Sharpening Your Skills: History Matters

Business history is a rich source of knowledge and inspiration for today's executives. Do we pay enough attention to the past? Here are four Working Knowledge articles that provide lessons from history about leaders, leadership, and business organization.

Sharpening Your Skills dives into the HBS Working Knowledge archives to bring together articles on ways to improve your business skills.

Questions To Be Answered

  • How can business history influence current practice?
  • What can the work of Joseph Schumpeter tell us about modern capitalism?
  • Do great American business leaders share similar characteristics?
  • What is the legacy of Alfred Chandler?

How Can Business History Influence Current Practice?

The Lessons of Business History: A Handbook

Compiling a handbook on the current thinking in any area of study seems daunting enough, but the Oxford Handbook of Business History carries an even larger mission: bring the lessons of business history to current research in other disciplines and to the practice of business management itself. A Q&A with coeditor Geoffrey Jones. Key concepts include:

Key concepts include:

  • Business historians over recent decades have generated rich empirical data on firms and business systems that can confirm or challenge many of today's fashionable theories and assumptions by other disciplines.
  • Business history has broadened its scope in the last two decades by including research on corporate governance, industrial districts, business groups, business culture, business education, skills training, accounting and information systems, design, and engineering.
  • Historical knowledge helps us to truly understand business, but the growing ahistorical nature of much management and economics literature has seriously compromised its legitimacy.
  • The business history literature is extremely weak in Africa, and not much better in Latin America, many Asian countries, and the Middle East.

What Can The Work Of Joseph Schumpeter Tell Us About Modern Capitalism?

Rediscovering Schumpeter: The Power of Capitalism

Economist Joseph Schumpeter was perhaps the most powerful thinker ever on innovation, entrepreneurship, and capitalism. He was also one of the most unusual personalities of the 20th century, as Harvard Business School professor emeritus Thomas K. McCraw shows in a new biography. Read our interview and book excerpt. Key concepts include:

  • Schumpeter's ideas on capitalism, entrepreneurship, and innovation still have great resonance to students and businesspeople today.

Do Great American Business Leaders Share Similar Characteristics?

Who Rises to Power in American Business?

Business leaders in the United States have usually been white men who were blessed with the right religion, family, or education. But "outsiders" have also created their own paths to leadership, a trend on the rise today. Paths to Power is the first book in fifty years to exhaustively analyze the demographics of leadership and access in business in the U.S., and how the face of American leadership might be changing. A Q&A with Anthony J. Mayo. Key concepts include:

  • Paths to power in American business have followed two tracks: The inside track favors white males with the right connections. The outside path is forged by individuals who overcome significant odds to achieve success.
  • Over the last seventy-five years, education has become more critical in creating a path to power; religion and family ties less so. Access to power appears to be widening.
  • In the future, individuals who can operate and lead in a complex global world will be at an advantage in gaining leadership positions.

What Is The Legacy Of Alfred Chandler?

Remembering Alfred Chandler

Alfred D. Chandler Jr., who died in May 2007, defined the field of business history and shaped the way we think about the modern corporation. Harvard Business School colleagues share their thoughts on his legacy as well as their personal reminiscences.