MIT Sloan Executive Education innovation@work Blog

Archive: June 2015

Getting answers with catalytic questioning

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 years and 8 months and 23 days ago

Stuck on a problem? Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and co-author of The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, suggests solving vexing challenges through thoughtful questioning. His 4-24 project challenges us to set aside four minutes every day to ask nothing but questions--an exercise that can help us see problems from new perspectives.

In his decade's worth of research into the source of disruptive innovations, Gregersen found that questioning is how innovators do their work—it's the catalyst for other "discovery behaviors" that make up an "innovator's DNA," such as observing, networking, and experimenting. Innovators ask a lot of questions to better understand what is and what might be. They ignore safe questions and go right for the crazy ones--the questions that can question common wisdom and can even disrupt an entire industry.

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Innovation by association

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 years and 9 months and 2 days ago

The Innovators DNA book

Ever wondered how some of the world's greatest innovators came across their breakthrough ideas? According to Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and co-author of The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, the following skills are at the root of most value-generating ideas: Associating; catalytic questioning; deep observation; diverse networking; and rapid experimentation.

Each week on the innovation@work blog, we'll define and contextualize each of the "discovery skills" that Gregersen identifies as part of the innovator's DNA.

Discovery skill #1: Associating as the basis of thinking differently

Innovative ideas flourish at the intersection of diverse experience, whether it be others' or our own. You've likely heard of the "Medici effect," a phrase used to describe the spark that occurs in a geographic space or market where a combination of novel ideas coalesce into something quite surprising. This effect occurred in Islamic and Italian renaissances, for example, and in places like Silicon Valley. It also forms the basis of ideas conferences like TED--places where diverse people join together in a conscious attempt to cross-pollinate their ideas and perspectives.

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Bringing spice to platforms--literally

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 years and 9 months and 2 days ago

spices square

As a panel discussed during the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium this year, platform strategies are beginning to displace product strategies. Two of the three panelists came from newer businesses--Paddy Srinivasan, Vice President of Products for Xively, and Bryan Kirschner, Director of the Apigee Institute. Xively works with companies to build applications for the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Apigee Institute is a research and strategy organization that helps businesses succeed in the new digital world. The panel was moderated by Professor Marshall Van Alstyne, Research Associate with the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy.

The third panelist, Jerry Wolfe, founder and CEO of Vivanda, has come to the platform business from a most unusual route; he was previously the first CIO at McCormick & Company. Yes, that McCormick--the spice company founded in 1889. After significant analysis of the current grocery store product ecosystem, Wolfe led an initiative at McCormick to develop FlavorPrint, an API-enabled, predictive food personalization platform.

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Complex risk management--as seen on TV

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 years and 9 months and 9 days ago

FV Northwestern

Reality TV is largely a wasteland of odd, meaningless drivel, in which business leaders rarely have the time (nor should they make the time) to invest watching. But within the very broad category, there are some meaningful glimpses of how people solve complex business problems. The stands-out show in this category might be  Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch, which some herald as the "original" reality TV show.

For those not familiar with the show, now in its eleventh TV season, it focuses on a handful of boats fishing for crab in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska. And while many fans watch the show for the drama of the cold, vicious waters and the inherent danger in the job, others can glean some secrets for managing complex business operations. More than just entertaining TV, Alaskan red king crab (just one species caught and sold by the boats on the show) was valued at more than $90 million in 2012.

The title Deadliest Catch reflects the stark reality of the commercial fishing industry: since 1992, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics started publishing fatality rates by occupation, fishing has consistently ranked as the most deadly occupation. In 2006, the bureau found commercial fishing has an almost 75% higher fatality rate than that for pilots, flight engineers, and loggers (the next most deadly occupations). The fatality and injury statistics for Alaskan crab fisherman are even higher than the average for the industry, due to the dangerous conditions out on the Bering Sea.

When one watches the show with a discerning eye, it's apparent that crab fishing is, in fact, a very complex business. Each captain must manage multiple aspects of risk against hard deadlines, in real time. 

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Lessons in negotiation

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 years and 9 months and 9 days ago

Contributed by Jeff Ton, as originally published on May 26th on the author's blog.

If MIT Sloan Professor Jared Curhan were a pirate, he would be the lovable, friendly kind like Johnny Depp or Keith Richards. Of all the classes, seminars, and workshops I have ever attended, I have to rank Professor Curhan near the top when it comes to educators who can captivate, entertain, and educate, even a very difficult subject like Negotiation for Executives.  In his closing remarks for the MIT Sloan Executive Education course, Professor Curhan confessed he struggled to summarize such an intense couple of days; he wanted the class to have a take-away with all the salient points, but it was too big to put into a single page, even a large page, even a poster-sized page. With that confession, he unfurled a beach towel … a huge beach towel. The beach towel was printed with a very detailed drawing of a pirate ship, buried treasure, mermaids, and other sea creatures, each one depicting a point from the class. We really did have Lessons in Negotiations from a Pirate! But, I am ahead of myself…

As in my previous posts about the classes I have attend at MIT Sloan Executive Education, I don't want give away the content of the course (you should attend one…or two…or three), but I do want to talk about the experience. I have to admit, of all the courses I have taken, I was most nervous about this one. I was not sure what to expect. Were we going to learn how to be cutthroat negotiators? Were we going to learn tricks and tactics to help us win at all costs? Was I going to learn my entire approach to negotiations was wrong?

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Why platforms beat products every time

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 years and 9 months and 16 days ago


Is the product business model broken? According to Professor Marshall Van Alstyne, Research Associate with the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, and moderator of the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium panel, "Platform Shift: How New Business Models are Changing the Shape of Industry and the Role of CIOs," the answer is definitely yes

Case in point: BlackBerry. While there remain some holdouts relying on their BlackBerrys, the numbers don't lie: in 2009, BlackBerry had nearly 50% market share in U.S. operating systems, and now the company has 2.1% market share.

On the other hand, in 2013, 14 of the top 30 global brands by market capitalization were platform-oriented companies. These are companies that have created and now dominate areas in which buyers, sellers, and third parties are connected. In addition to the platform-oriented brands listed in the chart below, standout platform companies include Uber and Airbnb. They've each created innovative and disruptive business models that have drastically changed how consumers (and now businesses) secure transportation and lodging. (Read our previous posts related to Uber and Airbnb.)

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Better banking through IT innovation: A custom programs success story

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 years and 9 months and 19 days ago

A decade ago, Commonwealth Bank of Australia--the largest retail bank on the continent--had been grappling with an IT operation that was costly, inefficient, and sometimes unreliable. Back then, the bank was determined to transform itself into an operation that was #1 in customer service with the lowest costs in class.

With that goal in mind, Michael Harte, a forward-thinking executive who joined CBA as CIO in 2006, connected with the MIT Center for Information Systems Research (CISR). (CISR develops concepts and frameworks to help executives and their organizations address IT-related challenges.) Soon after, MIT Sloan faculty and program designers from the Executive Education office collaborated to create a custom program that would help transform CBA's IT leaders from functional managers to strategic thinkers.

"We designed a program around what the bank needed to achieve in three to five years. It had three components that today's banks must have to be successful–one was effectively managing digitization or IT; second was strategy options for the company; and the third was organizational change," says Peter Weill, Senior Research Scientist and Chair of CISR. 

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