AI and Innovation Converge at Harvard Business Publishing

By Scott Kirsner |  July 8, 2024

In this episode, we talk to Laura Northridge, Senior Director of the AI Innovation Lab — which prior to this year was just the “innovation lab” — at Harvard Business Publishing.

Laura Northridge, Senior Director — AI Innovation Lab, Harvard Business Publishing

As is the case with many corporate innovators, she’s helping shape AI strategy and policy for the Boston-based nonprofit, an affiliate of Harvard Business School. It’s one of small number of organizations we’ve been tracking where the innovation lab shifted its focus entirely to AI earlier in 2024. 

Harvard Business Publishing is best known for the Harvard Business Review — in print and online — but it also publishes business books, learning materials, and the famous Harvard Business School case studies. 

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Here’s a snippet from this episode…

Scott Kirsner: 

Did you make the argument that you should add AI to the innovation lab name, and make it the AI Innovation Lab? Or was it like, “Hey, we need to create a new raison d’etre for the innovation lab, and let’s hitch it to AI?”

Laura Northridge:

They came to me and said, “We want you to focus.” It’s not that we hadn’t done anything with AI or machine learning before generative AI came out. We were doing things like AR, VR, Twitch, all sorts of things. [The idea was,] let’s show that we are actually going to focus on on this particular technology for for some time. So they put the AI in front of it, to help signal that that’s where we’re going to be focusing for some time. Now, is that forever? I don’t know. But I do think AI is gonna be blended into everything that we do.

Scott Kirsner:

You’ve now been in the innovation and product development space for a little over 10 years… What is your prediction about how AI is going to change the job of innovators, the role of the innovation team? So much of the ways that it will be applied are going to be about streamlining and efficiency and making people more productive, making small teams able to accomplish more. But I do think it’s still an interesting open question: how does this change product development and growth and innovation?

Laura Northridge:

We’re just at the beginning stages of that. And I think certain certain people or certain groups are doing it more than others. People are thinking of things like creating synthetic users to test with, potentially before you have user interviews. …I think it definitely is changing the role of innovation. Right now, I think we’re seeing more of like, “co-use” of it, versus it just creating the next new thing for you, or new product for you. That could be a direction for the future.

This is the fastest moving technology I’ve ever seen that is incredibly useful. …I think there’s some times people are like, “Oh, is it creative? Or not creative?” I’m not sure that’s the exact debate that needs to go on. [Instead it] is, how are we going to use these tools to develop value for our customers? And I think we’re just starting to scratch the surface. But using them and brainstorming or other ideas or…helping you create scenarios, or think through things has been helpful. So I think we might see more of that.