The STR Teaching Committee asked outstanding strategy teachers to describe some of their innovative teaching. This post features Professor Ron Adner (link to webpage), interviewed on behalf of the STR Teaching Committee by Assistant Professor Hakan Ener (link).
Ron Adner is the David T. McLaughlin Professor and Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. His award-winning research and teaching deal with firms’ strategies in innovation ecosystems.
One of Ron’s teaching highlights is an MBA elective course called “Entrepreneurship and Innovation Strategy.” The topics he covers in this course are largely drawn from his influential book titled “The Wide Lens: What Successful Innovators See that Others Miss.”
Here are three tips on why and how business school faculty may benefit from learning about Ron Adner’s course contents, based on our recent interview.
- Complementing established strategy frameworks and theories
Companies continuously improve their products and services, or launch new ones in an effort to differentiate themselves against rivals. This should make perfect sense to any business school student. However, some of the most promising product launches in recent history have struggled due to challenges in getting some of their ecosystem players – suppliers, complementors, distributors, retailers – to play along. Sony’s pioneering e-reader, which initially looked like a great strategic move but ultimately did not generate sufficient support from content providers, is a case in point.
In order to help our students to understand how companies can be successful in ecosystems, Ron believes that we as business school faculty need to expand what we teach in core courses related to strategy and general management. This is an especially urgent need due to the rise of new innovation ecosystems – such as mobile operating systems, autonomous driving, 3D printing, blockchain, aerial drones, and others – affecting many industries.
- New ways to think about strategy, including the “Adoption chain risk” and the “Co-innovation risk”
In his book and MBA course, Ron recommends managers to ask two key questions:
- Who else needs to adopt my firm’s innovation so that the end customer can assess the full value proposition? (the “Adoption chain risk”)
- Which other organizations need to innovate for my firm’s innovation to matter? (the “Co-innovation risk”)
With detailed case studies on car tires, digital cinemas, music players, electric cars and others, students learn how these risks appear in real life situations, and what to do about them. From mapping the ecosystem with “The Value Blueprint” to reexamining the first-mover advantage with co-innovators through the “First-mover Matrix”, students can apply each framework to any industry.
- Linking the ecosystem topic with current business opportunities and challenges
Ron Adner uses chapters from his book as his teaching material in a variety of ways. For instance, he likes to ask his students to apply any of the frameworks from “The Wide Lens” book to a current business opportunity or a challenge facing any industry or any company. In recent years, students have tended to pick topics related to the ecosystems forming around virtual reality, blockchain, and 3D printing. One of Ron’s favorites is when students apply the lessons from the chapter on electrics cars, plus an epilogue he recently published related to Better Place (after it declared bankruptcy) in order to figure out how Tesla today can avoid some of the pitfalls described in the book. Giving students the freedom to choose the most relevant current topics helps to keep the discussions fresh each year.
Ron also described some of the other ways in which he and faculty members elsewhere have used these materials for teaching. For example, a very innovative approach that could be called “Coupled case studies” involves having the students deep-dive into a comparison of the ecosystem strategies implemented by two companies or industries described in different chapters of the book. This type of exercise ensures that students can see the same set of facts through different frameworks.
Finally, Ron provided tips for faculty members considering adopting some of these materials for their own courses. Faculty looking for minor improvements to an existing strategy course may experiment with introducing one or two sessions related to innovation ecosystems. For a one session experiment, he recommends that students come to class prepared to apply a specific framework from any of the chapters of “The Wide Lens” in order to evaluate a current business opportunity or challenge, as described above with the Tesla example. For a two-session experiment, comparing and contrasting the ecosystem strategies of two companies or industries described in any two chapters of the book, preferably in the presence of a guest speaker with relevant industry / management experience would work very well.
For more information about Ron’s course and materials from his book, please see these links: