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HBX Business Blog

5 Tips for Tackling Productivity in an Open Office

Posted by Stephanie Jones on March 23, 2017 at 10:21 AM


With startups, technology companies, and even century-old corporations moving toward open workspaces instead of private offices, it is no surprise that some employees are less than thrilled with the arrangement. Modernist architects originally devised the open office concept as a way to breed collaboration and increase organizational awareness in the 1950s, but some would argue that it has resulted in frequent interruptions and reduced employee productivity at a time when technology has enabled us to do far more in less time.

While many companies are re-evaluating their decisions to be wall-free, roughly 70 percent of workers in the United States currently report to an open office daily according to the International Facilities Management Association.

Here are five tips to stay productive in an open office environment (even as your co-workers are busy scheduling their dentist appointments and recapping their weekend plans):

1. Invest in good headphones

If your employer allows it, the easiest solution to your productivity woes it to purchase noise canceling headphones. Music can increase focus and headphones often signal that you’re not open to interruption. Prices vary greatly so do your research and find a pair that best fits your needs.

Some employers even have budgets for staff supply requests, so consider asking your employer if they are willing to purchase or subsidize your productivity efforts.

2. Create a routine and stick to it 

Establishing and sticking to routine allows you to maximize your time spent in the office. Carve out established times to work on projects and “Office Hours” where you are at your desk and available to collaborate. Discuss your plans with your team and watch yourself chip away at that to-do list you’ve been avoiding all week.

3. Seek out quiet space in the office 

With recent studies suggesting open office spaces hinder productivity, companies are beginning to diversify their spaces. If you are fortunate to work in an office that has conference rooms, seating areas, or lounges, be sure to seek these spaces out when you need interruption-free time away from your desk to complete your work. If you do not have designated spaces like these, be sure to step out of the office for coffee or lunch to help refresh your mind and refocus.

4. Discuss your work style with your team and manager 

It is no secret that everyone has different work styles. While some may be okay getting tapped on the shoulder when absorbed in a task or can completely tune out conversations and background noise, others may find this brings their work flow to a halt. Open communication can help avoid unproductive resentment or frustrations with co-workers who may have different work styles.

When joining a team or working for a new manager, be sure to let them know how you prefer to work. Similarly, it makes sense to revisit the topic when someone new joins your team so you can reaffirm or adjust team norms. By discussing work styles openly, you can strengthen relationships with your co-workers and have more productive work days.

5. Set boundaries

The most important open office productivity tip is to set boundaries. Set boundaries for when you are going to socialize with you co-worker about weekend plans. Set boundaries around the lunch hour as a mid-day break enabling afternoon focus. Set boundaries on what hours you are open to holding meetings. While you may feel cold turning away someone who has come to you looking for an answer, the biggest detriment to work flow is allowing others to determine how you spend your time.

Evaluate your company’s culture, and see if placing a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your desk or asking someone to come back later makes sense while you are chipping away on a project. Pop in your headphones and let your team members know you need the next hour to complete a task.

You will find that setting boundaries allows you to be more productive. You may even end up with more time to get to know your co-workers or schedule that dentist appointment you’ve been avoiding.


About the Author

Stephanie Jones is HBX's Business Operations Specialist. She onboards new HBX team members and enjoys serving as a team resource for all things operations. Stephanie graduated from Bryant University’s International Business Program in 2015 and aspires to work internationally in the future. When she’s not welcoming new team members and arranging staff events, Stephanie can be found on the Cape enjoying the beach or hiking in Vermont with her two terribly behaved terriers.

Topics: HBX Insights

The History of the Case Study at Harvard Business School

Posted by Yannis Normand on February 28, 2017 at 4:43 PM

an HBS classroom with a student speaking with a faculty member about a case study

Many first time HBX participants are surprised to learn that often, the professor is not at the center of their HBX learning experience. Instead of long faculty lectures, the HBX learning model centers on smaller, more digestible pieces of content that require participants to interact with each other, try out the concepts they are learning, and learn from real-world examples. The professor fades into the background a bit and lets the focus shift to interviews with executives, industry leaders, and small business owners. Some students might be left thinking, "Wait, where did that professor go? Why am I learning about a grocery store in Harvard Square?"

In the words of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, “don’t panic.” These interviews, or cases, feature leaders at companies of all sizes and provide valuable examples of business concepts in action. This case study method forms the backbone of the Harvard Business School curriculum.

Back in the 1920s, HBS professors decided to develop and experiment with innovative and unique business instruction methods. As the first school in the world to design a signature, distinctive program in business, later to be called the MBA, there was a need for a teaching method that would benefit this novel approach.

HBS professors selected and took a few pages to summarize recent events, momentous challenges, strategic planning, and important decisions undertaken by major companies and organizations. The idea was, and remains to this day, that through direct contact with a real-world case, students will think independently about those facts, discuss and compare their perspectives and findings with their peers, and eventually discover a new concept on their own.

Central to the case method is the idea that students are not provided the "answer" or resolution to the problem at hand. Instead, just like a board member, CEO, or manager, the student is forced to analyze a situation and find solutions without full knowledge of all methods and facts. Without excluding more traditional aspects, such as interaction with professors and textbooks, the case method provides the student with the opportunity to think and act like managers. 

Since 1924, the case method has been the most widely applied and successful teaching instrument to come out of HBS, and it is used today in almost all MBA and Executive Education courses there, as well as in hundreds of other top business schools around the world. The application of the case method is so extensive that HBS students will often choose to rely on cases, instead of textbooks or other material, for their research. Large corporations use the case method as well to approach their own challenges, while competing universities create their own versions for their students.

According to Mallory Stark, curriculum services specialist at Baker Library, all this is not a surprise to anyone at the school. For her, what makes the case method truly unique is that it fulfills everyone’s desire for a good story. Mallory recalls how, as an HBS Executive Education student, she encountered a case that focused on the efforts of a hospital CEO in New Orleans and the organization's efforts to respond to the challenges of Hurricane Katrina.

Not only did she end up meeting the CEO in person during the class discussion, but she came to the realization that solid management can mean both saving a company and, sometimes, saving human lives. This is what the case method does—it puts students straight into the game, and ensures they acquire not just skills and abstract knowledge, but also a solid understanding of the outside world. 


About the Author

Yannis Normand interned on HBX’s marketing team in January of 2017 and is pursuing a degree in goverment with a focus on economics and finance. He has worked for various institutions in the U.S. and Europe, and has entrepreneurial experience in both Boston and China. He hopes to pursue a career combining law and education and is always on the look out to learn and experience other cultures and places.


Topics: HBX Insights

The HBX Guide to a Disruptive Valentine’s Day

Posted by Katie Alex Stevens on February 14, 2017 at 1:06 PM


In her Sonnets from the Portuguese, Elizabeth Barrett Browning asked "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..." Here at HBX, we thought we'd celebrate Valentine's Day by applying - in a playful, lighthearted, and altogether not-terribly-scientific manner - some of the lenses on innovation from our Disruptive Strategy course to see how two different personality types would go about expressing their love on this day.

Relationship stage: Early

The job-to-be-done: Impress a new love interest by putting your best foot forward.

A sustainer's approach: Looking to spare no expense in the quest for maximum primping and pampering, the sustainer will seek out the snazziest of the full-service salons. A service menu a mile long? Custom options to address every grooming concern he knew he had... and many more he didn't? The sustainer wants all of these bells and whistles at his disposal.

A disruptor's approach: Unconvinced that she really needs all that's on offer at the pricey full-service salon, the disruptor is willing to take a chance on a blow dry bar like Drybar or its smaller local analogues. With stylists well-trained on a pared-down list of options for blow drying her unruly locks into submission, she can come away with a polished date night look quickly and affordably.

Relationship stage: Mid

The job-to-be-done: Set the stage for that serious conversation... and maybe even pop the question!

A sustainer's approach: For a momentous occasion such as this, the sustainer turns to the restaurant that's pulling out all the stops to ratchet up the romance. The 6-course, 560-euro-per-person Valentine's Day Dinner overlooking Paris from the second floor of the Eiffel Tower? Just the thing!

A disruptor's approach: With all due respect to Paris, the disruptor sees an opportunity to capture some of that magic with pluck and ingenuity. Armed with a well-chosen soundtrack, a decent bottle of Syrah, and Blue Apron's meal kit for Flank Steak au Jus - complete with pre-apportioned ingredients and a photo-illustrated recipe card - that arrived on his doorstep this morning, he can whip up a French-inspired evening with a personalized feel that is more than "good enough" in the eyes of his beloved.

Relationship stage: Well-Established

The job-to-be-done: Affirm that long-standing commitment.

A sustainer's approach: Not willing to rest on her laurels no matter how long she's known her beloved, the sustainer looks to commemorate this holiday with the latest in ever-more-exclusive offerings from travel consultants. "A private tour of the Hermitage and access to the countryside palaces of the czars?" How about an audience with the Dalai Lama? These offerings continue to improve over time, and the sustainer is ready and waiting for what's next!

A disruptor's approach: Unconvinced that the offerings arm race of the sustainer's travel consultants are really what she's looking for, the disruptor takes a different approach: With the robust technology of flight and hotel aggregators like Momondo at her disposal, she's able to capitalize on many of the same advantages and tricks of the trade that used to only be the province of travel agents - at her convenience and tailored to her budget. She may wind up piecing together a flight that lands outside the city center in Rome's secondary airport, or viewing the Sistine Chapel not in private but with 1,999 of her closest friends, but she'll have experienced Rome with her sweetheart, and that will have made all the difference (apologies to Robert Frost).

Want to learn more about disruption and other theories from Professor Christensen? Disruptive Strategy will equip you with the tools, frameworks, and intuition to make a difference.

Learn more about HBX Disruptive Strategy with Clay Christensen


About the Author

Katie Alex Stevens is an Associate Product Manager at HBX, working on Disruptive Strategy with Clayton Christensen among other courses. Before completing her MBA, she trained as a medievalist and classicist in the US and UK, and still enjoys a good dusty tome - preferably with a glass of Greek wine by her side and her new puppy by her feet!

Topics: HBX Insights, HBX Disruptive Strategy

Job Hunting? Here Are the 5 Interview Questions You Should Ask

Posted by Jessica Clark on February 9, 2017 at 10:14 AM

Seated interview candidates

We sat down with our recruiting coordinator, Jessica Clark, to get her thoughts on questions every interview candidate should ask.

1. Is this position new or a replacement?

This question is useful for understanding more about the structure of the team you would be joining. Interviewing for a new role would suggest growth within the group and that this position would help in redistributing the existing workload and/or taking on new tasks.

If the role is a replacement, it can be a sticky conversation to navigate as the person interviewing you may be less inclined to share details. If possible, it is helpful to learn more about why the prior employee left the role. Limited growth potential and mismatched personalities with the direct supervisor may be red flags.

2. Can you tell me more about the team I would be working on?

It is very important to learn as much as possible about potential peers and colleagues during the interview process. If you are spending upwards of 40 hours every week with a group of people, it should be a team you enjoy being around. The candid opinions you may receive in response to this question can be helpful in assessing your “gut reaction” to the environment.

3.How would you describe the culture of the organization/department?

I have worked in organizations with a wide range of company cultures. Especially within a newer department like HBX, which has only been in existence for a few years, hearing that work/life balance is a priority and knowing that a "Fun Committee" exists are helpful tidbits for getting a sense of the environment.

You will also likely pick up on an office's general tone just by observing as you walk into the interview. Do people smile at you in passing? Is it so quiet you could hear a pin drop? Soak in these small cues to help assess if this is a place where you could see yourself being comfortable and happy.

4. What are the biggest challenges or hurdles with this role?

Gaining insight into the expectations of the person who takes on the role, knowing how quickly you would be expected to “get up to speed," and what type of training is included in the onboarding process are all good to know before walking in on day one of a new job. Every person who interviews you may have a different take on the most pressing parts of the role depending on their own perspectives, but their views will help you in getting a well-rounded picture on the keys to success. 

5. Would you please run through the time frame for any next steps?

I try to touch on this every time I meet with candidates, but inevitably time sometimes gets away and we don’t have a chance to discuss the remaining steps in our recruitment process. Every organization is different, so having a heads up on things like the number of interview rounds, feedback method, scheduling next steps, and primary contact person for follow-up questions can help to ease the stress and anxiety that can accompany job hunting.

headshot of Jessica Clark

About the Author

Jessica Clarks works on the HBX Business Operations team as the Recruiting Coordinator. She enjoys interacting directly with candidates and helping to ensure the recruitment process is as seamless as possible. Before joining HBX in 2015, she worked in a similar capacity at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. When she’s not reviewing resumes and scheduling interviews, Jessica can be found volunteering as an after-school tutor or spending time outdoors.

Topics: HBX Insights

How to Pump Up Your Negotiation Skills in 2017

Posted by Professor Mike Wheeler on January 31, 2017 at 10:14 AM

Looking across a wooden chess set

This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

Improvement in any realm requires tracking and evaluating your performance. That's true in the gym. And it’s true for negotiation, as well.

I pushed this advice in a post three years ago. I recommended that if you’re serious about enhancing your effectiveness, keep a journal of all your negotiations, large and small. Write down your plans beforehand. Critique them afterwards. Make this a habit, you’re guaranteed to sharpen your strategic skills and enhance your agility.

Learning the right lessons from your negotiation experience is now the cornerstone of all my teaching, in my MBA classroom and in Negotiation Mastery, the new online course I’ve created for HBX, Harvard Business School’s digital learning platform. For both environments, I’ve developed a battery of exercises to instill the habit of clear-eyed, focused self-reflection.

All the performance-related content we cover in a 40-hour course can’t be distilled in the limited space here. But I’m glad to share—for your personal use—a particular tool that many students find helpful. It has three functions. First, is identifying areas where improvement will give you the biggest payoff. Second, is illustrating how problem-solving and interpersonal skills must be aligned to constitute coherent strategy. (The third pedagogical function I’ll mention toward the end.)

Here’s the survey: Rate your relative strengths in respect to four essential negotiation skills. You can gave as many as 7 points to a particular skill or as few as 1. You have a total of 16 points to allocate overall and you must use them all. (Giving more points to one item necessarily means you’ll have to reduce points for something else.) There are no right or wrong answers, of course.

  1.   Capitalizing on opportunities to create value.
  2.   Asserting your interests.
  3.   Understanding the motivations and feelings of other parties.
  4.   Getting the maximum possible in the agreement.
Take a moment to jot down your responses, before reading further.

As you probably noted, two of the skills are outcome related: expanding the pie (#1) and securing your share of it (#4). Classic negotiation theory posits that there is a fundamental tension between these two skills. Parties who conceal their interests and priorities miss opportunities to make value-creating trades; on the other hand, negotiators who reveal their preferences unilaterally risk exploitation if counterparts bluff or stone-wall.

In turn, the other two skills—asserting your interests (#2) and understanding others (#3)—describe the relational dimension of negotiation. Many people feel that these are in tension, as well. Making bold demands may stress a relationship, for example, while being overly empathetic might compromise one’s own interests.

I’ve analyzed thousands of responses to this survey. Individual results vary widely. Some people believe that they're very good at one particular skill, but much worse at others. Others are more balanced (though very few give themselves 4 points on each one).

Yet in spite of this variation, results tend to cluster into five different categories. You can think of these as bargaining styles, if you like. That shouldn’t be surprising. It’s logical that means and ends would be connected: how you engage your counterpart should influence the outcome.

If you graph your own responses, a pattern will emerge. Here’s an example of someone who gave the most points to items 1 and 3. It’s the most common profile (though it only represents 30 percent of respondents).

nego 2017 1.png

These are people who believe that they are good at understanding their counterparts’ thoughts and feelings. That may explain both their confidence that they are relatively good at creating value, but also their doubts about claiming it.

Contrast that pattern with the profile of someone else who give the most points to items 2 and 4. (Ten percent of respondents fall into this cluster.)

nego 2017 2.png

If there’s interest, I’ll put up a supplementary post showing three other kinds of self-portraits, but I want to emphasize several larger points here. First, however you happen to see yourself as a negotiator, most people you deal with likely have a different style, at least to some degree. To succeed, therefore, you must be agile. That means flexing yourself so that you deploy different skills depending on the situation and whom you’re dealing with.

Second, consider how you want to be seen and understood by your counterpart. Their impressions will be influenced by what you do and say. It’s not always easy, but you can appear strong without seeming intimidating—and open without being vulnerable.

Finally, your self-image may not match how other people perceive you. In my teaching, the third function of this test serves as a template for peer feedback. After each simulation, students rate each other using this same model. One person may discover that she is better as self-advocacy than she thought, for example. Someone else may find that he’s not as good at engaging with others as he thought that he was. Both of them can recalibrate their profile and tweak their learning agenda, accordingly.

A post like this simply doesn’t support that kind of peer-to-peer coaching that you’d get in a course, be it in-person or online. (Nor does a book, for that matter). But if in your work you ever negotiate as part of a team, you surely should pair up with a colleague to exchange candid and constructive advice. Build on what you do well naturally and focus on areas where there is greater room for improvement.

Professor Mike Wheeler

About the Author

Professor Mike Wheeler's current research focuses on negotiation dynamics, dispute resolution, ethics, and distance learning. He is the author or co-author of eleven books, and his self-assessment app—Negotiation360—was released early in 2015. Additionally, Professor Wheeler's new HBX course, Negotiation Mastery: Unlocking Value in the Real World, is now accepting applications.

Topics: HBX Insights, Negotiation

The Bus in the Sky: Ryanair and Disruption

Posted by Chris Larson on January 26, 2017 at 12:00 PM


I was flying on Ryanair a few months ago when my seatmate referred to the plane as a “bus in the sky.” I'd never heard such an accurate description! If you haven’t flown Ryanair, let me describe it to you. My round-trip flight was $30 and included two carry-on bags. But, that is where the perks stop. You have to pay for everything else - and I mean everything. Forgot to print your boarding pass out at home? You pay for it. Want a drink on the plane? You pay for it. Want to recline your seat? That isn’t even possible. And I wish I was kidding about that last one!

Despite the drawbacks, I have flown Ryanair numerous times and will continue to fly them. Why? Because I can fly to three different places, on three different weekends, for the same amount of money as one ticket would cost me flying to any one of those places on another airline in Europe. And I’m not the only one who flies Ryanair.

So, looking at this from the lens of disruption, where does Ryanair fit? By addressing overserved customers with a low-cost business model, it fits under the “low-end” disruption category. But, it also has made flying possible for many people who couldn’t afford to fly to these places. While they had the same job-to-be-done as the more affluent market - i.e., getting from point A to point B - these consumers would normally take the bus, train, or rent a car. This approach to non-consumers in the airline market also causes it to fit in the “new-market” disruption category. 

looking out the window of a plane

That Ryanair was low-end disruption was fairly obvious to me, but the new-market disruption was something that only clicked when I thought about Ryanair as a “bus in the sky.” Ryanair isn’t just competing against other airliners; the bus, train, rental car, and non-consumers are also its competitors. Former non-consumers in the airline market now have an opportunity to fly to their destination instead of a different, generally cheaper means of transportation previously used. Given the option of an overnight bus ride to Paris from London or an approximately 1.5 hour flight for a similar, if not cheaper price, which would you prefer? That’s what Ryanair was banking on.

As Scott Anthony explains, what's even more impressive is that Ryanair has succeeded in a market that's typically tough to crack. It has learned how to make a profit by keeping ticket prices low, flights full, along with a whole host of other cost saving strategies as outlined in the article. Legacy carriers in the airline business can’t/won’t compete with its prices, and its competitors in other transportation markets can’t compete with the luxury of flying, thus Ryanair succeeds.

I know that for a cash-strapped student living in Europe, Ryanair has opened up the continent for me. I’ve done overnight buses, 37 hour train rides, and rented cars because they were cheaper. But with Ryanair I have been able to avoid many of those “great story” experiences and truly enjoy vacation, thanks to their disruptive strategy.

Want to learn more about disruption and other theories from Professor Christensen? Disruptive Strategy will equip you with the tools, frameworks, and intuition to make a difference.

Learn more about HBX Disruptive Strategy with Clay Christensen


About the Author

Chris Larson was an intern at HBX for summer 2016 who worked with the marketing and product management teams. His background is in all things Russian, but he is interested in business and just started his MBA at Oxford University.

Topics: Disruptive Strategy, HBX Insights

5 Things You Didn't Learn in Undergrad Economics

Posted by HBX on January 17, 2017 at 2:55 PM


Many prospective students ask us whether it is worthwhile to take HBX CORe if they have a background in business economics. With a number of economics majors on the HBX staff, we found this question especially interesting, so we've rounded up five things we teach in HBX CORe that weren't a part of our undergraduate education.

Willingness to Pay

In a typical undergrad microeconomics course you may learn a lot about utility, indifference curves, wealth, and substitution effects. But post college – and in CORe – it’s all about Willingness to Pay (WTP). This is the maximum amount someone is willing to pay for a good or service (e.g. my WTP for an UberPool is around $4), but collecting accurate data is easier said than done, as there is often a gap between people's hypothetical and actual WTP.

Market Demand

This brings us to our second point – did you ever learn how to properly measure demand? Two tools in every marketer’s pocket are polls and surveys, but understanding proper poll and survey design is essential to collecting accurate demand information. Most economics courses miss the boat on this one.

Conjoint Analysis

Surveys and polls are one thing, but if you want to dive deeper into demand for specific features you will need to know Conjoint Analysis—a statistical approach to measuring consumer demand for specific product features. This tool will allow you to get at the surprisingly complicated feature and price tradeoffs consumers make every day.

For example, pretend you are Apple Inc. and you want to know what part of the iPhone you should improve; battery life, screen size or camera. A conjoint analysis will let you know which improvement customers care about more and are worth the company’s time and money. 

Cognitive Biases

Undergrad economics makes a lot assumptions on how people behave. It’s often assumed that people are (1) aware of all the different options available to them and (2) that individuals are able to accurately rank the varying options based on their preferences. However, these assumptions often fail, sometimes in meaningful ways.

There are hundreds of examples of cognitive biases that affect our decision making processes. For example, you may rely too heavily on the first piece of information you receive, reducing the value of all subsequent information. Or maybe you only listen to information that confirms you original inclination.

Understanding these cognitive biases is crucial when trying to predict human behavior in the real world.


Business strategy is a field in and of itself, but it is often glossed over by undergraduate programs. If you stick to purely undergrad economics, you may miss out on critical tools and frameworks to develop, maintain and assess different strategies, including Porter’s Five Forces, SWOT Analyses, and Core Competencies.

In short, what sets HBX CORe apart from many undergraduate Economics programs is it's focus on applicability and real-world situations. We don't just want students to be able to memorize concepts and formulas, we want them to be able to solve problems, inform strategies, and execute ideas that will help move their organizations forward.

Interested in learning Financial Accounting, Business Analytics, and Economics for Managers?

Learn more about HBX CORe

Topics: HBX CORe, HBX Insights

5 Highly Effective Visual Displays of Data

Posted by Jenny Gutbezahl on January 12, 2017 at 10:42 AM


The past decade has seen the rise of digital databases along with the development of new tools to create engaging, often interactive, visual displays. Today, anyone with an interest in a topic can easily find relevant data and present it in an interesting way.

Here are a few examples that caught my fancy:


Source: NPR

National Public Radio has produced a great animated display of the most common jobs in each state, year by year from 1978 to 2014.

My favorite part: The story is told by jobs that gain in popularity and then become less common.

Web-Related Statistics

internet live stats
Source: Internet Live Stats

Internet Live Stats has tracked web-related statistics and pioneered methods for visualizing data for several years, and it's instructive to see how different digital properties have ebbed and flowed over time. 

My favorite part: The "One Second" tab, which shows the number tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram photos, and other digital content shared each second. The way they present this information is extremely effective.


Source: FlowingData

If you love beer as much as I do, you'll appreciate Flowing Data's graphic analysis of beer attributes and how they relate to different styles. And if you just like cool visual displays of data, you'll probably spend a lot of time poking around the site (which I find even more addictive than TV Tropes). 

My favorite part: The examples of each type of beer, which make it easy to find new brews to try.


Source: Eater

Eater is a great site for all kinds of interesting food information, and has created this interactive, which shows the most common foods ordered for delivery in each state of the US. Warning, this may make you hungry!

My favorite part: Learning that my fellow Massachusetts residents love sushi just as much as I do!


Source: Wall Street Journal

And finally the Wall Street Journal gives us an interactive visual presentation on the rhyme structure of the lyrics of Hamilton, along with some qualitative analysis of its influences, ranging from Gilbert and Sullivan to Rakim.

My favorite part: The links to various works that inspired Lin-Miranda as he was writing the show.

Interested in learning more about how to interpret data? Take HBX CORe and discover the basics of Economics for Managers, Financial Accounting, and Business Analytics.

Learn more about HBX CORe


About the Author

Jenny is a member of the HBX Course Delivery Team and currently works on the Business Analytics course for the Credential of Readiness (CORe) program, and supports the development of a new course in Management for the HBX platform.

Jenny holds a BFA in theater from New York University and a PhD in Social Psychology from University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She is active in the greater Boston arts and theater community, and she enjoys solving and creating diabolically difficult word puzzles.


Topics: HBX CORe, HBX Insights

How to Tackle Your FY17 Budgets in the New Year

Posted by John Wong on January 4, 2017 at 8:52 AM


For us here at Harvard Business School, budget season coincides with the NFL football season. While the idea of "budget season" may incite a few grunts or rolled eyes, careful budget plannning is an important component of running a business. Read on for important budgeting tips with a football twist!

Budgeting is a Team Sport!

A successful budget manager will need to tackle an organization's operations and engage with functional managers and their teams in order to understand the role of their group along with the work streams and tasks under their responsibility. However, before you start blitzing and tackling your fellow co-workers, it’s a good idea to review your organization's game plan.

What’s the Game Plan, Coach?

Budgets are built for the purpose of measuring and monitoring key activities in pursuit of an organization's goals and objectives. The game plan for many organizations comes in the form of mission statements, or multi-year strategic and financial plans. Before starting on building a budget, an understanding of your organizations goals and objectives is critical to creating a successful plan that will meet your needs.

Do Your Job!

Just like the players on a football team, each team member at an organization plays a specific role. Team members must focus their efforts on the components of an organizations objectives that are more in line with their area of expertise to help move the entire organization toward the goal line. Building a successful budget requires an understanding of these various players, the jobs they are tasked with, and the key metrics that drive them.

For example, what are the work streams that a marketing team is tasked with so that an organization can achieve its goals and objectives? What are the key metrics that drive and impact that work stream? The resulting answers are the building blocks of a budget.

Learn From the Past, But Focus on What's Ahead  

After a big win or loss, most coaches will tell you to shake it off, learn from it, and focus on the next game. Similarly, historical data is essential to building a budget but should be used as a reference point and not necessarily a starting point. Business conditions change rapidly and basing your current budget on historical information can adversely impact budgets within other areas of an organization. 

Huddle Up!

Regular communication is key to the success of a budget. Establish an organizational process to regularly review actual performance against the current budget. This is a critical part of building a successful budget that will allow teams to monitor their performance, re-allocate resources, and shift business priorities. 

Keep in mind that budgets are dynamic, and occasionally the team may need to call a budget audible to update the budget, or rather provide a forecast. Having a review process in place will facilitate the forecasting process and will allow the organization to have updated information to use in their decision making.


About the Author

John is the Associate Director of Finance, Planning & Analysis at HBX primarily focusing on financial planning and reporting for the department. He is a graduate of Northeastern University and has worked throughout his career in the educational publishing and technology space.  In addition to being an avid golfer who has witnessed 3 hole in ones, John is a board member of two local non-profit youth organizations, The Boston Hurricanes and The Business of Doing Good.

Topics: HBX Courses, HBX Insights

Over-Confidence - How It Affects Your Organization and How to Overcome It

Posted by Patrick Healy on December 27, 2016 at 11:23 AM


There’s been a lot written about cognitive biases in the last decade. If you walk into the Psychology section of Barnes of Noble today or browse Amazon for “decision-making,” you’re sure to see a library of books on how irrational humans can be. In my last post, I spoke of the first of the three - confirmation bias.

What's second on our list?


For newbies to the literature on cognitive biases, this one should at least be familiar. We’ve all met over-confident jerks that think planets revolve around them (you might even work for one), or the wishful thinkers with their head in the clouds, but all of us, myself included, have fallen victim to moments and sometimes stretches of over-confidence. If you’re like me, these stretches have usually ended with bitter disappointment, or even catastrophic failure. And yet, despite what we think we have “learned” for next time, we continue to be over-optimistic about our abilities and the state of the future. The same mistakes occur again and again.

In business, over-confidence is rampant. And it’s no surprise to see why. In complex organizations filled with many individuals with diverse ideas and views, you have to speak up to be heard and market your abilities to get noticed. Being humble takes a back seat to arguing without legs to stand on. How many M&As have you heard about that have failed? Quaker buying Snapple, anyone?

One outcome of over-confidence is missed deadlines and delayed projects on account of the planning fallacy. When’s the last time your business finished a project early? Or under budget? And yet we continue to create unrealistic project plans in hopes that the future will somehow be different than the present; this is over-confidence at its best/worst. Another classic example of over-confidence is the illusion of control, the idea that if we can quantify something, we can measure it, understand it, and thus manage it. Many financiers have fallen victim to this illusion for decades. And yet, as the market collapse of 2008 showed, confidence can sometimes only be an illusion.

If over-confidence is not constantly checked, poor business outcomes often result. Thus, businesses and individuals need to install objectivity into their systems to keep them in balance. For projects, teams should look at historical averages for timelines and past budgets to plan future projects. Another option is hiring consultants. There’s an old joke that consultants have made money for decades telling companies the things they already know but don’t want to hear. This is because companies were over-confident but didn’t want to admit it.

Look out for the third bias that befalls many organizations, coming soon.

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About the Author

Pat is a member of the HBX Course Delivery Team and currently works on the Economics for Managers course for the Credential of Readiness (CORe) program. He is also currently working to design courses in Management and Negotiations for the HBX platform. Pat holds a B.A. in Economics and Government from Dartmouth College. In his free time he enjoys playing tennis and strumming the guitar.

Topics: HBX Insights