Insights of HBR Must Reads 2019

Following the read of “The paradox Strategy” another great source of insights is Harvard’s Business Review Must Reads.

Each year the university releases their musts read articles and this year’s insights of HBR Must Reads 2019  has topics go from inequality of treatment in the workplace, managing multi-teams, CEO Activists and dealing with emerging technologies (AI, AR). These case studies are always these carefully selected articles based on long-term research improve our judgment and decision making.

The Over-committed Organization

Due to the prevalence of multi-teaming within knowledge based industries (95%) mastering the art of multi-teaming projects is a challenge for most as it can be difficult to juggle. This article was all about optimizing such environments (as a employee or manager). Identifying the benefits multi-teaming has (knowledge-flow, efficiency) but also the often neglected hidden costs (intra and inter-personal). Based on their research, some recommendations: 1) create an official launch 2) map everyone’s skills 3) communications on people’s time-frame  4) creating an environment of learning and proper valorization. Organizational leaders on the other hand should map relationships and distributed among workers and awareness of how teams absorb “shocks”.

Numbers Takes us only so far

Personally my least favorite study as it involved some ideological views and dangerous recommendations to tackle discrimination. The problem resides that the author states that minorities tend to under-estimate themselves and therefore undersell their contributions, falling prey to their own bias. Managers do not escape this reasoning as even being aware of biases, their judgment is clouded by it. Although there is merit in these observations, methods used to tackle such an issue are fluffy at best as her recommendations is to employ any method available (qualitative, quantitative) to identify biases. The most troubling was at the end when she mentioned vocabulary change as a potential solution.

The New CEO Activists

More of a general observation, this article made us understand a shift in American corporate culture, CEO activism. Activism at the highest corporate level is mostly a niche concern for some public companies on the spotlight but what was interesting is that it was until recently bad business to declare political views. This has changed. Public leaders have never been so vocal about their opinion, the articles’ goal was to figure out its effects. From their research, if done properly CEO activism can stimulate moral, sales and loyalty. Nevertheless it is a dangerous game to play and the results are hard to predict. All shareholders need to be willing to move in the same direction.

Artificial Intelligence for the Real World

More of a summary about AI. We learn that AI is in fact an umbrella term used to illustrate various differing technologies: process automation (most common, typically back-office work), cognitive insight (detecting patterns, “analytics on steroids”), cognitive engagement (least common, intelligent agents[chatbots], recommendations). Beyond the descriptive nature of the article the sentence “If you can outsource a task you can probably automate it” stood out for me. Furthermore from their research most companies seek to create better products and not layoff employs. The end was mostly suggestions on how to adopt AI: Understanding the technologies, creating a portfolio of projects, launching pilots, scaling up.

Why Every Organization Needs an Augmented Reality Strategy

What struck me from this article was the astonishing potential of AR more so than AI. Based on their observations AR will allow a new information-delivery paradigm as it will bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds (80-90% of the information humans get is by vision). Capabilities of AR will be an increase of visualization (ex: X-ray style), Instruction-Guide (a study showed a time decrease of 35%), new levels of interactions (creating dynamic user interfaces). AR will mostly create value by becoming products themselves (ex: by removing buttons) and improving performance (mostly in operations) in product development, manufacturing, logistics, marketing (ex: showrooms), after-sales. The rest of the article revolves how to use AR as a strategy and how to deploy it.

Thriving in the Gig Economy

Equally more of a general observation. I learned that there are around 150M “Gig workers” in Western Europe/USA with knowledge and creative fields occupying the largest share. cThis article mostly revolved around the importance of places, routines, purpose, people to remain sustainable. There was mention of the difficulty of remaining productive as they conclude that finding the right balance between predictability and possibility, viability and vitality are a constant challenge.

The Error at the Heart of Corporate Leadership

My favourite article as it challenged a core belief I had about the “maximizing shareholder value” mantra also named “The agency-based model of governance” followed by senior management worldwide. This article was interesting as it fought against the flaw assumptions most people have with this philosophy. Shareholders for instance are mistakenly viewed as owners although they are anonymous and do not have any responsibility or accountability towards the corporation. This in turn providing them with the liberty of avoiding long-term effects of short turn gains.Their research observed that what activists name value creation is more accurately described as value transfer. Beyond this, the article evokes some interesting statistics:

  • Within 40 years the holding period of a stock went on average 5.1y (US) to 7.4m (!)
  • 62% of executive pay is in the form of equity compared to 19% in 1980
  • The proportion of S&P 500 companies with majority voting for directors increase from 16% in 2006 to 88% in 2015

Beyond a shift of management being fiduciaries instead of agents their conclusions gear towards a more company-centered approach including all shareholders.


I hope these bullet-point insights of HBR Must Reads 2019 might be helpful for your organisation..These following topics were ignored by my part for various reasons (subject, observations):

Why do we undervalue competent management, Managing our hub economy, The Leader’s Guide of Corporate, Culture, Now What?

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