Category: Innovation

Success isn't comfortable: Lessons in leadership from the Human Capital Institute

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 month and 29 days ago

confused executive

There is value in discomfort--business value. If you happened to attend the Human Capital Institute's Learning and Leadership Development Conference held in Boston last month (MIT Sloan Executive Education was a sponsor), you heard more than one session speaker tout the benefits of being squarely outside of one's comfort zone. According to speakers like MIT's own Hal Gregersen, who presented a keynote speech at the conference, business leaders need to get uncomfortable to be successful.

Three ways discomfort drives success

We generally think of people who enjoy uncomfortable situations as thrill seekers--or masochists. Most people don't take pleasure in being nervous, humbled, or overly challenged. We are conditioned to appear as confident and competent in front of our peers as humanly possible. And we avoid tasks that are out of our wheelhouse because, frankly, we don’t want to screw up. However, in the context of leadership development and business success, staying comfortable is actually a dangerous game. And, most importantly, a missed opportunity.

Here are three takeaways from the recent HCI conference that remind us of the value in discomfort.

Executives who learn to stretch their comfort levels and ask tough questions make better leaders and innovators.

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and a Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan Executive Education, says it's all too easy for senior leaders to isolate themselves in a "good news cocoon" where everyone says things are fine and no one challenges your ideas or asks tough questions. It's comfy, and it's dangerous. Powerful organizational and industrial forces can keep any senior leader from asking (or hearing) uncomfortable questions, creating a perilous, answer-centric environment rife with blind spots. They lose sight of the big picture of how things really are, ultimately missing opportunities for innovation and increasing the risk of disruption.

"Executives who ask and invite probing questions are much better equipped to manage threats and spot opportunities," said Gregersen in his keynote speech, The Leader's Dilemma: Asking Tough Questions (Before Someone Else Does). Having interviewed hundreds of the world's most innovative CEOs as part of his ongoing leadership research, he finds that those who seek out uncomfortable, risky, and challenging situations in search of a line of inquiry have greater success at leading innovative products and process. By becoming better questioners, leaders unlock new solutions, innovations, and processes, ultimately creating greater business value.

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Certificate helps executive “future proof” his career

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 months and 16 days ago

MIT Sloan Certificate holder Robert Robertson

Robert Robertson is president of the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute and recently received an Executive Certificate in Strategy and Innovation at MIT Sloan Executive Education. In this interview, Dr. Robertson shares his thoughts about the experience and how he has applied those lessons in his professional endeavors

Initially, what made you consider the MIT Sloan Executive Certificate?
The reason I chose the MIT Sloan Executive Certificate was because of the reputation of the School and recommendations from previous attendees.

Can you share some lessons learned from your MIT Sloan experience? Were you able to apply them in your workplace?
The scope and speed of change challenges us all to think outside the box, and these programs afforded the means to address that reality. The training was very practical and relevant. The programs provided excellent cases and exercises that engaged everyone, and in addition, there was a very good range of participants, which added value to the work. Also, the ability to link disruptive innovation to my work was very useful.

What were the highlights of your experience with the programs you completed?
The instructors, the environment, the materials, and the planning by all involved were highlights of the programs. In fact, I have retained the materials and still use them. They are excellent! All of the faculty presenters were well prepared, and the sessions were definitely world class. It is difficult for me to single out any one instructor in particular. In my experience, all of the professors reached an exceptionally high standard across the board.

Was there anything that surprised you about the programs?
What surprised me initially was the consistent quality across all of the courses. Also, the diversity of the cohorts and the ease with which you could work with the participants was really a plus. It was an enriching experience to be able to work with people from so many different factions. For example, I had course mates from the U.S. military, the European commission, and a large Japanese company. The differences in terms of experience that the participants brought to the table were applicable immediately to my current situation.

Were you able to connect with your classmates? If so, what were the benefits of doing so?
The networking opportunities were an important aspect of the classes. I have had good connections from the certificate experience and have maintained contacts in Southeast Asia, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh, who have shared emerging issues, trends, and problems—and given me good feedback, which has assisted me in my teaching.

Did the programs meet your expectations? Would you recommend them to colleagues? Overall, the programs exceeded my expectations. They were well organized, and the takeaway materials were excellent. I found the programs to be a very useful and well worth the time and energy to attend. I would highly recommend the experience.

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Custom program helps global giant Schlumberger integrate product development and innovation technologies

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 3 months and 10 days ago

Schlumberger integrate product development and innovation technologies

How does a legend in the oil field sector maintain its leadership position? Schlumberger--known for its industry-leading technology and deep expertise in the oil field sector--recently challenged itself with that question. The global company employs approximately 100,000 employees who hail from more than 85 countries and encompass 140 nationalities. With such a diverse workforce, the ability to share knowledge and ensure smooth teamwork is critical to the success of its business.

"Our personnel have grown much more diverse over the last few decades, and our increasingly decentralized R&D operations are regularly generating new product lines," explained Schlumberger's Management Development Director Joe Perkins. "The challenge for us is to find a common language that will enable us to look at innovation and product development as an integrated chain, from the field to the lab on through to our business operations."

With that goal in mind, Schlumberger executives decided to collaborate with MIT Sloan to develop a custom program, which was inspired by several Schlumberger senior executives who participated in the School’s popular program, Driving Strategic Innovation: Achieving High Performance Throughout the Value Chain (DSI). A joint program with IMD, the DSI program draws on an integrative value chain framework created at MIT and helps participants learn how to build organizational relationships that facilitate knowledge transfer within the firm and across the value chain.

While enrolled in the DSI course, the executives discovered that MIT Sloan's ability to integrate advanced research, new technology, and innovative business practices was exactly what Schlumberger needed to stay ahead of the competition. They also realized that the DSI course encompassed critical elements that could be applied at Schlumberger--from causal loops in the energy market to innovation, value chains, supply chains, and marketing.

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Mobile giant asks MIT to help it maintain its edge

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 3 months and 23 days ago

china mobile

Although China Mobile is the largest mobile company in the world, several years ago the successful, high-ranking member of the global Fortune 500 realized it needed to up its game to compete in the world market. The telecom giant recognized that applying innovation to all aspects of its company--from new products and services to operations processes and marketing strategies--was the way to address the rapid changes occurring in the telecommunications industry and also ensure its long-term success.

"In order to maintain China Mobile’s leadership position in the world, we need our executives to think strategically, have a global perspective, and hone their innovation skills--all contributing to improved management capabilities," explained Mr. Zhang Xi, HQ HR, General Manager at China Mobile.

In an effort to expose the company's senior executives to the most progressive ideas about innovation, China Mobile explored working with leading U.S. universities known for their research in that area. In addition to Tsinghua University in Beijing, the MIT Sloan Custom Program was selected. "We believe that MIT has always been the cradle of the latest technology and scientific research in the U.S.," said Karen Li, Associate Director of Executive Education at Tsinghua University, adding that the two universities already have a long-term partnership in MBA programs.

At the outset of the program, China Mobile and Tsinghua University worked in tandem to leverage MIT's cutting-edge innovation research and identify critical business challenges facing the company. In particular, the China Mobile leadership team was interested in concepts that would help to propel the company as a whole--such as platform strategies and value chains. "Our main goal is to learn from the world-renowned faculty and best American companies and try to simulate best practices in our daily work," said Mr. Zhang.

To that end, executives in the custom program explored leading innovation and strategy research by MIT Sloan faculty, and visited research labs as well as companies in the MIT ecosystem. Program materials focused on general management concepts such as strategy and innovation. As the program progressed, the sessions combined content-rich lectures and small-group discussions on topics ranging from general management ideas about leadership and strategy to more industry-specific subjects like big data, mobile trends, and digital marketing.

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Insights for GE as it relocates to Boston's unique "innovation ecosystem"

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 10 months and 14 days ago

Formerly known as General Electric, GE announced this January that it is moving its corporate headquarters from suburban Connecticut to downtown Boston. In the Boston Business Journal's recent coverage of the story, GE Chairman/CEO Jeff Immelt said: "GE is a $130 billion high-tech global industrial company, one that is leading the digital transformation of industry. We want to be at the center of an ecosystem that shares our aspirations."

Formed by the 1892 merger of Thomas Edison’s company with Massachusetts' own Thomson-Houston Electric Company, GE is not alone in considering the Boston area as a world-class hub of innovation. Earlier this month, Bloomberg confirmed what many of us who live and work here know to be true: Massachusetts is the most innovative state in the nation.

So what does GE's move to Boston mean for the Commonwealth, for the City, and in particular for our innovation ecosystem? And what might GE like to know, even at this stage, as it thinks through how best to leverage the innovation and entrepreneurship that drive much of the activity in Greater Boston and beyond?

Let us start with defining the expression "innovation ecosystem" that has been so widely used in the discussions of GE's decision.  In our work at MIT, we define an innovation ecosystem as the connections among five key stakeholders: entrepreneurs (of course), universities (as you'd expect), and risk capital providers (beyond just VCs)--but also with key roles for government and large corporations. 

Innovation model

In our research on, and teaching about, such ecosystems around the world, we emphasize that an ecosystem relies upon the collective actions that these stakeholders take to contribute and share resources (talent, ideas, infrastructure, money, connections). 

Our work also shows that such innovation ecosystems are complex and sometimes fragile things.  Many places in the world wish to emulate such an innovation hub, but few pull off the alchemy necessary to launch or sustain such ecosystems.  As such, we have been increasingly highlighting (e.g., in BetaBoston,) the importance of a certain innovation diplomacy within and among the various stakeholder groups, recognizing the interests of the other parties, and taking actions that find opportunities for mutual long-term benefit.


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Is Greece missing an opportunity to turn to innovation-driven entrepreneurship?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 6 days ago

Projections for the economy in Greece are dire. Economic recovery is not certain, and when it comes, it will certainly be long and painful. And despite BloombergView stating, "While not out of the woods, Greece’s large banks seem to be showing signs of life," there’s still widespread unemployment and an overall bleak outlook.

Phil Budden, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan, argues in Fortune that the current fiscal crisis can be turned into an opportunity for the country. Budden recommends the country and its people follow the advice of Winston Churchill by "never letting a crisis go to waste." Greece might follow the example of other countries that have struggled economically, and it could begin to "gradually shift its focus away from macroeconomic problems and toward the task of creating an innovation ecosystem."

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Tesla--innovating innovation

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 2 months ago

Tesla was recently named to the top of The World's Most Innovative Companies list, produced by Forbes magazine. This is despite the fact that the company will not be turning a profit this year. Of course, there is a strong expectation that the company will become profitable. But in the meantime, its approach to innovation is, in itself, innovative and somewhat counter to the standard operating procedures used by many so-called innovative companies.

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center, and co-author Jeff Dyer, recently examined some of the unusual strategies and tactics used within Tesla in "Decoding Tesla's Secret Formula," an article that accompanied the Forbes' list. Here are some of the ways Tesla is defying convention--even the convention of innovation.

Forget the MVP

The Lean Startup methodology recommends companies focus on developing a minimum viable product (MVP) before creating a full-blown product. The idea is that the MVP is the core of a build-measure-learn feedback loop that helps guide a company to building a product that solves a real problem, and one that companies will buy. The measure-learn aspect of the loop addresses the "buy" aspect of developing a product.

According to Gregersen, Tesla takes a completely different approach. "Tesla never pursued the classic route of going after low-end, price-sensitive customers first with cheaper, inferior technology. It doesn't pursue nonconsumption, or customers who don’t currently drive cars," writes Gregersen. "Tesla has instead proved to be a different kind of disruptor, a high-end version that can be just as troublesome for the incumbents." 


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Why commonality sometimes fails

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 2 months and 22 days ago

Commonality, or the reuse and sharing of components, manufacturing processes, architectures, interfaces, and infrastructure across the members of a product family, is a strategy targeted at improving corporate profitability. Companies from Toyota to GE use product platform strategies to deliver more variety to their customers and compete more effectively. For example, Black and Decker uses shared motors and batteries across a range of power tools. Volkswagen models such as the Jett and TT share similar underbody components and other aspects.

Typical benefits of a commonality, or a product platform strategy, include:

  • Shared development costs
  • Common testing procedures
  • Production economies of scale
  • Amortized fixed costs
  • Reduced inventory

By definition, commonality seems like an obviously good thing. Why incur the cost of making different parts for different products if the parts do the same thing?  Because as it turns out, commonality is not always the right thing to do. And even when it is right, it can be difficult to achieve.

Dr. Bruce Cameron is a lecturer in MIT's Engineering Systems Division and a consultant on platform strategies. His research at MIT uses a healthy dose of systems thinking to tease out when commonality makes sense and how to get companies to pull it off. Cameron oversaw the MIT Commonality Study, which closely examined 30 firms over eight years. The study was the first work to uncover that many firms fail to achieve their desired commonality targets, showing weaker investment return on their platform investments. "That type of behavior and phenomenon is seen in studies that we did in automotive, consumer products, and transport," says Cameron.

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