You may not ever go to Harvard but Harvard might come to you, bit by bit, course by course, one professor at a time. Right into your living room, classroom, conference room or board room. On videotape.
It won't be like strolling through Harvard Yard, because the courses are offered by the Graduate School of Business Administration, which is across the river in Boston. And many of the scenes were shot at a dozen different sites.But it will be Harvard, as evidenced by the first production, "Michael Porter on Competitive Strategy." Many business people already know Porter as one of the Business School's brightest lights, a professor there since 1973.
In his Harvard videotape debut, Porter will have support from a cast of top executives in American business, including John Pepper, the rarely interviewed Procter & Gamble president, and Robert Crandall, American Airlines chairman.
The approach conceivably could be even more effective than the classroom. Says Porter, "It allows us to illustrate in a visceral, tangible way how broad theoretical concepts have application in the real world."
Benson Shapiro, professor of business administration, declares the tapes are more than a lecture. "They offer strategy in vivo, dynamics in action, seeing as believing, understanding, and absorbing."
John Nathan of NathanTyler, a production company that joined with Harvard to produce the tapes, is even more descriptive. He says the impact is "analagous to watching a botanist leave the lab, walk through the rain forest, and turn over a leaf that contains evidence in support of his theory."
Porter already is familiar to executives through his lectures, his eight books, his articles, his interviews of them, his first-hand advice to them on competition, and his frequent professional testimony.
The most widely acclaimed of his books gives an idea of his influence. Published in 1980, "Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors," is in its 32nd printing and is available in 14 languages.
The idea for a series of Harvard Business School tapes began at least four years ago, said Shapiro, who also serves as the Business School's senior associate dean for publications.
The goal, he said, was to produce a series that would capture the vitality of the Business School experience through development of sophisticated material. Simple as that might sound, it posed big technical problems.
Those difficulties evaporated before the creative powers of Porter, John Nathan and Sam Tyler. Nathan, an author and translator as well, had produced several documentary business films for television. He knew the procedure.
In 1984, he and Tyler had created a company to produce and distribute films and videocassette programs for business training and executive education. They scored from the start: Their first production was "In Search of Excellence," a 90-minute film based on the runaway best-selling book by Tom Peters.
Porter's tape is the first of the Harvard Business School Video Series jointly produced by the school and NathanTyler. Two others will follow in the next few months.
The second in the series, "Managing Information Technology as a Competitive Weapon," features professors F. Warren McFarlan and James I. Cash Jr. The third is yet to be given a title.
A Harvard education doesn't come for a song.
Each program, consisting of two videocassettes totaling 21/2 hours, plus a manual, viewer's guide and printed materials, costs $1,000, including shipping and handling. Add to that a 5 percent Massachusetts state sales tax. Discounts of 20 percent are available to degree-granting institutions of higher learning.
If you still need to be convinced that a Harvard education is worth your time and money you may obtain a 15-minute preview that highlights the longer tapes. It costs $50, with the cost applicable to purchase.
For information, you can write to Harvard Business School Video Series, NathanTyler, 535 Boylston St., Boston, Mass. 02116.