Featuring Writings by Nilofer Merchant

Harvard Business Review Blog Network
Harvard Business Review Blog

Since 2011, Nilofer has been writing a separate blog as part of the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, where she is one of their most regarded and popular writers (currently ranked in top 5 on the site). She has written dozens of insightful, timely and provocative articles covering diversity, leadership, branding, communication, innovation, career planning and more.


December 10, 2013  |  But instead of honoring her design prowess, cultural turnaround, her long arc of commitment, or even her inherent geekiness, the focus will be on her gender. That’s because women still continue to hold far too few leadership roles: in Congress, women hold only 18% of the seats; just 17% of corporate-board roles; and just 23 of the Fortune 500 chief executive posts (counting Barra), a measly 4%. In the venture-capital world, women receive less than 3% of funding. This is not a pipeline problem. There are plenty of qualified women entering politics and business. The most telling fact to me is this one: when the movie industry wants to film a “general population scene,” that scene only includes 17% female. So even when the only qualification is to be female, women are still invisible.… MORE


OCTOBER 7, 2013  |  One crucial element determines long-term viability – the ability to innovate. Innovation is a direct result of openness to new ideas. The key is to design for differences of perspective and world views so you can have a better chance at new ideas. What once mattered for profitability was efficiency and size by which to dominate over others. What now count are new ideas, and the speed with which a firm can execute on those with others. So, the role of governance and leadership has to shift to became a driver of innovation instead of a steward of competitive advantage. If Twitter doesn’t change… MORE


May 17, 2013  |  In the search for our purpose, people are often told to look inside themselves. I don’t know about you, but for me, that feels a bit like looking into an abyss. It’s dark, and even though I know some important things are in there, finding anything requires groping around to find the shape and form of clues. Having reinvented what I do several times now, I’ve figured out how to do a search for “what’s next,” one that leads to clarity and momentum: A. Name Your Invisibles: Several years ago, I was shutting down a company I had grown from scratch to be a several million dollar business… MORE

Harvard Business Review

April 2013  |  “Wow. Such f—ing bullsh-t.” No, this is not a snippet from the latest Quentin Tarantino film. It’s Stanford professor Jay Wacker responding, on the Q&A site Quora, to the now-infamous TEDx talk “Vortex-Based Mathematics.” A member had posed the question “Is Randy Powell saying anything in his 2010 TEDxCharlotte talk, or is it just total nonsense?” Wacker, a particle physicist, was unambiguous: “I am a theoretical physicist who uses (and teaches) the technical meaning of many of the jargon terms that he’s throwing out. And he is simply doing a random word association with the terms… MORE

How Technology Can Make Us Stand Up

March 8, 2013  |  “Sitting has become the smoking of our generation.” I argued this in my recent talk at TED2013 and elsewhere while advocating for the concept of “walking meetings” (or as I informally call them, “walkntalks”). Simply put: We spend more time sitting (average 9.3 hours a day) than sleeping (7.7 hours) — and it doesn’t even occur to us that this is not OK. So instead of using a standing desk, doing sitting meetings over coffee, or meeting in some fluorescent-lit conference room, I do one-on-one meetings as walks. It resolves the tradeoff between “taking care of health” and “getting stuff done.” The solution seems so obvious… MORE

We Need a New language for the Collaborative Age

March 8, 2013  |  As we live, work and create value in the 21st century, we continue to use the language and paradigms of the 20th century. We honour the old and accepted language of capturing value, but dismiss the one of value creation. Old language is not limited to antiquated organisations. Jack Dorsey, founder of Square and Twitter, recently reported that his newest board member, Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, asked, “Why do you call them… users?” Users, a term common in the web community, implies that those who use the product bear no relation to how a product is monetised… MORE

Harvard Business Review
The Success Equation

June 20, 2011  |  Human stuff — the soft stuff — is rarely valued. We talk about it, sure. But we don’t change it. We don’t reinvent it. We give lip service to it but, when times are tough, we focus on the hard stuff. We manage numbers because it’s easier. We say we value people but we focus on the things we can track, we can inventory, we can show, and we can log in and out of. We focus on stuff that matters, surely, but we are doing the thing of managing the measurable, rather than the meaningful. In a recent post, called “People are Not Cogs,” I argued that we ought to think…. MORE

Bloomberg Businessweek
Apple’s Startup Culture

June 14, 2010  |  At the recent All Things D conference, Steve Jobs described Apple’s (AAPL) culture as “that of a startup.” Why? Is it because he is nostalgic, yearning to rebuild the company he founded nearly 35 years ago? Is he reflecting a passion for the innovation and entrepreneurship so often inherent in startups? Or is he saying that a startup drives better products, velocity, and growth? Guess what: all of the above. But what’s perhaps more interesting is that by sharing this idea, Jobs also gave up a secret of what makes Apple successful. The essence of what causes Apple to win is… MORE

Bloomberg Businessweek
How to be a Better CEO

May 17, 2010  |  Dear Leader, You say you want all of us within the company to innovate. But you haven’t enabled us to do so. You need to work with us so we all get a shared understanding of what matters. This sets the stage for a meritocracy of ideas and also enables us to adapt quickly when our world changes, as it always does. Oh, and you need to stop sending every decision to the executive suite. We need to understand company strategy. In most companies, only 5 percent of the workforce understands what that is. Think about the implications of this: Only one person in 20 is prepared to answer, clearly and realistically, what their company is doing… MORE

Bloomberg Businessweek
There’s More to Innovation Than Good Ideas

March 17, 2010  |  Chances are, you’re already familiar with the concept of the Air Sandwich, if not the term itself. An Air Sandwich is what happens when the leadership within an organization issues orders from 80,000 feet and lobs them down to the folks at 20,000 feet. Without the benefit of feedback, questions, or even a reality check from below, this strategy isn’t destined for blazing success. When I witnessed it firsthand, I was working at Autodesk (ADSK), the third-largest software company in the world, where I managed revenues for the Americas region. It started innocently enough… MORE


October 7, 2009  |  At a three-year product strategy meeting at Apple during the early 1990s, the McKinsey hired guns presented something I now refer to as the “99-idea slide” as the final summary of a strategy presentation. It was chock-full of information, presented in a visually compelling way. It showed all the viable product strategies we could pursue. With its combined richness and graphical simplicity, the 99-idea slide wowed all of us. It was also useless. With help from the consultants, we had done a great job of whiteboarding and research to generate a vetted list of many viable options… MORE

Advertising Age

July 9, 2007  |  Let me paint a picture of the world today as a company sees it and then again as a customer experiences it. A company, maybe yours, has a home page on its website where it organizes the user experience so that users can learn more about the company, its products, its vertical solutions and so on. The idea is based on going from the highest “levels” of content to deeper and deeper levels based on specificity. The customers, instead, go to Google, type in search strings of keywords or needs, and click through to find the specific data they’re seeking. Sometimes. Sometimes customers go elsewhere… MORE

Advertising Age

March 19, 2007  |  At its foundation, great advertising is about demand creation. It’s about filling an unfulfilled need, or creating a need and then filling it. When done correctly, it’s a magical experience. It’s within this context that I want to take a look at HP’s ad campaign “The Computer is Personal Again.” I’m not sure how many of you have been paying attention to it. Actually, after the May 2006 launch, I’m wondering how long ago you started to tune out. It’s been in every major magazine (Wired, Fast Company, Business 2.0, Fortune, Forbes), daily publication (The Wall Street Journal, The (London) Times, etc.)… MORE

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