Dorothy A. Leonard

William J. Abernathy Professor of Business Administration, Emerita

Dorothy Leonard*, the William J. Abernathy Professor of Business Administration Emerita, joined the Harvard faculty in 1983 after teaching for three years at the Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has taught MBA courses in managerial leadership, knowledge management, new product and process design, technology strategy and innovation management. At Harvard, M.I.T., and for corporations such as Hewlett-Packard, AT&T, and 3M, Professor Leonard has conducted executive courses on a wide range of innovation-related topics such as cross-functional coordination during new product development, technology transfer and knowledge management. She has initiated and served as faculty chair for executive education programs such as Leveraging Knowledge for the 21st Century, Leading Product Development, and Enhancing Corporate Creativity. She also served as a Director of Research for the Harvard Business School and Director of Research and Knowledge Programs for Harvard Business School's non-profit organization, HBS Interactive.

Professor Leonard's major research interests and consulting expertise relate to managing knowledge for innovation and stimulating creativity in group settings. She has consulted with and taught about these topics for governments (e.g., Sweden, Jamaica) and major corporations (e.g., IBM, Kodak). She served on the corporate Board of Directors for American Management Systems for twelve years and for Guy Gannett Communications for three years--in both cases until the company was merged or acquired.

Her numerous writings appear in academic journals (e.g., "Core Capabilities and Core Rigidities in New Product Development" awarded Best Paper for sustained impact on the profession by Strategic Management Journal), practitioner journals (e.g., "Make Yourself an Expert" in Harvard Business Review) and books on technology management (e.g., "Guiding Visions" in The Perpetual Enterprise Machine). In addition, Professor Leonard has written dozens of field-based cases used in business school classrooms around the world. Her book, Wellsprings of Knowledge: Building and Sustaining the Sources of Innovation, was published in hardback in 1995 by Harvard Business School Publishing, reissued in paperback in 1998, and has been translated into numerous languages. Professor Leonard's book, When Sparks Fly: Igniting Group Creativity, (co-authored with Walter Swap) was published September, 1999 by Harvard Business School Press. Also widely translated, it has been reissued in paperback in 2005 and was awarded Best Book on Creativity by the European Association for Creativity and Innovation. Her book Deep Smarts: How to Cultivate and Transfer Enduring Business Wisdom, (co-authored with Walter Swap) was published in January, 2005.  Her latest book (co-authored with Walter Swap and Gavin Barton) is: Critical Knowledge Transfer: Tools for Managing Your Company’s Deep Smarts, published in 2014 by Harvard Business Review Press. Before obtaining her Ph.D. from Stanford University, she worked in Southeast Asia for ten years.

*formerly Dorothy Leonard-Barton

For more information please go to Professor Leonard's Webpage
  1. (formerly Leonard-Barton) Creating and Exploiting Knowledge-Based Assets

    by Dorothy A. Leonard

    For the past decade, Dorothy Leonard's research has focused on how companies develop and exploit strategically advantageous knowledge assets. In her 1995 book Wellsprings of Knowledge (HBS Press), she identified and described in depth, activities that create and channel technological knowledge to invent, import, integrate and commercialize technology. The book Deep Smarts, published in 2005 (HBP), focused on the business-critical, experience-based knowledge that underlies both current operations and future innovation.  In 2014, she and co-authors Walter Swap and Gavin Barton provided a practical guidebook for managers (Critical Knowledge Transfer) on how to nurture and preserve deep smarts.  She continues to research how this type of expertise can be identified and transferred to less experienced personnel—especially its tacit dimensions.
  2. Experiential Learning and Knowledge Mentors

    by Dorothy A. Leonard

    Dorothy Leonard’s research on innovation and knowledge transfer has always emphasized learning by doing.  During the past several years, she has been exploring how organizations can foster faster skills learning.  While there are generational differences in today’s workforce in preferences for technological enablers, the basics of how people gain practical know-how has not changed.  She is therefore focusing on how experiential learning can be introduced into “on-boarding” and early professional development programs in organizations.