All industries and companies have habits: business practices that have been around for a long time – not all of them good… These bad practices may have come about, at some point, for all the right reasons. However, when circumstances gradually changed, people just kept doing things the same way, unaware that it had become a suboptimal trait. When now asked, they just shrug their shoulders and say: “I don’t know; that’s just the way we do it”.

Such bad habits can linger on like corporate viruses. They’re harmful, but they persist. Economists optimistically proclaim that the market – Darwinian as it is – will weed out bad practices. In my talk, I will explain why, unfortunately, they’re wrong. I explain why market forces fail to eliminate inefficient processes and strategies and how, as a result, outdated and plain detrimental practices can persist within companies and industries—just like viruses persist in nature.

Yet, there is also good news: eradicating a bad practice can be a wonderful source of innovation. When done right, it can revitalize a company – or even a whole industry. I will argue that the identification and elimination of corporate viruses can enable firms to innovate and create competitive advantage. Finally, I will explore what you can do to boost your corporate immune system, and make your firm less susceptible to the corporate viruses that covertly roam about in the world of business. The trick is to create an organization that continuously renews itself and automatically rids itself of the bad habits that eventually creep into every system.




Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School.

He writes, consults and speaks across the world on topics such as strategies for growth, strategic innovation and making strategy happen.

Freek uses rigorous research to gain insight into how business really works. His work has appeared in the most reputed academic journals, such as Administrative Science Quarterly, the Academy of Management Journal, Organization Science, and the Strategic Management Journal but also in various managerial publications such as the Harvard Business Review, Sloan Management Review, the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal.

He is an active case writer and keynote speaker on industry and company conferences. He is the winner of several teaching awards, including the first ever winner of London Business School’s Excellence in Teaching Award, and received several prizes for his research, including the prestigious Academy of Management Journal Best Paper Award and the INFORMS/ISA Best Paper Award.