HBX Business Blog

Clay Christensen's New Theory Of Innovation Has Everything To Do With Hiring

Posted by Gwen Moran on October 25, 2016 at 10:23 AM

Clay-Fast-Company.png[Photo: Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images]

This post was originally published on Fast Company.

Business schools spend a great deal of time teaching would-be entrepreneurs and managers about the differences between features and benefits and their importance. Differentiate your product by tinkering with it to make it better or cheaper. Get to know your customer so you can understand how to sell to them.

Not exactly, says Harvard Business School professor and innovation expert Clayton M. Christensen. In his new book, Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice, he and coauthors Karen Dillon, Taddy Hall, and David S. Duncan says that customers don’t buy products and services as such. Instead, they’re hiring them to do a job.

At first, that may seem like a very "insider baseball" distinction. Don’t you have to get to know your customer to understand their needs? Yes and no, Christensen says.

Product Or Service For Hire

Let’s say you have a customer who has a busy and stressful week at work. On Monday, after she walks through the door at 7 p.m., she exercises. On Tuesday, she pulls out a bottle of Jack Daniels and pours herself a drink. On Wednesday, she reads the Bible, and on Thursday, she uses her Xbox. If you’re trying to look at the customer’s attributes and connect the dots between these disparate activities and her overall behavior, it’s confusing. But when you realize that she’s "hiring" these various products to help her unwind, the picture becomes clearer, he explains.

"That's why you need to understand the situations that your customer finds themselves in," says Christensen. That's when they have a "job" and are more likely to buy your product, he says.

Companies that have embraced this model are able to innovate in ways that make it tough to compete. Christensen points to Airbnb as an example. The sleeping-space-for-hire company understands that customers may want to hire a hotel to do a number of jobs: to provide a room with a bed, present a suitable location for a meeting with an important client, or network with other people who are staying there. However, Airbnb is focused on providing a place where people can have a home base to sleep and not be bothered.

"When Airbnb emerged, they were focused on just one of these jobs, and they nailed it," he says.

The Benefits Of A Job Well Done

Such spot-on job performance has its benefits, the authors contend. When you have a deep understanding of the job, you can innovate more specifically to do it well. Rather than broadly guessing at what the customer might want, you can focus on innovation that addresses specific experiences they wish to have and deliver in a more focused manner. When you do that, you enjoy high levels of customer loyalty and repeat business and may even be able to command a premium price.

This offers a competitive advantage to any company that is willing to understand the job rather than the customer. For example, Amazon has turned shopping at disparate locations into a singular, streamlined experience where you can get a staggering number of products in one location and pay for them with one click. That deep understanding came from asking the right questions about the job to be done, Christensen says.

"Just in the shopping experience, if all they do is measure, ‘Did we ship it to you on time?’ That's a very different experience," he explains. Amazon took it a step further by asking, Christensen adds: "‘Did you receive it on time? What was it like to pay for the product, and how hard was it to find the product? What might I buy if I don't buy this? What else could I buy to get the same job done?'" Failure to do so could mean that businesses get better at the wrong things.

Disruption, Redux

This isn’t the first time Christensen has brought fresh thinking to the innovation arena. He coined the term "disruptive innovation" in 1995. It "describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves upmarket, eventually displacing established competitors." He addressed the topic again in his 2011 best seller The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business, and described successes and failures of companies like Intel, HP, and Honda in staying on top of their game.

Christensen, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and open about his faith, says a practice in the Mormon church was part of the inspiration for his thinking about innovation, especially "jobs for hire."

He describes Mormon services delivered by fellow church members who talk about their own experiences. During the week, members have assignments to help each other. While many people feel the desire to help others but don’t know how to do so other than writing a check, Christensen has had to dive in to understand how people need help—in essence, the job that they needed to hire someone to help with, he says. The church's role is to provide that help in a way that strengthens peoples' faith.

"I have responsibility for several other families in our congregation," explains Christensen, "and my job is to be sure that if there are things going on that the rest of us can help with, we help them."

So if there is a measure of divine inspiration in Christensen’s latest book, perhaps it's the fact that we all have fundamental jobs we need done and are looking for the best product or service to fill them. Being the best answer/hire for that job ensures loyalty, whether you're providing retail goods, a place to sleep, or connection to a higher power.

Topics: HBX Insights, HBX Disruptive Strategy

Q&A with HBX CORe Participant Jonathan Rossi

Posted by Jonathan Rossi on October 20, 2016 at 1:05 PM


We recently invited six past CORe participants to the HBX offices to participate in an upcoming ad campaign featuring real HBX students. Between shots, undergraduate financial aid representative Jonathan Rossi sat down with us and explained how CORe helped define his future education and career goals in data analytics.

Tell us how CORe inspired you to get into data analytics.

For the past three years, I’ve been working in an undergraduate admissions office doing financial aid work. I’ve always wanted to get back to my math-oriented background so that’s part of what drove me to CORe in the first place. As I was going through CORe, the Business Analytics course really sparked my interest. I went down this path of wanting to get back into statistics and data.

How did CORe complement what you studied in college?

I mainly studied theoretical math in college, so this was a new aspect and way of applying my math background in an impactful way. In the future, I want to apply the skills I’ve learned as a data scientist or data analyst, and that was very much spurred by CORe and my experience with Business Analytics.

How has CORe inspired you to continue your learning?

I just finished doing a data science bootcamp where we covered all of the statistics that I had learned in Business Analytics, but we also went into machine learning, model building, and coding. I learned to use Python and various machine learning packages and how to apply statistical knowledge to actual problems.

I’ve actually begun to apply this at work. I work a lot with Federal Pell grants, and we’re trying to get a sense of what populations of students are getting those grants and how that shifts from year to year. I’ve also been doing a few different side projects too – using Twitter data to predict when the Red Sox would win vs. lose based on the sentiment of the tweets, things like that.

What's next for you?

I hope to leverage the knowledge I gained in CORe to ultimately pursue data science full-time and eventually go back to school for an MBA or PhD.

The CORe community consists of students from many different backgrounds and career fields. Want to learn more about other students who've participated in the program?

Read Additional Student Profiles

Topics: HBX Student Spotlight, Student Spotlight

The Three Most Important Things I Learned at Harvard Business School... and the Three Things I Didn’t

Posted by Patrick Mullane on October 18, 2016 at 2:55 PM


Attending the MBA program at HBS was a truly transformative experience for me. And I firmly believe that the case method of study coupled with world-class faculty makes the program one of the best educational experiences an aspiring leader could participate in. Below, I share just a few of the lessons I learned at HBS and some that took a bit longer to learn after I had left the program and spent time as a business leader.

What I learned at HBS...

1. It’s okay to be lucky, it’s okay to be smart, it’s not okay to be lucky and think you are smart.

This is one that speaks to hubris. Don’t be a victim of it. Effort matters. Intelligence matters. Perseverance matters. But there is always an element of luck. Don’t think you’ve had it? I know you have. If you hadn’t, you could read this … you won what Warren Buffet calls the “ovarian lottery.” You were born somewhere and raised in a way that allowed you to learn to read. That’s something, isn’t it? 

2. Companies only go out of business because they run out of cash.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet the vagaries of accounting, and particularly the calculation of net income, can trick you. Cash pays vendors. It pays employees (tried to buy groceries on a promise of payment?). It pays for everything. Don’t forget it. 

3. Culture eats strategy for lunch.

Said another way, you can have the best strategy in the world, but if you don’t have the right culture, you might as well use your strategy document as an anchor for a boat. Culture drives execution. It drives resilience. It drives unity of purpose. So, how do you get the right culture? See number one in the list of things I didn’t learn while at HBS.

And what I didn't...

1. Get the people right and everything else is easy

No lesson has been more stark to me than the importance of getting the people side of things right. And while HBS touched on this throughout my MBA studies, it was never as clear as it could be after 20 years in general management. People matter that much. And not just because of the skills they bring to the table but because of the culture they help build. A secondary lesson: never, ever be afraid to hire somebody better than you. Use the Tom Sawyer method of hiring: find somebody who can paint the fence better than you.

2. Never hire somebody at a manager level or above that has not terminated an employee at some point in their career

Perhaps this is an addendum to the first item above, but I felt it warranted it’s own place on the list.  It’s an uncomfortable reality but people don’t always work out. The question is what you do about it. While working to improve performance through consistent and respectful feedback is always a first choice, sometimes you reach the end of the road and have to let the under-performer go. Experience doing this is part of becoming a leader. I learned this lesson the hard way. I once hired a senior executive who had said during the interview process that he had never had to terminate an employee after a thirty-year career as a general manager in a manufacturing company where he managed no less than thirty people. When the organization he ran in my company needed to have some personnel changes made, he simply shuffled people around, changing their responsibilities, trying to delay the inevitable. Unfortunately, his inability to act led to me letting him go. 

3. Sharing as much as possible is always better than sharing only what you think is necessary.

It’s a maxim of human nature: in the absence of information, humans will fill in the blanks based on their own experiences. In doing so, you can be certain they will get it wrong. So why not fill in the blanks for them? I have learned that doing so is almost always preferable to the alternative. Obviously, some things cannot be provided to employees. But if you made a list of everything that legally and ethically can be shared and things that just can’t, you’d be surprised at how much would show up on the first list… and how much on that list you have arbitrarily decided not to share. Information truly is power. Help your employees feel powerful by being as open as possible whenever you can.


About the Author

Patrick Mullane is the Executive Director of HBX and is responsible for managing HBX’s growth and long-term success. A military veteran and alumnus of Harvard Business School, Patrick is passionate about finding ways to use technology to enhance the mission of the School - to educate leaders who make a difference in the world.

Supply and Demand or Price Gouging? An Ongoing Debate

Posted by HBX on October 13, 2016 at 1:54 PM


The simplest model of a market involves two things, supply and demand, and the price and quantity of the goods sold in the market are a function of both. When a natural disaster hits, the immediate effect can be two-fold. In such situations, it is not unusual that the demand for certain products may increase. For example, if everyone is trying to leave the area, demand for gas may rise. The other effect is that supply for certain products may decrease. For example, it may be more costly to transport gas in areas affected by a natural disaster, thus decreasing the supply of gas and in turn, increasing the price.

When supply decreases, the price of the good increases. And when demand increases, again the price of the good increases. So we would predict that the market price of gas, for example, would increase in areas recently affected by a hurricane. And in fact we do see this.

Price-gouging occurs when companies raise prices to unfair levels. There is no rule for what qualifies as price-gouging, but it is not an uncommon occurance. For example, EpiPen costs and Uber price surges are both current examples of price increases that have been labeled unfair. 

Stories of price gouging in Florida after Hurricane Matthew have recently made headlines. Price increases due to natural disasters are the classic example of price gouging, and the government will usually intervene and directly prevent companies from doing so. But there can be unintended consequences to market interventions such as these, which explains the ongoing debate among economists and policy makers about the proper response to natural disasters and price gouging.

Want to read more about the price gouging debate?

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

Learn more about HBX CORe

Topics: HBX CORe, HBX Insights

Starting an NGO with Skills Gained from HBX CORe

Posted by Azizjon Azimi on October 11, 2016 at 11:19 AM


My name is Aziz and I am a recent New York University graduate who enrolled in the June 2015 cohort of HBX CORe. Since completing CORe, I have nurtured my entrepreneurial skills to a new level and have successfully launched a start-up NGO, TajRupt, in my home country of Tajikistan.

TajRupt works on three fronts: renewable energy (providing solar lanterns to tens of thousands of underprivileged children), subsidized financing (allocating grants to gifted students to pursue university education), and anti-corruption (launching an online platform for reporting of bribery cases in universities). I have extensively used my HBX CORe skills to define the operational business model and effectively work on grant proposals with my peers. 

Business Analytics - Drawing conclusions from conducting randomized audits and analyzing data samples 

We were initially planning to launch a microfinance institution that would provide low-interest student loans modelled after the UK Student Loans Company system. To gauge public interest in the program, we posted surveys on Tajik social media groups and sent them out electronically in a randomized manner – exact steps taken in one of the course examples. After receiving survey results that pointed to low public interest in the microfinance venture, we were convinced that the student loan program would be tough to launch in a country where public trust in financial institutions is at an all-time low due to a stiff financial crisis. Thus, we decided to focus our efforts on strictly non-commercial aspects in the beginning in order to build a proper reputation that would then increase public confidence in the organization and strategically differentiate us (a concept from Economics for Managers). This strategy will allow us to launch a microfinance program in a period of one to two years.

Economics for Managers - Fixed and variable cost breakdown 

While my team and I were preparing our grant proposals for the Ministry of Finance, we conducted extensive contrastive fixed and variable cost analyses and adjusted the metrics several times in order to yield the least operationally expensive model by bringing down the variable cost to minimal levels. In our case, renting space for offices and Educational Resource Centers (ERCs) produced variable costs that were too high. To curb this, we transformed the office variable expense into a fixed cost by opting to purchase a small headquarters office as opposed to continuously paying rent. We also eliminated the variable cost associated with ERCs by formalizing an agreement with the Ministry of Education and Science to host ERC activities at administrative offices of the Ministry in five districts of our operation.

Financial Accounting - Cash flow analysis 

Due to the fact that we receive $3.3 million in international grant funds in continuous annual payments from the Ministry of Finance as opposed to one single transaction, we had to properly amend our income statements for annual categorization to prevent over-spending. This prompted us to use a number of course concepts including operating expense ratio (OER) to gain insights into our financial standing and ensure project sustainability.

Thank you, HBX CORe!

By utilizing the network of amazing individuals that I had the pleasure of meeting through HBX, I was able to pursue my dream project and secure over $3 million in grants from the Eurasian Development Bank and OPEC Fund for International Development. Thanks to CORe, I was able to make my dream of launching a start-up NGO come to life.

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

Learn more about HBX CORe


About the Author

Azizjon Azimi participated in the June 2015 cohort of HBX CORe. He is a recent college graduate whose experience with CORe helped him to launch his education-focused NGO, TajRupt.

Topics: HBX CORe, Student Bloggers, Student Spotlight

JFK: The Negotiator

Posted by Professor Mike Wheeler on October 6, 2016 at 11:30 AM


This post was originally published on Linkedin Pulse.

The greatest achievement of John F. Kennedy’s presidency was resolving the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962.

Agreement wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Kennedy himself calculated that the chance of a nuclear catastrophe was at least one in three, maybe higher. But he had learned a lot about negotiating from his failed summit talk with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev a year earlier in Vienna. Those lessons still apply today. And they apply to everyday transactions.

First, Kennedy was agile strategically.

Among his own advisors, hawks argued strongly for immediate attacks on the missile sites being built in Cuba. Kennedy understood that military action might soon be necessary but he was determined to use the limited time available to pursue alternatives that wouldn’t trigger World War III. Imposing a blockade on Cuba (he called it a “quarantine”) was less provocative and gave him the chance to negotiate.

Second, he stress-tested his options by actively seeking counsel from experts with widely divergent views.

As a result, he avoided the “confirmation bias” trap, that is, being told only what others thought he wanted to hear. As a result, he fully understood the risks entailed in whatever path he might take.

Third, he used multiple channels of communication, instead of relying solely on formal messages telexed back-and-forth between Washington and Moscow.

Much later it was learned that Kennedy’s brother Robert (who was also Attorney General) held three secret meetings with Soviet Ambassador to the US, Anatoly Dobrynin. In these private sessions they floated proposals and developed a measure of personal trust.

Fourth, the President understood that the other side was not monolithic.

Just as with his White House advisers, there were hawks and doves within the Kremlin. He had to craft a resolution that would have sufficient support within both governments, but he didn’t have to please the hardest-to-please parties.

Fifth, Kennedy allowed Khrushchev to save face.

In return for the Soviets’ removing their missiles in Cuba, the president publicly pledged that the United States would never invade that country. Given the humiliating Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, there was little likelihood that the US would make another such attempt, but the guarantee gave the Premier something he could trumpet as a victory. My friend Bill Ury calls this tactic “building a golden bridge.” It enables a counterpart to justify an agreement to others (and also to himself).

Finally, Kennedy enriched the deal with a side agreement.

On the twelfth day of the standoff, with tensions mounting, Khrushchev sent a letter that made it seem that a deal was imminent. But then several hours later a more belligerent message appeared, with added demands, including insistence on US removal of Jupiter missiles it had installed in Turkey, bordering the Soviet Union.

That issue was potentially a deal-killer, as the Americans didn’t want to appear as if they were blackmailed into making a significant military concession. But it was suggested (apparently by Secretary of State Dean Rusk) that President Kennedy reply formally to the initial, more conciliatory Soviet proposal, and then have Robert Kennedy privately ask Ambassador Dobrynin deliver the written letter to Khrushchev along with an oral message to Khrushchev that the US missiles in Turkey would be withdrawn.

These six elements were all critical parts Kennedy’s negotiation strategy. They were bound together by a tough-minded appraisal of the situation. Like a chess master, Kennedy played both sides of the table, thinking several moves ahead, trying to anticipate how the Soviets might respond to American actions. He didn’t wish away the risks. He allowed for possible miscalculation on their part, rather than counting on them to respond “rationally” to the carrots and sticks he might deploy.

The same kind of tough-mindedness is essential in our own negotiations, even though far less is at stake. Having that attitude compels us to confront that whatever unfolds won’t be fully under our control. Whoever we deal with may be as determined—and fallible—as we are ourselves. Recognizing that reality compels us to be both agile strategically and creative in executing our plans.


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. Professor Wheeler is developing a new HBX program on Negotiation which will launch in early 2017.

Topics: HBX Insights

Reflections from an HBX Summer Intern

Posted by Chris Larson on October 4, 2016 at 10:45 AM


Robert De Niro and I have a lot in common – we are both a little old to be interns. But, like in the movie, my internship at HBX was a fantastic experience. Since I was completing a MSc in Russian and East European Studies and then beginning an MBA three months later, I figured an internship at HBX would be a great way to spend my summer. Luckily, HBX thought so as well!

I decided to pursue an internship with HBX for a few different reasons. First, it was an opportunity to work at Harvard Business School and second, I was looking to gain experience working for a larger organization (I had started my own small business, but I don’t count that as formal working experience). In addition, I got paid (which was an extra bonus!), I was able to work in areas that I wanted to (marketing and product management), and I love Boston. To be honest, it couldn’t have worked out any better.

While I said that Robert De Niro and I have a lot in common, I am about half his age (that’s just a clarifier). Still though, while my fellow interns were (at most) 20 years old, it didn’t stop me from forming meaningful relationships with them and my with other coworkers. I became good friends with my fellow interns and coworkers, playing Checkers and Sorry at lunch every day (yes, HBX has board games), and grabbing dinner sometimes as well. I even played tennis once a week with a coworker (unless he bailed on me), and will stay in contact with a number of others. I felt welcomed from my very first day and I loved the atmosphere – it seemed far less stifling than I had imagined an office being. On top of that, everyone was willing to meet with me, introduce me to their specific fields, and help me understand what they do. Because of this, I was able to gain insight into the different facets of HBX and how they all work together, which I consider one of the greatest things I gained from my internship.

Another thing I loved about my time at HBX was that I felt like I was given meaningful projects that actually made a difference. Over the 2 ½ months I was there, I worked on changing the messaging of email workflows, ran the Instagram account, and helped design and carry out a variety of projects. I was also given a range of types of tasks: from more data-heavy to research-heavy to creative-heavy projects. I learned how to use Excel better, conduct market research, and craft messages. The unique part about all of these projects is that I had a say in them; it wasn’t just my colleagues giving me tasks that they themselves didn’t want to do. I felt like I added real value, and that was something I was not expecting from a summer internship.

On top of being given meaningful projects, I had access to CORe and Disruptive Strategy with Clayton Christensen for free. I was allowed to work through Disruptive Strategy at work and have been doing CORe at home in my free time. I feel like these have given me a better foundation of “the language of business” that most certainly are beneficial as I begin my MBA.

And then there was being in Boston. Who doesn’t love Boston? Having spent time here before, I knew that I wanted to get back if I could. While here, I went whale watching, took a trip to Maine, went to a Red Sox game, and ate some of the best food in the country. I had an opportunity to sit down with the Creative Director of HBX, speak with the videographers and photographers for HBX, and explore what a career in creative might look like. My time in Boston has not only provided me the work experience I was looking for but also opened doors to other exciting opportunities.

All in all it was the perfect summer – a meaningful internship at a world-class institution with incredible staff in my favorite city.


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: HBX Staff Spotlight

Word of the Week: Accrual Accounting

Posted by Christine Johnson on September 29, 2016 at 3:01 PM


Gone are the days when people paid cash for the goods and services they needed. More often than not, companies (and individuals) prepay, or pay later for goods and services. The form of accounting that allows companies to keep up with these more complicated transactions is called Accrual Accounting.

Accrual Accounting: An accounting method that recognizes revenue in the period in which it is earned and realizable, not necessarily when the cash is received. Similarly, expenses are recognized in the period in which the related revenue is recognized rather than when the related cash is paid.

Accrual Accounting is helpful because it shows underlying business transactions, not just those where cash is involved. Most transactions that a company has are straightforward, with payment happening at the time of the transaction. Other, more complicated transactions, involve buying and selling on credit, which requires a company to account for monies that they will have to pay at a future date or receive at a future date.

Even more complicated are transactions that require paying for goods or services in advance or receiving money from customers in advance. The timing of when revenues and expenses are recognized related to these more complicated transactions can have a major effect on the perceived financial performance of a company.

How does all of this work in the real world?

Deferred Revenue

When a company receives cash before a good has been delivered or a service has been provided, it creates an account called deferred (or unearned) revenue. This account is a liability because the company has an obligation to deliver the good or provide the service in the future.

Suppose you paid a gym $1,200 on January 1, 2016 for a year-long membership. Using the accrual accounting method, the gym would set up a deferred revenue account (a liability) for the $1,200 to show that they had received the cash but not yet provided the service. As each month of 2016 passes, the gym can reduce the deferred revenue account by $100 to show that they have provided one month of service. They can simultaneously record revenue of $100 each month to show that the revenue has officially been earned through providing the service.

Prepaid Expense

When a company pays cash for a good before it is received, or for a service before it has been provided, it creates an account called prepaid expense. This account is an asset account because it shows that the company is entitled to receive a good or a service in the future.

Suppose that a dental office buys a year-long magazine subscription on January 1, 2016 for $144, so patients have something to read while they wait for their appointments. At the time of the payment, the dental office will set up a prepaid expense account for $144 to show that they have not yet received the goods, but they have already paid the cash. As each month of 2016 passes, the dental office can reduce the prepaid expense account by $12 to show that they have ‘used up’ one month of their prepaid expense (asset). They can simultaneously record an expense of $12 each month to show that the expense has officially incurred through receiving the magazine.

Interested in learning the language of business? Take HBX CORe and discover the basics of Economics for Managers, Financial Accounting, and Business Analytics.

Learn more about HBX CORe


About the Author

Christine is a member of the HBX Course Delivery Team, focusing on Financial Accounting and Disruptive Strategy. She holds a B.S. in Management from UNC Asheville, an M.S. in Accounting from Northeastern University, and an MBA from Northeastern University. In her spare time, she enjoys reading business journals and watching NFL games.

Topics: HBX CORe, HBX Insights

Why the Polls Seem to Have Agreed to Disagree

Posted by Jenny Gutbezahl on September 27, 2016 at 3:40 PM


If you've been following the election at all, you've probably noticed that some polls give very different estimates of who's likely to win the presidency in November. For example, at 1:00 PM EDT on Tuesday, September 27th [this will probably change by the time you read this]:

  • The New York Times shows Clinton leading 45% to 42%
  • The Los Angeles Times reports Trump leading 46.2% to 42.7%
  • HuffPost Pollster shows Clinton up 47.6% to 44.1%
  • Data analysis site FiveThirtyEight gives three different estimates:
    • Their Polls-only forecast is 55.8% to 44.2% in Clinton's favor
    • Their Polls-plus forecast (which includes such factors as the economy and event-related spikes in either candidate's favor) is 55.2% to 44.7% in Clinton's favor 
    • Their nowcast (what they'd expect if the election were held today) is 52.7% to 47.3% in Clinton's favor

There are a number of reasons for this: they poll different people, using different questions, via different media. For example, polls that use only mobile numbers, and exclude landlines, tend to under-sample older voters. And wording changes as simple as which candidate is mentioned first by the poll can affect responses.

But the biggest differences may be caused by weighting, a method used to make the sample (which may be demographically different from the expected voter turnout) look like the population. Each organization uses its own weighting algorithm, leading to a diversity of predictions. In fact, the New York Times recently shared poll data it had collected with four well-respected analysts.

Even with the exact same data, the different weighting methods led to results varying from a four point lead for Clinton to a one point lead for Trump. That's because each organization has a slightly different idea of what the electorate will look like in terms of gender, ethnicity, education, socio-economic status, etc. These assumptions about who will vote influence what the polls tell us.

One thing is pretty clear: this will be a tight race, and people seem more emotionally invested in it than they have been in many recent elections. And given last night's debate, the numbers will likely fluctuate in the upcoming days.

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

Q&A with HBX CORe Participant J. Holden Gibbons

Posted by J. Holden Gibbons on September 22, 2016 at 3:52 PM


Army veteran and past HBX CORe participant J. Holden Gibbons talks about how CORe allowed him to understand the language of business and help grow his non-profit, Veterans Combating Child Hunger.

Tell us a little bit about your organization.

When I was serving in Afghanistan with the Army, I saw how it had little arable land and lacked a lot of core assets, making it hard to support life. It made me see the United States in a new light; we live in this bountiful nation but don't value the land, water, or natural resources in the way we should. There are a ton of areas where we can improve efficiencies and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and technology.

I asked myself, how can we sustainably reuse this land, reduce greenhouse gases, get veterans involved in their community, and improve certain communities that oftentimes have poor nutrition? So, upon returning home, I founded Veterans Combating Child Hunger, an organization that seeks to involve the veteran community in sustainably farming undervalued real estate assets in communities throughout the United States.

How has CORe has helped with this venture?

HBX CORe is the type of program that helps you make a quantum leap and take what's in your head and translate it into real world success. One of the really nifty things about CORe is that the skill set they give you is directly applicable to what you are going through as an entrepreneur or a small business owner. On a day-to-day basis, I'm literally astounded by how often I use the coursework.

For example, with Economics for Managers, I'm constantly weighing how to utilize the farm's assets. Is it worth me spending a few hundred dollars to take a flight? That might not seem like the best short-term expenditure, but if I can expand the network which then amplifies later on, that may be a good decision to make. I am asking myself questions like what's the cost basis of this? What am I giving up to pursue that? Would I be better off not pursuing that?

Financially speaking, I really wanted Veterans Combating Child Hunger to be a self-sustaining corporation. We want to offer value added, we don't want to consistently be asking people for funds to get started. In accounting, we learned about “going concerns” so now I ask myself, what is the best way we can use our time, use our assets, to be able to bring sustainability and add more value to society?

What advice would you give entrepreneurs considering CORe?

Before you sign up or apply for CORe, I’d suggest you do a gut check and ask yourself whether you have the time to dedicate to mastering the material and building a network. To truly be successful in the program, it takes a lot of effort, it takes a lot of proactive decision-making, and you're really going to be expected to bring a large amount of focus. Not only that, you're also expected to integrate with your cohort and to help them through the platform.

You're expected to be a member of a community, and you are expected to put in a healthy amount of work. You need to look within yourself and ask, “Am I prepared to take three very intensive courses that require me to be the fulcrum of my learning?” In CORe, you’re conducting your own train. That train can take you as far as you want to go, and if you're on board all the way, there's really nowhere that you can't go.

The CORe community consists of a rich and diverse group of learners. Want to learn more about other students who've participated in the program?

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Topics: HBX Student Spotlight, Student Spotlight