Shoshana Zuboff

Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration, Retired

Shoshana Zuboff is the Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School (retired), where she joined the faculty in 1981.  One of the first tenured women at the Harvard Business School and the youngest woman to receive an endowed chair, she earned her Ph.D. in social psychology from Harvard University and her B.A. in philosophy from the University of Chicago. She has been a featured columnist for BusinessWeek.com and for Fast Company Magazine.

Professor Zuboff’s most recent article is “Creating Value in the Age of Distributed Capitalism” (McKinsey Quarterly, September 2010), derived from her work over the last decade with new enterprises geared to the emerging challenges of individualized distributed commerce.  Her work on distributed capitalism builds on the research published in her book, The Support Economy: Why Corporations Are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism (Penguin, 2003), co-authored with her husband, former Chief Executive and philosophy Ph.D. Jim Maxmin.  Long before the economic crisis of 2007-2008, this far-reaching multi-disciplinary effort integrated history, sociology, management, and economics to explain how today’s business models have reached the limits of their adaptive range. The Support Economy anticipated many of the dynamics at the heart of the financial meltdown as it chronicled the institutionalization of zero-sum adversarial conflicts between consumers and businesses. Today’s consumers have moved beyond mass produced goods and services to instead seek individualized relationships of advocacy and support that enable control over their lives and meaningful channels for voice and influence. The chasm that has come to separate new people and old organizations is filled with frustration, pain, and mistrust.  It has also ignited the next wave of wealth creation on a global scale, as new principles of distributed capitalism combine with distributed technologies to meet these new needs.

The Support Economy has been praised and translated around the world. Many now credit it as providing a prescient and comprehensive analysis of the underlying dynamics responsible for the worldwide economic crisis.  It was selected by strategy+business as one of the top ten business books of 2003 and ranked number one in the “Values” category. BusinessWeek named it the “number one idea” in its special issue on “Twenty Five Ideas for a Changing World”. Inc. magazine described The Support Economy as “the new new thing” in its special anniversary issue on entrepreneurship.  The book has also been featured in dozens of other magazines and newspapers including the Economist, Fast Company, the Financial Times, the Times of London, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post and Across the Board (The Conference Board) as well as in major publications in Germany, Italy, India, China, Brazil, Croatia, Japan, Canada, and South Korea.

In 2006, strategy+business named Professor Zuboff among the eleven most original business thinkers in the world.  She was featured in 2004 as a “Creative Mind” in strategy+business, described as “a maverick management guru…one of the sharpest most unorthodox thinkers today.” From 2003 to 2005, Zuboff shared her ideas on the future of business and society in her popular monthly column “Evolving”, in the magazine Fast Company. From 2007 through 2009 she was a featured columnist for BusinessWeek.com. Professor Zuboff’s work has been showcased on CNBC, Reuters International, and the Today Show as well as in Fortune, Inc., Business Week, U.S. News & World Report, CIO, The New York Times, The Financial Times, and many other news outlets. Bostonia Magazine voted her one of the “Five Smartest People in Boston”. She has been heard on over 200 radio shows, including top coverage on NPR’s Marketplace, TechNation, Sound Money, Morning Edition, BBC, and the BBC World Service.

Author of the celebrated classic In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power (1988), Professor Zuboff has been called “the true prophet of the information age”. In the Age of the Smart Machine won instant critical acclaim in both the academic and trade press—including the front page review in the New York Times Book Review-- and has long been considered the definitive study of information technology in the workplace.

In 1993, Professor Zuboff founded the executive education program “ODYSSEY: School for the Second Half of Life” at the Harvard Business School. The program addressed the issues of transformation and career renewal at midlife. During twelve years of her teaching and leadership, ODYSSEY became known as the best program of its kind in the world.

Professor Zuboff has published dozens of articles, essays, book reviews, and cases on the subject of information technology in the workplace, as well as on the history and future of work and management.  Her scholarly monograph “Work in the United States in the Twentieth Century,” appears in the Encyclopedia of the United States in the Twentieth Century (1996).  Her lectures on “The Information Society” are featured in the Smithsonian’s permanent exhibition on “The Information Age”.  She has served on editorial boards including the Harvard Business Review, the American Prospect, and Organization. She serves on the boards of the Legatum Center at MIT, The Natural Resources Council of Maine, and The Heartwood Regional Theater Company.  She has been awarded research grants from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Professor Zuboff lectures, leads seminars, and consults to businesses and governments around the world.  Some of her recent presentations include The Bankinter Future Trends Forum (Madrid, Bilbao), Fortune Brainstorm, The Specialty Schools and Academies Trust (UK), The Exelon Corporation, The Performance Theater (Budapest), The Finnish Academy of Sciences, The University Continuing Education Association, The TechNation Summit, European Consumer Day (Zurich), The Senior Human Resource Managers Global Forum, The Knowledge Management Network, The Service Innovation Consortium, The Discovery Companies, Demos (London) , The Economist CIO Forum, the CRM Forum, The Sloan Leadership Conference, The Triple Bottom Line (Canada), The National Consumer Council (UK), Sogetti (Amsterdam), and General Electric.

Shoshana Zuboff has delivered major invited addresses at Cambridge University, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, The London School of Economics, The European Information Systems Society, The Royal Society of Arts , The British Computer Society, The Smithsonian, The American Society for Training and Development, The National Education Association, The American Management Association, and many others.

Professor Zuboff lives with her husband, Jim Maxmin, and their two children on a fresh water farm in mid-coast Maine.

Journal Articles

  1. Creating Value in the Age of Distributed Capitalism

    Shoshana Zuboff

    Capitalism is a book of many chapters—and we are beginning a new one. Every century or so, fundamental changes in the nature of consumption create new demand patterns that existing enterprises can't meet. When a majority of people want things that remain priced at a premium under the old institutional regime—a condition I call the "premium puzzle"—the ground becomes extremely fertile for wholly new classes of competitors that can fulfill the new demands at an affordable price. A premium puzzle existed in the auto industry before Henry Ford and the Model T and in the music industry before Steve Jobs and the iPod. The consumption shift in Ford's time was from the elite to the masses; today, we are moving from an era of mass consumption to one focused on the individual. Sharp increases in higher education, standards of living, social complexity, and longevity over the past century gave rise to a new desire for individual self-determination: having control over what matters, having one's voice heard, and having social connections on one's own terms. The leading edge of consumption is now moving from products and services to tools and relationships enabled by interactive technologies.

    Keywords: Value Creation; Economic Systems; Transformation;

    Citation:

    Zuboff, Shoshana. "Creating Value in the Age of Distributed Capitalism." Art. 4. McKinsey Quarterly (2010), 45–55. View Details

Book Chapters

Cases and Teaching Materials

  1. Career Choice-Making Case Assignment, The

    Monica C. Higgins, David A. Thomas and Shoshana Zuboff

    Sets the stage for self-assessment as an integral component in the process of career development.

    Keywords: Decision Choices and Conditions; Management Practices and Processes; Personal Development and Career;

    Citation:

    Higgins, Monica C., David A. Thomas, and Shoshana Zuboff. "Career Choice-Making Case Assignment, The." Harvard Business School Exercise 403-054, August 2002. View Details
  2. Matt Compton's Job Search

    Shoshana Zuboff and Dave DeLong

    Matt Compton wrestles with the problems of a post-MBA job search and finds himself captivated by the aggressive recruiting tactics of the large management consulting firms. The case raises issues of how a passive job search that relies on options presented by recruiters can be seductive and less troublesome than a proactive approach. But, in the long run, it may not be in the student's best interests.

    Keywords: Recruitment; Job Search; Problems and Challenges;

    Citation:

    Zuboff, Shoshana, and Dave DeLong. "Matt Compton's Job Search." Harvard Business School Case 489-057, October 1988. (Revised July 2000.) View Details
  3. Alex Dean

    Shoshana Zuboff, Dave DeLong and Kathleen Scharf

    Traces the evolution of Alex Dean's internal and external careers, exploring his psychological and emotional development, as well as seemingly dramatic shifts in career direction from research scientist to venture capitalist. Designed to encourage students to reflect on the evolution of their own internal and external careers.

    Keywords: Personal Development and Career; Jobs and Positions; Emotions; Research and Development; Venture Capital;

    Citation:

    Zuboff, Shoshana, Dave DeLong, and Kathleen Scharf. "Alex Dean." Harvard Business School Case 489-039, September 1988. (Revised July 2000.) View Details
  4. Motorola: Institutionalizing Corporate Initiatives

    Shoshana Zuboff and Janis Lee Gogan

    Motorola became a recognized quality leader in large part by becoming a leader in employee education and by encouraging "participative management." Through the Motorola Training and Education Center, later Motorola University, the company invested substantial resources in improving workers' skills and establishing a common language of quality across the corporation to support its ambitious quality improvement goals. Through quality circles, its Total Customer Satisfaction quality competition, and its potentially more far-reaching empowerment initiative, Motorola encouraged its employees to apply their new knowledge and skills in innovative and proactive ways. The growing interest in empowerment raised a number of organizational issues that led many to wonder how best to achieve its stated goals.

    Keywords: Experience and Expertise; Customer Satisfaction; Training; Human Resources; Leadership; Management Analysis, Tools, and Techniques; Corporate Strategy; Education Industry;

    Citation:

    Zuboff, Shoshana, and Janis Lee Gogan. "Motorola: Institutionalizing Corporate Initiatives." Harvard Business School Case 494-139, May 1994. (Revised October 1994.) View Details
  5. Motorola Corp.: The View from the CEO Office

    Shoshana Zuboff and Janis Lee Gogan

    Motorola, a leader in semiconductors and telecommunications, embarked on an ambitious program of renewal beginning in the early 1980s, leading to dramatic improvements in the company's quality, cycle time, and growth. Much of this progress was attributed to a major investment in workers' skills and in mechanisms that encouraged teams of employees to work on continuous improvement projects. In 1994 top management considered whether to promote a corporate-wide empowerment initiative that would encourage an unprecedented downward delegation of responsibilities. With very ambitious global growth goals, Motorola aspired to be "the finest corporation in the world," with an organization that was both more flexible and participative and dedicated to continuous improvement. The case focuses on the role of the CEO office in promoting corporate initiatives while preserving the $17 billion corporation's decentralized structure.

    Keywords: Competency and Skills; Leading Change; Management Analysis, Tools, and Techniques; Managerial Roles; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Organizational Structure; Corporate Strategy; Telecommunications Industry;

    Citation:

    Zuboff, Shoshana, and Janis Lee Gogan. "Motorola Corp.: The View from the CEO Office." Harvard Business School Case 494-140, May 1994. (Revised October 1994.) View Details
  6. Motorola-Penang

    Shoshana Zuboff and Janis Lee Gogan

    S.K. Ko managed Motorola's Penang, Malaysia factory, producing telecommunications components and equipment. As a female manager of a multi-ethnic and labor-intensive plant in Asia, Ko faced a number of challenges. She had already promoted quality circles and quality competitions to meet Motorola's raised standards. Extensive training gave workers the skills to solve problems and to troubleshoot equipment. But Ko was skeptical of empowerment efforts at other Motorola sites that aimed for much greater worker participation in decision making. She thought empowerment inappropriate to the Asian context. She also thought that many operators would have trouble upgrading their skills as the world became more information intensive. Other Southeast Asian nations with lower labor costs were a competitive threat to Penang's labor-intensive processes. She envisioned Penang transformed by the year 2000 into a fully automated manufacturing operation and a design center for all of Motorola's Asian operations.

    Keywords: Factories, Labs, and Plants; Transformation; Decision Making; Ethnicity Characteristics; Gender Characteristics; Training; Leading Change; Management Analysis, Tools, and Techniques; Problems and Challenges; Technology Industry; Malaysia;

    Citation:

    Zuboff, Shoshana, and Janis Lee Gogan. "Motorola-Penang." Harvard Business School Case 494-135, May 1994. (Revised August 1994.) View Details
  7. Motorola-Elma

    Shoshana Zuboff and Janis Lee Gogan

    Motorola's old automative electronics plant in Arcade, outside Buffalo, New York, faced the prospect of closure in the mid-1980s, but leading customers persuaded Motorola to give the plant a second chance. The new plant manager, Dennis Fiehn, recognized that existing practices had to change if the plant was to remain competitive. He pushed for fewer supervisory layers, flexible job boundaries, cross-training, team-based production, and more active problem solving. The move to a modern plant in nearby Elma (1989) coincided with a new corporate-wide push for higher quality and cycle-time goals and more participative management. Soon operators were performing functions previously restricted to supervisors, technicians, and skilled workers. Supervisors, now team leaders, delegated more responsibility and became more like coaches. The plant was now recognized as a strong performer and slated for expansion.

    Keywords: Factories, Labs, and Plants; Business Exit or Shutdown; Customers; Leading Change; Management Analysis, Tools, and Techniques; Organizational Structure; Competitive Strategy; Expansion; Telecommunications Industry; New York (state, US);

    Citation:

    Zuboff, Shoshana, and Janis Lee Gogan. "Motorola-Elma." Harvard Business School Case 494-136, May 1994. (Revised August 1994.) View Details
  8. Laura Ashley (A): Creating a World Class Service Organization in Support of a Global Brand & Federal Express

    Shoshana Zuboff

    Keywords: Service Operations; Customer Focus and Relationships; Performance Effectiveness; Apparel and Accessories Industry;

    Citation:

    Zuboff, Shoshana. "Laura Ashley (A): Creating a World Class Service Organization in Support of a Global Brand & Federal Express." Harvard Business School Case 493-018, June 1993. View Details
  9. Alan Stein

    Carl S. Sloane, Shoshana Zuboff and R.Keith Giarman

    Deals with issues of adult and career development at mid-life. Describes the career and personal history of an adult male, choice points in his life, and how he made critical career and personal choices. Focuses in on his decision to "retire" from Goldman, Sachs at an early age (46), make a transition into a state government role, and then make a transition back into an investment banking position with a different firm in a different and more self-fulfilling role.

    Keywords: Transition; Decision Choices and Conditions; Personal Development and Career; Retirement; Satisfaction;

    Citation:

    Sloane, Carl S., Shoshana Zuboff, and R.Keith Giarman. "Alan Stein." Harvard Business School Case 493-088, May 1993. View Details
  10. Don Burr

    Shoshana Zuboff

    Traces the career development of People Express founder Don Burr. Shows how an individual's evolving set of needs and values influences career choices and how each successive working environment meets these needs or spurs the individual to move on. Concludes as Burr is faced with the difficult choice of what he is going to do after the sale of People Express.

    Keywords: Values and Beliefs; Working Conditions; Personal Development and Career; Human Needs;

    Citation:

    Zuboff, Shoshana. "Don Burr." Harvard Business School Case 490-014, September 1989. (Revised August 1990.) View Details
  11. Steve Shirley

    Shoshana Zuboff

    Traces the career development of a well-known British entrepreneur who, as a young girl, was forced to flee the Nazi's occupation of Central Europe. Details her early work experiences in the heavily male dominated workplace of post-war Britain and follows the development of her highly successful career as founder and chairman of F International, a software consulting company that employs primarily young mothers working from their homes. Clearly illustrates the evolution of an entrepreneur's career and the struggles involved in balancing family concerns with high pressure work life.

    Keywords: Work-Life Balance; Entrepreneurship; Gender Characteristics; Great Britain;

    Citation:

    Zuboff, Shoshana. "Steve Shirley." Harvard Business School Case 490-004, September 1989. View Details
  12. Expense Tracking System at Tiger Creek

    Shoshana Zuboff

    Mill manager Carl Adelman learns that a group of senior managers is soon to visit the Tiger Creek mill to learn more about the success of the newly implemented Expense Tracking System. The System had been installed on two paper machines to give workers real time cost data enabling them to optimize the papermaking process. Impressive savings resulted from the operating innovations made by the paper machine operators, and this has engaged corporate attention. However, the savings rate seems to have plateaued. Andelman must discover why before the VIP visit.

    Keywords: Management Teams; Success; Cost Management; Technology; Pulp and Paper Industry;

    Citation:

    Zuboff, Shoshana. "Expense Tracking System at Tiger Creek." Harvard Business School Case 485-057, December 1984. View Details