“Lauren is continually giving me new perspectives on issues that I thought I understood, and I’m really enjoying the ways in which “thinking together” can be so much more productive and creative than working on one’s own.”
— Professor Rebecca Henderson
Rebecca and Lauren are working on a book about innovation and change, exploring how to drive innovation in large organizations and uncovering what it is about organizational culture that makes change so difficult.
Rebecca: We’re working on a book about innovation and change – it’s actually my “Clarendon Lectures” – I was asked by Oxford University to summarize my research in innovation, and in the summer of 2011 delivered three lectures – this is the book. While it does draw heavily on my published work, I’d also like to be sure to be as close to the state of the art as possible, so Lauren and I are together exploring what we currently know about how to drive innovation in large organizations, drawing both on a very wide array of published work and on a few interviews with particularly successful change agents.
Lauren: The book is geared towards uncovering what it is about organizational culture that makes change so difficult. So much has already been written on change, particularly in large firms, and yet if you look closely those write-ups almost always do some kind of hand waving about "getting the culture right." What Rebecca has set out to do is really lend some precision to the discussion of culture in organizational change. She'll use the concept of relational contracts to help readers see the "fuzzy" side of management with clarity.
Rebecca: My work on change is unusual in two respects. First, it explicitly integrates perspectives from both economics and from organizational theory and second, I’m particularly interested in the role that “relational contracts” or “trust” play in supporting innovative performance. I believe that so called “purpose-driven” or “mission-driven” firms are likely to be significantly more productive and more innovative than their competitors because they invest deeply in building relational contracts both within the firm and across their eco-systems – but at the moment this is much of a hypothesis than a proven fact.
The collaborative process
Rebecca: It’s great! Lauren is incredibly smart and very thoughtful. She’s continually giving me new perspectives on issues that I thought I understood, and I’m really enjoying the ways in which “thinking together” can be so much more productive and creative than working on one’s own.
Lauren: I met Rebecca last winter when she came to the Divinity School for a conversation about the role of business in solving global problems. She invited me to take her course, Reimagining Capitalism at HBS, so I cross-registered. Following an office hours meeting during the spring term, she mentioned that she needed some help on a new book and might I be interested? It was a no-brainer.
The process has offered me a unique opportunity to learn to see fields that I'm interested in through Rebecca's eyes. She knows so many of the scholars we're reading personally and can trace genealogies of thought for me - but is also willing to tell me to skim or skip pieces that she knows have had less impact. It's enabled me to come up to speed in disciplines that are new for me much faster than I otherwise could have.
The other clear benefit is that I get to ask Rebecca Henderson about what she thinks of my interests and ideas. Generally we have 5 or so minutes at the end of our meetings that goes towards a discussion of what's on my mind - and that time is clearly invaluable. She's generous, and routinely points me to resources and people who might push me further forward. What more could you ask for in a mentor?
Rebecca: This is the most fun I’ve had for a while!