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Research in Action Day…

April 12th, 2009 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Today was a unique experiment by HBS.  Instead of the normal class schedule, in lieu of each class, we had the option of attending 20 different 1hr presentations by HBS professors on their research.  It’s really quite a good idea – while I’ve been impressed with how the curriculum is constantly updated with new cases, I don’t feel like we get the opportunity to talk in-depth with our professors about the cutting-edge research they’re conducting.

Just a few quick ideas that were discussed in the two sessions I attended.  The first was with Robert Eccles on “Leading Professional Service Firms (PSFs)”.  Three ideas:

  1. What type of “alternative” business models are emerging?  We did a case earlier this year on Eden McCallum, which uses a “network” type business model (ie, a loosely linked internet-coordinated approach with flexible staffing) to compete against the major consulting firms.  Is this disruptive to the majors?  Or is it just a niche play?
  2. Where does innovation come from in PSFs?  A lot of the consulting firms essentially “do R&D” by solving problems for clients.  How do you generalize and codify this into a new offering?  How do you select the projects that might create valuable IP / thought leadership?
  3. How does a PSF build capabilities given the incentive structure?  The economic interests of the partners (in the short-term) does not necessarily align with long-term capability building.  The related question here is: why are so few consulting / investment firms able to expand beyond a small partnership and charismatic founder?

Anyway, some very interesting things to think about as I move forward into a consulting role this summer.  The second session I attended was with Andrew King on the “Industry Self Regulation of Environmental Impacts”.  Again, three  ideas:

  1. Project finance (which consists of setting up a separate “corporation” for a large infrastructure project) has some unique issues.  While creating this SPE and funding it with a consortium of investors helps “de-risk” and spread the potential negative outcomes, it also dilutes a sense of responsibility.  No one has their brand equity at stake.  An interesting (and vividly beautiful) example of this are concrete plants in the karst of Vietnam.
  2. There are two “Kermit the Frog” questions that each company should ask: 1) Is it easy to be green?  2) Can the frogs themselves make it easy?  I’m not sure how insightful that is, but I enjoyed the description.
  3. The most economical way for a firm to raise standards is to do so in such away where it affects not just your firm, but changes the game for all firms.  Alliances, Due Diligence Best Practices, Signals – there a number of ways to raise the boats of all incumbents and to raise the barriers-to-entry for new entrants.

That’s it!   I skipped the third one (had a meeting to attend).  My only request for the next one: make the presentations 30 minutes long and let people jump around more!  It’s a bit ironic that HBS considers companies (during the Company Info Days) to only be worth 30 minutes each, but the professors to be worth 1hr each.  Such is the arrogance of academia…

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