, but that did not guarantee profitability for Skanska.
The bidding process started with
as much objective analysis as possible, but ended with what Skanska’s president called “gut feel.” He
hoped the company could exceed performance expectations, in part because of the strength of his leadership
and his confidence in his team. In the end, Skanska did
not get the contract. But Rosenzweig highlights the dilemma as typical of the complex decisions we face in all
walks of life—not just business, but also politics, sports,
and the military. There is no formula that will lead to
success every time.
So when should we apply cold, reasoned analytical
tools to a decision and when should we allow the right
stuff to inform a judgment call? Rosenzweig tells us that
to make a great decision, having an awareness of common errors and biases is just a start. We also need to ask
ourselves key questions about the decision context:
• Are we making a decision about something we
cannot control, or can we influence outcomes? If we
cannot control the outcome, we should rely more on leftbrain analysis. If we can control the outcome, the right

strategy+business issue

B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / E X E C U T I V E S E L F - I M P R O V E M E N T

B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / E X E C U T I V E S E L F - I M P R O V E M E N T

sen focus their attention on perhaps the most critical
context for executive decisions—what they call “level 3”
problems. Level 1 problems involve “a clear-enough future with a relatively predictable business environment.”
Sales are down, and you know that every additional $1
in advertising generates $1.50 in sales. Level 2 problems
involve “alternative futures with a set of options available.” Your newest sales reps aren’t performing up to expectations and you aren’t sure how to help them. So you
test some hypotheses until you find the right solution.

You need to rely on the “right
stuff” instincts to help you win
a competitive bid, wherein if you
lose, you get nothing.

“Sensemaking” at Level 3

In The Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to
Solve Your Toughest Business Problems, innovation consultants Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel B. Rasmus-

But with level 3 problems, you can’t even articulate what
the problem is, never mind figure out how to solve it.
Witness Coloplast, a European manufacturer of
colostomy bags. The company hadn’t missed a sales target in 50 years of continual double-digit growth, and
suddenly it missed its targets four times in a year. No
one was sure why. A wealth of data was available to analyze, including a half century of sales. One study commissioned by the company asked thousands of people
to rank 250 factors in considering their colostomy bag.
But the results only confused things more. Something
was really wrong, but the company had no idea what.
Coloplast had a level 3 problem on its hands.
Madsbjerg and Rasmussen contend that level 3
problems—which can be “as diverse as setting the direction of the company, driving growth, improving sales
models, understanding the real culture of the organization, and finding the path in new markets”—need to be
solved by a process that they call sensemaking. Sensemaking is an art, not a science, and a slowly realized one
at that. It is rooted in philosophy and ethnography, and
it rests on the assumption that breakthrough insights—
moments of clarity—come from a sociological approach
to understanding and solving a problem.
The traditional business approach to problem solving relies on deductive reasoning, starting with a hypothesis that is then tested. This approach works well
for level 1 and 2 problems, where you can use experience, data, and intuition to identify and solve problems.

best books 2014 self-improvement

stuff can lead to a better decision.
• Are we seeking an absolute level of performance,
or is performance relative? There’s a difference between
wanting to raise your profit margin a few points (an absolute level of performance) and submitting a winnertake-all competitive bid (relative). You need to rely on
the “right stuff” instincts to help you win a competitive
bid, wherein if you lose, you get nothing.
• Are we making a decision that lends itself to rapid
feedback, so we can make adjustments and improve a
subsequent effort? If we
have a chance to improve our work as we
go along, there’s no need
to rely solely on leftbrain decision making.
The left brain might ensure the best decision is
made, but if we know we
can learn and tweak, the
right stuff can be useful, too.
• Are we making a decision as an individual or as a
leader in a social setting? Making a decision as a leader
is far more complex than making one that is personal.
Leaders may have to push their staff to achieve more
than might seem possible on paper. Right stuff can play
a key role here, too.
There is hope in Rosenzweig’s thinking, especially
in the reassuring idea that executives have far more influence in many spheres of decision making than they
might realize. “Decision theory puts all the emphasis on
the analysis leading to the moment of choice,” Rosenzweig writes. “While it is definitely important, my experience taught me that my ability to influence whatever goes on after the moment of choice is perhaps even
more important.”
Left Brain, Right Stuff is frustrating in that it
makes clear we don’t yet have the tools needed to avoid
mistakes in decision making. But understanding the
context in which decisions need to be made and realizing that there are no simple solutions that apply to all
decisions is a very good start, which is why this book
is my pick as the year’s best business book for leaders
intent on improving themselves.


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insights is not rocket science. It’s more like a blueprint
for restraint—a slow process, through which leaders can
question basic assumptions about their companies and
customers, leading to transformative insights.
The Moment of Clarity is a manifesto for leadership that allows space and time for contemplation of
complex problems and decisions, not an insignificant
demand in an era of quarterly pressure to deliver results.
But the authors cite a host of companies, including Intel, Samsung, Lego, Novo Nordisk, and Adidas, as the
beneficiaries of such leadership. The value of sensemaking, they suggest, is not in the process itself, but in what
a company makes of its insights, how it translates them
into new ideas and opportunities, and how it shapes a
shared perspective on the business.
That is where the right leadership
is required to help your company
find a path out of the fog.
The Hazards of Hiring

If human judgment remains an essential factor in corporate success,
the most critical decisions a leader
can make are hiring decisions, says
Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, senior
advisor to executive search firm
Egon Zehnder. In It’s Not the How
or the What but the Who: Succeed by
Surrounding Yourself with the Best,
he offers a veteran’s experience in
getting those decisions right.
The book’s title refers to an interview in Harvard
Business Review in which Amazon founder Jeff Bezos
talked about the importance of having the right people
around him as the company began to grow. Initially,
Bezos worried only about how to get things done, then
he segued to what needed to get done, and finally to the
insight that has guided the company ever since: What
mattered most was who was on his team. “One way to
think about this is as a transition of questions, from
How? to What? to Who?” he told HBR. “As things get
bigger, I don’t think you can operate any other way.”
Getting the right people in place has remained so important to Bezos that he continually reminds his colleagues that he’d rather interview 50 people and not
hire anyone than hire the wrong person.
Paradoxically, we are often our own worst enemies
when it comes to picking the right people to help our
companies grow. “Humans aren’t programmed to make

strategy+business issue

best books 2014 self-improvement

But a level 3 problem requires the patience to start, not
with a hypothesis, but with an effort to frame the problem correctly and gather data. Only then should you
form a hypothesis about what you have found. “Breakthrough insights aren’t manufactured like widgets in a
factory. They dawn on us in nascent form, like the sight
of a vague shape on the horizon,” the authors write.
“They are first present in our mind and bodies…as a
‘slow hunch.’”
Such hunches, say Madsbjerg and Rasmussen, can
come only from looking beyond data to see the world in
context, what is known as phenomenology—the study
of how people experience life and the problems they are
trying to solve, and by extension how they use and need
your products and services in their
own lives. If this all sounds rather
airy and unstructured, don’t worry. The authors provide a five-step
framework for sensemaking.
First, frame the problem as a
phenomenon. In Coloplast’s case,
the initial framing of the problem
was wrong. The company was trying to figure out how to sell more
products. Instead, after taking
time to think, Coloplast was able
to reframe the problem by asking, What is our customers’ experience with ostomy care? Next,
collect data. It is at this stage, the
authors warn, that things can appear most out of focus, most difficult to discern. But
Coloplast’s leadership realized that it takes time to understand the data before forming opinions about it. The
third step is to look for patterns. At Coloplast, it turned
out that the salient pattern was the customer’s concern
about a secure fit. The “aha” insight—step four—which
dawned slowly at Coloplast, was that the features of the
customers themselves were the key. The bodies of individual people are very different. Those different bodies
required different options for the secure fit of a bag that
had the potential to be either positively life-changing—
or deeply humiliating if it failed. Only after that stage,
with the key insights in hand, can you move to the fifth
and final step—planning out the business impact of
the insights. In Coloplast’s case, that involved creating
products that provide the right fit for every individual
body, rather than designing more bells and whistles.
The sensemaking framework for surfacing critical

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great people decisions,” declares Fernández-Aráoz. He
says that we make any number of mistakes in reading,
assessing, and choosing the resource that is most critical to our company’s future. Among other failings we’re
hardwired for is the tendency to make quick choices—
in fractions of seconds—based on similarity, familiarity, and comfort. We trust and choose to hire people

essential and desirable attributes a candidate would need
in order to do the job well. Do this before a single candidate walks through the door in order to make sure your
list is not influenced by the people you are seeing. Then
actually rate each candidate on each of these factors.
Fernández-Aráoz’s book is a series of short, easyto-read chapters, each of which tackles a different
challenge in finding great
people, assessing and selecting the best, helping
these chosen stars shine,
and helping teams thrive.
It’s Not the How or the What
but the Who continually
reiterates the simple, essential point that great people
decisions are as important
as any other decision that has the power to transform
our companies.
At a time when companies around the world are
trying to find Moneyball-like algorithms for strategic growth, all three of this year’s best business books
for executive self-improvement offer an important reminder: Great people are at the core of any great business. Each book reminds us that the continuing need
for human judgment is critical to corporate success.
In the end, data and analytics are valuable only if they
are tracking, measuring, and evaluating the right things.
And knowing what we need to learn is not something
that can simply be programmed into an algorithm. That
requires human judgment. +

As one CEO says, at most companies,
people spend 2 percent of their time
recruiting and 75 percent managing
their recruiting mistakes.

Reprint No. 00289

Karen Dillon
has been editor of Harvard Business Review, deputy editor of
Inc., and editor and publisher of The American Lawyer. She is
coauthor, with Clayton M. Christensen and James Allworth,
of How Will You Measure Your Life? (Harper Business, 2012)
and author of HBR Guide to Office Politics (Harvard Business
School Press, 2013).

best books 2014 self-improvement

who seem like us, which doesn’t always equate to being
the best person for the job at hand.
Further, we make snap judgments based on the information in front of us, without stopping to ask what
else we need to know to assess a candidate. We judge
people based on their title, their pedigree, and their
previous employers. But far too seldom do we think
through whether their experiences, skills, and ability
and eagerness to learn new things will serve them well
in our own companies. In short, we forget to assess their
potential—and this, says the veteran recruiter, is the
single most important factor in making a great hire.
Hiring the wrong person isn’t even the worst mistake most managers make, Fernández-Aráoz writes.
Rather, it’s clinging to a loser as he or she sinks. It takes
far more discipline to cut your losses and invest your
resources elsewhere than it does to watch an employee
slowly drag everyone else down. As one CEO tells the
author, at most companies, people spend 2 percent of
their time recruiting and 75 percent managing their recruiting mistakes.
But although we may be hardwired to make many
hiring mistakes, Fernández-Aráoz says, with the right
knowledge, training, and practice, anyone can master
the art of great “who” decisions. We just have to get out
of our own way. “The first step in surrounding yourself with the best,” he writes, “is to recognize—and correct—your own failings.”
He goes on to offer scores of practical suggestions.
One simple but clear improvement, for example, would
be to actually hold ourselves accountable to a rational
set of criteria in making hiring choices. Write down the


B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / O R G A N I Z AT I O N A L C U LT U R E


for a slideshow of our picks for
the Best Business Books of 2014
in seven categories.

Richard Sheridan, Joy, Inc.: How We
Built a Workplace People Love
(Portfolio/Penguin, 2013)

Malachi O’Connor and Barry Dornfeld,
The Moment You Can’t Ignore: When Big
Trouble Leads to a Great Future
(PublicAffairs, 2014)

Dave Eggers, The Circle (Knopf, 2013)

best books 2014 culture

little agreement about what culture is or what it entails.
You can’t see it, touch it, or measure it, yet culture is said
to explain why some companies fare better than others.
The authors of the year’s three best business books on
culture, one of which is a novel, explore the elusive subject from widely divergent perspectives, but all end up
confirming that it is the single most powerful influence
on how people behave in organizations.


The Nothing
by James O’Toole

scholars, and
executives are coming to the conclusion that culture is
the prime driver of organizational performance. Despite
the prevalence of that point of view, however, there’s


In Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love,
Richard Sheridan, cofounder and CEO of software design firm Menlo Innovations, delineates the practical
steps he has taken to create and maintain a corporate
culture that makes people “excited to come to work every day.” The book provides a detailed look at how a
culture is intentionally designed and implemented right
from a company’s start.
Although Sheridan shies away from defining the
term culture, he uses it as a shorthand way of encapsulating the unique personality of his company, which
is, in his reckoning, a highly productive organization
where a “culture of joy” entices workers to enthusiastically engage, without being coerced or controlled by
management. He says that Menloians willingly give
their all at work because of the intrinsic rewards they
derive from constantly learning new things and being
granted a high degree of autonomy in how they manage
their work. I think I believe him, even though the “joy”
part seems like a hyperbolic stretch.
The practical aspects of Menlo’s culture that Sheridan describes will be useful to any manager who wants
to bolster employee engagement. He offers a raft of
suggestions about how to transform work into a self-

strategy+business issue

A Leader’s Insights

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are working on.”
After 13 years in business—and several years of
Sheridan trumpeting his approach at management conferences—it seems odd that “hope” is the best Menlo
can do in this regard. Convinced as I am of the value
of the company’s admirable managerial practices, this
sows seeds of doubt in my mind about the real purpose
of a culture of joy. Is it just a creative way of getting
employees to work harder without fully compensating them for their efforts? I hope that Sheridan doesn’t
wait another three years before cutting Menloians in on
the action, but for now, we can content ourselves with
studying his culture-building prowess.
An Anthropological View

Culture has long been the purview
of anthropologists, but oddly,
there are no previously published
books that I can think of that offer
an anthropological perspective on
corporate culture and change. Into
the breach step Malachi O’Connor
and Barry Dornfeld, anthropologists with University of Pennsylvania Ph.D.s in folklore and
communication, respectively, who
turned their attention to management consulting, and more specifically to the study of corporate
culture. In their manager-oriented
manual, The Moment You Can’t
Ignore: When Big Trouble Leads to a Great Future, they
ably explain “how culture drives strategic change.”
The anthropological perspective on culture and
change is long overdue because, as the authors note,
“behavior is culturally prescribed.” Thus, they address
the issue of changing a company culture at its root level:
the behavior of its employees. Starting from the familiar
premise, attributed to Peter Drucker, that “culture eats
strategy for breakfast,” O’Connor and Dornfeld offer
useful advice on how to deal with the human side of
strategy implementation: getting employees to accept
needed change.
In 1881, British anthropologist E.B. Tylor defined
culture like this: “that complex whole which includes
knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any
other capabilities and habits acquired…as a member of
[a] society.” Other researchers later added the idea that
cultures are social systems, the numerous parts of which

best books 2014 culture

managed learning experience, and how to encourage
constant dialogue and discussion among all employees
in the firm—including the shiest and most introverted—in order to share that learning across the company.
Many of these ideas are creative, some are tried and
true, and almost all are deserving of consideration. The
most innovative—even radical—of Menlo’s practices
is the pairing of employees (in the main, software programmers): “Two people sit together at one computer
working all day on the same task at the same time,” explains Sheridan. These pairings are rotated weekly, so
eventually every employee at this midsized firm works
intimately with every other one. Sheridan makes a
strong case that this seemingly expensive and inefficient
practice actually increases organizational productivity, learning, innovation, and quality, while reducing stress and fatigue.
Other ideas include having
the paired employees describe their
projects to the entire workforce at
“Lunch ’n Learn” sessions, putting
clients on Menlo teams, replacing
rules and bureaucracy with rituals
and storytelling, and holding daily
“stand-up meetings” in which all
team members quickly describe
“what they are working on and
where they might need help.” (It
is interesting that this high-tech
company makes extensive use of
low-tech tools, such as pencil-and-paper storyboards, to
keep track of projects and clarify responsibilities.) Certain programs and policies are also aimed at making
Menloians feel that they are members of a supportive
community. For example, new parents can bring their
babies to the office, where fellow workers are said to
bounce crying infants when their moms and dads are
busy at work tasks.
One thing that is noticeably missing from Sheridan’s otherwise detailed portrait of the company’s culture is a discussion of compensation. Unlike other highinvolvement organizations, Menlo seems not to make
use of profit sharing, stock ownership, gain sharing, and
other proven methods for rewarding the people who do
the work that leads to financial success. Only at the end
of the book does Sheridan express the aspirational hope
that by 2018, his employees will “trade up to 50 percent
of their own income for the upside on the project they


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As difficult as a functioning culture is to identify,
define, and change, it is the sine qua non of organizational performance, a fact Louis Gerstner discovered
when he became CEO of then-troubled IBM in the
early 1990s. Previously, Gerstner had earned a reputation for being a quantitatively oriented top executive,
and he took on IBM’s turnaround believing that his
rigorous management-by-the-numbers approach would
be sufficient to get the job done. However—as Gerstner explained in his account of his tenure at IBM, Who
Says Elephants Can’t Dance? Inside IBM’s Historic
Turnaround (HarperBusiness, 2002)—he came to see
that “culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the
game.” He described how the reshaping of IBM’s culture became his prime leadership task. The method he
used can be rendered in the words of O’Connor and
Dornfeld: “Leaders can no longer push for results but
must create pull for achieving them by mobilizing the
passion, interests, and energy of others.”
Creating that pull is a tall order, which is made
even more challenging by the paradoxical nature of cultures: They become dysfunctional if they are too weak,
and equally dysfunctional if too strong. Weak cultures
encourage members of an organization to do their own
thing, which leads to a lack of focus, coordination, and
effectiveness. Because there is no unifying, collective
purpose, there is insufficient motivation and commitment. In contrast, as O’Connor and Dornfeld point
out, strong cultures tend to become rigid, complacent,
and susceptible to groupthink. Because members who
dare to question fundamental organizational assumptions are viewed as disloyal, a shortage of healthy selfcriticism develops, which leads to resistance to change
and innovation. And, as we see below, a too-powerful
culture can even take an unethical turn.
The Novelist’s Take

High-tech company the Circle is the brainchild of novelist Dave Eggers and the setting for his best-selling
novel of the same name. The events in The Circle occur
in the future, but just barely so: Even geezers like me
might live to see the day Eggers describes. The genius of
the book—and what separates it from run-of-the-mill
science fiction—is that Eggers extends Silicon Valley’s
existing technology and organizational practices no further than to their next logical steps (imagine Google on
steroids), and only at the conclusion does he move to the
illogical and chilling end to which they may be heading.
Most reviews of The Circle have focused on the

strategy+business issue

best books 2014 culture

are complexly interrelated. Over many decades, social
anthropologists would draw several conclusions about
tribal and national cultures: They are all different; they
are not consciously designed, but instead grow organically as the result of such influences as the local environment, available technology, and the long process of
trial and error called human experience; and they are
far easier to destroy than to consciously build.
The concept of organizational or corporate culture
is of more recent origin. (Warren Bennis and I could
find no published references to the concept when we first
discussed it at a gathering of social scientists at the Aspen
Institute in 1973.) As the study of organizational culture
has developed, however, it is clear that the insights of
pioneering anthropologists about societies are broadly
applicable to modern business organizations. Every
company has a culture, and each one is unique, difficult to accurately describe or model, and hard to change.
Additionally, most organizational cultures are complexly
interrelated systems that initially tend to reflect the beliefs and values of their founders, which are, in turn, influenced by such factors as local customs and norms, the
type of industry, and the technology employed.
Because the process of cultural genesis is largely unplanned, to later alter any major part of a system (the
authors focus on strategy) requires modifying other
parts to ensure compatibility and, thus, the effective
functioning of the whole. That means, in effect, that
Richard Sheridan’s shaping of Menlo’s culture from
scratch was far easier than the task faced by leaders of
established companies when they attempt to change existing cultures. O’Connor and Dornfeld usefully focus
on the latter task.
Changing an existing culture, particularly in a
large organization, is so hard because it’s analytically
difficult to pinpoint precisely how any one part of a system interacts with any other part. Further, some parts
can be devilishly hard to detect. For instance, the actual
values of an organization are often hidden from view;
therefore, it’s challenging to identify and measure them
(even if the organization posts a list of “Our Values” on
the lunchroom wall). Nonetheless, because people typically act in ways aimed at achieving what they value,
it is possible to infer the true values of an organization
by observing the behavior of its members. In practice,
then, cultural change can be the most daunting of all
social tasks, because it goes against what an organization’s members value. That’s why O’Connor and Dornfeld’s behavioral perspective is of practical use.

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they do” what is good for them, because, as the Circlers
assert, “We are the future.” In the end, the Circle develops a culture of arrogance in which those who disagree
with the brave new world that it is bent on creating are
dismissed as being on “the wrong side of history.”
Eggers’s characters are recognizable as people we
know, and those we know about by reputation. Mae
is Everywoman, typifying today’s inexperienced, overqualified young college grad desperate to find a good
job in a bad labor market. Her relatively uneducated,
craftsman ex-boyfriend is the voice of reason. He tells
Mae, “Like everything else you guys are pushing, it
sounds perfect, sounds progressive, but it carries with
it more control, more central tracking of everything we
do.” (Mae, in perfect character,
dismisses the warning as “antiquarian bullshit.”) And the troika
who founded the Circle are three
variations on the charismatic, visionary, self-confident, brilliant,
and obsessively single-minded
leaders found in abundance in the
tech world.
Yet the novel is not an antitechnology, antibusiness diatribe.
It is a premonitory tale about the
potential consequences of wellintentioned corporate cultures run
amok. Eggers calls attention to
the fine line between the compellingly powerful cultures found at
places like Menlo Innovations, on the one hand, and
the 21st-century equivalent of the corporate paternalism
that spawned company towns and captive workforces a
century or so ago, on the other. Although fictional, The
Circle is the best business book of the year about corporate culture because it raises ethical and philosophical
questions that are not, and cannot safely be, raised in
many companies—and not just high-tech ones. +
Reprint No. 00290

James O’Toole
is a longtime contributing editor to s+b and a senior fellow
in business ethics at Santa Clara University’s Markkula
Center for Applied Ethics. He is the author of 17 books,
including Leading Change: The Argument for Values-Based
Leadership (Ballantine Books, 1996).

best books 2014 culture

frightening prospect of the loss of freedom, democracy,
and ethical judgment inherent in the privacy-invading
technology emerging in Silicon Valley, but there have
been fewer comments about the equally terrifying corporate culture that Eggers realistically limns.
If the Circle were a real company, it would sit atop
Fortune’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For
with its platinum medical insurance, free gourmet
lunches, health club, laundry service, pet sitting, luxury commuter buses, and the Menlo-like opportunity
to be creative and learn on company time. The purpose of these perks is, of course, to encourage employees to spend more time working productively, and less
time managing their personal lives, wasting time with
friends and family, and, presumably, reading long novels like The
Circle. But the fictional company
doesn’t stop there. It elevates these
goodies to the next level, satisfying
not only employee needs, but also
their wants, with first-class live
entertainment, boozy parties, oncampus housing (with opportunities for sex), social clubs, a sense
of community and social purpose,
and even, dare I say, a dollop of joy.
Almost everything the Circle
does is, on its face, positive for
employees, customers, and society.
Thus, the novel’s protagonist, Mae
Holland, initially finds the company campus and her new job exhilarating: “The company had so much going on, so much humanity and
good feeling, and was pioneering on all fronts.” When
she discovers her father is suffering from a life-threatening disease not covered by his health insurance, the Circle generously adds him to Mae’s company plan. The
catch, naturally, is that Mae becomes locked into the
company, in effect signing a social contract in which
she gets all, in exchange for giving all—ultimately giving up her freedom, humanity, and individualism. Over
the novel’s fast-paced 491 pages, Mae is gradually transformed from a loving, idealistic young woman into an
unquestioningly loyal “true believer” willing to betray
friends and lovers in order to advance the Circle’s goal
of taming “the chaos of an orderless world.”
As in Plato’s Republic, creating such a well-ordered
organization ultimately requires its members to abandon their freedom to Guardians who “know better than


B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / I N N O VAT I O N

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee,
The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies (W.W. Norton, 2014)

Alex Pentland, Social Physics: How Good
Ideas Spread—The Lessons from a New
Science (Penguin Press, 2014)

for a slideshow of our picks for
the Best Business Books of 2014
in seven categories.

Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg,
with Alan Eagle, How Google Works
(Business Plus, 2014)

best books 2014 innovation

if innovation is the answer, the obvious next question is
how to innovate.
This year’s three best business books on innovation offer answers to this crucial query in intriguing and
insightful, if sometimes indirect, ways. In The Second
Machine Age, economist Erik Brynjolfsson and information technologist Andrew McAfee suggest that smart
machines are not only the products of innovation, but
also essential enablers of innovation prowess. In Social
Physics, MIT data scientist Alex Pentland offers a datadriven and eye-opening inquiry into the flow of ideas
among people. And in How Google Works, high-level
company insiders Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, with Alan Eagle, take us down to where the rubber meets the road.


the Skids of
by David K. Hurst

THESE DAYS, IT SEEMS as though every business challenge has the same solution: innovation. Innovation is
the watchword for generating fast growth in the very
slow recovery from the Great Recession, and, thanks
largely to Clayton Christensen’s concept of disruptive
innovation, it’s the narrative center of gravity in Silicon
Valley and the rest of the global tech community. But

In The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of the MIT Center for
Digital Business contend that we have entered an era
during which machines will extend our mental powers in the same way that they’ve already extended our
physical might. The authors point to Google’s driverless
cars and Apple’s Siri as the early examples of what will
soon be a flood of smart machines. The authors don’t
map the exact channels that this flood will follow, but
by showing how digital capabilities have become ever
more sophisticated (and will continue to gain in sophistication in the future), they make a compelling case that
smart machines will shift and blur the line between the
human and digital domains. Routine tasks both manual
and cognitive that were heretofore reserved for humans
will increasingly become digitized.
Brynjolfsson and McAfee are convinced that the
overall effect of smart digital technologies will be profoundly beneficial. They predict that the growth of

strategy+business issue

Innovation Cyborgs

B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / I N N O VAT I O N

research and offer prizes for innovation (like the kind
awarded by DARPA that played such an important role
in the development of driverless cars), adopt tax incentives to encourage employment, and radically reform
economic metrics such as GDP that fail to capture
much that is relevant to human well-being. They make
a strong case, but I’d be remiss if I neglected to note that
changing education curricula, financial incentives, and
economic metrics are often accompanied by unintended
consequences that are neither obvious nor benign.
Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s ultimate goal is the development of a “freestyle” civilization where people and
machines work together to become powerful hybrids.
As an example of such a hybrid, they cite chess, where
computers can now routinely beat
grandmasters, but grandmasters
working with machines can muster a combination of strategic acuity and tactical knowledge that is
more powerful still. If we translate this idea to the corporate arena, it suggests that in the future, a
company’s competitive advantage
will lie in the ability of its employees to sense and integrate while its
computers are busy scanning and

best books 2014 innovation

these technologies will yield an exponential increase
in the trajectory of human social development for the
foreseeable future. As digital technologies are combined
and recombined, abundance will replace scarcity as the
norm in economics, bringing greater choice and freedom. For instance, digital technology should help us
live more lightly on the planet than the machine technologies that preceded it.
Although it’s not a connection the authors make
directly, the diminished physical scale of digital technologies, in comparison with their mechanical and
human counterparts, is a major contributor to the authors’ principal concern for the future: the uneven distribution of the economic bounty that will accompany
the second machine age. Machine
technologies like the railroad and
the automobile changed the physical landscape, which in turn created a vast ecology of new blue-collar
and white-collar jobs. But the migration of work to computers will
probably result in significant job
losses. And if digital change occurs
faster than displaced workers can
acquire new skills, they may never
catch up.
Further, because of the winner-take-all nature of digital innovation (recall that when Facebook
acquired WhatsApp for US$19 billion, WhatsApp had only 55 employees), society could become highly polarized, with a
small group of well-paid digital knowledge workers on
one side, and on the other, a vast pool of low-paid service
workers performing the non-routine tasks that computers can’t yet do. Median wages could be very low,
indicating huge income disparities between the haves
and the have-nots (see “Economics: All Things Being
Unequal,” by Daniel Gross, page 91). These problems,
together with the multiple significant changes in policy
and practice required to address them, could place an
enormous burden on governments.
The authors offer some recommendations for sidestepping these problems and prospering in the second
machine age. They say that the focus of educational institutions and students should shift from rote learning
to “the skills of ideation, broad-frame pattern recognition, and complex communication”—which machines
can’t deliver, as yet. Governments should support basic

Toward a Torrent of Ideas

Social Physics: How Good Ideas
Spread—The Lessons from a New
Science, by Alex “Sandy” Pentland, director of MIT’s
Human Dynamics laboratory, offers a glimpse into the
kinds of insights that the smart machines described in
The Second Machine Age can help us surface. Pentland
is a pioneer in social physics, a new science that uses big
data and digital technologies to identify patterns and
predict outcomes in social interactions. For instance,
Pentland has developed an astonishing ability to predict
the performance of teams in different situations based
entirely on their nonverbal behavior and without knowing anything about the content of their conversations.
Although much of his work has been done with
small groups, in Social Physics, Pentland scales up his
findings to describe the dynamics of social learning
and idea flow among people in large companies, cities,
and society as a whole. He explains that social learning
within a group—which includes the group’s ability to
innovate—takes place when people adopt new strategies


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pends on having a steady and wide-reaching flow of
data. Pentland is cognizant of the privacy issues that
this might entail and proposes a “new deal” on data in
which individuals own their personal data, have full
control over its use, and have the right to dispose of or
distribute it as they see fit. As we’re seeing, however, this
scenario is far easier described than done.
The patterns of interaction described in Social
Physics also raise implications for executives who want
to enhance the level of creativity and innovation in their
companies. For example, instead of the current focus
on employee cohesion, motivation, and satisfaction as
drivers of idea flow, the book suggests that companies
should provide employees with a wide diversity of exploratory experiences, coupled with periods of egalitarian engagement. Instead of the current emphasis on individuals and the content of communication, it suggests
that companies should elevate their focus to groups and
the modes of communication. And instead of using
conventional organization charts, it suggests that companies should map idea flows.
Sandy Pentland’s Social Physics, with its emphasis
on hard data, its view of organizations as dynamic processes, and the questions it raises about the entities on
which organizations should focus—teams rather than
individuals—is my choice for best business book of the
year on innovation.
As Google Does

In How Google Works, Eric Schmidt and Jonathan
Rosenberg, with the help of Google’s director of executive communications, Alan Eagle, take the reader on
a guided tour through the inner workings of the tech
giant. Schmidt and Rosenberg joined the company, as
CEO and product senior vice president, respectively, in
the early 2000s, after the venture capitalists who funded
its initial growth realized that some “adult supervision”
was in order.
The veteran IT executives quickly discovered the
aversion of founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page to traditional management approaches, including the stagegate process for managing new projects. In the Google
Boys’ view, it slowed innovation down too much, constricting people in the process.
“Just talk to the engineers,” suggested Brin and
Page. When Schmidt and Rosenberg did, they discovered that Google was staffed with “smart creatives”—
digital knowledge workers who had deep technical
know-how, broad management expertise, and business

strategy+business issue

best books 2014 innovation

or acquire new beliefs through experience or observation. The critical determinant of social learning is idea
flow—that is, the way in which ideas spread through
the group. Pentland likens this to water: The idea flow
within a group can be swift and clear or can take the
form of a terrifying whirlpool or a stagnant pond.
The dynamic that drives idea flow is a continuous
cycle of exploration and engagement. Exploration is the
process of gathering ideas through exposure to a wide
variety of experiences and ideas; engagement, which requires interaction and cooperation, is the sifting of those
ideas and the conversion of those selected into action.
Pentland and his collaborators figured out how
to detect ideas that are converted to action using electronic sociometric instruments. Briefly, the instruments
measure energy, engagement, and exploration levels
in groups, along with individual energy, extroversion,
and empathy through body language. The researchers
then couple that data with more conventional sources—such as surveys, purchasing records, and social network data. The result is a comprehensive view of social
interaction patterns.
As social physics reveals more patterns, Pentland is
most interested in applying them to cities. He’d like to
see the creation of mobile sensing networks whose “eyes
and ears” would be digital networks of wireless devices,
such as mobile phones. These would be the basis, explains the author, of a “control framework: one that first
senses the system; then combines these observations
with models of demand and dynamic reaction; and finally uses the resulting predictions to tune the systems
to match the demands being made on them.” Such a
framework would help us understand and improve the
rhythms of urban life, and quicken the pulse of exploration and engagement that is the signature of a vibrant,
innovative community. In this regard, Pentland’s views
on city design are supportive of those of urban activist Jane Jacobs, who fought the expressways and massive
urban renewal projects of the mid-20th century, arguing that they destroyed communities and social capital.
Pentland envisions a future in which the science of
social physics is used to design more human-centric cities. With the help of digital technology, he believes that
urban design can be based on analysis at the individual
level rather than averages and stereotypes. This will enable us to move beyond social classes to peer groups and
beyond markets to exchange networks, where enhanced
trust creates greater fairness and stability.
Of course, a mobile sensing nervous system de-

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good people, setting off a virtuous circle.
The big question for readers of this book is how
transferable the Google experience is to their own company. It’s one thing to sustain a generative culture as a
company grows, but, as the authors acknowledge, it’s
much more difficult to revitalize a stagnant culture.
Here their advice is brief and somewhat familiar: Find
the smart people, understand how the existing culture
is creating problems, encourage openness and difficult
questions, and try to find something in the organization’s
original culture that can take you where you want to go.
A closely related question is how sustainable
Google’s culture of innovation is within Google itself.
The authors clearly think that it is sustainable. But the
histories of many innovation-driven companies that came before
Google suggest that there is no
sure inoculation against organizational sclerosis. Nonetheless, How
Google Works should be read as
an excellent case study in practical
applications of some of the principles of social interaction described
in Social Physics (note: the authors
do not mention Pentland’s work).
All three of this year’s best
business books on innovation
point to digitization as the key enabler of progress at every level of
society, and their authors evince
an infectious optimism in this regard. But they also rightly acknowledge that digitization
brings with it serious concerns: job losses and widening
disparities in income, to say nothing of central issues
involving trust and power that loom larger still. That
is the other side of the coin—the possibility that digitization could produce a stultifying Taylorism ruled by
George Orwell’s Big Brother.
Surely the end result of digital innovation will fall
somewhere between a digital utopia and a dystopia.
The 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant
probably had it right when he wrote: “Out of the crooked
timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” +
Reprint No. 00291

David K. Hurst
is a contributing editor of s+b and the author of several
books, most recently The New Ecology of Leadership:
Business Mastery in a Chaotic World (Columbia Business
School Publishing, 2012).

best books 2014 innovation

savvy. Realizing that imposing conventional control
systems on such employees could be counterproductive,
the newly hired execs decided to rethink their approach
to management.
For one thing, they decided to manage the context
for innovation rather than the content of innovation.
“If you can’t tell someone how to think,” explain the
authors, “then you have to learn to manage the environment where they think. And make it a place where they
want to come every day.”
This meant that the design and management of
Google’s culture became a top priority for Schmidt and
Rosenberg, as did the design of the facilities (“boisterous, crowded offices, brimming with hectic energy”).
They purposely maintained wide
spans of control and organized
the company around the people
who had the highest impact on
the organization (as measured by
“performance and passion”), with
the corporation retaining a simple,
functional structure.
The idea is not to create a
so-called star system, but a management system built around an
ensemble. Reorganizations are undertaken often—with the participation of the employees being reorganized—and executed quickly
in order to minimize disruption
and uncertainty. And teams are
purposely kept small; the authors say that they hew to
Jeff Bezos’s “two-pizza rule” (a team should never be so
large that it cannot be fed by two pizzas). Realizing that
plans were bound to change often in an industry driven
by fast-paced innovation, Google also adopted the VCs’
maxim to “invest in the team, not in the plan.” Using
Pentland’s terms, one might say that the company seeks
to promote social learning and idea flow by maintaining
a constant pulse of exploration and engagement.
Unsurprisingly, in a company where talent drives
innovation, Schmidt and Rosenberg tell us that hiring
is an essential process at Google. They describe hiring
as an egalitarian, peer-based activity that is tasked with
an unabashedly elitist goal: Find the very best people
and never let urgency compromise quality. Brilliant
generalists—Rhodes scholars come in for special mention—are Google’s prime target. And the company
subscribes to the view that hiring good people attracts


B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / S U S TA I N A B I L I T Y

Mark Moody-Stuart, Responsible
Leadership: Lessons from the Front
Line of Sustainability and Ethics
(Greenleaf, 2014)

John Hope Bryant, How the Poor Can
Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to
the Middle Class (Berrett-Koehler, 2014)

for a slideshow of
our picks for the
Best Business
Books of 2014 in
seven categories.

Andrew S. Winston, The Big Pivot:
Radically Practical Strategies for a
Hotter, Scarcer, and More Open World
(Harvard Business Review Press, 2014)

Bottom Line
by John Elkington

lyrical about paradigm shifts but fail
to grasp the dizzying, gut-wrenching impact of the
transitions that Thomas Kuhn had in mind when he
popularized the term in the 1960s. He was probing
the sort of scientific revolutions that change the way
people see the world, such as the shift from Newtonian
certainty to Einsteinian relativism. Today’s business
leaders face a similar paradigm shift: from a market
reality shaped by economic demand to one shaped by
the collision of expanding human numbers and shrinkMANY OF US WAX

ing planetary limits.
The new reality involves a higher order of risk than
most business leaders are used to. Whatever their PR
folk say, corporate leaders recognize that they and their
staff are human and fallible. They accept minor tactical missteps, and even a few major strategic blunders, as
a fact of business life. But the risk associated with sustainability is systemic. The old paradigm of business as
usual doesn’t change, but now it threatens to overrun
the ecological systems that make civilized life possible.
Many books have been written about sustainable
business. (By this, I mean the broad definition of sustainable business that encompasses environmental, social, and financial responsibility—the “triple bottom
line” that I’ve spent so much of my career exploring.)
By way of solutions, the authors of these books propose
the adoption of new rhetoric, promoting citizenship, responsibility, and organizational change. But proposals

strategy+business issue

best books 2014 sustainability

B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / S U S TA I N A B I L I T Y

are only the first step. Few companies have taken the
next step—concrete action for making the transition to
the new paradigm. This distinction, between rhetoric
and action, shaped my choices as I confronted the task
of identifying the best business books published on this
topic in the past 12 months.
Happily, I found a number of books offering practical takes on how to drive the transformative changes
needed to build sustainable businesses. More than a few
of them are based on the real-world experiences of corporate leaders who are pioneering new forms of value
creation. Unhappily, my brief requires me to home in
on only the best of the crop.
Lessons for Leaders

best books 2014 sustainability

Few companies have been through
the sustainability wringer to quite
the same degree as Royal Dutch/
Shell. According to Mark MoodyStuart, Shell’s annus horribilis
came in 1995, in the middle of his
decade-long tenure as managing
director, when the company was
hit hard on two fronts. These were
the Brent Spar oil platform controversy in Europe and the outrage
that followed Nigeria’s execution of
environmental activist Ken SaroWiwa and his colleagues.
Moody-Stuart’s Responsible
Leadership: Lessons from the Front
Line of Sustainability and Ethics, which he bills as “part
memoir, part confessional, part manifesto for leadership,” provides a detailed view of these events and much
more. It draws mainly on the author’s 40-year career
at Shell. Moody-Stuart grew up in Antigua, where his
family had lived since the 17th century and was instrumental in the development of the island’s sugar industry. He joined Shell in 1966 after earning his doctorate
in geology at Cambridge, and worked for the company
in 10 countries on his journey to becoming its managing director and chairman—posts he held until 2001.
The book, which bears my endorsement on its dust
jacket, provides candid accounts of Moody-Stuart’s
dealings with prime ministers and dictators, colleagues
and competitors, and investors and NGOs. This is an
insider’s view of the machinations within organizations
as disparate as Shell and the United Nations, and it engages hot-button issues, such as top team remuneration,

human rights abuses, and corruption, head-on.
But Moody-Stuart delays his account of how he
awoke to the corporate sustainability agenda until the
book’s biographical coda. The key moment was when
he first became chairman of a public company, the Shell
refining company in Port Dickson, Malaysia, and attended his first shareholder meeting—the company
was listed on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange. This
is when he fully recognized his responsibility to the
thousands of people who had invested their savings
in the company he led. What is most striking about
Moody-Stuart is how this newfound sense of responsibility to shareholders continually expanded until it encompassed all of the stakeholders in a business, producing one of the wisest leaders I have
ever come across.
The themes of trust and inclusion ring through the book—
not just as values to be adopted,
but as core leadership attributes
to be developed and exercised.
Moody-Stuart calls on business
leaders to “take off the ‘corporate
hat’ and put on the ‘citizen hat.’”
This ability is key to building the
trust needed to successfully manage the kind of coordinated action
necessary in addressing global issues. Although the book is not a
detailed primer on how to work
for the common good, it contains
many forceful recommendations, with the weight of
experience behind them. For example, the best way to
build the trust needed for cooperation with the not-forprofits of civil society is exceptional transparency. The
author tells us that he and Royal Dutch/Shell learned
that lesson the hard way in 1995.
Moody-Stuart extends the need for transparency
and inclusion into his views on regulation. “Business
people should support sensible regulatory frameworks
instead of instinctively arguing against all forms of
regulation,” he says, adding that even though business
should be involved in framing sensible legislation, “to
prevent special pleading it is advisable to have input
from other business sectors as well as civil society.”
Trust and inclusion are also essential to dealing
with climate change, a critical issue that emerged during Moody-Stuart’s tenure at Shell and one that is covered in a key chapter in the book. The gist of the former


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mate Coalition, an industry-supported group with
the express aim of lobbying against any action on climate change. And both companies did resign, because
“NGOs regarded such membership as hypocritical and
criticised both Shell and BP.”
Many activists argue that such discussions among
senior corporate leaders usually end up in collusion
to protect the unsustainable status quo. But in a time
when sustainable solutions often require broad-based
cooperation, we should encourage those discussions because they also can ensure that the leaders mired in the
established paradigm do not drown out those who see
the need for change.
Beating Poverty by Bootstrapping

Whereas Moody-Stuart’s social consciousness was rooted in a sense of noblesse oblige, John Hope Bryant came
by his in poverty-stricken, gang-infested South Central
Los Angeles. As Bryant explains in How the Poor Can
Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class,
that was where he saw how major institutions abandon
the poor, after his father—a concrete contractor—lost
his tenuous position in the middle class and his family
imploded. Bryant knows firsthand how capital, in the
form of business loans, mortgages, and financial investment, can vanish from ailing communities.
What is striking about Bryant is the degree to which
he has been able to transcend, both in his own life story
and in his work, what he characterizes as a modern form
of slavery. “To not understand the language of money
today is to be an economic slave,” he says, and the path
out of that slavery is knowledge about finance and business. He is a successful,
self-made businessman
and CEO of Operation
HOPE, a nonprofit that
he founded in 1992 in
the aftermath of the riots following the Rodney
King trial in Los Angeles. Since then, Operation HOPE has directed
more than US$1.5 billion in capital to low-wealth communities in the United States. (See Jeremy Rifkin’s The
Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the
Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism
[Palgrave-Macmillan, 2014], another top contender this
year, for more on the growing role of organizations such
as Operation HOPE in the new paradigm.)

“To not understand the language
of money today is to be an economic
slave,” says Operation HOPE CEO
John Hope Bryant.
days before the Deepwater Horizon disaster. (For more
on Browne and BP, and insight into responsible leadership at the middle management level, see Christine
Bader’s The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When
Girl Meets Oil [Bibliomotion, 2014], a fine book that
just missed my final cut.) For example, Moody-Stuart
and Browne discussed resigning from the Global Cli-

strategy+business issue

best books 2014 sustainability

oilman’s argument is that whereas business, government, and consumers have all been prone to blaming
each other, the situation now calls for a “three-cornered
approach” that enlists all three in the achievement of
low-carbon outcomes. For such an approach to work,
argues Moody-Stuart, two conditions must be met:
First, the solutions—alternative transportation and energy—that business espouses must provide consumers
with levels of utility and cost that are similar to those
of conventional solutions. The author believes this will
translate to “significant investment in public transport,
particularly urban public transport, and work on lowcarbon vehicles.”
Second, a “broad regulatory framework driving efficiency…as well as a framework to establish carbon cap
and trade schemes” will be needed that, in essence, place
the onus for action on business. “This is a case where
the market on its own will not deliver solutions,” argues
Moody-Stuart, eschewing price-driven solutions—such
as gasoline taxes—for their unintended side effects. The
framework he proposes would include “building regulations, transport efficiency standards, industry-sector efficiency standards, and so on.”
Almost as an afterthought, the author adds a third
condition: “that the creativity of the market is necessary to find solutions, to provide choice, and to guide
the allocation of resources.” He does not elaborate on
this condition, but clearly he has faith that business can
deliver on it.
There’s an interesting footnote in this chapter:
Moody-Stuart says that he often discussed environmental issues with John Browne, then CEO of BP—in the

B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / S U S TA I N A B I L I T Y

Bryant is confident—perhaps overly confident—in
his solution to poverty: “People seem genuinely confused about how the poor get out of this mess. I am
not.” But his argument is compelling: If poor people are
provided with the right tools, policies, and inspiration,
they will lift themselves up—becoming tomorrow’s
middle class and “a new generation of customers and
entrepreneurs” who will boost the entire economy.

United States, issues of money and good decision making are often wrapped up and mixed up with issues of
individual self-esteem and confidence, community culture and belief systems, values, and, quite frankly, emotional and psychological depression.”
Bryant stresses that he is building on the work of
C.K. Prahalad and Muhammad Yunus, and that even
though his focus is on U.S. poverty, his approach is applicable in other nations. Indeed, Operation HOPE already has begun to expand
its purview internationally—in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and the
United Arab Emirates.
How the Poor Can Save
Capitalism is not the kind
of deep inquiry into the dynamics of capitalism that Thomas Piketty gave us this
year (see “Economics: All Things Being Unequal,” by
Daniel Gross, page 91), but it is an inspirational and
invigorating book about achieving paradigm change
by “reimagining the poor,” understanding the critical
difference between good and bad selfishness, and embracing the power of bottom-up solutions. The key to
driving change, says Bryant, is to give people a more
tangible sense of opportunity.

Sustainability can no longer be
treated as a “side department or
a niche conversation” within a
business, writes Andrew Winston.

best books 2014 sustainability

Toward this end, Operation HOPE is undertaking
Project 5117, a program that underscores the importance of ambition and of stretch goals when leaders decide to play into the new paradigm. The project’s goals
are fourfold.
First, by 2020, it aims to raise the financial literacy
of 5 million young people across the U.S. using “financial dignity” education programs that have already been
taught successfully in 3,500 schools across the country.
These are classes that teach basic consumer financial
literacy—such as “what’s an interest rate?”—content
that Bryant notes is woefully lacking in schools in poor
Second, it intends to help 1 million of these students become future entrepreneurs and local job creators through “HOPE Business in a Box Academies”—
a program sponsored by Gallup that first challenges
students to plan a business startup costing under $500
and then finances the best plans.
Third, it aims to provide financially underserved
families with access to banking: HOPE Inside will establish 1,000 “bottom-up” branch banks across the
country and certify 5,000 additional banking locations.
Fourth, it intends to increase the credit scores
of people in communities with average scores between 500 and 550 to a bankable level of 700, largely
through credit counseling.
Although Bryant’s focus is change through financial bootstrapping of the poor, the working class, and
the “teetering middle class,” he insists that this is “not
just about money and not having enough of it. In the

A Seismic Shift in Mind-Set

Opportunity is also the driving force in the year’s best
business book in this category, The Big Pivot: Radically Practical Strategies for a Hotter, Scarcer, and More
Open World, another title for which I provided an endorsement. In it, Andrew S. Winston, a consultant and
sustainability advisor to corporations, including PwC,
describes the opportunities inherent in the “three mega
challenges that we now must face: (1) climate change,
(2) resource constraints and rising commodity prices,
and (3) technology-driven demands for more transparency.” (This magazine, strategy+business, is published
by PwC Strategy& Inc., a member of the PwC network
of firms.)
To capture these opportunities, Winston says, leaders first must elevate sustainability as a strategic priority.
It can no longer be treated as a “side department or a
niche conversation” within a business, he writes. “We
must pivot—sometimes painfully, always purposefully—so that solving the world’s biggest challenges profitably becomes the core pursuit of business.” This pivot


B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / S U S TA I N A B I L I T Y

tainable goals, collaborate with all stakeholders, and
enlist customers in the cause. Coca-Cola has partnered
with Pepsi and other competitors to invest in and speed
the switchover from compressors that use hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants to ones that use carbon dioxide refrigerants, which are much more climate friendly in this
Finally, to create resilient companies, Winston follows in the footsteps of Nassim Nicholas Taleb and recommends diversification, built-in redundancy and buffers, fast feedback, and rebalancing of risk. For example,
oil refiner Valero installed energy meters and real-time
monitoring devices to ensure optimal tank temperatures and pressures. Energy cost savings: $120 million
in the first year.
Winston concludes with a
question that he was asked by a
client: “So, should we make the
Big Pivot because it’s profitable,
or because we’ll sleep better, or
because we’ll ensure a better future for all?” His answer is, of
course, yes. But the challenge of
aligning environmental, social,
and financial responsibility is not
so glibly met. In fact, it’s the sort
of challenge that separates great
entrepreneurs and business leaders—the Edisons and Fords and
Jobses—from the rest of the herd.
This is the sort of challenge that
can open up immense new panoramas of opportunity
for those with the eyes to see, the nerve to dive in, and
the stamina to persevere. When the profits, the sleep,
and a better future are slow to come, these books show
how perseverance leads to a paradigm shift. +
Reprint No. 00292

John Elkington
is founding partner and executive chairman of Volans, a
corporate responsibility and sustainability consultancy.
He is the author or coauthor of 19 books, including The
Breakthrough Challenge: 10 Ways to Connect Today’s Profits with
Tomorrow’s Bottom Line (with Jochen Zeitz, Jossey-Bass,
2014). In 2013, Elkington was inducted into the Sustainability Hall of Fame by the International Society of Sustainability

strategy+business issue

best books 2014 sustainability

will require a transformation in perspective from the
traditional view of business, “which a solid majority of
Western executives still likely hold,” to a more evolved
“clean and green” view, and then to what Winston
calls Big Pivot principles “with which we can—and
must—sustain the success of our businesses, economy,
and species.”
To illustrate the distance between the conventional
strategic mind-set and the Big Pivot mind-set, Winston
runs through a laundry list of corporate “views.” For instance, the operational view of a company will have to
evolve from an internal “four walls” focus to a focus on
the entire value chain and then a systemic focus. The
corporate view of the sustainability function will need
to evolve from siloed to matrixed
to integrated. And when it comes
to reshaping the regulatory rules
of the game, the corporate view
will have to evolve from hostile
to defensive and finally to “guiding and leveraging.” Shades of
Of course, knowing is only
the first step in doing. To help
leaders put the Big Pivot mindset into action, Winston devotes
the bulk of the book to describing—and offering examples and
implementation advice on—10
strategies aimed at creating and
executing the vision, valuation,
partnerships, and resiliency needed by a sustainable
To rebuild the corporate vision, Winston says,
leaders must fight short-termism; set big, science-based
goals; and pursue “heretical” innovation—that is, ideas
that are disruptive enough to seem impossible. For instance, after realizing that the global apparel industry
uses an amount of water equivalent to the Mediterranean Sea every two years to dye clothing, Adidas sought
a waterless dyeing process, which it is now piloting.
To redefine valuation, leaders must change incentives and build engagement; reinvent ROI; and fully
account for natural resources. Consider Puma’s “environmental profit and loss statement,” which put a monetary cost on the natural resources used in its extended
value chain—and revealed that the total cost was equal
to about half of the company’s annual profit.
To reframe partnership, leaders must lobby for sus-

B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / E C O N O M I C S

Thomas Piketty, translated by Arthur
Goldhammer, Capital in the 21st Century
(Belknap Press, 2014)

Evan Osnos, Age of Ambition: Chasing
Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New
China (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014)

for a slideshow of our picks for
the Best Business Books of 2014
in seven categories.

Timothy F. Geithner, Stress Test:
Reflections on Financial Crises (Crown,

best books 2014 economics

with Dickensian poverty, income inequality is a prominent and often divisive debate.
Among the dozens of books on economics that
have crossed my desk in recent months, three in particular have helped illuminate the nature and impact—
and resilience—of inequality in our world. One, far and
away the best and most important book on economics
of the year, is an academic tome on the progression, regression, and rebirth of inequality in Western Europe
and the United States. One is a journalistic narrative
that takes us deep into modern China, where rampant
growth is simultaneously lifting millions from poverty
and spawning unprecedented inequality. And one is a
memoir of the feverish crisis years in the United States’
financial system, which inadvertently explains how the
financial industry was able to reconstitute its fortunes so
rapidly after the epic debacle of 2008.
Rentiers Redux

All Things
by Daniel Gross

rhetoric of inequality
have been inescapable over the past year. Not since the
Gilded Age have we had such vigorous debates over the
concentration of wealth and the gap between the rich
and the poor. And not just in the United States. In
China, where new fortunes are minted daily; in Europe,
where social nets are fraying amid economic crises; and
in India, where a gleaming technology industry coexists


Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, the best
business book on economics of the year, is also perhaps
the most discussed and least read book of 2014. Data
collected by Amazon via its Kindle suggested that most
readers who bought the bestseller didn’t get much past
page 26 of the 577-page (before notes) volume.
On a nine-hour flight, during which I had little
else to occupy me than this 42-ounce brick of a book,
I managed to get through the whole thing. And it turns
out the book everybody was blogging and tweeting
about was quite different from the one I read. Capital in
the 21st Century is not about the 21st-century U.S. or the
hoodie-wearing boy titans of Silicon Valley. It is, in large
measure, a book about the vast, powerful forces that
have made and broken fortunes in Europe—and then
made them again. Because of its focus, which is at once
sweeping and limited, I found it to be more interesting
and useful as an introductory textbook on the basics
of macroeconomics, a primer on 20th-century European


best books 2014 economics

and U.S. history, and a brief diversion into the literature
of giants like Jane Austen (from which Piketty draws descriptions of how people lived and thought about wages,
capital, and investments) than as a prophecy.
Piketty, a French economics professor, illustrates
the dynamics of wealth, capital, and growth with a simple equation: R > G. “When the rate of return of capital
[R] exceeds the rate of growth of output and income
[G], as it did in the nineteenth century and seems quite
likely to do again in the twenty-first, capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on
which democratic societies are based,” he declares.
For much of human history, the global economy
barely grew. Between the year 0
and 1700, world output rose at
a trifling 0.1 percent compound
annual rate. The Industrial Revolution kicked up the growth rate
to 1.6 percent, which, says Piketty, is more rapid than many
people realize. This growth rate,
combined with low inflation and
stable prices, was very good news
for people who already had money. Inherited wealth snowballed.
It was this dynamic that helped
construct the grand boulevards
and opulent mansions in European cities that we now regard as
paragons of equality. Sweden in
the 19th century, writes Piketty, “was not the structurally egalitarian country that we sometimes imagine.” In
France in 1910, the top 1 percent had 60 percent of the
nation’s wealth, and the top 10 percent had 90 percent.
Fraternité et liberté, oui. Egalité, non.
Everything changed in the 20th century. As labor
organized, wages began to rise. The disintegration of
the colonial empires sapped the wealth of Britain and
France. World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, the
Great Depression and the accompanying hyperinflation, the rise of Nazism, and the unfathomable destruction of World War II literally destroyed much of the
world’s capital. And taxes went up.
“All rich countries, without exception, went into
the twentieth century from an equilibrium in which less
than a tenth of their national income was consumed by
taxes to a new equilibrium in which the figure rose to
between a third and a half,” Piketty writes. Although

the U.S. suffered less from the destruction of capital, he
notes, its progressive taxes were most aggressive. Confiscatory taxation of excessive incomes was a domestic
invention: The U.S. was the first country to try tax rates
above 70 percent on income—from 1919 to 1922—and
various surcharges brought the top rate to as high as 94
percent in 1944.
The biggest force for equality, however, turned out
to be inflation. In a series of very sharp insights, Piketty
describes how public debt (government deficits) builds
private wealth. Government bonds, paid for by the taxes
of the broad public, tend to become assets for the rich
people who own most of them. The flip side, of course,
is that rentiers can be utterly wiped out when inflation
rises sharply, which is what happened in Europe in the period from
the 1930s to the 1950s. In France,
says Piketty, “the enormous deficits of the Liberation were almost
immediately canceled out by inflation above 50 percent per year in
the four years 1945–1948.” (Germany, where prices rose 300-fold
between 1930 and 1950, “was the
country that, more than any other,
drowned its public debt in inflation
in the twentieth century.”) Thanks
in part to inflation, between 1914
and 1945, capital in Europe fell
from six or seven times national income to a mere two or three times.
The high growth of the period between the 1950s and
1980s further helped labor attract a decent and growing
share of income in developed countries.
But Piketty finds that those were mere interludes
before the inevitable regression to the mean. After
1980, the reconstruction of Europe having been completed, the high-growth era subsided, the world’s central banks killed off inflation, taxes on the rich were
cut, and markets soared. Fortunes reconstituted themselves. In France, for example, inheritance flows had
dropped from 24 percent of the economy in 1900 to a
low of 4 percent in 1950. But by 2000, they stood at 12
percent of the total economy. Rather than dissipating
over time—shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations, as the saying goes—inherited fortunes grew rapidly in the late 20th century. Piketty writes with disdain of Liliane Bettencourt, the heiress to the L’Oréal
fortune, “who never worked a day in her life, [but] saw

strategy+business issue

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B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / E C O N O M I C S

growth in per capita output exceeded 1.5 percent over a
lengthy period of time,” he writes.
It’s difficult to argue with Piketty’s long-run trends.
But I find his reading of history to be too fatalistic, especially as it relates to the short term. If the last 200 years
have taught us anything, it is that we should never discount the ability of discontinuities to pop up. Shocks,
disruptions, wars, and new technologies have made
those who draw straight lines infinitely into the future
look like fools with great frequency. For example, there
has been no larger economic discontinuity in the past
30 years than China’s emergence as an economic power.
Another quibble with the year’s best business book
in this category is that Piketty generally underplays the
role of globalization in the rise of capital. Simply put,
rich people and the companies they own now have a
much broader world to work in. When domestic markets are growing slowly—at 2 or 3 percent—wealthy
rentiers have a far greater ability than, say, a small businessperson or a clerk to invest in, participate in, and
benefit from the rapid growth in places such as India,
Brazil, or, above all, China.
Some Get Rich

The greatest story of our era is China’s so-far successful
effort to become less unequal in comparison with other
economies in the world. In 1978, the average Chinese
income was $200, about one-tenth the world median
income. By 2014, it was $6,000, about half the world’s
median income. By bringing hundreds of millions
of its citizens up from subsistence poverty to a higher
standard of living, China is acting as a powerful force
against inequality between nations. But the country’s
soaring goals, captured lyrically in Evan Osnos’s Age
of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the
New China, are also spurring inequality within China.
Whereas Piketty relies on a combination of large
data sets and fictional characters to offer an overview of
global developments, Osnos, a New Yorker staff writer,
takes us inside the lives of ordinary—and extraordinary—Chinese people. Much of the media coverage of
China leads casual readers to see the country’s 1.3 billion inhabitants as an undifferentiated mass of commercially minded automatons: pragmatic and disciplined,
forgoing leisure for the sake of national development.
But Osnos introduces us to idealistic, stubborn individuals who are intent on making their mark in modern China. When Hu Shuli, the tiny, fearless founding
editor of muckraking business magazine Caijing, is

best books 2014 economics

her fortune grow exactly as fast as that of Bill Gates.”
A new wrinkle emerged that helped further tilt
the scales toward those at the top. In the 19th century,
Piketty explains, people who tried to work their way to
riches were chumps. They could never match the gains
of capital that already existed. But toward the end of the
20th century, “a stunning new phenomenon emerged…
the very top salaries, and especially the pay packages
awarded to the top executives of the largest companies
and financial firms, reached astonishing heights.” That
was in France.
The dynamic of what Piketty calls the “hypermeritocratic society”—a few people getting extremely
high salaries—was most pronounced in the United
States. Between 1977 and 2007, the richest 1 percent
alone vacuumed up 60 percent of the total increase of
the country’s national income, pushing inequality levels back to the pre-trust-busting days of 1910. In the
U.S., the 1 percent have been running away from the
10 percent, primarily because all-stars—top corporate
executives, hedge fund managers, athletes, and top performers in a range of other fields—are raking it in like
nobody’s business, in part because they determine their
own compensation. Some of those receiving outsized
salaries, Piketty notes with irony, are academic economists, who now think the system of “the United States
is working fairly well, and, in particular, that it rewards
talent and merit accurately and precisely.”
Happiest are those who get paid vast sums from
their labor each year, then convert it into capital by investing it. Think of a private equity partner who takes
his US$30 million annual payday and plows it into
seeding other hedge funds, buying art, and purchasing
real estate. Piketty notes, for example, that Bill Gates’s
wealth, which is managed by sharp professional investors, has grown just as fast since he stopped working
as it did before. “Entrepreneurs thus tend to turn into
rentiers, not only with the passing of generations, but
even within a single lifetime,” he says.
What can stop these forces from corroding social
and political relations? Piketty concludes that a very
modest form of confiscation—a global, progressive tax
on all forms of wealth—is the only way to rein in inequality while preserving entrepreneurial efforts. But
he concedes that “a global tax on capital is a utopian
idea.” And so he ends with a certain fatalism about the
ever-encroaching power of capital in what is sure to be
an age of slow growth. “There is no historical example
of a country at the world technological frontier whose


B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 14 / E C O N O M I C S

Concentrated at the Top.’”
Indeed, Age of Ambition seems to offer a testament to the universality of Piketty’s thesis. Growth in
China has been remarkably rapid. But the returns on
capital invested in China have risen even faster, creating the same sorts of gaping differentials in economic
circumstances that are evident in Europe and the United States. And to a degree, this is by design. “Let some
people get rich first,” Deng Xiaoping, the architect of
modern China, said.
New Testament Justice

Not even the financial crisis of 2008, which took a
healthy bite out of global capital, seemed to affect China
significantly. In fact, it didn’t even
put much of a crimp in the fortunes of the wealthy in the United
Historically, Piketty tells us,
financial crises have been great
levelers. Certainly, the 2008 crisis should have laid U.S. capital
low for a generation, much as the
Wall Street crash of 1929 and the
ensuing Great Depression did. But
thanks in part to a more robust
set of institutions (the FDIC, the
Federal Reserve) and the aggressive
solicitude of politicians of both
parties, the system swung into action to save capital from its selfinflicted wounds—a process that is on full display in
Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises, an engaging,
breezy, and perversely fun memoir from former Treasury secretary Tim Geithner.
Geithner is a creature of capital, even though he
never actually worked in finance. Well-meaning, personable, profane, and highly competent, he cut his teeth
at the Treasury Department during the global financial
scandals of the 1990s. As president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, he had both a responsibility to
ward off trouble and a front-row seat. Throughout, he
paints himself as a constant worrier about stability and
out-of-control capital.
As the Great Recession started, Geithner was reading Liaquat Ahamed’s Lords of Finance: The Bankers
Who Broke the World (Penguin Press, 2009), the magisterial history of the European and U.S. central bankers
who botched things horrifically in the 1920s and ’30s.

strategy+business issue 77

best books 2014 economics

pushed out of the magazine by the owner, who has tired
of her confrontational approach, she starts a new one.
Lin Zhengyi defected from Taiwan in 1979, eager to
participate in the rebirth of China, and became a wellknown economist. In 2008, he was named chief economist of the World Bank—the first professional from any
non-developed market to hold that high post. And then
there’s Tang Jie, a graduate student in Western philosophy, who made the highly nationalistic viral Internet
movie 2008 China Stand Up!
“China reminds me most of America at its own moment of transformation—the period that Mark Twain
and Charles Warner named the Gilded Age, when ‘every man has his dream, his pet scheme,’” Osnos writes.
And he vividly conveys China’s
shady hustling, earnest bustling,
and poignant efforts to make up
for its lost century—all being led
by an authoritarian regime whose
mixture of aggression, fear, selfconfidence, and inferiority led it to
tamp down all types of aspiration
not related to making money.
In today’s China, being on the
ground floor of any enterprise that
gains scale can make you very rich
indeed. Jack Ma, a former English
teacher who founded e-commerce
giant Alibaba, is now one of the
wealthiest people in the world, after his firm recently went public.
And yet, despite the rampant growth, Osnos finds that
opportunity in China is somehow constrained—by corruption, by a shortage of resources, by an overweening
state, and by a new Western import: inequality.
“The longer I lived in China, the more it seemed
that people had come to see the economic boom as a
train with a limited number of seats,” Osnos writes. By
2007, the top 10 percent of urban Chinese were earning 9.2 times as much as the bottom 10 percent. And
in 2010, a post charting out how many years it would
take a blue-collar worker to earn income sufficient to
buy a small apartment in Beijing (about 150) went viral. But public discussion of income inequality is verboten. Among the unintentionally hilarious text messages
Osnos receives from the Department of State Council
Information Office is this gem: “All websites are requested to remove immediately the article entitled, ‘In
China, 94% Unhappy with Wealth Disproportionately

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profitability, and the S&P 500 more than doubled, as
interest rates and inflation remained low. So the wealthy
recovered everything they had lost in the crisis and then
some. Meanwhile, median wages and housing prices remain far below their pre-crisis peaks.
According to Geithner, he and his colleagues did
their part to reform capital. When lobbyists for financial trade groups came to his office to complain about
the Dodd–Frank legislation, he resisted them. “‘My
team is beating back your proposals because they’re bad
for the country,’ I told them. ‘And we’re going to keep
doing it.’”
Geithner also reluctantly supported the Volcker
Rule, and small tax increases on higher incomes, which
took a bit of wind out of the finance industry’s sails.
But only a bit. In our world, the very rich get richer,
and they get richer faster than the merely rich. And
it’s not just because of the simple equation of R > G. As
Piketty notes, “Wealthy people are constantly coming
up with new and ever more sophisticated legal structures to house their fortunes.” What’s more, they’re
coming up with new and ever more sophisticated political structures to protect them—friendly government
officials of both parties, low tax regimes, and bailouts.
Geithner’s memoir proves instructive here as well.
Obama never had the fire in his belly to go after the
rich the way that Franklin Delano Roosevelt did. As
Geithner describes it, the administration only halfheartedly pursued the so-called Buffett Rule, which would
ensure that the very wealthy would pay an effective tax
rate of at least 30 percent. At several different points,
Obama had opportunities to undo the Bush-era tax
cuts, which favored the wealthy. But he never pressed
too hard. After eight years of the Obama administration, tax rates on carried interest, estates, high incomes,
and capital gains and dividends will all be lower than
they were during the Clinton administration.
Capital is doing quite well indeed in the 21st century—thanks to the natural advantages it enjoys, to be
sure. But it’s also doing well in part because of the substantial lift it has received from Communists in China
and from the United States’ most progressive president
in a half century. Très ironique. +
Reprint No. 00293

Daniel Gross
is a columnist for Slate and the Daily Beast. His most recent
book is Better, Stronger, Faster: The Myth of American Decline
and the Rise of a New Economy (Free Press, 2012).

best books 2014 economics

“But I had put it down after a few chapters. It was too
scary.” Ever the pragmatist, he rejected the “moral argument about justice, what I called the ‘Old Testament
view.’ The venal should be punished. The irresponsible shouldn’t be bailed out.” With regard to capital,
Geithner proved to be a distinctly New Testament kind
of guy. When a crisis is raging, he says, “the goal should
be to protect the innocent, even if some of the arsonists
escape their full measure of justice.” This trope appears
time and again in Stress Test, as if the two—justice and
a functioning system—are mutually exclusive.
In this insider account, full of showdowns with fellow administration members such as Rahm Emanuel
and Elizabeth Warren, Geithner argues, correctly, that
the bailouts and guarantees largely worked as intended.
The TARP money was returned, and a depression was
averted. But the innocent weren’t really protected, and
the arsonists were rewarded richly. Geithner never adequately explains the dichotomy. The Fed easily invented
new powers and instrumentalities to shore up the stock
market and financial system, where the rich have their
assets. But when it came to bailing out the housing market, which, um, houses the bulk of total wealth for most
middle-class people, there was a distinct lack of urgency
and effort. Old Testament justice for the homeowners;
New Testament justice for their bankers.
Among the dozens of crisis books, Geithner’s stands
out partly because it is well written (he was assisted by
Time veteran Michael Grunwald). But compared with
many of the other protagonists we’ve heard from—especially former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan—he
also proves himself to be more pragmatic, self-aware,
and self-deprecating. Far from projecting the Olympian calm of Greenspan or former Treasury secretary
Hank Paulson, Geithner is forever worrying, nervous,
and full of self-doubt. When he was about to assume his
role as president of the New York Fed in 2004, he tells
us, he got carded at a Manhattan convenience store. Of
his first speech as Treasury secretary, he writes, “It was
a bad speech, badly delivered, rattling confidence at a
bad time.” He provides equally frank descriptions of the
bunker behavior of his boss, President Barack Obama,
colleagues such as Emanuel and Larry Summers, and
frenemies such as former FDIC chair Sheila Bair.
Geithner also tells us that the bailouts succeeded in
part because they temporarily transformed huge private
obligations into public ones. This financial prestidigitation not only stopped the panic, but paved the way
for a recovery favorable to capital. Banks returned to



The Thought Leader Interview:
Zhang Ruimin
Haier’s chief executive built a winning global company by continually
reframing his management philosophy.

thought leader


ach year, the Academy of
Management recognizes one
of the world’s most influential chief executives by inviting that
person to keynote its annual meeting. When Zhang Ruimin gave the
address in 2013, it was a signal that
China had produced its first philosopher–CEO. Like Jack Welch and
A.G. Lafley, Zhang is recognized
not just for leading a high-performing and truly entrepreneurial global
business, but also for organizing
that company around a conceptual
framework that has guided its de-

velopment for years—in Haier’s
case, practically since its founding.
The Haier Group is the world’s fastest-growing appliance maker, and
the company with the largest market share in “white goods” worldwide—about 14 percent of a market
with at least seven other major competitors. It is also a world leader in
business innovation and one of the
largest non-state-owned enterprises
in China. That’s not bad for a company that was once in such desperate straits that the CEO had to borrow money to pay workers’ salaries,

and many of the products it was
selling needed to be repaired before
they could be used for the first time.
But Zhang has never accepted
limitations—including the definition of Haier as just a manufacturing firm—as permanent. Today, the
company is repositioning itself as a
provider of solutions to consumers’
problems, selling not just home
appliances (refrigerators, washers
and dryers, entertainment electronics, and air and water conditioners
are among its major lines) but also
services including water safety information and other guidance designed to improve the quality of life
for consumers in China and other
emerging economies. To maintain
that identity, Zhang has steadily initiated shifts in the company’s structure, moving consistently toward
participative management, decentralized decision making, and autonomous but accountable work
teams and platforms.
Haier’s prowess in business innovation has yielded a continuous
stream of products and services that
serve distinctive consumer needs.
For example, it makes large washing
machines for Pakistani robes, small
ones for Chinese delicates, and
durable ones with large hoses for

Photograph by Wang Zhao


this type of management to fruition,
even if people inside the company
(and, for that matter, everywhere
else) still feel uncertain about how to
implement it day-to-day.
Zhang Ruimin sat down with
strategy+business at Haier’s headquarters in Qingdao as part of a broader
inquiry into how companies compete with their distinctive capabilities (see “Haier’s Capabilities System,” page 101). The conversation,
which was conducted in Mandarin
and English through interpreters,
shows how the thinking of a gifted
CEO can lead a company to greater
innovation and global influence.
S+B: When we ask people to name
companies that consistently
succeed, year after year, through
their distinctive capabilities, Haier is
often mentioned. How have you
been able to do this?
ZHANG: Over time, some compa-

nies perform relatively better than
others. You could say these are outstanding enterprises, highly capable

and it’s extremely difficult to stay
abreast of them. Second, from an internal perspective, companies lose
their entrepreneurial spirit. As soon
as a company grows large, its employees learn to work in accordance
with the company’s rules. As regulations multiply and companies control their employees more tightly,
everyone becomes really good at following orders. Their sensitivity to
the market decreases accordingly.
The top leaders of any major
company are also susceptible to this
loss of entrepreneurial spirit. Jim
Collins and Jerry Porras wrote in
Built to Last: Successful Habits of
Visionary Companies [HarperCollins, 1994] that many great chief executives are “time tellers.” They create great products and services, but
their value lasts only as long as they
are personally present. Senior executives should be more like “clock
builders”: focused on making a great
company—a company where people
think as entrepreneurially as the
leaders do, even after those leaders

“An enterprise must evolve into a
system that stands on its own, and
does not depend on the whim and
fancy of its current leader.”
companies. But most of these companies today—and this includes
many big international firms—will
have an extremely hard time maintaining their outstanding position
At Haier, we have a saying:
“Successful companies move with
the times.” There are two reasons we
believe this. First, from an external
perspective, times change quickly

are gone. An enterprise must evolve
into a system that stands on its own,
and does not depend on the whim
and fancy of its current leader.
Lack of entrepreneurial spirit is
a major reason for the decreasing
competitiveness—and even the
eventual collapse—of big enterprises. It is an extremely difficult problem for Chinese companies in particular. In the past, business leaders

thought leader

washing vegetables on Chinese
farms. Its product line is also increasingly tailored to customer specifications, and its water purifiers
are designed to remove the specific
pollutants in each of 220,000 communities across China. (Haier jointly holds more than 20 water purification patents with Dow Chemical.)
Every appliance that Haier sells today is custom-crafted; each individual purchaser specifies colors and
features that are sent directly from
the Internet to the factory floor.
Zhang took the helm of Haier
in 1984, when he was 25. At that
time, it was a troubled company
partly owned by the city of Qingdao, one of China’s first enterprise
zones. Zhang was an assistant city
manager, instructed to find a managing director who could turn the
company around; he found no one
willing to tackle the job, so he took
it himself. He quickly educated
himself in business management,
and used his new insights to establish Haier as one of China’s preeminent producers of quality goods—
first for that country’s burgeoning
consumer population, and then for
the rest of the world.
As Haier becomes a platformbased business, every part of the organization has its own P&L, makes
autonomous decisions (including
which other parts of Haier to work
with), and can reach out independently to customers, potential employees, and collaborators. R&D
projects now often reach beyond
Haier’s walls to include academics,
independent designers, and even
competitors. Zhang sees this as a
natural evolution for all major
companies, particularly those focused on business innovation in the
Internet age. He is determined to
make Haier one of the first to bring


Art Kleiner
is editor-in-chief of

An Entrepreneurial Spirit
S+B: Haven’t you maintained an
entrepreneurial platform since the
company was founded?
ZHANG: Not to the extent we do to-

thought leader

day. To be sure, we have felt a sense
of urgency at Haier ever since we began to rebuild the company in 1984.
Haier’s previous incarnation
was an enterprise on the brink of
collapse. At that time, the overall
quality of the staff was extremely
low—the entire factory had only
about two college graduates. From
the start, we’ve felt like there was an
extremely large gap between us and
more established international companies, a gap we would have to overcome. The only way to survive was
to pursue a path of constant selfimprovement.

After we got on our feet and
started making money, we looked
up and noticed that many companies around us—some that performed even better than we did—
were shutting down. That just
reinforced our sense of urgency. We
saw that we weren’t facing just a
one- or two-day challenge. To survive and be competitive would always be a company-wide, long-term
challenge for us. That’s why we
have a culture of self-questioning.
Everyone is always challenging their
own ideas and continuously surpassing themselves.
In 1999, we ventured overseas,
opening factories in places like the

we have another saying: “When
looking for a chess partner, find a
S+B: What have you specifically
done to foster an entrepreneurial
spirit at Haier?
ZHANG: Most recently, we reorga-

nized. We used to have a pyramidstyle structure for our sales in China.
The people in charge of sales had to
manage business at the national,
provincial, and city level.
After the arrival of the Internet
age, we realized that under this triangular hierarchical structure, people had a difficult time adapting to
the requirements of the times. So we

“If a home appliance can’t
communicate with the Internet,
it shouldn’t exist.”
United States. At that time, we used
GE as our yardstick. It’s as if the industry were a boxing ring, and we
were some barely known upstart
taking on Mike Tyson. Of course,
by conventional standards, we didn’t
stand a chance. But in the company

reorganized ourselves as an entrepreneurial platform. We flattened everything out, taking out all the middle management. We decentralized
the structure to one with more than
2,800 counties. Each county organization has seven people or fewer.

strategy+business issue 77

in China would tell workers that
they should love the factory and treat
the company as they would their
home. That’s how the relationship
was framed. Today, a successful enterprise must be less of a home and
more of an entrepreneurial platform:
a base for pioneering work where
employees can realize their personal
value. This shift is difficult for many
workers to accept.

This transition has been extremely challenging. As part of this
change, in an instant, more than
4,000 employees who worked for
the company were unemployed.
[Many of them were quickly invited
to reapply, but this time for entrepreneurial positions where they
could build businesses under the
Haier brand.] We know of no other
Chinese company of our size that
has done this.
Cultivating Consumer Insight
S+B: How has Haier’s flattened
structure affected the people inside
the company?
ZHANG: Whenever you pursue re-

We involve customers in a similar way. In the past, users would hear
through advertising which Haier
products were good, then they’d go
buy those products. Now we bring
in users to participate in the whole
process of product development. It’s
not like in the past where we designed things behind closed doors.
For example, the Air Box [a smartphone-controlled intelligent device
introduced by Haier in 2014 for
monitoring and managing the climate inside a building by connecting to other heating, filtering, and
air conditioning devices] is the result
of a significant amount of user input. This guided us on issues like
whether the AC unit should be able
to test the cleanliness of the air and
be controlled intelligently. We then
brought in Samsung and Apple to
help us meet users’ requirements.
The resulting product is different
from those of the past. The Air Box
can control any company’s AC unit,
not just Haier products. This is
completely a result of interaction
and cooperation.
All of our products are integrated with the Internet. If a home appliance can’t communicate with the
Internet, it shouldn’t exist. And to
make that happen, we need to facili-

thought leader

form, there are always a significant
number of employees who are unhappy because you’ve begun messing with their interests. Some may
not be able to adapt, but if they leave
and go somewhere else, they may
not be able to find a decent job, so of
course they complain. This is a really difficult nut to crack. The only
thing we can do is provide employees with a level playing field, where
they can compete on an equal footing for opportunities within the
company. In reality, however, even
this isn’t good enough; many em-

ployees just don’t have the necessary
skills. So what do we do? This is an
issue we have yet to fully resolve.
Another major challenge has to
do with making the enterprise truly
borderless. We are using digital technology to connect everyone. In your
question, you said “inside the company,” but in fact, we believe that
there is no “inside” the company
versus “outside” anymore. As a Haier
executive, my goal is no longer to be
a maker of home appliances, but to
be an agent of interaction and networking among people who might
be anywhere. I want to turn the
company into an Internet-based
company, a company unrestricted
by borders. Whoever is capable,
come and work with us.
We now have a lot of entrepreneurs at Haier who don’t work inside the company. Some aren’t interested in joining, preferring to stay
outside in society, partner with the
company, and use our platform for
pioneering work. Those inside the
company are also free to leave at any
time, and still use the Haier platform for their work, though they
would no longer actually work for
the company. In the long run, there
won’t be any company employees to
speak of—only the Haier platform.


S+B: Why does building the company around platforms give Haier
an advantage?
ZHANG: The idea of the platform

thought leader

represents a stark contrast from how
we used to manage the enterprise in
the past. First, it should allow us to
bring in and integrate greater quantities of resources—all contributors
will be able to enter unhindered. Before, there were always borders and
barriers. Second, all who join the platform as a resource should see their
returns maximized. Before, maximizing the benefits for the company
took precedence. This limited us in
what we were able to accomplish.
Now that we operate in this
fashion, we at Haier are no longer
the ones directing things. We are the
glue binding everything together.
Being the glue is a difficult task; we
have to come up with myriad ways
of managing resources.
For example, we have an interactive platform devoted to solutions
for water quality and treatment. Instead of inventing everything we sell
in this domain ourselves, we are now
like a binding agent, incorporating
insights and efforts from water treatment companies around the globe, if
possible, into this one platform. We
also want to learn about and resolve
users’ needs through direct interaction with them. Our team tasked

with the water solution interactive
platform now has to do all of this.
S+B: How did you develop your high
level of customer insight?
ZHANG: Around 2010, we realized

that we had a lot of products for
which we had put forth great effort
in order to understand and meet the
demands of users—but which
seemed to be giving only half the returns for double the work. In the
Internet age, when people continually identify new needs and demands, the rapid evolution of user
preferences represents a huge source
of pressure. We had products we
thought were ready to go, flawlessly
researched and developed. When
they hit the market, however, results
were lackluster.
That got us thinking: How can
we make the transition from the past,
when we learned about users’ needs
via questionnaires and telephone
calls, to the present age, when we can
interact with users more directly?
So we put forward some new
concepts. For some appliances, we
designed a group of various modules
and invited users to select, for example, the colors and designs they
wanted. In one day, we sold more
than 10,000 television sets online.
This made us realize that our old
ways of thinking and conducting
business needed an overhaul.
Many employees, especially
those in management, had a hard
time accepting this approach. When
we started requiring that products
be developed in cooperation with

users participating in the front-end
design, employees felt like they
didn’t know how to go about it.
Some flatly refused, whereas others
were [passively] unwilling. As an entry point, we started with the Dizun
and Tianzun air conditioner series.
[These products include temperature precision, smartphone-based
controls, and, in the case of Tianzun, lights that change color with
the air quality in the room.]
In the beginning, we told our
employees in these groups that it
wasn’t a big deal if they failed, that
it was meant to be a process of trial
and error. The employees accomplished it successfully. As a result,
we now require that all products be
developed in this way, with users as
interactive partners. At that point,
we told all of our traditional advertising partners that we weren’t doing direct ads anymore. A lot of advertising firms were extremely
unhappy about this, complaining
that if we didn’t do ads they
wouldn’t be able to earn a living.
But it was far better to change, and
meet consumers directly online.
Differentiation through Ideas
S+B: How do you decide which
aspects of the company should be
open, with an entrepreneurial spirit,
and which elements—core elements
of the company’s identity—should
remain unchanged?
ZHANG: That’s an extremely diffi-

cult question, and we are still working out the answer. [We have decid-

strategy+business issue 77

tate a relationship of constant interaction with the appliance itself and
with our customers. [See “A Strategist’s Guide to the Internet of
Things,” by Frank Burkitt, page 50.]

ed] that many areas that were
previously closed off and untouchable now must be opened up. For
example, when dealing with patents
in the past, new technologies and
products were kept strictly confidential until the day when the new
products were unveiled. Nowadays,
we make users part of the R&D process. Even after the product is suc-

cessful, we go back for constant revisions, in which we also invite users
to participate, and competitors as
well. For example, in the research
and development of the Haier “cordless home appliance,” we invited industry competitors from across the
globe to participate.
This was very hard to adapt to
at first. It means we don’t keep abso-

Haier’s Capabilities System


aier is one of 12 companies that were studied closely in a Strategy&
research project on distinctive capabilities and coherence.

Value Proposition: Haier’s “way to play” in the market (its value proposition)
has gradually broadened since Zhang Ruimin became CEO in the mid-1980s.
The company first took the role of a category leader, maintaining top market
share because of its reputation for quality in China. Then it became a customizer (adapting its products to customer demands) and a solutions provider
(helping consumers manage issues like water quality and home design). Haier
now sells not just home appliances but related services, adapted to consumer
demand in China, and, increasingly, other markets. Haier delivers its way to
play by excelling at four differentiating capabilities.
excellence, geared
to produce
products at very low
cost through the
zero-defect, and
competition culture

Management of
local distribution
networks, a
capability honed in
China’s highly
decentralized value
chain, applied to
emerging markets
and other locales

production and
incorporating a
distribution system
and zero-inventory
logistics, allowing
immense variety at
minimal cost

Source: The Strategy& Capable Company research project; The Essential Advantage: How to Win with a CapabilitiesDriven Strategy, by Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi, Harvard Business Review Press, 2011

S+B: What do you see as the
primary differences between Haier
and other companies?
ZHANG: One of the biggest differ-

ences is our ability to remake and
overhaul ourselves. Many companies’ ways of thinking and operating
have ossified and become hard to
change, especially their organizational structures. At Chinese companies, it’s exceptionally hard to remove an executive who is not
performing well, especially if they’re
in the mid to high levels of management. At Haier, however, we can
make fast changes. We have responded to the changing environment by eliminating or adjusting
more than half of the vice-presidentlevel executive positions.
The main factor enabling this
difference is our culture. Those inside Haier, especially managers, understand that it’s crucial that we
adapt to the evolving needs of users
and the changing market environment. A few people who have gone
from Haier to work for other companies have written to me telling me
that the biggest difference between
Haier and their new company is
Haier’s transparent interpersonal relations. They say that this is unheard
of at other companies.

thought leader

innovation (called
“customer service
leadership” within
the company),
rapidly tailoring
products and,
services for local
and specific
customer needs—
most recently,
the needs of
China’s emerging
middle class

lute secrets like we did in the past.
One can only succeed, even temporarily, if all parties perceive they will
benefit. That wasn’t completely true
in the past; but this is how things
are today. [See “The Sharing Company,” by Robert Vaughan, page 8.]


thought leader

ternet age, the biggest difference between us and other companies was
our commitment to honesty. We
had an advertising slogan, “Forever
honest.” Users may have felt that
other companies weren’t paying
enough attention to some of their
needs, but that Haier was able to address those needs immediately. Especially in the area of after-sales services, there was a widespread feeling
among users that this was the biggest difference between Haier and
other companies. This has been an
important reason that Haier has
been able to grow so quickly and for
such an extended period of time.
Today, we hope that users enjoy
an outstanding experience from beginning to end. We’re still working
on this concept. Customers still
don’t feel that it’s anything extraordinarily special. We know they are
relatively happy with our distribution. We have a guarantee, for example, that if goods don’t arrive
within 24 hours in China, they are
free. No other company has been
bold enough to make this kind of
promise. On the same note, Haier is
the only producer of large appliances
that has been able to synchronize
delivery and installation. This is one
of the reasons for our cooperation
with [the e-commerce site] Alibaba.
These examples are all possible because of our back-end platforms. In
the front-end area of information
exchange, we still need to pick up
the pace.
S+B: You are known for personally
paying close attention to trends in
management theory. What theories
or ideas have most influenced the
direction you’re taking the company?

ZHANG: For me personally, the most

influential person in management
theory has been Peter Drucker. A lot
of what he said can be summarized
with two major focal points. First,
the only correct and effective way to
increase the value of a company is
the creation of customers. Second,
employees should not be implementers; they should be individuals able
to realize their value by making decisions. Throughout our company’s
history, roles have been organized
according to Drucker’s theories.
With the advent of the Internet
age, the people with the most influence on us have been American experts such as Chris Anderson with
his theories of the long tail and “maker” culture [related to digital fabrication], and Clay Shirky with his book
Here Comes Everybody: The Power of
Organizing without Organizations
[Penguin Press, 2008]. There have
been many ideas coming out of the
U.S. regarding the Internet that have
had a huge influence on our reforms.
We try to implant these concepts into everyone’s thinking. For
example, every Saturday, when we
hold our weekly management meeting, we disseminate these ideas and
encourage people to change how
they think about things. We also try
to put these concepts into practice.
To avoid big mistakes, we always
implement a small pilot test at first.
Only after the pilot has been shown
to be successful will we initiate
things on a larger scale.
S+B: In this context, how do you
think about the growth and development of your employees?
ZHANG: In the past, we had a large-

scale select-and-train approach to
recruiting employees, like many
Western companies. This cookiecutter method of training employees

led us to cultivate people who identified with the culture and whose
implementation abilities were incredibly strong—but who lacked
creativity. The recruits weren’t required to have any skill with innovation, which was a major problem.
Employees today should be encouraged to think for themselves.
They should be cultivated to have an
entrepreneurial, innovative spirit,
and not just to implement orders.
From now on, enterprises such as
Haier will be like ecosystems. You
might find yourself working together with a group of people you didn’t
know yesterday, and after tomorrow
you’ll all go your separate ways. People come together for specific projects, after which they disperse. It’s
become a very fluid, dynamic type
of arrangement.
S+B: Will this wave of innovation
take you as far as you need to go?
ZHANG: That’s the eternal question.

I’ll say just one simple thing: Never
follow only a single road. [In his
1939 book Business Cycles: A Theoretical, Historical, and Statistical
Analysis of the Capitalist Process
(McGraw-Hill)] Joseph Schumpeter
defined innovation as the reorganization of the factors of production.
You and your rivals have access to
virtually all the same resources. Only
by constantly thinking of new ways
to reorganize these factors can you
differentiate yourself. It’s like poker.
Everyone has the same number of
cards. It’s how you play your hand
that matters. +
Reprint No. 00296
strategy+business issue 77

S+B: What differences do customers
and users perceive?
ZHANG: Before we embraced the In-

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A consummate humanist and
pioneer of management thought
leadership has passed away.

The Security Risk in the
Cubicle Next Door
Your own employees may pose a bigger IT hazard than outside threats.

end page

or worms as more dangerous. But in
reality, a company’s own staff can be
even more vexing: Almost 60 percent
of security professionals pinpointed
employees as the most likely source
of accidental or intentional breaches.
The most essential bulwark
against cybercrime appears to be a
happy workforce, according to the
study. The interviews revealed two
factors that led employees to consciously betray their firms: the
knowledge that the proprietary information in a database could be
sold to competitors, or a desire to
exact revenge on the company for
some kind of perceived slight.
Draconian practices seeking to
limit employees’ Internet access can
often backfire if they sow bitterness.
Instead, managers at all levels should
appeal to their employees’ sense of
obligation to protect their organization’s resources—emphasizing that
other people may be harmed by their
mistake. Accordingly, the authors
advise, IT professionals should focus
on the idea of protecting “others”
rather than “the company.”
And IT experts can dampen
some of their employees’ interest
in financial gain by emphasizing
how coworkers, customers, and

employees’ own families could be
devastated by a security breach, with
consequences ranging from identity
theft to widespread job loss.
Whether employees stay on
their toes can also depend on their
leaders’ attitudes. When the managers responsible for security training
project an air that all is well, employees can be lulled into believing that
they no longer need to be vigilant.
Most important, the authors write,
IT professionals should communicate the “clear message that security
is everybody’s job.” +
Source: “Bridging the Divide: A

Qualitative Comparison of Information Security Thought Patterns between Information Security Professionals and Ordinary Organizational
Insiders,” by Clay Posey (University
of Alabama), Tom L. Roberts (Louisiana Tech University), Paul Benjamin Lowry (City University of Hong
Kong), and Ross T. Hightower (University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee),
Information & Management, July
2014, vol. 51, no. 5
s+b Recent Research Online
See more coverage of research papers at:

Illustration by Elwood Smith


s laptops, smartphones, and
Wi-Fi become more prevalent in the business world,
so do the risks that corporate and
customer data can be lost or stolen.
Analysts predict the information security sector will grow into a US$125
billion industry by 2015. But no
amount of data encryption or firewalls can guarantee that employees
won’t misbehave. A new study says
the human element is the most vital
line of defense against cybercrime.
First, companies must overcome
the significant difference of opinion
between IT experts and the managers
who make the routine decisions
about their firm’s information security. One of the starkest differences
revolves around the danger posed by
a firm’s own employees.
The authors conducted in-depth
interviews with frontline workers,
managers, and information security
professionals—CIOs and network
administrators—at large firms in a
variety of industries across the United States. Points of contention
quickly emerged. For example, 39
percent of managers cited hackers as
the biggest danger, whereas only 4
percent of security specialists agreed,
citing threats such as Trojans, viruses,

It’s what the CGMA designation stands for

Officially, it’s Chartered Global Management Accountant . Established
by AICPA and CIMA, two of the world’s most prestigious accounting
bodies, the CGMA designation represents accomplished
professionals who drive and deliver business success, worldwide.


Find out more at



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