First Look

December 16, 2008

A new working paper by HBS professor Amy C. Edmondson and coauthor James R. Detert looks at the dynamics behind why people may or may not speak up at work. According to the authors, "The results suggest that individuals bring to the workplace specific, measurable beliefs about speaking up, and that these implicit theories operate largely independently of current leader behaviors and other current work experiences." Must reading for any manager concerned with encouraging more employee viewpoints. Also this week, the history of economic development in one of the world's great financial centers is reviewed in the case "New York City: Bloomberg's Strategy for Economic Development." The case closes as Mayor Michael Bloomberg is confronted with a brewing economic crisis earlier this year. And for managers charged with enforcing patents, the new note "International Enforcement of U.S. Patents" is worth checking out. It discusses the pros and cons of bringing action in the International Trade Commission or through the World Trade Organization.
— Sean Silverthorne

Working Papers

Silent Saboteurs: How Implicit Theories of Voice Inhibit the Upward Flow of Knowledge in Organizations


This article examines, in a series of three studies, how people working in organizational hierarchies wrestle with the challenge of upward voice. We first undertook in-depth exploratory research in a knowledge-intensive multinational corporation in which employee input was considered crucial. Qualitative data collected in 190 interviews with employees from all levels and functions suggest that fear of speaking up, even with pro-organizational suggestions, is pervasive and is driven by a set of common implicit theories about speaking up in organizations. Our second study used scenarios about speaking up to validate and extend these findings through analysis of quantitative and qualitative survey data from 71 individuals in MBA and Executive MBA programs. Our third study developed survey measures of the six implicit voice theories identified in the prior two studies in a new sample of 265 adults with diverse work experience, and examined relationships between these measures and other theoretically driven variables. The results suggest that individuals bring to the workplace specific, measurable beliefs about speaking up, and that these implicit theories operate largely independently of current leader behaviors and other current work experiences. Overall, this research provides support for a novel theoretical explanation for workplace silence based on implicit theories of voice.


Cases & Course Materials

ASUSTek Computer Inc. Eee PC (A)

Harvard Business School Case 609-011

ASUSTek Computer was the world's largest manufacture of PC motherboards, yet when it tried to launch its new sub-notebook Eee PC, the organization faced challenges in doing things outside of its established processes. Though many of the team members had worked together for years, they had to find new ways of working as they tried to launch the new mobile Internet device category without undermining its existing notebook PC business.

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China's Evolving Labor Laws

Harvard Business School Case 308-092

The (A) case describes key provisions of the new labor contract law proposed by China's National People's Congress in 2006. The case invites students to consider how domestic and multinational companies should respond to the Chinese government's invitation to comment on the proposal. The case also describes the impetus for the new legislation and initial reaction to the draft by key business groups, legal scholars, and others.

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Clear Channel 2006

Harvard Business School Case 208-083

The Board of Directors of Clear Channel Communications, a radio broadcasting and outdoor advertising company, has to respond to a revised proposal from two private equity firms to take the company private. In November of 2006, the Board had unanimously approved an offer of $37.60 per share after going through intense negotiations with numerous firms, but institutional shareholders had indicated that they would reject this offer. In light of this recent news, the two private equity firms had come back to the Board with a revised offer. Now the Board must decide if it thinks the new proposal will satisfy the institutional shareholders, one of which is an activist hedge fund.

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Cyworld: Creating and Capturing Value in a Social Network

Harvard Business School Case 509-012

May 2008, the new CEO of Cyworld, a social network company in Korea, had to decide how to create and capture value from his rapidly growing user base. Cyworld was founded in 1999, and in 2003 it was acquired by SK Telecom, a leading mobile service provider in Korea. By 2007, Cyworld had 21 million users and $95 million revenue—$65 million from paid items (music, virtual gifts, etc.), $15 million from mobile networking, and $15 million from advertising. The new CEO had to decide which of these three revenue sources he should focus on in the future and how this choice would influence the target customers, the service offerings, and the required capabilities.

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Finland's S Group: Competing with a Cooperative Approach to Retail

Harvard Business School Case 709-409

The case looks at the two dominant Finnish retailers: S Group and Kesko. S Group is a customer-owned cooperative, which has a unique holding structure whereby 1.7 million residents (or 70 percent of Finnish households) own 22 regional cooperatives. In turn, the regional cooperatives own SOK, a centralized company that provides services to the regional cooperatives. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, S Group lagged far behind the market leader, Kesko. However, since 2005, S Group has held the leadership position; in 2007, it had captured 41 percent market while Kesko's was 33.9 percent. Kesko Plc is publicly traded and pursues a model whereby retailer entrepreneurs use their personal funds to invest in stores and operate them completely. The case requires that students consider sources of competitive advantage that arise from the companies' markedly different business models.

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International Enforcement of U.S. Patents

Harvard Business School Note 309-022

A company that owns a U.S. patent can enforce its patent protections in three ways: by filing a lawsuit in U.S. federal district court, by bringing action in the International Trade Commission, or through the World Trade Organization. This note discusses the pros and cons of pursuing either of the latter two avenues for recourse.

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New York City: Bloomberg's Strategy for Economic Development

Harvard Business School Case 709-427

Traces the economic development of New York City from its founding in the 17th century through 2008. Focuses on the decisions made by New York City officials, past and present, highlighting the challenges of economic development at the city level. Enables deep examination of the interdependence and interrelation of economic policies at the city, state and federal level, and explores the role of economic and cluster performance through 2005. Detailed historical economic and social data allows for an evaluation of policy results. The case finishes with Mayor Michael Bloomberg facing some difficult choices as economic storm clouds gather on the horizon in early 2008.

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PepsiCo's Bid for Quaker Oats

Harvard Business School Supplement 209-070

Third in a series of PepsiCo's bid for Quaker Oats. Describes the auction for Quaker Oats including terms of the bids. After winning the auction, Coke's stock price fell dramatically. Coke's Board then refused to approve the deal and withdrew. Quaker then approached Pepsi, the losing bidder, and asked them to submit another bid. The case can be used to teach the mechanics of collared consideration, announcement effects, the prerogatives of a board of directors, and negotiating strategy.

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Conceptual Consumption


As technology has simplified meeting basic needs, humans have cultivated increasingly psychological avenues for occupying their consumption energies, moving from consuming food to consuming concepts; we propose that consideration of such “conceptual consumption” is essential for understanding human consumption. We first review how four classes of conceptual consumption—consuming expectancies, goals, fluency, and regulatory fit—impact physical consumption. Next, we benchmark the power of conceptual consumption against physical consumption, reviewing research in which people forgo positive physical consumption—and even choose negative physical consumption—in order to engage in conceptual consumption. Finally, we outline how conceptual consumption informs research examining both preference formation and virtual consumption, and how it may be used to augment efforts to enhance consumer welfare.

Download paper: norton 2009.pdf

Gates: The Right Place at the Right Time


Bill Gates is more than the world's most successful capitalist; he's also the world's biggest philanthropist. Gates has approached philanthropy the same way he revolutionized computer software: with a fierce ambition to change the rules of the game. That's why at the 2008 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Gates advocated a creative capitalism in which big corporations, the distinguishing feature of the modern global economy, integrate doing good into their way of doing business. This controversial new idea is discussed and debated by the more than forty contributors to this book, among them three Nobel laureates and two former U.S. cabinet secretaries. Edited by author and columnist Michael Kinsley, Creative Capitalism started as a first-of-its-kind online conversation that brought together some of the world's best minds to engage Gates's challenge. From Warren Buffett, who seconds Gates's analysis, to Lawrence Summers, who worries about the consequences of multiple corporate objectives, the essays cover a broad spectrum of opinion. Judge Richard Posner dismisses Gates's proposal as trumped-up charity that will sap the strengths of the profit-maximizing corporation, while journalist Martin Wolf maintains that the maximization of profit is far from universally accepted, and rightly so. Chicago Nobel laureate Gary Becker wonders whether altruistic companies can survive in a competitive economy, while Columbia Nobel laureate Edmund Phelps argues that a little altruism might be the right prescription for a variety of market imperfections. Creative Capitalism is not just a book for philanthropists. It's a book that challenges the conventional wisdom about our economic system, a road map for the new global economy that is emerging as capitalism adapts itself once again to a changing world.

Minimally Acceptable Altruism and the Ultimatum Game


I suppose that people react with anger when others show themselves not to be minimally altruistic. With heterogeneous agents, this can account for the experimental results of ultimatum and dictator games. Moreover, it can account for the surprisingly large fraction of individuals who offer an even split, with parameter values that are more plausible than those required to explain outcomes in these experiments with the models of Levine (1998), Fehr and Schmidt (1999), Dickinson (2000), and Bolton and Ockenfels (2000).