Rory McDonald

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Rory McDonald

Expert on Disruptive Innovation and Technological Change; Authority on Developing Proactive Investment Strategies for Long-Term Growth; Professor, Harvard Business School

Biography

Blockbuster and Kodak were industry giants that failed to anticipate the impact of digital technology on consumer behavior. How do successful companies collapse within a few years? And how do their competitors rise from obscurity to seize control of their markets overnight? Harvard Business School Professor Rory McDonald says firms face disruption when they lack a future-focused strategy that understands, preempts and takes the lead in harnessing new technologies. He helps leaders foresee not just the dawn of AI and other emerging fields, but the economic and social changes they will inevitably yield. Through McDonald’s unique lens, business leaders can craft innovation and investment strategies that target the trends of the future to avoid being on the wrong side of digital transformation.

Technology can transform industries and create entirely new products and services. To keep up, insists McDonald, “Business has to have one foot in the real world and another in the world of ideas.” Based on the revolutionary “Jobs To Be Done” theory developed by Clayton Christensen, McDonald’s framework for generating new ideas allows business leaders to cultivate strategies that target new consumers and markets rather than incrementally improving upon existing offerings. The innovative company must always ask how product benefits can be provided in a better way and invest in new tools that will deliver more profitable solutions. McDonald’s method includes mapping the growth and future applicability of technologies, such as AI and machine learning, for the economy as well as individual firms.

Drawing on in-depth fieldwork and archival data, McDonald studies how companies develop viable strategies, navigate disruptive threats and opportunities, and acquire resources that improve their chances for success. McDonald advises both established companies looking to avoid disruption and those that seek to dislodge powerful but slow-moving incumbents. For the latter, he can show you where the market vulnerabilities exist and how to exploit them. His work is also of the utmost value to any technology enabled market from retail to energy, venture capital firms, hedge and mutual funds, and private investors who wish to capitalize on the next big trend while avoiding unnecessary risks.

In addition to his academic notoriety, McDonald is a renowned speaker and presenter. His speeches on innovation, business strategy and the implications of futurism draw widespread acclaim for their energy, passion and insight. Named to the 2016 40 Under 40 Most Outstanding MBA Professors by Poets & Quants, McDonald has won major research awards and is consistently featured in top academic outlets, including the Strategic Management Journal. He received a 2014 Kauffman Junior Faculty Fellowship in Entrepreneurship Research and was a finalist for best dissertation in Business Policy and Strategy by the Academy of Management.

Before joining Harvard Business School, McDonald was on the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin where he received the CBA Foundation Teaching award. He has also taught courses for executives, business students and engineers at Harvard and Stanford Universities. Though Professor McDonald’s passion is teaching, he is a member of the board of YCG Funds, an Austin-based mutual fund company, and an advisor to several business ventures.

Professor McDonald received his Ph.D. in management science and engineering from the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. He also holds an MBA and an MA in economic sociology from Stanford University, as well as two engineering degrees from the University of South Florida.

Rory McDonald is available for paid speaking engagements, including keynote addresses, speeches, panels and conference talks, and advisory/consulting services, through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Videos

Books & Research

Competing in New Markets and the Search for a Viable Business Model

(Marriott School of Management, BYU, February 2014)

Biography

Blockbuster and Kodak were industry giants that failed to anticipate the impact of digital technology on consumer behavior. How do successful companies collapse within a few years? And how do their competitors rise from obscurity to seize control of their markets overnight? Harvard Business School Professor Rory McDonald says firms face disruption when they lack a future-focused strategy that understands, preempts and takes the lead in harnessing new technologies. He helps leaders foresee not just the dawn of AI and other emerging fields, but the economic and social changes they will inevitably yield. Through McDonald’s unique lens, business leaders can craft innovation and investment strategies that target the trends of the future to avoid being on the wrong side of digital transformation.

Technology can transform industries and create entirely new products and services. To keep up, insists McDonald, “Business has to have one foot in the real world and another in the world of ideas.” Based on the revolutionary “Jobs To Be Done” theory developed by Clayton Christensen, McDonald’s framework for generating new ideas allows business leaders to cultivate strategies that target new consumers and markets rather than incrementally improving upon existing offerings. The innovative company must always ask how product benefits can be provided in a better way and invest in new tools that will deliver more profitable solutions. McDonald’s method includes mapping the growth and future applicability of technologies, such as AI and machine learning, for the economy as well as individual firms.

Drawing on in-depth fieldwork and archival data, McDonald studies how companies develop viable strategies, navigate disruptive threats and opportunities, and acquire resources that improve their chances for success. McDonald advises both established companies looking to avoid disruption and those that seek to dislodge powerful but slow-moving incumbents. For the latter, he can show you where the market vulnerabilities exist and how to exploit them. His work is also of the utmost value to any technology enabled market from retail to energy, venture capital firms, hedge and mutual funds, and private investors who wish to capitalize on the next big trend while avoiding unnecessary risks.

In addition to his academic notoriety, McDonald is a renowned speaker and presenter. His speeches on innovation, business strategy and the implications of futurism draw widespread acclaim for their energy, passion and insight. Named to the 2016 40 Under 40 Most Outstanding MBA Professors by Poets & Quants, McDonald has won major research awards and is consistently featured in top academic outlets, including the Strategic Management Journal. He received a 2014 Kauffman Junior Faculty Fellowship in Entrepreneurship Research and was a finalist for best dissertation in Business Policy and Strategy by the Academy of Management.

Before joining Harvard Business School, McDonald was on the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin where he received the CBA Foundation Teaching award. He has also taught courses for executives, business students and engineers at Harvard and Stanford Universities. Though Professor McDonald’s passion is teaching, he is a member of the board of YCG Funds, an Austin-based mutual fund company, and an advisor to several business ventures.

Professor McDonald received his Ph.D. in management science and engineering from the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. He also holds an MBA and an MA in economic sociology from Stanford University, as well as two engineering degrees from the University of South Florida.

Rory McDonald is available for paid speaking engagements, including keynote addresses, speeches, panels and conference talks, and advisory/consulting services, through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Speech Topics

Betting on the Future: Developing a Business Strategy that Keeps Pace with Technology

Why do companies at the top of their fields often have a sharp drop in profitability and even face extinction at the hands of new market entrants? The reason, argues Rory McDonald, is almost always the failure to anticipate new technologies and how they tap into or create socio-economic changes. Offering Blockbuster’s sudden collapse at the hands of Netflix as one of many examples, McDonald helps companies avoid becoming the next star to fall. He studies, maps, and forecasts the growth and applicability of technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics and blockchain. Less concerned with sweeping visions and debates over the pros and cons of emerging technologies, McDonald reveals the direct impact on industries and the firms within them. For companies deciding which technologies to fund or which products to develop (or discontinue), McDonald provides a framework for a technology investment strategy that avoids destructive disruption and maximizes long-term growth potential.

Creating New Growth Through Disruptive Innovation

Industry leaders can get blindsided by disruptive innovations because they focus too much on their most profitable customers and businesses. Rather than being destroyed by them, Professor Rory McDonald shows companies how to create their own disruptions, discover and nurture the best ideas, and create entirely new markets. He studies how firms compete in new markets—examining both stalwarts and startups—and offers leaders a new way of thinking about market forces and competitive strategy. Professor McDonald explains why old models don’t apply, and how to modify innovation theories to fit new markets and best position companies for the future.

Don’t Beat Your Competition, Join Them: Navigating New Markets

So many entrepreneurs and corporate leaders lose sleep worrying about their competition—and they should stop, urges Professor Rory McDonald. Reports of threats from ‘similar’ companies are often greatly exaggerated. Rather, he says, focus on substitutes, using rivals as mere stepping stones to speed progression and keep costs low. Often, leaders are better off riding the coattails of their rivals to establish a defining position in a new market. Drawing from years of rich research, Professor McDonald examines how widely accepted strategic prescriptions for navigating new markets can actually undermine attempts to develop a viable business model. He discusses alternative approaches to identifying and effectively engaging ‘real’ competitors, explaining that standing out requires problem solving, not missionary work.

Funding Innovation: The Right Resources to Rev Your Innovation Engines

It’s a common challenge for companies to struggle to get innovation investments right. Mounting evidence suggests that the type of resources a new business venture secures is integral to its success, says Professor Rory McDonald. Some resources help overcome constraints, improve internal operations and gain access to diverse audiences such as potential partners, the media and customers. Others create constraints, increasing competitive exposure and undermining efforts to innovate or commercialize a new technology. How can leaders ensure they acquire the right (combination of) resources to spur the right kind of innovation at the right pace? Professor McDonald examines the value created—and oftentimes destroyed—by different resource combinations and identifies the most attractive configuration of sources to maximize innovation investment.

Media

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Books & Research

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Recommendations

“Engaging, entertaining, relevant, and a talented facilitator.”

— David Gockel, President & CEO, Langan

“I was so pleased with Rory’s presentation. It was engaging, entertaining, and informative. The audience was engaged and responsive to his remarks and the question and answer portion went smoother than I expected – I felt like I was sitting in an HBS classroom learning from him. Rory was fabulous to work with and I hope to cross paths with him again.”

— Melyssa Wolf, Senior Manager – Strategic Initiatives, Solar Energy Trade Shows

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McDonald, Rory

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