What theory did you just use? News brief — week of Feb 26 2016

So much has been written about how detrimental to productivity it is to context switch — it can be time consuming and a major mental disruption (in the colloquial sense, not as a theory of competition). But to Clay Christensen, who in a typical day will meet with anyone from business executives seeking advice on their company to students seeking advice on their final paper, we’re looking at it all wrong.

To Clay, good theory provides a lens for better understanding a problem, and causal theory, when used carefully, can even provide predictive power. Clay has spent much of his career studying existing theoretical frameworks and developing new theory as he discovers a need.

When presented with a problem, Clay does not get distracted by the details of the situation, but instead looks to his proverbial bookshelf of theories.

(c) Clayton M. Christensen

He considers which theories — or reference books — might have an opinion on the problem at hand, and then calls upon those to shed light on the problem and see the current situation from a different angle.

So rather than the problem being the unit of analysis, Clay sees theory as the unit of analysis, and is therefore able to spend his days seamlessly going from teaching to meeting with students with questions about the class; researchers with questions ranging from topics such as the impact of corruption on policy and business around the world to the role that hospital mergers and acquisitions play in improving our healthcare system; to business executives worried about losing their market-leading position in verticals that include technology, banking, publishing, and many more — all because to him, his meetings are about applying theory to different problems (or defining the need for a new theory), rather than needing to become an expert in the problems themselves.

What theory did you just use is a question that professors of Clay’s course, Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise, often ask their students. The space where your opinion diverges from theory’s opinion is often great fodder for conversation, and one that we’d love to hear more about from you.

The following is a list of articles that were sent to Clay as part of his weekly briefing. What theories do you think Clay uses to process all of this?

· WSJ: IBM to Buy Truven Health Analytics for $2.6 Billion (2/8/16): IBM will use Truven’s trove of medical data to improve its Watson artificial-intelligence system. International Business Machines Corp. is buying data company Truven Health Analytics Inc. for $2.6 billion, in a bid to expand its already considerable presence in the health-care industry. The deal will double the size of IBM’s Watson Health business unit to 10,000 employees as the company adds new technology services to sell to doctors and hospitals. “We’re now deeply embedded in the health-care system,” said John Kelly, IBM’s senior vice president of Solutions Portfolio and Research.

· WSJ: For Silicon Valley, the Hangover Begins (2/19/16): With venture-capital investors increasingly nervous, once-hot tech startups are retrenching. Not long ago, employees at Practice Fusion Inc. reveled in the technology boom, munching daily on free healthy food, enjoying “Phenomenal Friday” gatherings and racing around the office on tricycles. Today, the Silicon Valley extravaganza is waning. The San Francisco electronic medical-records company has booted its founding CEO, laid off a quarter of its staff and cut back on projects to save costs. “A lot of the reason I was there was because I believed the vision and loved the people I was working with,” said Lauren Burris, the company’s director of programs and engagement until September, when she was laid off. “That’s what shook me a little bit — I didn’t know what the vision was anymore.”

· Bloomberg: Electric Fantasy: Will the Next Tesla Sell for $25,000? (2/9/16): Tesla has confirmed the price of the Model 3. Now the race is on for tax incentives that would make it even cheaper. Tesla Motors Inc. was built with one overriding objective: to bring electric cars to the masses. After more than a decade of work, Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk believes it’s just about time. The company is set to begin taking pre-orders on its $35,000 Model 3 next month — and by $35,000, Tesla really means as little as $25,000. Tesla has confirmed that the $35,000 price tag on the Model 3 doesn’t include the significant federal and state incentives available to electric car buyers. Official confirmation from the company echoes what Musk told reporters at an auto show more than a year ago: “When I say $35,000, I’m talking about without any credits.”

· WSJ: Apollo Global Management Strikes $6.93 Billion Deal to Buy ADT (2/16/16): ADT Corp. agreed to be acquired by private-equity firm Apollo Global Management LLC in a deal that values the home-security company at about $6.93 billion, the latest sign market volatility hasn’t brought deal making to a halt. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the firms were in talks and that a deal could be reported as soon as Tuesday. The all-cash price tag of $42 a share represents a 56% premium over Friday’s closing price.

· WSJ: Hope Dims for Wal-Mart’s Effort to Ignite Growth (2/18/16): Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on Thursday cut a sales forecast made four months ago, surprising investors again and dimming hopes that heavy spending on upgrading its stores, e-commerce operations and wages will bring quick growth. Sales for the current fiscal year will be “relatively flat,” Wal-Mart said in its earnings release, a downgrade from October when executives predicted sales growth between 3% and 4%. It is the latest in a string of repeated forecast cuts by the retailer.

· WSJ: IPO Market Dries Up as Investors Retreat (2/18/16): Widespread anxiety prevents startups from going public. The IPO market is foundering. Of the almost 175 companies that made their U.S. stock-market debuts in 2015, more than 70% are now trading below their IPO prices. On average their stocks are down about 20%. Nine of last year’s 10 largest U.S.-listed IPOs are now trading below their initial sale price. On average, those 10 stocks are down about 25%. A downturn in investor sentiment, which began gradually last summer then suddenly became severe earlier this year has been felt hardest by the market’s newest companies. The S&P 500 is down about 6.9% since the start of 2015, and the Nasdaq Composite Index, which often contains some of the newest, most risky companies, is down 5.3%, including a 10% drop since the beginning of this year.

· WSJ: Stryker to Buy Physio-Control International for $1.28 Billion (2/16/16): Deal continues medical-technology company’s recent acquisition spree. Stryker Corp. agreed to buy Physio-Control International Inc. from private-equity firm Bain Capital LLC for $1.28 billion, continuing the medical-technology firm’s recent acquisition spree. Bain bought Physio-Control from Medtronic PLC in a deal valued at $487 million when it was announced in late 2011. Physio-Control, which posted $503 million in sales in 2015, makes defibrillators and other CPR devices. Stryker expects the business to be “highly complementary” with its emergency medical services unit.

· WSJ: Bombardier to Cut Workforce by 10%, Gets New CSeries Orders (2/17/16): Plane and train maker announces weak results and guidance. Bombardier Inc. on Wednesday said it would cut nearly 10% of its global workforce after reporting disappointing financial results, but also cheered investors with a long-awaited new order for its flagship CSeries aircraft. The Montreal-based company said it had signed a letter of intent to sell as many as 75 of its larger CSeries passenger jets to Air Canada , the country’s biggest air carrier.

· WSJ: Is India’s Freedom 251, a $4 Smartphone, Too Good to Be True? (2/18/16): A little-known Indian company has announced grand plans to sell millions of made-in-India smartphones for less than $4 a piece, despite the fact that it has only been in the smartphone business for five months and has yet to build a factory. Ringing Bells Pvt. started taking orders for its Freedom 251 phone on Thursday for 251 rupees ($3.67) each, or less than the price of a McDonald’s Big Mac in the U.S. The company has promised to deliver the phones by June 30–after it builds two manufacturing plants.

· NYT: Twitter User Growth Stalls, and the Chief Pledges to Make Fixes (2/10/16): When Jack Dorsey returned last year as chief executive of Twitter, the social media company he co-founded, he had a mandate: Right a sinking ship. Since then, Mr. Dorsey, 39, has laid off employees and deep-sixed an expansion of the company’s headquarters in San Francisco. He has appointed new executives and shaken up the company’s board. And when it comes to making changes to Twitter’s core product, nothing is sacred. But change is not coming fast enough. On Wednesday, after many quarters of slowing user growth, Twitter said its monthly visitors in the fourth quarter totaled 320 million — exactly the same as the company reported in the previous quarter. While the number was up 9 percent from a year ago, when monthly active users stood at 288 million, the figures showed that Mr. Dorsey’s recent moves have made little impact in attracting users.

· NYT: HBO Now Has 800,000 Paid Streaming Subscribers, Time Warner Says (2/10/16): HBO’s stand-alone video streaming service has attracted about 800,000 paying subscribers since starting last April, the premium cable network said Wednesday, the first time it has disclosed numbers for the service. Targeted at a generation of so-called cord-cutters or cord-nevers, who pay for an Internet connection but not television, the $15-a-month service called HBO Now does not require a traditional television subscription and is available across a range of streaming devices. It started exclusively on Apple TV.

· WSJ: Baidu Gets Offer for Majority Stake in Qiyi.com (2/12/16): Nonbinding bid from executives gives online video platform a $2.8 billion valuation. Baidu Inc. on Friday said two executives submitted an offer to buy the Chinese Internet search giant’s majority stake in online video platform Qiyi.com in a deal giving Qiyi an enterprise value of about $2.8 billion. Baidu Chief Executive Robin Li and Qiyi CEO Yu Gong submitted the nonbinding offer for Qiyi, which streams licensed, high-definition videos. Baidu said it formed a special committee of three independent directors and hired advisers to evaluate the transaction.

· WSJ: Viacom to Sell Snapchat Ads in Multiyear Deal (2/8/16): Media giant to sell ads throughout video messaging app. Investors have been fretting about Viacom Inc. ’s cable TV fortunes and hoping the company will cook up new ways to profit in the digital economy. On Tuesday, as the media company reports quarterly results, it will have a new partnership to tout on that front. The shiny new object: a deal with Snapchat Inc., the popular vanishing messages app that already carries content for Viacom-owned networks Comedy Central and MTV. Viacom and Snapchat are taking their deal a step further with a multiyear agreement that allows the media company to sell advertising on Snapchat’s behalf.

· WSJ: VTech to Buy LeapFrog for $72 Million (2/7/16): The offer is expected to start on or about March 3 and will be open for at least 20 days. VTech Holdings Ltd. said it agreed to acquire struggling educational toy maker LeapFrog Enterprises Inc. for about $72 million in cash, capping an end to a former powerhouse in the toy industry. LeapFrog, whose electronic learning devices for children were once highly popular, has seen the demand for its offerings crimped by a string of unsuccessful product launches and a competitive landscape. The company reported annual sales of $339.1 million in its 2015 fiscal year — its lowest reported sales since it became a publicly traded company in 2002.

· WSJ: U.S. and Apple Dig In for Court Fight Over Encryption (2/17/16): Company refuses to retrieve data from phone of one of San Bernardino killers. Washington and Silicon Valley geared up for a high-stakes legal battle over a phone used by one of the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorists, a contest each side views as a must-win in their long fight over security versus privacy. A White House spokesman framed the brewing court fight as relating to a single phone — that of Syed Rizwan Farook, who opened fire with his wife at an office party late last year, killing 14 and injuring 22. Apple Inc. Chief Executive Tim Cook and the company’s defenders said the fight is really about the privacy and security of millions of customers.

— written by Tracy Kim Horn, Community Manager, Forum for Growth & Innovation