Michael Porter is generally recognized as the father of the modern strategy field and has been identified in a variety of rankings and surveys as the world’s most influential thinker on management and competitiveness. He is also a leading authority on the application of competitive principles to social problems such as health care, the environment, and corporate responsibility. Porter is the Bishop William Lawrence University Professor at the Harvard Business and the author of 18 books and over 125 articles. He received a B.S.E. with high honors in aerospace and mechanical engineering from Princeton University in 1969; an M.B.A. with high distinction in 1971 from the Harvard Business School, where he was a George F. Baker Scholar; and a Ph.D. in Business Economics from Harvard University in 1973. In 2001, Harvard Business School and Harvard University jointly created the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, dedicated to furthering Porter’s work.
Question: Whom would you like to interview, and what would you ask?
Michael Porter: It’s a very, very hard question.
Some people think about things like that. Unfortunately, I’m an engineer. I’m always thinking about, what’s the task and how do I get it done? And some of my tasks are pretty broad, and pretty fuzzy, and pretty funky, but that’s the way I think.
Let me answer your question. I don’t have an answer, so let me think about how I would have an answer.
It would be, I would ask myself, “What are the real puzzles that I truly don’t understand and I think are really, really important?”
Let’s just go back to those big issues that I described earlier. I’m really puzzled by why people in societies find it difficult to work collaboratively together with other people in societies.
I’m not sure I know who the right name is to pick to interview, I don’t know whether it’s religious leaders, or whether it’s some of the few political leaders that have risen above the kind of special interest politics. I’m bad at coming up with names, but I think that would be one of the interviews.
I’m also fascinated by the deep psychological roots of how a lot of these phenomenon that I’m interested actually play themselves out.
I recently came across a body of work of a guy named Daniel, I think is his name, at Penn. And his work is labeled under the phrase “positive psychology”. And his whole body of work is how you can get people to pursue their positive interests and work constructively. There’s a great interview. What have you learned about how to get people to bring out people’s positive side, their better side, their constructive side, as opposed to their fearful side, or their jealous side or thei whatever kind of side.
So those are just a couple of examples. One specific, the other more of a kind of generic category.
But I got to tell you, even for somebody like me who is very broad in my interests, and I truly engage in many parts of the world, there’s so much to know these days that it’s hard to keep exposing yourself to these new bodies of thought and fields.
But I think over time as my work develops, I suspect that to make the next set of breakthroughs, one’s gonna have to integrate some of these very human and psychological theories, and thinking and understanding with some of the more, if you will, rational, and organizational, and economic, in order to address some of the very vexing questions that we talked about earlier.
Recorded on: June 11, 2007