Strategic IQ - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Strategic IQ

Course Number 1291

Professor of Management Practice John R. Wells
Fall; Q1; 3 credits (Intensive)
28 sessions on 14 class meeting dates

Course Overview

Strategic IQ takes the perspective of the CEO/General Manager formulating and implementing business strategy in fast-changing environments. The course is essentially integrative, drawing on each of the courses in the First Year Required Curriculum to show how strategy is developed and turned into action, addressing the strategy structural and people issues involved. The course addresses specifically why some companies fail to change in a timely manner, diagnoses the causes of this inertia, and identifies how this might be overcome.

Course Structure

The organizing principle of the course is to examine pairs of successful companies in the same industry where one suddenly failed but the other proved to be more sustainable. In this way, we hold many variables constant when we look for what really drives long-term success.

The ability to adapt to a changing environment is a measure of intelligence. So why do firms display low IQ, and what can be done to improve their score? We look at three main sources of inertia, strategic, structural, and human/social, and how they can be overcome.

After a brief introduction and overview, the course is organized into four core modules. In the first module, Smart Strategy, we examine why firms fail to see the need to change their strategy, or cannot seem to find a solution to their problems, and discuss what they can do to boost their strategic IQ.

The second module addresses the problem firms often face when they know they need to change their strategy but organizational structure or previous investments in assets get in the way. Smart Structure, examines how capacity for change can be designed into organizations. It addresses both formal and informal structure and identifies levers for creating greater responsiveness.

The capacity for change in an organization is ultimately limited by the capacity and commitment of its people to change. The third module, Smart Minds, focuses on how to pick the right people and shape the organizational context to encourage people to be more open to change.

The fourth module addresses the topics of good of followership and leadership and addresses what it takes to develop Leaders of Smart Organizations.

Course Content

The course includes cases from a wide range of sectors, including fitness and leisure, consumer electronics, fashion, financial services, fast moving consumer goods, medical equipment, professional services, social networking, the military, and sports. (See below.)

The course draws on the disciplines of economics, sociology, psychology, neurology, and evolutionary biology.

Course Timing

  • Quarter 1, Fall 2019 (first half of the semester)
  • 14 double sessions taught on X schedule days
  • From 1:15 pm to 4pm with a 15-minute break: 1:15 pm - 2:30 pm / 2:45 pm - 4:00 pm


  • 3 Credits
  • 65% class participation
  • 35% exam

Optional Paper

Those completing the course are eligible for an optional 3 credit paper in the second half of the semester.


  • Cross registrants welcome
  • The course will not accept auditors

Overview of Content

While the content may change, the following provides an overview of the case materials.


    • 1.1. Why do Successful companies fail? Health Club Industry, Bally Total Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness
    • 2.1. Spectrum of Strategic IQ: Walmart vs Kmart
    • 2.2. Evolution of Strategic IQ: Circuit City vs. Best Buy vs Amazon
    • 2.3. Measuring Strategic IQ: Progressive vs. Allstate
    • 3.1. Spectrum of Structural IQ: Gap vs Inditex vs. Li&Fung
    • 3.2. Evolution of Structural IQ: P&G vs. Danaher vs. Cantel Medical
    • 3.3. Measuring Structural IQ: Whole Foods vs, Wild Oats
    • 4.1. Leveraging Informal Structure: Facebook vs. Tencent
    • 4.2. Measuring Human/Social IQ: Capital One vs. Providian, Nucor
    • 4.3. Hiring the Right Minds: McKinsey, Pymetrics
    • 4.4. Reducing Resistance to Change: The Black Horse Regiment
    • 5.1. Leading Smart Organizations: The NFL, New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns
    • 5.2. Harnessing Insatiable Needs for Change, Legitimate Leadership: Exercises