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McKinsey Quarterly 50th anniversary edition: Overview

By Dominic Barton

Dominic Barton, McKinsey’s global managing director, explains how this unique issue of the Quarterly provides a compelling vision of the future of management.

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Download the full issue of McKinsey Quarterly 2014 Number 3 (PDF–13MB).

Almost a year ago, the McKinsey Quarterly editors asked me and several of my predecessors for advice: how should we mark the Quarterly’s 50th anniversary in 2014? We were unanimous in our view that reaching this landmark was something to celebrate, but that the fitting way to do so, given the Quarterly’s mission of helping to define the senior-management agenda, was to look forward rather than back. How better to mark 50 years of thought leadership than with a compelling vision of the future of management? This collection reflects our aspiration to do just that, and it’s organized around seven themes:

New management intuition. My colleagues in the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) and the firm’s Strategy Practice recently joined together to describe the crucial forces—rapid growth in emerging markets, technological disruption, aging populations—that will reshape the management environment in the years ahead. Their key contention is that much of our hard-won intuition is less useful than it has been in the past, which means leaders must overhaul how they set strategy, engage with technology, manage the workforce, and combat organizational inertia. Then, in a series of quick-hit articles based on fresh analysis, McKinsey experts in the automotive, banking, infrastructure, insurance, petrochemical, and pharmaceutical sectors illustrate the impact of those forces on the industries they know best.

Next frontiers for strategy. Earlier this year, several of my colleagues in McKinsey’s Strategy Practice held a unique gathering with a select group of academic and corporate strategy leaders. Their goal: to explore the future needs of strategists, the extent to which business schools and McKinsey are set to satisfy those needs, and the opportunities for collaboration among these diverse groups. Excerpts of the discussion are included here, as are further reflections by three of the participants, including Fred Gluck, a former managing director of McKinsey and the founder of our Strategy Practice. If there’s one simple takeaway, it’s that crafting strategy is an inherently messy endeavor. As the world moves faster, practitioners need to pay more attention than ever to mastering strategy’s social side, moving from frameworks to insightful synthesis, and matching the capabilities of the organization with its strategic thrusts.

Artificial intelligence and leadership. Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s new book, The Second Machine Age, has made a major splash this year, with good reason: the world of artificial intelligence and “machine learning” they describe holds enormous implications for most of the world’s people—including senior executives. Here, we highlight reflections from Brynjolfsson, McAfee, and others on the impact that “thinking” machines could have on top management’s roles. McKinsey’s Martin Dewhurst and Paul Willmott, leaders of our practices focused on organizational effectiveness and digitization, respectively, conclude that in such a world, the “softer” side of management may grow in importance because it’s the least replicable by algorithms and artificial intelligence.

The evolution of the organization. That theme recurs in an interview with McKinsey alumnus Tom Peters, who has made the realization of human potential in organizations, large and small, his life’s work. Suzanne Heywood and her McKinsey colleagues Wouter Aghina and Aaron De Smet also look ahead in an essay about the relentless geographic expansion of global organizations, the tech-enabled connectivity that’s surging in parallel, and the ways cutting-edge organizational processes can help companies cope. If organizations hope to compete effectively in this new world, they will also need greater numbers of talented women, who are still dramatically underrepresented in top management. Beth Axelrod, a McKinsey alumna and now the head of human resources for eBay Inc., describes how her company has tried to address this difficult challenge.

Reflections on corporate longevity. Another alumnus, legendary IBM CEO Lou Gerstner, joins forces here with former McKinsey managing director Ian Davis, and with Ratan Tata and Marcus Wallenberg, to offer some observations on long-lived companies. Are they desirable in a world where creative destruction is generating extraordinary innovation? If so, under what circumstances? How can leaders boost the odds of survival, and what pitfalls should they avoid? While there are no definitive answers to such questions, the wisdom of these long-time leaders is about as good as it gets for would-be builders of enduring organizations.

Productivity and the future of growth. For roughly half of the 50 years the Quarterly has been helping to set the senior-management agenda, the McKinsey Global Institute has been informing decision making by business and policy leaders through its unique, management-oriented approach to economic issues. MGI got its start studying labor productivity, and it returns to that topic here, with an article on how productivity advances can offset the impact of aging populations on the size of the workforce in large parts of the world. Nobel laureate Robert Solow, an academic adviser to MGI for much of its history, also weighs in. So do McKinsey’s John Dowdy and London School of Economics professor John Van Reenen, who have been studying productivity at the front lines of global companies for more than a decade. The upshot: demography need not be destiny. The actions of managers, executives, and employees will decisively influence the future of growth.

Capitalism for the long term. This topic is of great personal interest to me, and the subject of two Harvard Business Review articles I’ve written in recent years. Capitalism has produced extraordinary advances in prosperity, but it has also come under attack since the financial crisis as income inequality has risen and questions have intensified about the efficiency of the markets underpinning it. Solutions involve a complex group of stakeholders, including boards, top management, and investors. Unilever CEO Paul Polman is an outspoken proponent of expanding the corporate mission beyond the creation of shareholder value, a theme he elaborates here. McKinsey alumnus Eric Beinhocker and his coauthor Nick Hanauer go further, proposing a redefinition of capitalism as the generation of new solutions to human problems.

Although these themes are important, it is impossible to capture in a single collection of articles all that matters about the future of management. Fortunately, thanks to digital distribution, we have not had to try. In February of this year, for example, our website featured a major package on the road ahead for lean manufacturing, and we have more articles in the works. If you’re reading this essay on the McKinsey Insights app, you will find some of that content alongside the articles and themes described here. Regardless of how you engage with this body of work, we hope it helps you wrestle with the tough questions—about where the world and your company have been, how they’re changing, and what lies ahead—that are so central to effective leadership.

Download the full issue of McKinsey Quarterly 2014 Number 3 (PDF–13MB).

About the author(s)

Dominic Barton is McKinsey’s global managing director and is based in McKinsey’s London office.