Nikhil, great post! I very much agree with your suggestions. Having researched the same topic, I think it’s critical for HBS to use these revolutionary technologies (that build off of their competitive advantage: the case method classroom and HBS legacy) to strictly COMPLIMENT their current offerings. It would be detrimental for them to make a massive MOOC play. This would call into question the value of their traditional MBA program and Executive Education program which are huge money-makers and valued so pricey for their in-person experience. If we begin to say that you can experience everything through HBX the same way you would a live class, we call into question the value of our core product and begin to disrupt our own market, the same way MIT with an online MBA or the MOOC world of Coursera has begin to threaten our underlying value. Right now I think our brand and presumed added value are too strong to be threatened by any sense of online courses. However, if we build technology that truly could threaten it, and market it too broadly, and as a “free service”, this gets dicey. I like your suggestions to build out an accelerated online MBA program, perhaps for international folks only, and with a final trip to HBS for exams or FIELD. Or to take the program one-step further removed and utilize the platform for social good. To make a big splash by coordinating summits or sessions with world leaders and thinkers. This is great for disruption, future planning, and the HBS brand. Hadn’t thought of that application and firmly believe it could work and even be monetized. Well done.
Thanks for the great post, Nik. I agree with what many here have added. The future of machine learning (predictive and adaptive output based on raw input) is going to be huge. I believe there are plenty of great synergistic areas to put natural language programs to use in journalism and media and news. I do not foresee a near future where programs like Quill will be taking over however (maybe for lesses publications). Big news outlets have high quality and sourcing standards. A human would need to review these things before pushing to print the article. Also opinions are often important in the news these days, as is a more flowing and compelling use of language. A computer CAN do all this. The issue is that the program would need to be hard-coded to write in such a way, based on the data input, which you do discuss. What’s not spelled out is how much time and energy it takes to build even a single algorithm for machine learning output. Over time a company might be able to build algorithms for weather articles, business articles, film articles, etc etc etc but this would require a great deal of upfront work to really get it right and get a way to adapt language naturally for each article. They would also need a more naturally sourced and less structured data input method to be developed for long-term sustainability. It is certainly possible, but we are talking about very, very hard stuff here. If there resources required would always take more than a few humans, why not just hire humans? Autogenerating cheap news can easily be replaced. Good news, poetry, novels, etc would need to be much more heavily scrutinized from a cost-benefit perspective.
Disruptive and illegal are two separate things for me. I can imagine plenty of new business models that might exist and prosper on the deep or dark web. However, they are innovating around business operations that come with great downside in the form of arrest or safety concerns, etc. When you don’t pay taxes, you don’t get the many protections that are often much needed in legal business operations. That said, I think this was a great and timely post. Super interesting. I would have loved to get a better sense of the actual operations of the Silk Road. Was their technology good? Were they able to build consumer-supplier trust? As marijuana begins to build traction in legalization, an online sales portal could be huge for disrupting the traditional dealer hand-off industry, which seems quite inefficient. We’ve already seen much headway made with dispensaries around innovating around quality, ease of access, efficiency, trust, safety, etc. There is much viability in the Silk Road being the new frontier of legal drug transactions, if it was in fact a best-in-class model for online exchange. My largest concerns are around user preference (testing) and quality assurance/refunds, specifically if anonymity is coming into play.
Super super interesting stuff here. I’m semi-obsessed with the operational systems that are built around the mechanics of the road/driving. There is a tremendous amount of variability and unforeseen circumstance on the road (accidents, traffic, street closures….) and yet so much innovation constantly being made in the space, utilizing GPS & Maps technology. With the Uber case I was keen to learn more about the HOW behind their operation. Sadly thats a $1B secret so I came up blank- same here. It was very curious that UPS has decided to utilize technology to confront deliver risks, costs, and extended times related to left turns, as I imagine that there are plenty of other areas of inefficiency the company could be using driving technology to tackle… order batching, delivering signing, drone/driverless usage into the future. I’d love to see the impact of ORION for UPS and understand what else they can use the underlying technology to address — i think this left-turn bit is only the beginning. It seems like there is untapped potential with ORION to make a very big splash for UPS.
Like fetch, I’m not quit sure this is going to happen… It seems counter-intuitive to the very disruption RtR brought to the fashion industry for them to go back and now invest in brick-and-mortar locations and partnerships with large retailers inside their physical spaces (store-within-a-store at Neiman’s just announced this past week). Given their inability to turn a profit, my hunch may be that they are struggling to gain traction and awareness so have turned to more traditional channels to do so. However, RtR is a far cry from traditional. They are offering designer dressers available for rent, alongside brand new dresses that costs just a few times the rental price. On top of this, the company, though aspiring to diversity and manage 100Ks of SKUs, is already struggling with women finding themselves wearing the same RtR dresses to parties, and have had many complaints around the quality of the used dresses. How many re-uses can they get out of these dresses? How do they manage their inventory and at what cost? When it comes to used clothes, folks want to see what they are getting, and admitting to “high-end” and “used” in the same sentence I don’t think will ever feel “fetch” to the fashionista. I like the ingenuity in this disruptive model, but ultimately I’m not sure the product itself is good enough or the target market large enough for this to stick. I think of other HBS grads that have really been revolutionary in their online retail business model (birchbox), especially Gilt Groupe that offers high-end fashion at similar prices to the rental prices of RtR. With massive online discounter fashion sites out there now-a-days, why not just buy the real deal. Even if you wear it once, you can donate your dress, or sell it on eBay, a consignment shop, etc. I think what RtR could really make a killing in is a model for resale of used high-end dresses. Like online consignment shop for luxury fashion.
Great, great post! Personally, I hate meat. I hate how it tastes, and smells, and more so, I hate all of the negative externalities that come of the production process, as well as animal cruelty implications. I think that Beyond Meat and similar brands like this one are tapping into a fascinating market where they can replicate the texture, taste, smell, and even density and bloodiness of traditional meat with vegetable alternatives loaded up with some additives. Though this product will never truly be for me, the meat hater, I think it has the ability to sell to the meat-loving mass market. With the added bonus of some really great sustainability efforts and environmental positives baked-in. I say baked-in because I wonder if a finding a meat-like meat alternative drove this innovation, or sustainability concerns around the meat industry did. I’d guess the former. Either way, much good to come from such an innovation. Though, as mentioned in other posts, I’d be worried about price points. I’d also be worried about, if this product really caught on and scaled to other meats, what the implications on livestock would be (over-population?).
Fascincating read about future stuff
Great post. Dives into a lot of the nuances of the cacao business and all that Hershey is doing to make a difference in sustainability in the space.
Full disclosure, I worked on a chocolate stat up in college… Don’t let Hershey off to easily though! To play devil’s advocate, I do wonder how much of the new sustainable practices are in response to the lawsuits irt child labor and working conditions on cacao farms of the big chocolate producers (http://fortune.com/big-chocolate-child-labor/). Not until recently has Hershey and others incentivized sustainable practices, contrarily they imposed a lot of the substandard measures of past. I don’t discredit the work that Hershey is doing to bring in cutting edge sustainability techniques to farmers, increase longevity of yields, and improve income and conditions for the indigenous farmer populations, but I wonder how much of the problems they are solving for did they create themselves?
If Hershey wants to get serious about sustainability practices in cacao harvesting, they could adopt the models of the emerging fair trade chocolate companies that have recently flooded the market:
Also check out the company I mentioned, who promote truly sustainable agroforestry:
Thought you’d get away with posting about Google and not consulting me…
Great, great post. Really nailed the work that Google is doing in the space, and hinted at some of the underlying drivers and conflicts of interest I perceived as an insider. Loved these quotes that get at the nuances of the overall situation here:
“Is it all for long-term profits, for brand equity, or monopolization? Maybe.”
“When Google completely upheaved its business structure and separated its operations into distinct entities under the new umbrella of Alphabet, it was perceived as a means to separate its cash-cow search engine business, from its future technological bets. Indeed, even the name AlphaBet(a) is a signal that leaders believe in their ability the outperform the market in the future.”
To play devil’s advocate… in a lot of way’s Google is simply getting ahead of the curve in the sustainability efforts they are making, almost like the Ikea case… bad PR could be devastating for them as a business, so they focus on pushing good PR through their incredible efforts in the sustainability space. However, often is the case that they are correcting for issues that they themselves have caused.
Google uses enough energy to continuously power 700,000 homes a day! (We now average ~3.5B searches a day, as opposed to this 2011 number her, but logic remains in tact: http://inhabitat.com/infographic-how-much-energy-does-google-use/)
Google’s hiring in the bay area has displaced entire original populations, who have now moved to suburbs and greatly contribute to a negative ripple effect on the environment due to many new drivers (lack public transport in suburbs). This is not necessarily offset by the eco-buses they deploy for Googlers– the same people that created the gentrification in the first place (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/09/google-bus-lawsuit-gentrification-environment).
This is getting pretty long, so to sum up, as a former insider and Marketing/PR guy I’ve grown a bit weary when considering the whys around the sustainability decisions Google has made as per the above, but as you mention, their intention cannot negate all the good they are doing for the environment. They are light years ahead of competitors and have the infrastructure and resources to make am absolutely tremendous impact in the sustainability space overall.
Some truly amazing stuff….
creating the first data center fully powered by renewable energy:
using machine learning and artificial intelligence to cut energy costs:
Thanks for the great post! Erik and others have basically made the same points as me, but I’ll share anyway…Disposable/fast fashion are modern trends I’ve certainly found myself caught up in, reaping benefits from, but often left wondering about whether or not the quality is worth the purchase. Similarly, I’m left questioning whether or not H&Ms (or Forever 21’s, Zara’s…) efforts in sustainability make up for the damage that they do on the environment. H&M has quite literally built a business model on mass-producing textile waste. To put in place corrective measures to problems that they created in the first place seems to be overstating the impact they are having. That said, customers are certainly demanding such fashion, so H&M isn’t entirely to fault. To Amir’s point in class, we the consumers have created this trend of disposables. However, if H&M really wants to be a thought-leader and influencer on the issue of sustainable clothing, I would encourage them to heavy-up on the “increased education and engagement with customers” piece you outlined in your post.
Thanks for the great post. As someone who is obsessed with the nutrition/energy bar space, I find it very interesting to consider how sustainability might be able to play a factor in Clif Bar’s overall brand positioning, value statement, and market differentiation. Clif Bar is known in the space as a performance bar. It’s recyclable wrappers have been made clear to consumers, and they do well to label their products as organic. However, over time, many newcomers have entered the space and have begun to crowd out Clif Bar and steal market share. The are the healthy snack bars (KIND), the protein bars (Power Bar), the low calorie bars (ThinkThin, Quest), and a slew of emerging brands that focus on being truly organic (see: http://www.breakfastcriminals.com/wholesome-nutrition-bars-quest-bars/). This leaves very little room for Clif Bar to differentiate in today’s market where it is kind of smack in the middle on most of these dimensions (kind of healthy, kind of performance-focused, kind of organic…).
We often conflate in our heads the notions of sustainable and organic. These are not the same things, as you’ve noted (see: http://www.forbes.com/sites/henrymiller/2014/11/19/why-organic-isnt-sustainable/#192b098e37aa). I would love to see Clif Bar take their brand to the next level and explore how they can be the Sustainable Bar. This would require rethinking their ingredients and the supply chain for those ingredients, as you note here. Ultimately, such a move could impact their bottom line through cost savings in the long-run (if supply falls due to climate change of core ingredients, also as noted, for example), but also by revitalizing their positioning in the market, the same way Kind bar is now the fastest growing bar, not based on product, but more so known for its social impact mission (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/kind-bar-ceo–our-social-impact-doesn-t-persuade-customers-133322809.html).
Thanks for exploring all of these topics and stimulating this rant… (again, obsessed with nutrition bars).