by Adi Ignatius, editor in chief of Harvard Business Review

When Harvard Business Review first rolled off the presses a century ago, it became a welcome showcase of fresh ideas for the relatively new field of business management.

It was a heady time in the United States. The dust of World War I had just begun to settle, and American business was taking off. This was the dawn of the Roaring Twenties, a period of breakneck economic growth and social experimentation (which lasted until the Great Depression abruptly ended the fun, in 1929). Auto manufacturing and other consumer industries were booming, but the processes for effectively guiding these enterprises were only just beginning to emerge.

And so HBR came to be. The magazine, originally a quarterly, was the brainchild of Wallace Brett Donham, the longest-serving dean in Harvard Business School’s history. Donham, the son of a traveling dentist, was convinced that a proper “theory of business,” based on rigorous research into how companies handle their greatest challenges, could teach executives sound judgment. Without this, he wrote in HBR’s inaugural issue, in 1922, business would be “unsystematic, haphazard, and for many men a pathetic gamble.”

Many of HBR’s earliest articles focused on improving operational efficiency. The most celebrated school of thought up to that moment had been “scientific management,” an approach championed by Frederick Winslow Taylor. A mechanical-engineer-turned-consultant, Taylor believed he could quantify and measure virtually any industrial process and optimize it for efficiency and consistency.

But as industries and stakeholder relations became more complex, the business world needed other approaches and ideas. HBR became a critical source of this evolving thinking. Soon the publication was covering a broad array of topics, from how macroeconomic trends were impacting business, to dealing with labor unions, to adjusting to the new rules of finance.

Over time, HBR would move, along with society, to new areas of focus. Topics that once might have seemed “soft”—employee motivation, authentic leadership, work-life balance—began to be recognized as vital aspects of a healthy organization. HBR eventually would launch new platforms and products, disseminating ideas not just in the magazine but also on the web, in videos and podcasts, on social media, and even (starting in 2020) on TikTok. The long print articles that HBR is known for are still among our crown jewels, but we also now aim to generate significant value for our readers via shorter pieces, graphics, data analysis, and more.

HBR has published some of the most influential ideas in the history of modern business, and this collection highlights many of them. We tried to select pieces that have remained relevant over decades, even as the business landscape has evolved and even as other authors have subsequently added their own thinking and research to these concepts. Some of the articles use language that, by today’s standards, may seem outdated or even objectionable. We’ve chosen to preserve the original wording, but we acknowledge that certain passages may seem jarring. This book isn’t meant to be a history of HBR, nor a chronology of how it has transformed over time. Rather, it is a showcase of the articles that present some of our best and most enduring ideas over the past century.

There may be recency bias in the articles we’ve chosen to highlight. Only five of the 30 showcased articles date from HBR’s first 60 years, while nine are from 2015 or later. This partly reflects just how much business has changed, meaning that many of those earlier articles were narrow in their focus or offered what turned out to be only ephemeral insight. We publish much more these days on strategy, business models, change management, technology—topics that are broadly relevant to our large audience. (At this writing we serve about 11 million unique visitors to the website each month.) We also infuse what we publish with a consistent commitment to values that we think are eternal and fundamental to long-term success: sustainability, diversity and inclusion, fact-based decision-making. Several of the newer articles in this collection touch on these themes.

The showcased authors and articles are often legendary. From Peter Drucker, widely known as the father of modern management, we present “Managing Oneself,” his 1999 challenge to would-be leaders to confront their strengths and weaknesses in order to become better managers. From Michael Porter, the celebrated HBS professor, we offer the 1979 article “How Competitive Forces Shape Strategy,” the first look at the author’s much-studied five forces framework for understanding a company’s competitive challenge. From Clay Christensen (writing with Joseph Bower) we have the 1995 piece “Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave,” the article that introduced Christensen’s signature concept, disruptive innovation. And from W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, we include the 2004 article “Blue Ocean Strategy,” which coined a term and inspired countless innovators to create new markets.

The more recent articles in the collection tend to focus on topics and challenges that have moved to the forefront of what leaders tell us they need to master. These include articles on gender, race and diversity, technology and artificial intelligence, climate change, the pandemic, and the future of work. As the business world continues to evolve, HBR will adapt with it—a constant guide for tomorrow’s leaders who aim for long-term success.

Finally, we include in this collection a piece by Theodore Levitt, a critical figure in HBR’s storied history. Levitt, a German-American economist and HBS professor, served as HBR’s top editor from 1985 to 1989 and is credited with expanding the publication’s mission and approach. His 1960 classic article, “Marketing Myopia,” argued (early and effectively) that to succeed, companies need to reorient themselves toward customer needs.

Levitt used to joke that HBR was “a magazine written by people who can’t write for people who won’t read.” It was a charming bit of self-deprecation, but the fact is the articles in this collection are exquisite in the depth of their ideas and rank among the most widely read and admired pieces in the history of business thinking.

I hope you enjoy the articles, and that they continue to inspire.

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