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strategy and business
 / Summer 2006 / Issue 43(originally published by Booz & Company)


Recent Research

On schools for elder leaders, Japanese decision making, innovation inertia, and more.

AARP University
Rosabeth Moss Kanter ([email protected]), Rakesh Khurana ([email protected]), and Nitin Nohria ([email protected]), “Moving Higher Education to Its Next Stage: A New Set of Societal Challenges, A New Stage of Life, and a Call to Action for Universities,” Harvard Business School working paper no. 06-021. Click here. 

A survey of 50- to 70-year-old Americans found that more than half wanted, after their primary career ended, to dedicate their time to national or community service. But for most senior citizens, there are few opportunities to do so, and their years of experience are ignored and rejected by societies enamored with youth. A plan for rectifying this situation is offered by Harvard Business School’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter, the Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor of Business Administration; Rakesh Khurana, an associate professor of business administration; and Nitin Nohria, the Richard P. Chapman Professor of Business Administration.

The authors call for a new level of higher education for people in the third stage of life. As a development in education, such a change could potentially be compared to the creation of the modern graduate and professional school in the last quarter of the 19th century. These post-university schools for seniors would provide a multidisciplinary, action-focused curriculum to equip retired business, political, legal, social, and scientific workers with the skills required to tackle wide-ranging intractable international problems. These think tank–styled institutions would endeavor to open fresh opportunities for leadership to the growing senior population by serving as an incubator for projects, programs, enterprises, and foundations targeted at tackling global ills. To prove that this is more than mere theorizing, a one-year pilot advanced leadership institute, based on the authors’ ideas, is slated to begin at Harvard in fall 2007.

The Harvard trio believe there is “an emergent problem set” made up of issues such as global health and poverty, basic education, and the degradation of the environment that cross traditional professional divides. Politics, business, science, the law, and other areas of expertise offer only partial responses to these problems. As a result, there is a scarcity of concepts, frameworks, research, and models that integrate knowledge among different fields. Organizations like the new advanced leadership institute would tap the experience and skills of senior leaders to begin to design the multidimensional solutions that are sorely lacking, the authors argue.

A possible beneficial side effect of involving the senior population in socially productive activities, the authors add, is that it should enhance their health and happiness — and thus reduce health-care and Social Security costs.

Signature Moments
Lynda Gratton ([email protected]) and Sumantra Ghoshal, “Signing Up for Competitive Advantage: How Signature Processes Beat Best Practice,” Advanced Institute of Management Research working paper. Click here.

At the Royal Bank of Scotland, the fifth-largest bank in the world by market capitalization, the top 10 managers meet with the CEO every morning between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. Those who cannot be physically present at the bank’s Edinburgh headquarters join in via videoconference. The meeting has no agenda; it simply covers the issues highest on the minds of the management team. This morning meeting has been a tradition in the bank since its founding in 1727.

This is an example of what Lynda Gratton, associate professor of management practice at London Business School, and the late Sumantra Ghoshal labeled a “signature process” — defined as a process that has “evolved internally from the values and aspirations of executives.” Professors Gratton and Ghoshal argued that such idiosyncratic and unique processes create, for many companies, a competitive advantage.

Their research looked at companies that recorded superior performance between 1997 and 2002. The authors eliminated companies whose performance had been aided by factors such as a monopoly, extensive regulation, or heavy use of patents. They identified eight companies to study in detail; they then conducted extensive interviews at each, involving 20 to 30 executives as well as the CEO.

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