Karen Dillon Headshot
Report a problem with this profile
[email protected]

Karen Dillon        

Co-author of “How Will You Measure Your Life?” and Former Harvard Business Review Editor

Karen Dillon is the former editor of Harvard Business Review magazine and co-author of the three books with Clayton Christensen, including the The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty, the Wall Street Journal business best-seller Competing Against Luck: the Story of Innovation and Customer Choice * and the New York Times best-seller, How Will You Measure Your Life?*.

She is also the author of The Harvard Business Review Guide to Office Politics. Karen previously served as deputy editor of Inc magazine and was editor and publisher of the critically-acclaimed American Lawyer magazine and London-based Legal Business.

A graduate of Cornell University and Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, she was named by Ashoka as one of the world's most influential and inspiring women.

She is currently a contributing editor to Harvard Business Review and Editorial Director of BanyanGlobal Family Business Advisors.

Speech Topics


Competing Against Luck: Do You Know What Jobs Your Customers are Hiring You to Do?

With big data and sophisticated analytics, we’ve never known more about our customers. But if we know so much, why are so many companies still failing at innovation? Because we’re chasing the wrong information, argues Karen Dillon. If we never understand why our customers make the choices they make, we’re still just playing the odds that we might get it right. As Dillon explores in her groundbreaking book with Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen, customers don’t buy products and services. They hire them to do a job. And understanding which jobs your customers need done is key to innovation success.

She delves deep into several well-known companies that have done this right, explaining why for three decades thousands upon thousands of parents have been willing to pay $100+ for an American Girl doll when look-alike competitors are available at a fraction of the cost; how sleepy Southern New Hampshire University became one of the biggest success stories in continuing education of the last decade; why Intuit’s Quick Books dominated the market just months after launching with “half the functionality at twice the price?”; and how Sargento turned what might sound like the least innovative idea in the world – another way to slice cheese – into $50 million in first year sales with its pre-packaged ultra-thin slices?

Don’t leave innovation to chance, urges Dillon. As she explains, “Jobs to be done’’ is not just the latest innovation jargon; it’s based on Christensen’s rigorously researched theory. A “jobs” approach to innovation requires understanding why customers make buying choices and how you can turn that insight into competitive advantage. Figure out what jobs your customers need to get done, and create the products and services they will not only eagerly buy, but are willingly pay premium prices for.

The High Achiever’s Paradox: How Will You Measure Your Life?

Why do so many high achievers end up unhappy in their careers – and their lives? That’s a question Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen set out to answer. One of the world’s most respected academics and thought leaders, he helps aspiring MBAs and CEOs alike apply management and innovation theories to build stronger companies (his “Innovator’s Dilemma” was the only business book Steve Jobs kept on his bookshelf). But during the final lecture of every semester, Christensen focuses on a surprisingly non-business issue: how will his students ensure not only a successful career – but a happy life? That ‘last class’ had become so coveted among Christensen’s students that Karen Dillon, then-editor of Harvard Business Review, was inspired to turn it into a story for the magazine. Since then, “How Will You Measure Your Life?” has become so much more than a lecture, an article and a book, which Dillon co-wrote with Christensen. The experience was life-changing for Dillon, who walked away from the top job of one of the world’s most influential magazines. What can a business school professor say that is powerful enough to trigger such response – in Dillon and the hundreds of thousands of people affected by Christensen’s thinking? Dillon shares her first-hand perspective and offers an answer to why high achievers are hardwired to make the very choices that can lead to personal and professional dissatisfaction. While there are no easy answers to life’s many demands, there is a way to find meaning and happiness in life.

Jobs to be Done in Health Care: Getting Innovation Right

Health care organizations around the world spend billions every year chasing state-of-the-art innovations designed to attract and retain patients and create more profitable enterprises. But for so many, their efforts are routinely disappointing. That’s because they’re focused on the wrong things, argues Karen Dillon. Customers, including health care patients, don’t buy products and services; they hire them to do a job. And understanding which jobs they need done is key to innovation success.

Drawing from her forthcoming book, “Competing Against Luck,” co-authored with Clayton Christenson, Dillon uses real-world anecdotes and cases to illustrate why this shift in perspective has never been more critical for health care organizations. The Mayo Clinic earned – and sustains – its world-class reputation for safe, quality care not only because of its top-notch clinicians and facilities, but because it has inherently organized itself around customers’ jobs to be done. Same goes for the products and tools used by clinicians and experienced by patients, including software systems.

Dillon explains how even the most experienced innovators, inside and out of health care, can miss rich opportunities by focusing too narrowly. It’s not only about identifying the functional needs, but also the social and emotional ones. If you’re tired of throwing yourself and your health care organization into innovation efforts that consistently under deliver; if you want to create products and services your customers or patients will eagerly “hire” AND willingly pay premium prices for, start by figuring out what jobs they’re hiring you to do. Dillon discusses how.

Why You Need a “People” Strategy to Accelerate Your Career

You’re a high achiever, you’ve set your professional goals, you give your best effort to your job every day. But you’re not climbing the career ladder as fast as you wish. The biggest obstacle in your way? Challenging people, says Karen Dillon. Every organization has its share of political drama. Personalities clash. Agendas compete. Turf wars erupt. Researchers tell us that many people would rather quit a job, than stick it out with difficult colleagues. Don’t resort to that. Instead, Dillon helps you better understand how to work with a wide-range of complex people; it’s essential, she says – for the good of your organization, your career and your life.

Dillon explains why some people get to the top while others languish on the sidelines. High potentials and great leaders have one skill that many of us lack: they know how to deftly navigate conflict and challenging personalities without letting it derail them. But these are skills anyone can build, with the right approach. The former Harvard Business Review editor shares her insights from personal experiences and research from her book “HBR Guide to Office Politics.” With the right mindset and tools, you can stop focusing on the petty politics and start focusing on building a great career. “Office politics” is just influence by another name. To build it, you need a “people” strategy.

Related Speakers View all


More like Karen