The Business SummitThe Conversation The Conversation was a question- or topic- based dialogue between two conversation leads and our Centennial-site visitors. Every few months, our conversation leads posed a question to our visitors to get their thoughts on specific issues in the world of business. Selections from these responses are made available here.

  • Leadership in the 21st Century Professors Rakesh Khurana & Nitin Nohria Nov. 2008 - Jan. 2009

    Nohria: Leaders (in business and government) have lost the public trust. It was already low before the recent economic crisis and has now plummeted even further. What has caused this loss in trust and how can it be best restored?

    Khurana: Different academic disciplines focus on different facets of leadership. Is it useful to aim for an integrated coherent view of leadership or are we better off with a wide plurality of perspectives? Indeed, is the popular literature on leadership in some ways better or more useful than academic studies of leadership?

  • Managing and Improving Healthcare Professors Robert Huckman & Richard Hamermesh Sept. - Nov. 2008

    Huckman: You are the next president of the United States. To improve healthcare outcomes, would you invest in innovative areas such as stem cell research and creation of new medical devices, or would you spend money to improve the process of healthcare delivery?

    Hamermesh: Do MBAs have a role to play in the management of this industry given the ethical, regulatory, and public service elements involved?

  • The Future of Social Enterprise Professor V. Kasturi Rangan and Research Associate Susan McDonald July - Sept. 2008

    Rangan: In terms of solving social problems, which of these three scenarios is most attractive from your vantage point, and what can be done to accelerate the movement in that direction? For instance, what are the potential drivers from one scenario to another — and what steps by funders, business leaders, government, funding intermediaries, or others would expedite the change?

    McDonald: As more funders with entrepreneurial backgrounds enter the philanthropic market, there is an increasing view of philanthropy as social "investment," with success measured by impact, or social return-on-investment. Yet defining ROI is more elusive for the social sector than for businesses. To what degree can social mission activity be mediated by measures of ROI, and how is the return defined?

  • Marketing and Democracy Professor John Quelch and Research Associate Katherine Jocz April - July 2008

    Quelch: Political candidates have seized on marketing techniques to promote candidates and sway public opinion. Well-funded candidates, political parties, and interest groups can overwhelm opponents with costly marketing and advertising—including negative, attack ads. But we propose that what's needed in politics is not less marketing but better marketing: focusing on current and emerging customer needs, developing product and service solutions, informing interested citizens about them and making them easily accessible. Do you think marketing by politicians and political parties helps or hurts democracy?

    Jocz: Good marketing delivers benefits that are very similar to the pillars of democracy: marketers give consumers information; they offer choice; they engage consumers; most seek to be inclusive; there is fair, mutual exchange with consumers; and subsequent consumption of goods and service satisfies needs and improves human welfare. A critical difference is that marketplace exchanges tilt toward pursuit of self-interest and democratic political exchanges, in the ideal, tilt toward pursuit of the common good. In practice, is the commercial marketplace more democratic than political institutions?

  • The Future of Market Capitalism Professors Joseph L. Bower and Herman B. "Dutch" Leonard Feb. - April 2008

    Bower: In many countries, the gap between the rich and the poor has grown and will continue to widen. Some say growing inequality may be an unfortunate consequence of economic growth, but isn't a real problem as long as everyone's income is improving. Others say the growing inequality will undermine the foundations of our democracies and hence our economies. What is your opinion?

    Leonard: There has been a great deal of discussion recently about environmental degradation, and particularly about global climate change. Some believe that capitalism, by its nature, will seek to reduce or avoid environmental regulation, exacerbating environmental damage and endangering the future health of the planet. Others see for-profit firms as increasingly recognizing the importance of environmental issues, and as working to minimize their negative impacts on the environment and to invent new technologies that will make business more sustainable. How do you see it? Is market capitalism the problem - or the solution?

  • Successful Innovation: The Intersection of Theory and Practice Clayton M. Christensen & Willy C. Shih Dec. 2007 - Feb. 2008

    Christensen: "There is lots of statistical evidence that other than incremental improvements, successful innovation is almost a random process - a few succeed; most fail; and even the best managers and investors have a hard time picking the winners in advance. As a consequence, much of what has been written about managing innovation focuses on managing unpredictability. Fail fast. Let a thousand flowers bloom. Venture capitalists have structured their work to account for the reality that 80% of the ventures they fund will not be commercially successful."

    Do you think that successful innovation really is intrinsically random? Or is the problem that management researchers and authors just haven't yet given us good theory that managers can draw upon to accurately predict what will succeed, and what will fail?

    Shih: "The intersection of theory and practice is a turbulent zone to travel through. Theoreticians watch the behavior of corporate leaders and shake their heads at the continued failure to apply the lessons from the past. Practitioners look at the theorists and sing the refrain, "But you have never had to make the quarter." But in that turbulence lies the opportunity to improve theory with the close examination of practice, and to improve business outcomes with the discerning application of better theories."

    How do you reconcile the challenges of context setting from the top of an organization with the discovery and learning processes that happen on the front lines at the bottom? Does this doom larger firms to inflexibility and a slowness to adapt that will hobble and disadvantage them?