By JERRY USEEM MAY 31, 2014
A classic dilemma of technology eating away at an existing business model. What makes this discussion so great is that this issue is challenging probably the most important business school in the world for strategy. READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE
If any institution is equipped to handle questions of strategy, it is Harvard Business School, whose professors have coined so much of the strategic lexicon used in classrooms and boardrooms that it’s hard to discuss the topic without recourse to their concepts: Competitive advantage. Disruptive innovation. The value chain.…
…The question: Should Harvard Business School enter the business of online education, and, if so, how?...
At Harvard Business School, the pros and cons of the argument were personified by two of its most famous faculty members. For Michael Porter, widely considered the father of modern business strategy, the answer is yes — create online courses, but not in a way that undermines the school’s existing strategy. “A company must stay the course,” Professor Porter has written, “even in times of upheaval, while constantly improving and extending its distinctive positioning.”
For Clayton Christensen, whose 1997 book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” propelled him to academic stardom, the only way that market leaders like Harvard Business School survive “disruptive innovation” is by disrupting their existing businesses themselves. This is arguably what rival business schools like Stanford and the Wharton School have been doing by having professors stand in front of cameras and teach MOOCs, or massive open online courses, free of charge to anyone, anywhere in the world. For a modest investment by the school — about $20,000 to $30,000 a course — a professor can reach a million students, says Karl Ulrich, vice dean for innovation at Wharton, part of the University of Pennsylvania.
“Do it cheap and simple,” Professor Christensen says. “Get it out there.”
… .....But Harvard Business School’s online education program is not cheap, simple, or open. It could be said that the school opted for the Porter theory. Called HBX, the program will make its debut on June 11 and has its own admissions office. Instead of attacking the school’s traditional M.B.A. and executive education programs — which produced revenue of $108 million and $146 million in 2013 — it aims to create an entirely new segment of business education: the pre-M.B.A. “Instead of having two big product lines, we may be on the verge of inventing a third,” said Prof. Jay W. Lorsch, who has taught at Harvard Business School since 1964.