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  • The Disruptive Innovation Business Model
    The Disruptive Innovation Business Model
  • Rory McDonald defines a level playing field
    Rory McDonald defines a level playing field
  • New Market Disruptions
    New Market Disruptions
  • Disruptive Innovation - Rory McDonald, Harvard Business School
    Disruptive Innovation - Rory McDonald, Harvard Business School

Learn More About Rory McDonald

As organizations adjust to the new economy, some are trying to pivot while others are entering new markets, in some cases operating in uncharted territory.

In his work as an advisor, researcher and educator, Harvard Business School Professor and disruptive innovation expert Rory McDonald develops and teaches strategies for dealing with both anticipated and unexpected market shifts. His presentations and courses on innovation, business strategy and the implications of futurism are widely praised for their energy, passion and insight.

McDonald’s frameworks for generating new ideas show business leaders how to target new consumers and markets rather than incrementally improve upon existing offerings. Drawing on the revolutionary “Jobs to be Done” theory developed by his mentor, Clayton Christensen, McDonald studies, maps and forecasts the growth and applicability of new business practices and emerging technologies. When it comes to dealing with new competitors and markets, his approach is preemptive and proactive.

McDonald’s research is especially valuable to investors looking to capitalize on the next big trend while avoiding unnecessary risks. His framework for investing maximizes long-term growth potential for companies deciding which areas of business to fund and which products to develop or discontinue. He advises both established companies looking to avoid disruption and startups seeking to dislodge powerful but slow-moving incumbents.

In a fall 2020 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, “When It’s Time to Pivot, What’s Your Story?” McDonald and his co-author explain how shaping and communicating a broader narrative around a company’s mission – to investors, the media and customers – allows for more agility when it’s time to pivot. They support the point by sharing real-world examples of companies like Netflix, Slack and Away that survived unexpected challenges to their business because they linked their strategy changes to an original broader purpose.

Earlier, in a summer 2020 HBR article, “The New-Market Conundrum,” McDonald and his co-author outlined strategies for entering new markets they developed after conducting more than 200 interviews with entrepreneurs and corporate innovators. Their findings showed that new market pioneers follow a set of rules and patterns that defy conventional precepts of strategy and business-building.

“In our eyes, they amount to a new strategic framework, one that can help other innovators chart a course in new markets and avoid the pitfalls they present,” wrote the authors, who recommend firms avoid the traditional playbook when entering new markets. “The precepts of new-market strategy do not mean that the conventional rules of strategy should be abandoned. At some point, new entrants become established players who must begin to observe the traditional laws of strategy and focus on competition.”

The key is knowing when to change strategies and pivot, and that’s where McDonald does his best work.


Rory McDonald has won major research awards and is often featured in top academic publications including Harvard Business Review and Strategic Management Journal. In addition to being named to the 2016 40 Under 40 Most Outstanding MBA Professors by Poets & Quants, he received  the 2019 Past Chairs Emerging Scholar Award in Technology and Innovation Management from the Academy of Management.

Before joining Harvard Business School, McDonald was on the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin where he received the CBA Foundation Teaching Award. He has taught courses for executives, business students and engineers at Harvard and Stanford Universities.

Beyond his advisory and academic roles, McDonald is a member of the board of YCG Funds, an Austin-based mutual fund company. He also serves as an advisor to several business ventures.

Professor McDonald received his PhD in management science and engineering from the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. He holds an MBA and MA in economic sociology from Stanford University and two engineering degrees from the University of South Florida.

Rory McDonald is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Rory McDonald was last modified: March 4th, 2024 by Whitney Jennings

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How to Successfully Pivot During Disruption

As companies continue to reconfigure and reboot, McDonald works closely with leaders in every sector, helping them weather any kind of disruption – anticipated or unexpected. In this session, he teaches strategies for shaping and communicating a broader narrative around a company’s mission so their brand can pivot with more agility while their story still appeals to investors, the media and customers. McDonald shares real-world examples of companies like Netflix, Slack and Away that survived unexpected challenges to their business because they adhered to an original broader purpose. The frameworks he shares during this session will empower any organization attempting to pivot and reboot in the new economy.

Competing and Winning in New Markets

Does your company have what it takes to enter and conquer a new market? After meeting with more than 200 innovators in fields ranging from personal genomics and augmented reality to drones and technology-enabled finance, McDonald discovered that the most successful of these pioneers follow a set of rules and patterns that defy conventional precepts of strategy and business-building. In this session, he explains why new market strategies are different from those presented in the traditional playbook and teaches participants how to compete and win in unfamiliar, uncharted territory. This course is a game changer for leaders at companies of all sizes, from corporate giants looking to diversify their brand to startups about to enter an already dominated market.

Building and Sustaining a “Purpose Brand” Advantage

Google “how to build a brand” and you will be flooded with expert advice: how-to manuals, steps and tips for building a brand identity that is powerful, memorable and persuasive. Meanwhile, managers tend to focus on promoting a brand’s quality or its innovativeness or its environmental friendliness, attributes they think will prove meaningful to customers. But in the pursuit of building a strong brand identity, all too often managers lose sight of the relationship that matters most. Customers typically don’t buy products or services because they’re memorable or because they’re kind to the environment (of course these things can help, but they’re not persuasive in themselves). People buy products and services to solve a particular problem in their lives. They buy them to do a job. The frameworks McDonald shares during this session will help any organization understand this relationship when building a brand so they can improve their odds of success.

Betting on the Future: Developing a Business Strategy That Keeps Pace with Technology

Why do companies at the top of their fields often have a sharp drop in profitability and even face extinction at the hands of new market entrants? The reason, argues Rory McDonald, is almost always the failure to anticipate new technologies and how they tap into or create socio-economic changes. Offering Blockbuster’s sudden collapse at the hands of Netflix as one of many examples, McDonald helps companies avoid becoming the next star to fall. He studies, maps, and forecasts the growth and applicability of technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics and blockchain. Less concerned with sweeping visions and debates over the pros and cons of emerging technologies, McDonald reveals the direct impact on industries and the firms within them. For companies deciding which technologies to fund or which products to develop (or discontinue), McDonald provides a framework for a technology investment strategy that avoids destructive disruption and maximizes long-term growth potential.

Creating New Growth Through Disruptive Innovation

Industry leaders can get blindsided by disruptive innovations because they focus too much on their most profitable customers and businesses. Rather than being destroyed by them, Professor Rory McDonald shows companies how to create their own disruptions, discover and nurture the best ideas, and create entirely new markets. He studies how firms compete in new markets—examining both stalwarts and startups—and offers leaders a new way of thinking about market forces and competitive strategy. Professor McDonald explains why old models don’t apply, and how to modify innovation theories to fit new markets and best position companies for the future.

Funding Innovation: The Right Resources to Rev Your Innovation Engines

It’s a common challenge for companies to struggle to get innovation investments right. Mounting evidence suggests that the type of resources a new business venture secures is integral to its success, says Professor Rory McDonald. Some resources help overcome constraints, improve internal operations and gain access to diverse audiences such as potential partners, the media and customers. Others create constraints, increasing competitive exposure and undermining efforts to innovate or commercialize a new technology. How can leaders ensure they acquire the right (combination of) resources to spur the right kind of innovation at the right pace? Professor McDonald examines the value created—and oftentimes destroyed—by different resource combinations and identifies the most attractive configuration of sources to maximize innovation investment.

Disruptive Innovation: Building the Organization of Tomorrow

How do managers continue to build and sustain a successful enterprise in the face of disruption? During this customized, interactive workshop, Professor Rory McDonald shares strategies and frameworks for leveraging disruption to create new opportunities. Participants come away with a better understanding of the limitations of traditional approaches when it comes to innovating through disruption, and practical tools for analyzing common management problems related to innovation and growth. While this workshop can be conducted in half-day, full-day or two-day sessions, longer arrangements allow for participants to apply the frameworks to their own challenges, allowing for a deeper kind of learning they can share within their own organizations.

“Rory is an exceptional presenter. The insights he shared were relevant and presented in such a way that attendees understand where to look for the next disruption to occur or where to be disruptive. He engages the entire group to think differently about how this applies to their industry. Rory is the expert in the field of disruption and innovation. I highly recommend him to speak or conduct a session to your company or association.”

Dirk Bak, YPO- Twin Cities Chapter & Mid-America Region

“Engaging, entertaining, relevant, and a talented facilitator.”

David Gockel, President & CEO, Langan

“I was so pleased with Rory’s presentation. It was engaging, entertaining, and informative. The audience was engaged and responsive to his remarks and the question and answer portion went smoother than I expected – I felt like I was sitting in an HBS classroom learning from him. Rory was fabulous to work with and I hope to cross paths with him again.”

Melyssa Wolf, Senior Manager – Strategic Initiatives, Solar Energy Trade Shows