Jean-Louis Barsoux
Jean-Louis Barsoux
Jean-Louis Barsoux

Term Research Professor

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Jean-Louis Barsoux is a Term Research Professor. He helps organizations, teams and individuals change and reinvent themselves.

Barsoux was educated in France and the UK and holds a PhD in comparative management from Loughborough University, UK. His doctorate provided the foundation for the book French Management: Elitism in Action (with Peter Lawrence) and the Harvard Business Review article “The Making of a French Manager”.

He has a broad range of interests in the field of organizational behavior and is the author or co-author of several books including The Global Challenge (with Paul Evans and Vlado Pucik, 2002), Managing Across Cultures (with Susan Schneider, 2003), and The Set-Up-To-Fail Syndrome (with Jean-François Manzoni, 2007), which received a Book of the Year Award from both the Society for Human Resource Management and HR.com. His reflection on the uses of humor in organizations, Funny Business, won a Management Consultancies Association Book of the Year prize.

Barsoux also studies corporate transformations, the management of change, and the process of innovation. He is the co-author (with Anand Narasimhan) of Quest: Leading Transformation Journeys, a book summarizing the IMD faculty’s research on corporate transformations. The book was awarded the Axiom Gold Medal in International Business (2015). More recently, he published (with Cyril Bouquet and Michael Wade) ALIEN Thinking. The book was highly commended at The Business Book Awards in the “Smart Thinking” category (2022).

Over the years, Barsoux’s work on leadership, teams, and innovation has been published in both Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Management Review.

Academic publications
ALIEN thinking: The unconventional path to breakthrough ideas
Book
ALIEN thinking: The unconventional path to breakthrough ideas
How do people come up with truly original ideas? For the past decade, the authors of this book have studied individuals who have made leaps of creativity-inventors, scientists, doctors, entrepreneu...
Published 16 March 2021
Article
The off-line imperative
This paper highlights the importance of executives taking a timeout to reflect – and to build that habit into their work routines. This study is based on extensive observation of and discussion wit...
Published 1 January 2007
Article
Are your subordinates setting you up to fail?
Subordinates sometimes make it extremely difficult for their bosses to be good leaders. Executives who fail to understand the forces at play may find their careers in jeopardy. While bosses certain...
Published 1 August 2009
Article
The interpersonal side of taking charge
Transitions are fraught with traps, the biggest of which are interpersonal. Entering a new job, executives underestimate the powerful urge to label the people with whom they interact - upward, down...
Published 1 June 2009
Article
Fighting the headquarters knows best syndrome
When subsidiary managers at global organizations are ignored or constrained by a parochial mindset at headquarters, the whole company can suffer. Here’s how one company set out to change that dynam...
Published 1 January 2016
Article
The perils of attention from headquarters
Operations in growing markets such as China often draw substantial attention from corporate headquarters. Unfortunately, that attention does not always add value - and can even impede performance.
Published 1 January 2015
Article
Stop jumping to solutions!
When faced with strategic business decisions, executives often quickly home in on a narrow set of options. Systematically expanding the “decision frame” can result in better solutions that reflect ...
Published 13 June 2016
Article
What new general managers must learn and forget in order to succeed
This paper aims to highlight the surprises awaiting executives making the transition from functional to general management responsibilities – and offer a guidance system to help general managers (G...
Published 1 January 2009
Article
The 5 myths of innovation
Historically, most managers equated innovation primarily with the development of new products and new technologies. But increasingly, innovation is seen as applying to the development of new servic...
Published 1 February 2011
Article
How to overcome a power deficit
Many years later, after a successful career as chairman and CEO of the biotechnology giant Amgen Inc., Kevin Sharer would look back on a period earlier in his career when he had a hard time getting...
Published 2 July 2013
Article
How to become a better leader
Good leaders make their work look easy. But the reality is that most have had to work hard on themselves — by managing or compensating for potentially career-limiting traits. To grow as an executiv...
Published 16 April 2012
Insight for Executives
Article
Become a better problem solver by telling better stories
Like many companies at the end of 2021, a small European precision toolmaker was having trouble hiring and retaining talent. The executive team had a solution: Create a more attractive social space...
Published 1 February 2023
Article
디지털 시대, 충족되지 않은 니즈를 찾아라
Innovation is all about finding and filling people’s unmet needs. But even innovators and organizations renowned for their scanning capabilities often have trouble perceiving and correctly interpre...
Published 4 July 2022
Article
Identifying unmet needs in a digital age
Innovation is all about finding and filling people’s unmet needs. But even innovators and organizations renowned for their scanning capabilities often have trouble perceiving and correctly interpre...
Published 1 July 2022
Article
Dijital çağda Karşılanmamış İhtiyaçları Belirleyebilmek
Innovation is all about finding and filling people’s unmet needs. But even innovators and organizations renowned for their scanning capabilities often have trouble perceiving and correctly interpre...
Published 1 July 2022
Article
How to impact humanity: a lesson from history
Given that the 120th anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize took place on December 11, 2021, we felt the time was right to celebrate the life's work of its inaugural recipient, Swiss businessman Henr...
Published 1 April 2022
Article
Why outside perspectives are critical for innovation breakthroughs
Innovation is widely viewed as an engine of progress — not only for driving economic growth, but also for bringing vital improvements in a variety of domains, from science and medicine to inequalit...
Published 8 February 2022
Lessons from BioNTech’s unorthodox path to breakthrough solutions
Article
Lessons from BioNTech’s unorthodox path to breakthrough solutions
The story of BioNTech, the small biotech company that delivered the first US-approved coronavirus vaccine, is already the stuff of lore. Maintaining the pace, the pioneering German group has since ...
Published 26 January 2022
Article
Stop sabotaging your ability to innovate
Innovators can be their own worst enemies, derailed by personal traits, such as confidence and optimism, that are essential to creativity but can be toxic when taken to an extreme, and by emotions ...
Published 1 November 2021
Article
Innovation 2.0: Experimenting to improve, not to prove
Innovators who experiment solely to validate their idea are making a dangerous mistake, and the authors point to the inventor of the Segway as a prime example. The purpose of experimentation should...
Published 1 September 2021
Article
Big ideas are not enough
The difference between creativity and innovation is execution. While creativity is generating valuable and novel ideas, innovation is about successfully implementing those ideas, turning concepts i...
Published 13 May 2021
Article
Being an expert navigator is the key to innovation success
Innovators must prepare for their journey like adventurers: studying the conditions and being prepared to respond to dynamic elements along their path
Published 19 April 2021
Article
How tech pioneer Radia Perlman overcame bias to invent a core component of the internet
Computer scientist Radia Perlman is often referred to as the “Mother of the Internet”—a title she shuns, but which has stuck due to her key role in driving the growth and development of the interne...
Published 18 March 2021
Inside the rebel mind of Google’s AI pioneer
Article
Inside the rebel mind of Google’s AI pioneer
Demis Hassabis has a knack for making the miraculous look easy. In just 10 years, DeepMind, the company he co-founded in 2010 and sold to Google for a reported $600m in 2014, has created self-learn...
Published 15 March 2021
Article
‘I want a revolution, not a PowerPoint presentation’
Once a leader in its field, by the mid-2000s, the Scandinavian paper giant Stora Enso had hit a wall. With the shift from print to online publishing and the shrinking demand for paper, company lead...
Published 10 March 2021
Article
100 years ago, Alexander Fleming revealed the key to breakthrough ideas
Today, as researchers work to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, it’s worth examining how, 100 years ago, the British bacteriologist Alexander Fleming discovered his first antibiotic, and how that breakth...
Published 5 February 2021
Article
The unconventional innovator who created Wikipedia
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of homebound schoolchildren and university students have benefited from a valuable resource that most take for granted. Today, anyone with a desktop or mobile d...
Published 12 January 2021
What teams don’t, can’t, daren’t or won’t discuss
Article
What teams don’t, can’t, daren’t or won’t discuss
Undiscussables exist because they help people avoid short-term conflicts, threats, and embarrassment. But they also short-circuit the inquiries and challenges essential to both improving performanc...
Published 11 September 2019
Article
It’s time to tackle your team’s undiscussables: Subjects that are consciously or unwittingly deemed out of bounds come in four varieties and make it almost impossible for teams to function.
Undiscussables exist because they help people avoid short-term conflicts, threats, and embarrassment. But they also short-circuit the inquiries and challenges essential to both improving performanc...
Published 10 September 2019
Article
Raising your board's strategic game
Board members are expected to contribute more to the strategy debate but often lack the tools to do so. Based on our empirical research of corporate transformation efforts, we propose a framework t...
Published 1 March 2019
Article
Bring your breakthrough ideas to life
Digital advances in the past two decades have enabled more people than ever before to express creative intelligence. Yet apart from the transformation of services powered by mobile apps and the int...
Published 1 November 2018
Article
What everyone gets wrong about change management
Corporate transformations still have a miserable success rate: About three-quarters of change efforts either fail to deliver the anticipated benefits or are abandoned entirely. And because flawed i...
Published 30 October 2017
Article
Rethinking the East Asian leadership gap
The difficulty Western companies have identifying managers with leadership potential in East Asia says more about prevailing Western views of leadership than it does about available talent.
Published 16 May 2017
Three ways to overcome your power deficit
Article
Three ways to overcome your power deficit
“Power shortage” is not just a term for the energy industry; executives frequently experience deficits in their power to influence as well. In this post, we discuss three power sources that need to...
Published 23 September 2016
Rethinking out of the box
Article
Rethinking out of the box
Properly used, the decision matrix not only helps to reframe the problem and to engage stakeholders in dialogue, but also to communicate the choices to others. It is easier to advocate a particular...
Published 12 July 2016
Boosting immunity to team conflict
Article
Boosting immunity to team conflict
Team conflict can add value or destroy it. Good conflict fosters respectful debate and yields mutually agreed-upon solutions that are often far superior to those first offered. Bad conflict occurs ...
Published 24 June 2016
Article
3 situations where cross-cultural communication breaks down
The strength of cross-cultural teams is their diversity of experience, perspective, and insight. But to capture those riches, colleqgues must commit to open communication; they must dare to share. ...
Published 8 June 2016
Article
How to preempt team conflict
Team conflict can add value or destroy it. Good conflict fosters respectful debate and yields mutually agreed-upon solutions that are often far superior to those first offered. Bad conflict occurs ...
Published 1 June 2016
Article
Spirit of partnership can help HQs ad real value
Executives often mock the contribution of head offices to their subsidiaries. And rightly so. Head offices remain bastions of conservatism, advocating innovation everywhere but at headquarters. To ...
Published 26 April 2016
How HQs can actually add value
Article
How HQs can actually add value
Executives often mock the contribution of head offices to their subsidiaries. And rightly so. Head offices remain bastions of conservatism, advocating innovation everywhere but at HQ. To add real v...
Published 20 April 2016
What top executives can learn from designers
Article
What top executives can learn from designers
Leaders at every level of an organization need to mobilize their teams, whether it is a top management team or a front-line sales force. But traditional leadership principles of hierarchy and contr...
Published 2 February 2016
Article
Three ways global executives add value
How often do we hear people mocking the contribution of head office to their subsidiaries? Head offices remain bastions of conservatism, advocating innovation everywhere but at the corporate headqu...
Published 25 January 2016
Escaping the compliance trap
Article
Escaping the compliance trap
When social and environmental concerns first made their way onto the corporate agenda in the 1980s, it was primarily driven by the desire to avoid accidents or scandals – often in hard-to-monitor d...
Published 31 July 2014
Striving for strategic nimbleness
Article
Striving for strategic nimbleness
The misfortunes of giants such as Kodak and Nokia have shown that deep pockets and cuttingedge research count for little unless allied to strategic nimbleness. With companies now exposed to unknown...
Published 10 April 2014
The co-innovation sweet spot
Article
The co-innovation sweet spot
Shifting industry boundaries mean that change is happening faster and coming at us from all directions. It is becoming harder to keep up by innovating alone. According to Caroline Firstbrook, manag...
Published 20 March 2014
Betting on leadership development: three false paths
Article
Betting on leadership development: three false paths
Over the past couple of decades, companies have come to see leadership development as an organizational capability, not just a top-level succession necessity. More and more companies are expanding ...
Published 29 January 2014
Selling solutions is no easy answer
Article
Selling solutions is no easy answer
Companies trying to differentiate themselves from their competitors are urged to become “solution providers,” not just sellers of products and services. But selling solutions is no easy answer. Jum...
Published 19 December 2013
Article
Insular Takeda adopts a global outlook
The story. When Yasuchika Hasegawa took over as president of Takeda in 2003, the Japanese pharmaceutical company was experiencing sluggish domestic growth and facing a drop in revenue as lucrative ...
Published 28 October 2013
Article
Innovation requires more than systems and tools
Innovation ain’t what it used to be. Once the responsibility of a single department with a clear mission -- new product development -- today, it is everywhere and involves not just products and ser...
Published 1 May 2013
Article
How loyal are your employees?: Understanding the keys to retaining talent
Organizations – or, more accurately, their senior executives – can lose talented employees for a variety of different reasons. People who feel poorly managed, unrecognized, under-utilized or frustr...
Published 29 April 2013
Article
Reinventing the British Museum: Rally diverse stakeholders
The story. When Neil MacGregor became director of the British Museum in 2002, the institution was one year short of its 250th anniversary. It was also £6m in debt, viewed as one of the least user-f...
Published 31 January 2012
Article
Widening the lens: The challenges of leveraging boardroom diversity
Having spent the past five years working with the boards of some of the world's leading organizations, the authors reached a conclusion: boards need to become much more diverse -- not just demograp...
Published 1 May 2011
Article
Fighting mistrust in alliances
Not all partnerships are salvageable. Strategic circumstances may have changed or accumulated tensions may make discussion impossible. But if the alliance retains its strategic logic, the partners ...
Published 26 December 2006
Article
How mistrust can wreck alliance
It is a disintegrating collaboration we are familiar with. Software developers in a US firm became very critical of their counterparts in the Indian company. A dramatic increase in time-to-market p...
Published 19 December 2006
Article
Untangling alliances and joint ventures
The most promising partnerships can easily collapse in acrimony. The authors advise acting early to guard against costly misunderstanding and suspicion.
Published 19 October 2006
Article
Can we really master uncertainty?
The authors say the uncertainty will never disappear, but business can develop responses to it.
Published 17 March 2006
Article
Managing smart: Enabling under-performers to become valued contributors
Discusses the mechanisms that led companies to sub-optimize the contribution and potential of employees who are perceived as weaker performers. Reasons behind the negative reactions of employees to...
Published 1 March 2003
Article
The set-up-to-fail syndrome: How bosses create their own poor performers
France's recent successes make it more important than ever to understand what makes its managers tick. This year, France surpassed Japan and the U.K. in acquisitions of U.S. companies. And many Fre...
Published 1 January 1998
Article
The making of a French manager
France's recent successes make it more important than ever to understand what makes its managers tick. This year, France surpassed Japan and the U.K. in acquisitions of U.S. companies. And many Fre...
Published 1 August 1991
Quest
Book
Quest
This book identifies and addresses the seven transformation journeys that are reshaping corporations today. It integrates and builds on the collective experience and learning of IMD's professors,wh...
Published 1 January 0001
ALIEN Thinking
Book
ALIEN Thinking
How do people come up with truly original ideas? For the past decade, the authors of this book have studied individuals who have made leaps of creativity-inventors, scientists, doctors, entrepreneu...
Published 1 January 0001
Managing Across Cultures – 3rd ed.
Book
Managing Across Cultures – 3rd ed.
As more and more companies gain a global reach, managing cultural differences is an increasingly important part of every job. This book demonstrates how culture affects management practice, from or...
Published 1 January 0001
The Unconventional Path to Breakthrough Ideas
ALIEN Thinking