First Look

July 29, 2014

The Kursk Disaster: Why No Survivors?

When the Russian nuclear sub Kursk sank during a training exercise in 2000, a team was shortly on scene to rescue survivors. Yet all died. What went wrong is the subject of a working paper by Anette Mikes and Amram Migdal, Learning from the Kursk Submarine Rescue Failure: The Case for Pluralistic Risk Management."

Improving A Team's Chances For Success

As Ethan Bernstein observes, many initiatives fail not because of a lack of good ideas, but rather because the team in charge fails to capitalize. In the background note "Leadership and Teaming," Bernstein summarizes how managers can create successful teaming environments.

Understanding Complexity In The Ukraine

The four months that led up to what is now an international crisis in the Ukraine is explored in the case study "Ukraine: On the Border of Europe and Eurasia." The study looks at "the interrelated problems of geopolitical struggle, politics of economic pacts, and clash of regional economic blocks, post-imperial disintegration and trade, and identity and interdependence." The case was written by Rawi Abdelal, Rafael Di Tella, and Sogomon Tarontsi.

— Sean Silverthorne

Working Papers

Abstract—The Kursk, a Russian nuclear‐powered submarine, sank in the relatively shallow waters of the Barents Sea in August 2000 during a naval exercise. Numerous survivors were reported to be awaiting rescue, and within a week, an international rescue party gathered at the scene, which had seemingly possessed all that was needed for a successful rescue. Yet they failed to save anybody. Drawing on the recollections and daily situational reports of Commodore David Russell, who headed the Royal Navy's rescue mission, and on Robert Moore's (2002) award-winning book A Time to Die: The Kursk Disaster, the paper explores how and why this failure-a multiparty coordination failure-occurred. The Kursk rescue mission also illustrates a key issue in multiparty risk and disaster management, namely that the organizational challenge is to enable multiple actors and subunits with competing and often conflicting values and expertise to establish a virtual, well‐aligned organization. Organizational structures that can resolve evaluative dissonance, and processes that enable such a resolution, have been proposed in various literatures. Attempting to synthesize relevant works on pluralistic control and collaborative heterarchies, this paper proposes the foundations of what might be called pluralistic risk management, and it examines its conditions of possibility, in light of the lessons of the Kursk submarine rescue failure.

Download working paper:


Cases & Course Materials

  • Harvard Business School Case 714-042

Ukraine: On the Border of Europe and Eurasia

In the fall of 2013, the people of Ukraine disagreed passionately whether their country should intensify ties with the European Union or Russia. After President Yanukovych rejected the free trade agreement with the EU in November, thousands of Ukrainians peacefully protested. But the protest movement morphed into a violent, deadly confrontation in January, culminating in February in mass slaughter, an overthrow of government, foreign invasion, and international crisis. The four months that shook Ukraine is a case study on the interrelated problems of geopolitical struggle, politics of economic pacts and clash of regional economic blocks, post-imperial disintegration and trade, and identity and interdependence.

Purchase this case:

  • Harvard Business School Case 414-033

Leadership and Teaming

Small differences in the leadership of teams can have large consequences for the success of their efforts. Many initiatives fail not because of a fatal error in judgment or insufficient ideas, knowledge, motivation, or capabilities to deliver a solution. They fail because, as is so often heard, "we needed to be more of a team to succeed," "we weren't a sufficiently high-performing team," or "our team suffered from a lack of leadership." In a world where most problems faced by organizations are too complex for a single individual to tackle alone, leadership frequently involves designing, launching, and managing teams. And yet teams are fickle. Even as teams become more common at all levels of organizations, a shocking number of them fail to live up to their potential or even to deliver at all. Teams remain the most flexible and powerful units of learning, change, and performance in most organizations but require effective leadership to succeed. This note summarizes the conditions leaders can create to increase the chances of creating, managing, and participating in successful teaming environments.

Purchase this case:

  • Harvard Business School Case 814-097

Noma: A Lot on the Plate

In 2014, the restaurant Noma, based in Copenhagen, Denmark, was considered to be amongst the best restaurants in the world, and its co-founder, co-owner and chef, René Redzepi, among the most influential chefs. The restaurant was also leading the new Nordic food movement, a movement focused on rediscovering Nordic cuisine and ingredients, which had helped increase the popularity of Danish cuisine. Since 2013 Noma had a new investor, the American Marc Blazer, who joined to help Redzepi increase the restaurant's margins to make it a more sustainable business. But the question was-how? What options really were available?

Purchase this case:

  • Harvard Business School Case 314-123

Technology Innovations in K-12 Education

This background note on technology innovations in education offers a market overview of the edtech sector and discusses trends, common challenges, and criticisms encountered in exploring edtech ventures. The note introduces the promise of educational technology as it directly affects classroom instruction and discusses the common growth drivers (e.g., school accountability, 21st century skills, and advanced technological innovations) and theories of change (e.g., personalization, access, and productivity) for edtech products and services. Furthermore, the note defines the conditions necessary for the success of innovations in educational technology in the classroom including adequate teacher training, funding, and technology infrastructure. The note also highlights several challenges, risks, and criticisms common to the edtech sector, such as the evolving role of teachers, issues of student privacy and data security, implementation challenges, and the limits of education technology's impact in the classroom.

Purchase this case:

  • Harvard Business School Case 814-080

ACA and the Union Bank Acquisition

Okey Enelamah is the CEO of the African Capital Alliance (ACA), a private equity firm based in Nigeria. ACA has spent more than a year arranging a $500 million consortium bid to acquire and recapitalize Union Bank, Nigeria's sixth largest bank. Several weeks before the deal is scheduled to close, the unexpected exit of several international investors has put the group's ability to fund the deal in question. With time running out, Enelamah and the ACA investment committee must decide whether the Union Bank acquisition is still a wise investment, or whether the firm's time, talents, and capital would be better invested in other parts of the fast-growing Nigerian economy.

Purchase this case:

  • Harvard Business School Case 714-401

Red Bull

Despite facing giants like Coke, Pepsi, and Budweiser-with obvious potential sources of competitive advantage-Red Bull had established itself as the U.S. market leader in energy drinks. By 2008, however, Red Bull's dominance was challenged as Monster drinks surpassed it in volume. The case considers judo strategy both from the perspective of a small player (when up-start Red Bull faces Coke, Pepsi, and Bud) and as a large player (when market leader Red Bull faces up-start Monster).

Purchase this case: