SMS Educational Impact Award

The Educational Impact Award recognizes excellence in contributing to the teaching mission in strategic management. It will be given to an individual who has made an exemplary contribution to quality and innovation in the teaching of strategic management, either through their own teaching and mentoring activities and/or by empowering other teachers with innovations and high-quality teaching materials.

Award Timeline

Nominations for the SMS Educational Impact Award will be accepted until April 15 of each year and should be sent to the SMS Executive Office at:

Past Educational Impact Award Recipients

picture of Jackson Nickerson
Jackson Nickerson
Washington University in St. Louis

Nominees for this award will be judged according to the following criteria:

  • Innovation in the teaching of strategic management (e.g. new pedagogies, new media for learning and knowledge sharing)
  • Development and dissemination of teaching materials, such as texts, case studies and digital materials
  • Writing and publishing on pedagogy
  • Evidence of excellence in teaching at their home institution and other places they have taught (e.g. teaching awards, reference letters from administrators or peers, etc.)

The Award will be presented at the SMS Annual Conference and recipients will be invited to participate in the SMS Awards & Honors Webinar Series. 

The selection committee for this award includes members of the Board of Directors and the leadership of the SMS Teaching Community. 

Nominations are invited from any member of the SMS and should include: 

  • A nomination letter of not more than two pages in length specifically addressing the nominee’s achievements vis-à-vis the above criteria
  • Two additional letters of recommendation for the nominated individual
  • A full current CV for the nominated individual

2020 Award Recipient: Jan Rivkin

We are honored to present this year’s Education Impact Award to Jan Rivkin of the Harvard Business School.

Jan’s contributions to strategic management education are manifold and exemplary.

Many of us use Jan’s teaching materials in our classes. He has published over 25 case series and even more general course notes. Many of his cases are amongst the most popular strategy cases on the Harvard Business School Publishing website.

Jan is also an exceptional teacher in the classroom. He has received multiple teaching awards for his classes at HBS. Jan has also been a terrific mentor for his junior colleagues. This includes helping them be effective case discussion teachers, and co-teaching with some of them in the required strategy course.

Jan’s educational impact also includes his role in leading the HBS Young American Leaders Program. This program draws cohorts from many cities around the US to foster cross-sectoral collaboration among emerging leaders for local economic and social advancement. As a result, Jan brings his insights from strategy to many different leaders and communities around the US.

Jan was recognized at the SMS Annual Conference and particpated in the SMS Awards & Honors Webinar Series! Click here to watch the session.

We have conducted a short interview with Jan, as this year's recipient. Click below to see his answers.

I’ve had the good fortune both to mentor and to be mentored at HBS. For new Assistant Professors, I try to pass along the advice I received from my own mentors, especially Michael Porter and David Garvin. Both encouraged me to treasure my students and make time for them, no matter how busy I was with other things. Our students (they told me) are our best and most direct opportunity to make a positive difference in the world. They are also terrific thought partners, able and eager to help us hone new ideas. So long as our students believe that we care about them and their learning, they will go to extremes to help us succeed.

One of the best aspects of my job, over the long run, has been that former students keep in touch. I receive about one email per day, on average, from a former student, and it’s usually my favorite message of the day. It’s wonderful to see the careers and lives of former students unfold, and I learn from their experiences. They open up new case sites for me, and they bring me questions that become research projects.

So the advice I offer new faculty members boils down to this: your students are the best investments you’ll ever make.

I look for a few things in my own cases and in others’. First, a great case teaches something of value to students. It helps students grasp an important concept, like competitive advantage, or it allows students to practice a useful skill, like relative cost analysis. When someone brings me a prospective case site, the first question I ask is, “What might the case teach?” If I can’t find an exciting answer to that question, I tend to walk away.

Second, my favorite cases center on real decisions—preferably hard calls. Cases on tough choices force students and faculty alike to get emotionally invested in a class discussion, and that heightens the learning. Cases with hard calls also give students practice doing the core work of strategic managers: making consequential decisions in the face of tradeoffs and incomplete information.

Finally, I love cases with memorable protagonists. We do students a favor, I feel, when we remind them that real people—like themselves—make business decisions. It is far easier for students to put themselves in the case situation when they feel they can relate to the decision maker.

I try to have a hypothesis about what a case will teach before I begin researching it. But in truth, I refine the hypothesis as I go, all the way through the writing process and well into the teaching process. With my case on Ryanair, for instance, I continued to discover new nuances in the case nearly a decade after the case was completed.

You ask whether I know whether a case will succeed in the classroom before I teach it for the first time. I usually have a pretty good sense. But I’ll confess to not knowing precisely why it will succeed until real students have wrestled with the case.

I love when the light bulb goes on in a student—when she or he figures something out for the first time. It is wonderful to see a student become a little more knowledgeable and a bit more sure of herself or himself. I also love when a student makes a valid argument that surprises me. I guess that’s the light bulb going on in me.

Case writing is the most productive, and the most fun, when it is intertwined with journal-based scholarly research. Several years ago, for instance, my colleague Giovanni Gavetti and I discovered that we were both intrigued by the same research question: Where do business strategies come from? Because of an old case I’d written on Yahoo!, we thought that the internet portal industry might be a promising place to explore that question.

That realization led the two of us to write a case on a nearby and now-defunct portal, Lycos. In researching the case and interviewing the leaders of Lycos about their strategy-making process, we came to a point of view on how managerial action and cognition interact to shape strategy. This became the basis for an article in Organization Science and the core of the teaching plan for the case.1

The Lycos story also highlighted to us the role of analogical reasoning in strategic decision making. To make a particular crucial decision, Lycos’ leaders had reasoned by analogy: as an aspiring new media company, Lycos should do what traditional media companies would do in a similar situation. This observation led me and Giovanni to notice many other examples in which executives, in novel environments, relied on analogy—for good and for bad. Out of this realization came an article on analogical reasoning in the Strategic Management Journal, with Dan Levinthal, and a Harvard Business Review article for practicing managers.2

The upshot is, I believe deeply that we should seek connections between what we do in our classrooms and what we do in our research. Why else should the same people teach and conduct research?

1Giovanni Gavetti and Jan W. Rivkin, 2007, “On the Origin of Strategy: Action and Cognition over Time,” Organization Science, 18(3): 420-439.

2Giovanni Gavetti, Daniel A. Levinthal, and Jan W. Rivkin, 2005, “Strategy Making in Novel and Complex Worlds: The Power of Analogy,” Strategic Management Journal, 26(8): 691-712. Giovanni Gavetti and Jan W. Rivkin, 2005, “How Strategists Really Think: Tapping the Power of Analogy,” Harvard Business Review.

Yes, my research and course development efforts have undergone a big transition during the last nine years. In the past, I focused exclusively on strategy research, and much of that work centered on the question of how managers make decisions that span functions, products, or geographies. How do and should business leaders make cross-cutting choices inside their companies? Since 2011, I’ve added a different but related research question to my portfolio—with a focus on local, cross-sector collaboration. How can leaders in government, business, nonprofits, educational institutions, faith-based organizations, law enforcement, and other parts of society work together to improve American communities? The new work, like the old, focuses on cross-cutting collaboration—but at the community level rather than the company level.

The transition in my work began in 2011 when HBS’s Dean asked me to co-chair a school-wide project on American competitiveness. The project was tasked with examining what leaders—especially business leaders—can do to improve the odds that companies in America can win in global markets while also raising the living standards of the average American.

Our work on this question has been a rollercoaster ride. We started by looking for federal policy changes that could boost U.S. competitiveness. The good news was that a few straightforward policy changes could make a big difference. The bad news was that political gridlock blocked the path toward those changes.

Fortunately, additional good news arose at the local level. There, we found cross-sector collaborations making big, positive differences. We saw efforts like companies partnering with community colleges to train the workers they’d love to hire or universities working with local governments to spur on startups. The bad news was that smart ideas for collaboration were slow to spread from city to city. We’d visit one city, discover a clever collaboration, travel to a neighboring city, and find that no one there was familiar with the progress in the first city.

This observation was the inspiration for the Young American Leaders Program (YALP), a leadership development effort launched in 2015. In YALP, we bring together groups of up-and-coming civic leaders, from every part of society, for a boot camp in cross-sector collaboration, toward the goal of shared prosperity. Very quickly, these young leaders learn from each other—and I hope from us—how they can work together to lift up their communities, and ideas spread quickly from one city to another.

If you want to be optimistic about the future of America, spend a week in a classroom with these young leaders. You’ll conclude that, despite our very real challenges, America is going to be all right.

Many of my recent course development efforts focus on cross-sector collaboration, not on traditional business strategy. But it’s a joy to see that many of the same ideas—for instance, about the power of a clear strategy to boost alignment and speed progress—apply not just for companies but also for communities.