Course Syllabus


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Course Syllabus: Part II

Sample Syllabus


Compare the Fortune 500 list of several decades ago to today’s list and you may be surprised at just how much it has changed. Building a corporation that can sustain success as the business environment evolves from one decade to the next is difficult. This is an accomplishment that can be claimed by only a handful of corporations.

The powerful forces of globalization and the digital revolution have only increased turnover among top corporations. In order to stay ahead of the game, corporations must learn to continuously create, grow, and profit from completely new business models. They must simultaneously pursue both excellence in their existing business and innovativeness in building new businesses. But how?

This course is based on five years of research conducted here at the Tuck School by my co-author, Vijay Govindarajan, and I. This research has been the core activity of Tuck’s William F. Achtmeyer Center for Global Leadership. We have published findings from this research through several channels, including our 2005 book, Ten Rules For Strategic Innovators – From Idea To Execution, through papers in the Harvard Business Review, the MIT Sloan Management Review, the California Management Review, and through a column on Fast Company’s website.


This is an interdisciplinary general management course. It is related to courses in the areas of strategy, management control, innovation and technology, and organizational behavior.

Method and Expectations

This class will be taught using the case method. Although I assign some additional reading, you should spend most of your study time focused on the case studies. You should read each case at least twice. I also strongly encourage study groups of any size.

In addition to assigning the case studies, I have added a few readings, including a few from our own publications, such as a few chapters from Ten Rules For Strategic Innovators, to help reinforce key points in the course.

You will notice that some of the chapters in Ten Rules are focused on the same case studies we examine in this course. However, these chapters are abbreviated retellings of the cases and only partial analyses. I have listed these chapters as optional readings, and suggest that the best time to read them is after the in-class discussion, to reinforce some of the central points from the session.

General Guidelines for Approaching the Cases in This Course

Imagine for a moment that you are a consultant an you have been asked to develop a strategy for a high-growth, high-risk new business for a large and successful company. Based on your research, you devise a business plan, and present it to the CEO. The CEO likes it, and decides to invest on the basis of your recommendation.

This course is about what happens next. We will focus on the challenges faced by the general managers who lead such ventures, as well as how CEOs and other senior executives can either help or get in the way.

What do general managers do? First, they lead. And we will touch a bit on leadership style in this course. Also, general managers coordinate various business functions such as marketing, sales, manufacturing, etc. But they do more. We can sharpen our focus in this course by focusing on a number of concrete decisions that general managers make that define how their organizations work.

For this class, we will categorize these decisions as follows:

  1. Structure – Formal reporting structure (the org chart), decision rights, information flows, processes definitions.
  2. Staff – Leadership style, hiring criteria, promotion criteria, career paths, competencies emphasized.
  3. Systems – Planning, budgeting, and control systems; measures of business performance, criteria for evaluating personal performance, incentive and compensation systems.
  4. Culture – Assumptions about types of behaviors that are valued, assumptions about drivers of business success, decision biases.

Because these decisions are such powerful determinants of how organizations behave, we’ll refer to these choices, collectively, as “organizational DNA.”

The general manager of a high-growth potential, high risk new business (“NewCo”) can choose to simply duplicate the organizational DNA the parent company “CoreCo.” After all CoreCo already has a well-established, proven DNA. We will see, however, that this is not generally a good approach. But how should NewCo be similar to CoreCo? And how should it be different?

It is important to recognize that this course focuses on strategy implementation, not strategy formulation. That is, we are much more interested in the HOW than the WHAT.

In the past, I have found that it is very easy for students to caught up in, and invest a lot of energy in, analyzing issues of strategy formulation for NewCo. However, strategy formulation is generally not the best use of time in this course. The cases we’ll study were not written from this perspective, and there is not enough information in the cases to support this type of discussion. Therefore, it will usually be best to avoid the following points of debate during this course:

  1. Whether or not you think that the target customer will buy NewCo’s product or service / Whether the value proposition is compelling.
  2. Whether or not you think the competition is better positioned than NewCo.
  3. Whether or not you think NewCo has a cost advantage.

These “Three Cs” – customer, competitor, costs – are the key issues of strategy formulation. I want you to assume that the case protagonists have invested a great deal of energy in developing a strategy, and that they are smart people.

However, it IS important to observe, the process by which NewCo alters its strategy over time. Does NewCo gather timely information on whether the existing strategy is likely to succeed? Is NewCo open to changes in strategy when new information suggests that such a change is wise? How do such changes come about? These questions call for an analysis of the planning, budgeting, and performance evaluation systems that are a crucial aspect of implementation.

Recognize that this topic cannot be reduced to a set of rules. I can’t give you a formula for making entrepreneurship within established organizations work, the same way you can have a formula for calculating ROI. It’s much more subtle, complex, topic. Thus, much of what you take away from this course will derive directly from the case studies themselves.

We will approach the cases much like you study history. That’s perhaps different than what you are accustomed to. The cases in this class do not end with a single, specific choice that you are supposed to analyze. Instead, your job is to understand the story in detail, and try to unravel the reasons that the story plays out the way it does. In short, your task is to diagnose, not to decide.

The great majority of the cases you study during your MBA are decision cases. To tackle a decision case, you often apply a known framework or method, and draw information from the case study that is relevant (and eliminating even more information that is not relevant), make a choice, and prepare evidence to back up your choice.

Diagnostic case studies are entirely different. Almost all information is relevant. Your job is to come up with your own explanations of what is happening, and why. A common questioning approach I use in class is very simple. I will highlight a series of case facts, and ask why each is relevant to the story. How did it have an impact on the flow of events? Be prepared for this type of questioning.

By the way, there are no stupid people in these cases. If you disagree with a decision made by one of the people in the case, your job is not simply to conclude that you would have done something else, but to ask yourself why a smart person would make the decision that they made. Is it connected to their background / experience? Particular pressures that they are under?

I recognize that you have limited preparation time, and I want you to spend as much of that time as possible doing the work that really matters – interpreting the facts of the case, and coming up with your own explanations of why the story plays out the way it does. To that end, I have done what I can to make simple familiarization with case facts as easy as possible by creating strategy overviews, timelines, and case fact summary slides, which I will distribute in advance with these session preparation guides.

You should read each case once quickly to get a feel for it, and then study these handouts to solidify the case facts. Pay particular attention to the timeline. Ask yourself why things happened at the time that they happened. Then, take a break. Come back to the case later, and read it SLOWLY. Read between the lines. Constantly ask yourself for explanations of what is happening in the case and why.

The more you ask yourself WHY, the sharper your intuition will be if you find yourself as a leader of a high-risk, high-growth new business or an advisor to one. Most leaders of such businesses have never been involved in one before. You, on the other hand, have 9 opportunities to get “virtual” experience. Make the most of them.