Elizabeth J. Altman - Faculty & Research - Harvard Business School
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Elizabeth J. Altman

Visiting Scholar


Elizabeth J. Altman (Twitter: @lizaltman) is an assistant professor of strategic management at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Dr. Altman teaches strategy courses in the graduate management programs in the Manning School of Business, and pursues a research agenda centered on firms building platform-based businesses and creating and joining business ecosystems. She is also a visiting scholar at the Harvard Business School where she continues her research in collaboration with Prof. Clayton Christensen and other colleagues.

Altman completed her doctorate in business administration at Harvard Business School in May 2015. Altman was previously VP of business development in Motorola's Mobile Devices business leading a team responsible for identifying partners, developing relationship strategies, and executing and managing deals. Prior to this, Altman led a team developing and executing business strategy and managing relationships with partners for a multi-billion dollar Motorola division.
 
Altman joined Motorola after earning dual masters degrees in mechanical engineering and management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1994, she was awarded a U.S. Department of Commerce and Japanese government fellowship and spent a year at a Sony factory in Japan.

Altman earned her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at Cornell University and has served on the Cornell Board of Trustees. She is also an emeritus member of the Cornell College of Engineering Advisory Council and the President’s Council of Cornell Women.

Altman co-authored the book "The Innovator’s Guide to Growth: Putting Disruptive Innovation to Work,"​ (Harvard Business Press, 2008). Altman was featured in Bennis and Thomas’ book on leadership "Geeks and Geezers: How Era, Values and Defining Moments Shape Leaders."​ She was one of Boston Magazine's “Top 100 Most Influential Women in Boston,” and one of the Boston Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” top business and community leaders.
Books
Journal Articles
  1. Disruptive Innovation: An Intellectual History and Directions for Future Research

    Clayton M. Christensen, Rory McDonald, Elizabeth J. Altman and Jonathan E. Palmer

    The concept of disruptive innovation has gained considerable currency among practitioners despite widespread misunderstanding of its core principles. Similarly, foundational research on disruption has elicited frequent citation and vibrant debate in academic circles, but subsequent empirical research has rarely engaged with its key theoretical arguments. This inconsistent reception warrants a thoughtful evaluation of research on disruptive innovation within management and strategy. We trace the theory’s intellectual history, noting how its core principles have been clarified by anomaly-seeking research. We also trace the theory’s evolution from a technology-change framework—essentially descriptive and relatively limited in scope—to a more broadly explanatory causal theory of innovation and competitive response. This assessment reveals that our understanding of the phenomenon of disruption has changed as the theory has developed. To reinvigorate academic interest in disruptive innovation, we propose several underexplored topics—response strategies, performance trajectories, and innovation metrics—to guide future research.

    Keywords: disruptive innovation; innovation metrics; competitive strategy; systemic industries; technology trajectories; Disruptive Innovation; Theory; History; Competitive Strategy; Research;

    Citation:

    Christensen, Clayton M., Rory McDonald, Elizabeth J. Altman, and Jonathan E. Palmer. "Disruptive Innovation: An Intellectual History and Directions for Future Research." Journal of Management Studies (forthcoming).  View Details
  2. Finding the Platform in Your Product: Four Strategies That Can Reveal Hidden Value

    Andrei Hagiu and Elizabeth J. Altman

    Five of the 10 most valuable companies in the world today—Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft—derive much of their worth from their multisided platforms (MSPs), which facilitate interactions or transactions between parties. Many MSPs are more valuable than companies in the same industries that provide only products or services: For instance, Airbnb is now worth more than Marriott, the world’s largest hotel chain. However, companies that weren’t born as platform businesses rarely realize that they can—at least partially—turn their offerings into one, say the authors. And even if they do realize it, they often wander in the dark searching for a strategy to achieve this transformation. In this article, Hagiu and Altman provide a framework for doing so. They lay out four specific ways in which products and services can be turned into platforms and examine the strategic advantages and pitfalls of each: (1) opening the door to third parties, (2) connecting customers, (3) connecting products to connect customers, and (4) becoming a supplier to a multisided platform. These ideas can be used by physical as well as online businesses.

    Keywords: Multi-Sided Platforms; Competitive Strategy; Value Creation;

    Citation:

    Hagiu, Andrei, and Elizabeth J. Altman. "Finding the Platform in Your Product: Four Strategies That Can Reveal Hidden Value." Harvard Business Review 95, no. 4 (July–August 2017): 94–100.  View Details
  3. Technology and Innovation Management

    Elizabeth J. Altman, Frank Nagle and Michael Tushman

    The goal of this annotated bibliography on technology and innovation is to organize and present the most important literature relevant to a scholar seeking to understand and advance the field. It includes articles that are highly-cited and foundational pieces, as well as recent articles that help give the reader a sense of where the field is headed and where likely opportunities for future research lie. This article seeks to strike an equilibrium among the variety of perspectives that exist in technology and innovation literature, balancing new and old research as well as economic, organizational, and cross-disciplinary methodologies. The innovative process is broadly considered here, as well as the technologies that result from it, including business model innovation, service-level innovation, and product innovation, highlighting articles that utilize diverse levels of analysis.

    Keywords: technology; technological change; innovation streams; organizational evolution; executive leadership; organizational architecture; Technology; Technological Innovation; Innovation and Management; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Leadership; Organizational Design;

    Citation:

    Altman, Elizabeth J., Frank Nagle, and Michael Tushman. "Technology and Innovation Management." In Oxford Bibliographies: Management, edited by Ricky W. Griffin. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.  View Details
Book Chapters
  1. Platforms, Open/User Innovation, and Ecosystems: A Strategic Leadership Perspective

    Elizabeth J. Altman and Michael Tushman

    Platform, open/user innovation, and ecosystem strategies embrace and enable interactions with external entities. Firms pursuing these approaches conduct business and interact with environments differently than those pursuing traditional closed strategies. This chapter considers these strategies together highlighting similarities and differences between platform, open/user innovation, and ecosystem strategies. We focus on managerial and organizational challenges for organizations pursuing these strategies and identify four institutional logic shifts associated with these strategic transitions: (1) increasing external focus, (2) moving to greater openness, (3) focusing on enabling interactions, and (4) adopting interaction-centric metrics. As mature incumbent organizations adopt these strategies, there may be tensions and multiple conflicting institutional logics. Additionally, we consider four strategic leadership topics and how they relate to platform, open/user innovation, and ecosystem strategies: (1) executive orientation and experience, (2) top management teams, (3) board-management relations, and (4) executive compensation. We discuss theoretical implications, and consider future directions and research opportunities.

    Keywords: platforms; open/user innovation; Ecosystems; crowdsourcing; strategic leadership; top management teams; CEO role; Business Strategy; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Leadership; Managerial Roles;

    Citation:

    Altman, Elizabeth J., and Michael Tushman. "Platforms, Open/User Innovation, and Ecosystems: A Strategic Leadership Perspective." In Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Platforms. Vol. 37, edited by Jeffrey Furman, Annabelle Gawer, Brian Silverman, and Scott Stern, 177–207. Advances in Strategic Management. Emerald Publishing Limited, 2017.  View Details
  2. Innovating without Information Constraints: Organization, Communities, and Innovation when Information Costs Approach Zero

    Elizabeth J. Altman, Frank Nagle and Michael Tushman

    Innovation has traditionally taken place within an organization's boundaries and/or with selected partners. This Chandlerian approach to innovation has been rooted in transaction costs, organizational boundaries, and information processing challenges associated with distant search. Information processing, storage, and communication costs have long been an important constraint on innovation and a reason for innovative activities to take place inside the boundaries of an organization. However, exponential technological progress has led to a dramatic decrease in information constraints. In a range of contexts, information costs approach zero. In this chapter, we discuss how sharply reduced information costs enable organizations to engage with communities of developers, professionals, and users for core innovative activities, frequently through platform-based businesses and ecosystems and by incorporating user innovation. We then examine how this ease of external engagement impacts the organization and its strategic activities. Specifically, we consider how this shift in information processing costs affects organization boundaries, business models, interdependence, leadership, identity, search, and intellectual property. We suggest that much of the received wisdom in these areas of organization theory requires revisiting. We then discuss the implications for an organization's management of innovation and conclude with research opportunities.

    Keywords: Knowledge Sharing; Cost; Innovation and Management; Collaborative Innovation and Invention;

    Citation:

    Altman, Elizabeth J., Frank Nagle, and Michael Tushman. "Innovating without Information Constraints: Organization, Communities, and Innovation when Information Costs Approach Zero." In The Oxford Handbook of Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship, edited by Christina E. Shalley, Michael A. Hitt, and Jing Zhou, 353–379. Oxford University Press, 2015.  View Details
Working Papers
  1. Product to Platform Transitions: Organizational Identity Implications

    Elizabeth J. Altman and Mary Tripsas

    Organizations are increasingly recognizing that value they once derived from offering standalone products can be significantly enhanced if they transition to platform-based businesses that harness the innovative capabilities of complementors. While the competitive dynamics of platform-based businesses have been studied extensively in the economics and strategy literatures, the organizational implications of shifting from a product to a platform-based business model remain relatively unexplored. We propose that such a shift is not simply an operational change, but may challenge the core of how an organization views itself, calling into question organizational identity. Organizations that have historically defined themselves as creative and innovative may have trouble accepting a platform-based context where outsiders engage in much of the creative activity. Organizational identity can also influence whether and how organizations become platform-based. To succeed, we propose that organizations must question elements of their existing identity and actively modify it to become consistent with their new business approach.

    Keywords: Organizational change; organizational identity; multi-sided platforms; Ecosystems; complementors; managing innovation; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Multi-Sided Platforms; Innovation and Management; Organizational Culture;

    Citation:

    Altman, Elizabeth J., and Mary Tripsas. "Product to Platform Transitions: Organizational Identity Implications." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-045, December 2013. (Revised September 2014.)  View Details
Cases and Teaching Materials
  1. Intuit QuickBooks: From Product to Platform

    Andrei Hagiu and Elizabeth J. Altman

    This case focuses on the challenges and opportunities faced by a successful incumbent organization attempting to transform a large portion of its business from a traditionally product-centric operating mode to a platform-based one that leverages network effects to create durable competitive advantage. Strategic questions include the extent to which the organization should invest in platform initiatives, the appropriate resource allocation among various product and platform offerings, and the most beneficial business model for each of a few candidate multi-sided platform initiatives.

    Citation:

    Hagiu, Andrei, and Elizabeth J. Altman. "Intuit QuickBooks: From Product to Platform." Harvard Business School Teaching Note 714-477, March 2014.  View Details
  2. Intuit QuickBooks: From Product to Platform

    Andrei Hagiu and Elizabeth J. Altman

    This case focuses on the challenges and opportunities faced by a successful incumbent organization attempting to transform a large portion of its business from a traditionally product-centric operating mode to a platform-based one that leverages network effects to create durable competitive advantage. Strategic questions include the extent to which the organization should invest in platform initiatives, the appropriate resource allocation among various product and platform offerings, and the most beneficial business model for each of a few candidate multi-sided platform initiatives.

    Keywords: Business Model; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Market Platforms; Competitive Advantage; Network Effects; Consumer Products Industry;

    Citation:

    Hagiu, Andrei, and Elizabeth J. Altman. "Intuit QuickBooks: From Product to Platform." Harvard Business School Case 714-433, October 2013. (Revised December 2013.)  View Details