Economic bubbles reflect irrational escalation but there is always an element of underlying rationality. This classic exercise, the Dollar Auction, is an ideal vehicle to emphasize how this can come about — even with actors who intend to be rational. With much fanfare, the instructor auctions off a dollar bill (a very crisp one to reflect a “rare” asset). The bill goes to the winner; however, the second-highest bidder also loses the amount that they bid. The game begins with one player bidding five cents (the min), hoping to make a ninety-five-cent profit. However, a ten cent bid would still yield a ninety-cent profit (if bidding stopped there). If the first bidder bids ninety five cents, and the second bidder bids one dollar (for no net gain or loss), the first bidder stands to lose ninety five cents unless she bids $1.05. In this way, bidding continues well beyond a dollar, usually until one player issues a preemptively high bid to signal intent to outbid at any cost. Only the auctioneer gets to profit in the end. While the incentive structure is idiosyncratic, one might debrief with a discussion of why they didn’t anticipate this problem when they started bidding? This fits broadly in discussions where escalation is a risk (decisions under uncertainty, M&A, technology investments, etc.). You may find that some students have seen this exercise previously. However, it only takes two uninformed bidders to create a bubble. Of course, the following classic bubble video is a good fit in the debrief (came out right before the real estate bubble)…
This is another in a series of reminders that individuals respond to perceptions even if they are inaccurate. The short video of the invisible rope prank might be followed by a discussion of how firms can influence the perceptions of their rivals, complementors, and/or customers. This is especially an issue in contexts where there is a great deal of uncertainty (entrepreneurship, technology, etc.). An earlier post presents a driving prank with a similar theme.
American Eagle Outfitters has shown strength among teens at a time when hipster Abercrombie & Fitch is struggling (see this WSJ article for details). The company credited their “Don’t Ask Why” collection in part for its 3% increase in revenue. They referred to the collection a cost-effective “testing lab” to spot trends. By experimenting with new fabrics, washes and styles, they believe they can gauge which styles are gaining favor and add them to the regular collection. American Eagle said the process was key to turning around the company’s tops business, which is now one of the best-performing segments. For example, one of the trends is to abandon the logo covered clothing that was popular in the 1990s. For class, this might make a discussion of dynamic capabilities much more tangible than the academic literature has so far achieved. How do they do it? Does this confer an advantage? If so, to what extent is it sustainable? Of course, this is also an opportunity to bring research into the classroom. For example, one might have students discuss whether this example looks more like Eisenhardt & Martin’s view or dynamic capabilities or those of Teece, Helfat, Peteraf, Winter or others (even Coff had something to say about this ;-).
What is the most significant thing that differentiates entrepreneurs from others? Somehow, in the face of overwhelming odds that they will fail, they still manage to push forward. Rejection, almost inevitable, doesn’t deter them. The rest of us kill inventive ideas before we even test them because we fear rejection. This NPR story explores a new form of therapy where rejection is turned into a game: how many times can you get rejected in a day? Could desensitizing people to failure create more entrepreneurs? This also has important implications for academics who typically face many rejections from journals for each manuscript that gets accepted. Without “rejection therapy,” they may avoid sending papers to journals because they are concerned that the work will be rejected. Like would be entrepreneurs, they kill ideas before they have had a chance to test the waters.
Dave Kryscynski has provided an excellent series of online videos to supplement your course or to help move portions of it online. These are very well produced and may allow you to spend class time on more experiential activities found elsewhere on this site. Below is the video on Porter’s generic strategies but I have provided links to all of the available videos below and listed others that you can gain access to through Wiley.
An emerging literature focuses on learning from failures — both in terms of entrepreneurship and strategy more broadly. For some recent examples, see studies by Ariño and de la Torre (1998), Eggers (2012), and Kim & Miner (2007). It might appear that learning from success should be taken for granted — the actor has done something well and will naturally repeat the behavior. However, in the complex world of strategic decision-making, causality and can be especially hard to determine. It turns out that failure tends to trigger more rigorous analysis of the causes (even if these analyses suffer from attribution biases). On balance, success may tend to trigger much less rigorous analysis (if any) that is even more biased in the attributions made. This WSJ article on a magician’s ability to dupe audiences illustrates the principle nicely. In class, this discussion might be used to discuss the role of luck and how it may skew attributions, reducing the likelihood of serial success in strategic decision-making. The magic trick described in the article (or something similar) might be a nice, and dramatic, way to introduce the topic in class — all you need is two dimes…
Much has been made of glass ceilings in organizations and this is a very appropriate conversation for strategy courses. Recent research indicates that appointments of female executives have positive implications for innovation but investor reactions are sometimes negative when such appointments are announced. This video might start the discussion and the research takes it in a more serious direction (as the title suggests, the content may be a bit edgy for some…).
The MicroTech negotiation is a slightly simpler version of another exercise in the Toolbox. It focuses on the problems promoting cooperation across divisions (for example to achieve synergies). MicroTech is a negotiation over the terms to transfer a technology between 2 divisions of a company to take advantage of a market opportunity. Sub-optimal agreements (money left on the table) represent transaction costs and inefficiencies that must be overcome in order to create corporate value. There are two roles (Gant and Coleman). One division, Household Appliances (HA), has developed a new technology that has value if sold outside of the company. However, the division does not have a charter to sell chips. In order to take advantage, the technology must be transferred to the Chips & components (CC) division. In the process, about 20-40% of the potential value is typically left on the table. The discussion focuses on how to align objectives and achieve cooperation across divisions. It turns out that such cooperation is hard to achieve in a competitive culture. How, then, can the firm create a cooperative culture? This, it turns out, may be a VRIO resource…
In this video, Henry Mintzberg presents the story behind the classic Honda B case. That is, when Honda tried to enter the traditional US motorcycle market with large machines but ran into implementation problems that pushed it toward introducing small bikes through non-traditional distribution channels. As a result of their pivots, they were able to create a new market for smaller bikes in the US. This was a startling contrast to the “A” case which implied that the strategy was intentional from the start.
This interview with the founders of Justin.tv and Twitch presents an example of how founders shift their strategy in the face of feedback from customers, and emerging opportunities. They started Justin.tv to broadcast their lives, but soon discovered that people really wanted to watch gaming. This interview describes how they pivoted. In a strategy class, this illustrates intended vs. emergent strategies as well as the need for entrepreneurs to pivot off of initial ideas. There is also an interesting discussion of how technology has helped to make gaming and poker into competitive sports. You may think these guys are crazy, but Amazon paid $1 Billion for Twitch. The video goes on (@ 19 min) to discuss their involvement with Y-Combinator which provided seed capital. Warning: around 13:45 there is discussion of mature content that some students may find inappropriate.
Contributed by Susana Velez-Castrillon
A useful way to introduce the topic of leadership is to understand how leaders differ from managers. The “Vision Thing” exercise is designed to help students distinguish the activities of leaders and managers in a fun and engaging manner. The exercise involves creating a three-tiered hierarchical structure. One person is the CEO, another is the manager, and a third is the employee. The CEO prepares a vision statement in advance and works with the manager to determine how to translate the vision to a tangible “product” using the toy construction set. The manager then guides the employee on building the “product.” The process is iterative in nature—the manager can communicate with the CEO and employee as often as necessary. But there is a finite amount of time available to implement the vision. Once the exercise is complete the team comes together to examine how close the team came to implementing the CEO’s vision. The learning objectives are:
To understand the distinct, yet complementary roles of leaders and managers
To appreciate the challenges involved in articulating a vision
To learn the difference between a vision and a strategy
Personality – in its many forms — is critical for working together and for leading organizations. This is a critical topic for strategy courses — especially for executive audiences. While there are large gaps in our understanding of personality and leadership, research does provide several pointers that can help assess who would be a good organizational leader in different contexts. This video offers a nice, digestible, summary of the research and how it relates to leading organizations. Since it is 35 minutes, it might be assigned for out of class viewing prior to a session on strategic leadership.
Andrew Shipilov offers a nice case (with video) of Louis Vuitton’s strategy for vertical integration and alliances. He documents how Vuitton vertically integrated into distribution when the rest of the fashion industry relied only on partnerships. This allowed them to gain access to important market information (customer preferences) on a more timely basis — a source of advantage in the industry. Shipilov notes: “The more unique your assets are and the greater the control you need to exercise over the value chain to extract competitive advantage from these assets, the more vertical integration makes sense. However, the higher the uncertainty and complexity in your markets, the more you should think about partnerships.”
There are lots of cases, exercises, & simulations dealing with making strategic decisions, but few that deal with execution. Since implementation is a major hurdle for achieving a successful strategy, this can leave an important gap in the traditional strategy course. Bill Judge created this simulation dealing with strategy execution of an organization-wide strategic change. The product, developed in partnership with Harvard Business Publishing, is a single-player, online simulation that can be played over the internet or in the classroom. The student plays the role of a change agent trying to convince other managers to adopt the proposed green strategy. There are social networks embedded among them that are only revealed as stakeholders are interviewed (one of the 18 “levers” in the game). They, in turn, convince others based on their social ties. The simulation allows you to “play” in four scenarios that alter the change agent’s power (CEO vs. R&D director) and urgency (an opportunity to expand vs. the risk of losing the firm’s largest customer). This is a good vehicle to introduce notions of power and influence, human capital, readiness for change, leadership challenges, dynamic capabilities, balancing financial and social imperatives, and the organization and environment interface. The cost of the simulation is nominal if you are playing it within an academic institution (about the cost of 4 HBS cases). If you would like to explore this further, please click here and check it out. You can check out how it works since there is a video and preview available. If you have comments, questions, or suggestions, please email Bill Judge here.
Sometimes no matter how strong your resources are, you still can’t win. In those cases, it’s critical to avoid conflict so you can fight another day. This classic video depicts a battleship demanding that a rival change course to avoid collision. This might be useful for competitive dynamics (game theory), entrepreneurship (failure to pivot) or strategy process (cognition & stubbornness) where it may be critical to know when to change course. Guoli Chen, Crossland, & Luo’s recent SMJ article on CEO overconfidence is a nice academic complement to this. Of course there is a large literature on escalation of commitment that is also relevant.
After a year of (painful?) meetings, Stanford Business School concluded that their mission was “to be the leading academic school of management in the world in terms of its impact on management theory, thinking, practice and performance.” Prior to that effort, we had no idea what they were about. Glad to have that cleared up. Years later, mission statements are still a key focus in the practice of strategy despite being almost ignored in the academic literature. One could ignore this in teaching strategy (many do) or one might discuss when mission statements are a grand waste of time and when they may prove to be useful. Automated mission statement generators help to make this point. While there are several good ones, this Mission Statement Generator is my favorite. With a single click, you can get profound statements like “It is our mission to continue to assertively operationalize principle-centered intellectual capital as well as endeavor to globally morph multimedia based solutions to meet our customer’s needs.” Of course, there is no shortage of Dilbert cartoons on the topic of mission statements. Now, Weird Al has gotten into the game with a new song that could have been written entirely from a mission statement generator. I think he deserves an honorary MBA for the strategic management anthem.