Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
It is so rare for a business strategist and author to make headlines that we almost clap with delight. Nick Carr has shaken up the IT and business strategy community as well as many others with his views on information technology. While he says he expected some controversy to arise from his May 2003 Harvard Business Review article, "IT doesn't matter," he did not expect to set off a year-long debate. With billions of dollars globally riding on the premise that information technology matters very much, companies and individuals have been quick to counter Carr's arguments. In the spirit of full disclosure, he includes on his Web site (www.nicholasgcarr.com) excerpts from dozens of articles both supporting and refuting his thesis. Undaunted by the conflagration ignited by his HBR article, Carr went on to publish a book, Does IT Matter? in May 2004. The article asked, according to Carr, "Can distinctive information systems provide a meaningful competitive advantage to individual companies?" The answer was no, IT doesn't really matter strategically. In his book, he takes a broader view: "How does the rise of a new, standardized IT infrastructure influence not only IT management but also strategy and organization?" Thus the slightly less controversial title. The Journal of Business Strategy is pleased to have an article from Carr in this issue, based in part on his book but also containing new insights. And, to continue the debate, we have scheduled for the last issue of the year a counterpoint to Carr's thesis from two noted Case Western Reserve scholars, Kalle Lyytinen and Betty Vandenbosch, from the Weatherhead School of Management.
In another article with a provocative thesis, Ian Mitroff writes about crises from the perspective of crisis as human-caused accident. He is regarded as the founder of the discipline of crisis management, having established and directed (from 1986 to 1996) the Center for Crisis Management at the University of Southern California's Graduate School of Business. The principal mandate of the Center is to study human-caused crises and develop state-of-the-art tools to better manage them. Mitroff is also the associate director of the USC Center for Strategic Public Relations in the Annenberg School for Communication. His paper encourages business people to think like paranoids but act like good ethical people. Despite his forward thinking, even Mitroff could hardly have predicted the events of 9/11. But now that we know such things can happen, Mitroff's teaching, writings and research become even more important as the gap between imagined horrors and real events shrinks exponentially. Mitroff, in addition to teaching at USC, runs a consulting business where he trains executives to imagine themselves concocting and executing the most horrible of crimes against their companies. This is the only way, he contends, that businesses can protect themselves and plan for the unexpected.
Two experts from Deloitte Research deal with a different kind of crisis. Michael Raynor (co-author of The Innovator's Dilemma) and Dwight Allen define contrasting scenarios as the 21st century marches on: one where true globalization leads to rich opportunities for business in international markets and an opposing scenario that envisions such turmoil in the world that doing business internationally becomes too risky. The article suggests that business must prepare for either or both scenarios. Neither Mitroff's article nor the Deloitte Research paper is cause for any optimism. The world of business now demands that people face all possible demons and deal with rebuffing them in a rational manner.
Less concerned with rationalism and more focused on ideas is Bolko von Oetinger's piece on innovation. When longtime client, president and chief executive officer of Siemens Heinrich von Pierer came to von Oetinger, a senior vice president of the Boston Consulting Group in Munich, to discuss how to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Siemens, they came up with the idea for a unique book. Together they edited A Passion for Ideas: How Innovators Create the New and Shape Our World, an anthology of interviews and essays by and with noted thinkers on the creative process and bringing new ideas to fruition. First published in German, the book was translated into English with the help of Ted Buswick of the Boston Consulting Group, who also helped develop the article in this issue of JBS. Von Oetinger noted in an interview with JBS that creativity and innovation are different. The former is the process of getting to a new idea, the latter of taking the idea to the market. There are many new ideas but only a few innovations. In this first of three articles for JBS adapted from his book, von Oetinger talks about the difficulty of shedding the old in order to get to the new.
Rounding out this issue are two very practitioner-oriented articles. Andrew Longman's and James Mullins' paper explicitly describes how to use project management to execute strategy without letting important processes fall through the cracks. The second article, from three Mercer consultants, challenges businesses to consider such questions as whether the periphery of a traditional and mature market might represent real opportunities for growth through serving unexpected needs. For example, who knew that teeth whitening kits could become such a hot product ten years ago? But Procter & Gamble transformed a professional procedure to one people could use at home, eliminating the cost and fears associated with the dentist's office. And they did it all without alienating its huge network of dentists.
JBS is fortunate to add to its Editorial Advisory Board three more outstanding strategy experts: Ajit Kambil is the global director of Deloitte Research and distinguished scholar in residence at Babson College. His management research focuses on applying the value of emerging technologies to improve business performance. His technical research concentrates on combining human and machine intelligence to improve information retrieval and knowledge management. J.C. Spender is a visiting professor at two universities: the Open University Business School and Newcastle Business School, both in the UK. He has had a long career in academia, most recently serving as dean of the School of Business & Technology at the Fashion Institute of Technology/State University of New York. He also taught as Rutgers University as a professor of strategy. Peter Woolliams is a partner with Trompenaars Hampden-Turner, an innovative center of excellence in intercultural management, and a professor of international business at the Ashcroft International Business School, Anglia University. His latest book, Marketing Across Cultures (with Fons Trompenaars) came out in paperback in 2004.
JBS is eager to receive your comments and criticisms, as always.