Are We Going “Back to the Future” In Researching Management?
Summing Up Jim Heskett's readers wonder whether the best business management ideas over the next decade will be for cleaning up the messes from the previous one. (Online forum has closed; next forum opens March 10)
Our forward projections often reflect what we have just experienced. Responses to the question, "What will be the single most promising area of research or study in the next 10 years?," reflect issues that fall into the same categories—management of information technology, leadership, governance, innovation management, the networking of organizations, and social responsibility—as the "single most important development(s) in the area of management in the just-ended decade of the new century."
Developments in information technology ranked high among advances of the past decade, and not always for the better. Clark Phippen commented, "Over the last decade what is broadly called 'technology' (computer-based) seems to have mutated from being truly helpful to being overwhelming." Stephen Basikoti, looking forward, suggested (not in response to Phippen) that "… we will need to think deeply about how to ensure these crowds we are tapping into (through information networking) are given sufficient opportunities to learn and to properly feel engaged."
Both achievements and failures in leadership and management occupied the thoughts of many. Citing corporate scandals of the past ten years, Andrew MacLennan said that "… in the last 10 years there has been a growing recognition of the need to balance great ideas with concern for execution…" Debra Farquharson commented that this has been accompanied by "a definite shift towards empowering employees to be creative and make decisions," which she believes will continue. Penny Cortez thinks that we should see more research on why "bad leadership seems to be more common than good…" Illysa would like "more research and applicable advice on managing and leading virtually and globally." Other suggestions were for more investigation of topics such as "ethical leadership and inclusive growth" (Praveen Zala), the impact of more globally oriented and younger leaders (Jack Rivkin), and "authentic and servant leadership or rather the acute lack thereof" (Suzette van Aswegen).
Social responsibility, sustainability, and globalization were high on the list of ideas for further investigation. Pete DeLisi pulled this together in commenting that "'collective impact' is just now starting to get some traction. This is a concept in which we take collaboration to the level of megacommunities from the private and public sectors working together to solve large-scale social problems." Others, including Jay Somasundaram, wonder about the relative roles of the private sector and governments in delivering "the best outcomes for society."
While you were pondering these questions, several HBS faculty members, including Dean Nitin Nohria, were asked to consider them as well. Their responses were as diverse as yours, often reflecting their areas of expertise. Dean Nohria's view of the most important development of the past ten years is summed up as "globalization enabled by technology." Looking forward, he anticipates more research into "applying management principles to addressing complex social problems."
Many of these responses suggest an extension of the concerns of the past 10 years into future research. Are we "fighting the last war" instead of addressing a watershed moment in leadership and management? Are we going "back to the future" in researching management? What do you think?
At the close of the first decade of the twenty-first century, observers are both looking back at what we've accomplished so far and looking ahead to what the future brings. The Harvard Business School faculty hasn't escaped this phenomenon.
Plans have been made for a survey that will ask two questions: (1) What is the single most important development in the area of management in the just-ended first decade of the new century? and (2) What will be the single most promising area of research or study in the next 10 years?
Over the past decade a number of ideas were introduced in this column that were intended to stimulate discussions of new concepts and ideas in management and applied economics. They include a wide range of topics, including several drawn from what have come to be known as neuro economics (how managers really think and act), behavioral economics, phenomena of irrational behavior, and "nudge" economics (use of incentives to influence behavior), all of which represent non-traditional approaches to economics. Related issues have concerned immigration, trends in worker/retiree "dependency ratios," state capitalism, the role of government vis-à-vis capitalism, and the implications of a "flat" world.
In management, most recently we've looked at concepts involving transparency, alignment, authentic leadership, executive intelligence, and innovation and entrepreneurship in large organizations. The selection of leaders, "deep thought," sustainability, management succession, millennials as managers, pay for performance, "deep smarts," blink, the wisdom of crowds, management as a profession, the relevancy of business schools, pay for performance, and the importance of "know why," among others, were also topics covered here.
Going back five or more years, we were discussing such things as the end of cheap oil, the exportation of jobs, work-life issues, the importance of attitude versus skills in work, marketing productivity, "judo management," the innovator's dilemma, the accountability of boards of directors, ways of hard-wiring performance, merger and acquisition value destruction, and NAFTA.
I'm especially proud of several topics from early on: Have We Overdone Deregulation and Privatization? (December, 2000), Whither the Information Economy? (September, 2000), and Will Information Technology Really Turn Organizations Upside Down This Time? (October, 2001).
Now I would like to pose these same questions to the readers of this column. After all, you've had nearly 130 monthly columns to help you prepare. What is the one development in management in the last 10 years that you feel overshadows the others? Based on what we know now, what is the one management subject we should be researching and studying that will be of greatest promise in the next 10 years? What do you think?