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Are the courts stifling innovation?

For seven straight years, Fortune has named Apple as the World’s Most Admired Company. The magazine wrote the following about why Apple is held in such high esteem:

“The iconic tech company known for the iPhone and other stylish and user-friendly products is back in the top spot on this year’s list, for the seventh year in a row. Apple, the most valuable brand on the planet according to Interbrand, brought in $171 billion in revenues in FY2014 and is flush with cash, but fan boys and girls (not to mention the market) are getting antsy to see its next big product. Bets are on a smartwatch or AppleTV, but the company is also reportedly turning its attention to cars and medical devices.”

Fame and accolades have many consequences: some good and some bad. Unfortunately for Apple, one of the downsides of its visibility is that the company has turned into a target for patent trolls. In fact, Apple—a top target of the patent trolls—has faced 92 lawsuits in three years. Patent trolls are companies whose only business is suing over patents. The goal of these businesses is to “squeeze the patents to their maximum revenue potential in licensing fees.”

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Can the cab industry innovate?

Those of us who work and/or live in Cambridge are quite familiar with the controversies stirred up by the wildly successful business, Uber Technologies, Inc. Uber considers itself a technology company, offering a mobile app that connects riders with drivers. The company has taken an innovative approach to making it easier to get from one point to another, eliminating the need to hail a cab on the street.

But most cab companies—from those here in Cambridge and Boston to those in London and Paris—view Uber as an unregulated, competing cab company. Recently, Cambridge License Commission proposed making Uber and other related services subject to the same regulations as taxi cabs; this proposal was met with outrage by locals. Back in May, taxis and taxi drivers from Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline staged a protest outside of Uber’s local headquarters. Cab drivers have also protested in London, Madrid, France, Berlin, and other cities in Europe.

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It’s time to rethink wages

For the last year or so, there’s been a significant amount of news coverage around the wages paid to low-income earners, such as those working at fast food outlets and in retail stores. There have been public protests, calls for boycotts, and legislation to raise the minimum wage in some states.

Most recently, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) urged the U.S. to raise the minimum wage. The IMF said “Increasing the minimum wage … would help raise the incomes of millions of poor, working Americans,” and that it “would be helpful from a macroeconomic point of view.”

It would be easy for business owners (or shareholders) to dismiss any discussion of raising wages as being just an altruistic effort, insisting that low wages help companies keep costs down and prices low, resulting in better profits. But that thinking is, in fact, wrong.  Continue reading

Corporate boards miss out when they don’t include women

Shirley Leung, Business Columnist for The Boston Globe has written extensively—and frequently—about the dearth of women on corporate boards. In her piece, “Across Health Care Board Rooms, That’s Madam Chairman to You,” she discusses the growing role of women on health care boards (nearly a third of Massachusetts-based hospitals have a woman running the board for the first time) and she compares the trend to the fact that only three percent of Fortune 500 companies have female board chairs.

In an earlier column from October 2013, Leung’s headline proclaims, “It’s not hard to get women on the board.” Leung cites local Massachusetts-based companies Akamai, EMC, iRobot, and Constant Contact as each having at least two women on their boards, which, Leung points out, “is a better track record than most Fortune 500 companies.” But it’s not all good news: “In Massachusetts, tech firms are among the least diverse with nearly a dozen categorized as ‘zero-zero’—having zero women in top management and zero women on their boards.”

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Malone, who is the head of the MIT Sloan School of Management’s Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI), could easily argue that corporations are missing out on tremendous opportunities when they lack women on boards and in other senior leadership roles. Why? Simply put, Malone’s research shows that the collective intelligence of a group rises when there are women involved in that group.  Continue reading

The big data skill set

A while ago, Professor Tom Davenport, Fellow with the MIT Center for Digital Business, proclaimed that “data scientist” would be the “sexiest” job in the 21st century. This topic was discussed at The 2014 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, both during the session moderated by Davenport, “Big Data, Analytics and Insights,” and at one of the Big Data “Birds of a Feather” luncheon tables.

And, while data scientists may be “sexy,” that doesn’t mean they’ll solve all of an organization’s big data problems. According to the panelists during the session and practitioners during the luncheon discussions, there are two challenges faced by companies that are looking for data scientists: first, they are expensive and hard to find; and second a data scientist may not be the only specialist needed to truly understand big data. As one participant pointed out, “While a data scientist has the skills to analyze the data, they may not necessarily have the business insight to ask the right questions of the data.”  Continue reading