Business Case Studies, Executive Interviews, John C Camillus on Business Model Innovation

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Executive Interviews: Interview with John C Camillus on Business Model Innovation
May 2009 - By Dr. Nagendra V Chowdary

John C Camillus
Donald R. Beall Professor of Strategic Management, Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration.

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  • Professor, can you share with our readers your journey from IIT to DBA (from Harvard University) to being the Best Teacher.
    My professional journey has benefited immensely from the good advice and mentoring that I received from my immediate family and from professional colleagues. After I graduated from IIT Madras, going to IIM Ahmedabad for the postgraduate program was more my family’s idea than mine. And after IIMA, going to Harvard Business School, for a doctorate was the result of three brilliant professors at IIMA – SK Bhattacharyya, John Dearden and Prafull Anubhai – shifting my interests from production management to the topic of “management control.” The specialization of “Control,” uniquely defined in Harvard’s doctoral program, was at the heart of general management, combining the disciplines of accounting, microeconomics, behavioral sciences, quantitative analysis and planning. HBS values teaching and in the doctoral program, in addition to research, we also learned how to write case studies and teach them well. Returning to IIMA as the first alumnus to join the faculty, I was absolutely delighted to win the “Best Teacher Award,” voted by the students the very first year that this award was initiated. When I joined the University of Pittsburgh, the lessons I learned at IIMA and at HBS led to my receiving the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award, the highest award for teaching at the University. Also, because of the values I learned from my family, from Jesuit priests who influenced my thinking while at IIT-M, and from my colleagues at IIMA, I have also been given the Chancellor’s Distinguished Public Service Award at the University of Pittsburgh. What I learned at IIMA as a student and as a faculty member has been inspiring and life changing.

  • In a recent HBR article (Strategy as a Wicked Problem, HBR, May 2008), you have defined strategy from a different perspective. What is a wicked problem? How to manage the wickedness of strategy?
    Many strategic issues possess characteristics that make them “wicked.” “Wicked problems” are a class of problems which have complex, intertwined causes and are difficult to define; where possible solutions interact with and change the problem; where there are many stakeholders with different and often conflicting priorities; where there is limited or no precedent; and where there is no clear-cut “right” answer. Traditional techniques of strategic analysis just do not work with these problems. Employing processes that emphasize social networks and creative, non-deterministic variations of traditional analytical methods are the key to taming wicked problems.

  • You have observed that contemporary strategic-planning processes don’t help enterprises cope with the big problems they face. Is that stand vindicated even further during current financial crisis and the ensuing problems that the companies face?
    There is good reason to believe that recent problems faced by companies have been wicked in character and that traditional strategic decisionmaking processes have resulted in dysfunctional responses. For instance, many US companies have ineptly focused on one key stakeholder – the shareholder – to the detriment of others such as employees, customers and the communities in which they operate. The problems faced were complex with many interrelated causes. The nature and causes of the credit crunch are unprecedented. Traditional processes and techniques are wholly inadequate to tackle these wicked strategic issues. For instance, the widely-employed, simple accounting measures of performance such as profits and ROI and even the more sophisticated EVA measure do not map well onto the realities of economic opportunity costs. These accounting measures also ignore relevant consequences of managerial decisions, treating them as “externalities.” Several such presumed externalities actually have an impact on organizational performance in the immediate and long term.

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