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Harvard Business Review editor on Africa, Apple and why the rules of business matter

Many businesses, including publishers, made the fatal mistake of believing the rules of business did not apply to them during the rise of the digital economy because they were employing revolutionary technology, says Amy Bernstein, editor of the Harvard Business Review. She also argues that Africa is more interesting than Apple.

Amy Bernstein is Editor of the Harvard Business Review, a business management magazine with an English language circulation of over 250,000 - translated into 11 languages, including Chinese, Japanese and Russian. In an in-depth interview on the Media Masters podcast with media specialist Paul Blanchard, she analyses why so many businesses - including publishers - came “plummeting down” in the wake of the rise of the digital economy.

Amy Bernstein ()

“In the early days of the internet economy, we kept seeing the same problems over and over again. There was this notion that negative growth margins would somehow be resolved by the scale of development. That was ridiculous! The reality of business always applies - even if it’s a digital business,” argues Bernstein. She continues: “There was this category of thinkers that thought they were rewriting the rules of business by using different kind of platforms and different kinds of technology. But any operation still has to throw off enough money to pay wages and bills.”

That said, Bernstein believes the lessons learnt from exploits into the internet economy “has fundamentally changed the way we do business today. The digitalisation and speed of doing business has changed the way we think about business… In publishing, everyone has been through some kind of disruption”, she says.

While many lessons were learnt from the mistakes made, one of the most important was that even if publishers and businesses employ revolutionary technology, this does mean that the basic business principles can be abandoned. Those players which were disciplined in their business practises were also those that overcame the challenges of disruption and continued to be successful. 

Add to this the ability to innovate, says Bernstein, and most organisations can ensure their future is secured. Working at Harvard Business Review inevitably brings her to the frontline of innovation and new thinking. “Many smart ideas are born in the reality of business and its evolution. There is no shortage of new ideas floating out there…  Ideas about digital transformation and its impact, the internet of things, artificial intelligence and big data…”

Her task at Harvard Business Review is to share with readers how these ideas differ from previous ideas and how it will impact readers. She references mega trends such as the impact of technology, personal technology and millennials in the workforce.

And the next big thing? While companies like Ideo, General Electric, Unilever and of course Apple are continuing to innovate and transform for the future, companies that are starting to emerge out of Africa are far more interesting, she says.

“The entrepreneurial spirit, creativity and energy emerging from startups in Africa are truly interesting. They are dealing with unusual constraints, yet finding solutions.” It is for this reason that she is willing to place a strategic bet that those companies emerging from emerging markets will be the smart companies of the future. 

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