Learn More About William Barnett
How does a company get ahead in a dynamic, competitive market? How can leaders help their organizations create and sustain innovation and growth? The answer, says leading strategy expert and Stanford University Professor William Barnett, is to lead “by design”: focusing not on what you think is next, but on creating the systems to discover what’s next.
A wide range of industries have seen rapid innovation over the past few decades, including high-tech markets like computers and telecommunications, but also financial services, manufacturing, transportation, health care and the list goes on. In so many industries, highly competitive incumbents have been swept away virtually overnight, thanks to sudden changes in technologies and business models. The problem, says Barnett, is that so many leaders have failed to lead by design, so their organizations have not been able to adapt. In his keynotes and interactive workshops, Barnett helps companies devise strategies and systems more likely to breed innovation, and thereby improve their rates of innovation and growth.
Barnett, the Thomas M. Siebel Professor of Business Leadership, Strategy and Organizations at Stanford Graduate School of Business, is widely known for applying a theory of adaptive evolution to the business world in his seminal book, “The Red Queen Among Organizations: How Competitiveness Evolves” (Princeton University Press, 2008). The book explains that even a company working at its fastest pace to deliver value can be quickly surpassed by competitors able make the next jump forward. Barnett’s extensive research and case studies illustrate how building an environment tolerant of “nonconsensus” ideas is key to generating innovation and enabling the dynamics within your organization that create breakthroughs and transformation. “Ideas are best when they can be turned into action,” he says. Using a range of examples from his own case studies, such as Alibaba, Facebook, Apple, Mercado Libre, Cemex and others, Barnett shows how companies retrospectively praised by business theorists as ingenious were, in the beginning, doubted by those same experts and many investors as unworkable. Barnett elaborates on how business leaders can change their structures and incentives to reward rather than ignore or punish creativity and ideas that don’t have widespread support. Many of these ideas will ultimately fail, but the few that succeed can mean the difference between running in place and leaping ahead.
Barnett is also a leading authority on the study of competition, both between and within businesses. Though competition within a market or industry is conducive to innovation, competition within organizations can prove detrimental, depending on the systems in place for dealing with it. Barnett teaches companies how to emulate successful examples of competitive organizations that also encourage cooperation, rewarding innovation and creativity without allowing competition to hurt the greater good. This is another issue that must be addressed by companies’ internal strategies and systems, enabling them to create the conditions in which innovation – which is otherwise unpredictable – can organically arise.
After receiving his PhD in business administration from the University of California, Berkeley in 1988, Barnett was an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison School of Business. In 1991, Barnett transitioned to the Stanford Business School as an assistant professor. He became an associate professor in 1994 and received tenure in 1996, and has been a full professor since 2001. Barnett has also twice been a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and is an affiliated faculty member of the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University. Barnett serves as a senior or associate editor for several academic journals. His research is published in the leading academic journals, with citations in the thousands, and he has conducted case studies and consulting engagements with hundreds of firms.
William Barnett is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.