MIT Sloan Executive Education innovation@work Blog

Archive: August 2015

A 4D experience: Q&A with participant Susan Chesley Fant

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 years and 2 months and 27 days ago

MIT Sloan Executive Education recently offered a unique, online course that took place in a live, virtual classroom. Essential Law for Entrepreneurs in Innovation-Driven Startups and Growth Companies 4Dx was offered in six two-hour, live online sessions taking place once a week over six weeks. The primary goal of the program was to help participants navigate the distinctive law-sensitive challenges that are critical to the success of new ventures. The course was taught by MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer John Akula.

Susan Chesley Fant

To learn more about the program from a participant's perspective, we interviewed Susan Chesley Fant, an attendee of the recently concluded program. Susan is the Executive Director of the Foresight Education and Research Network, an online network she founded for foresight and long-term strategy professionals with over 3,500+ members worldwide. She is also a digital and social media marketing strategist with Castle Sands LLC and an instructor of digital and social media marketing at the University of Alabama.

What prompted you to enroll in Essential Law for Entrepreneurs in Innovation-Driven Startups and Growth Companies 4Dx?

I really wanted the opportunity to be a student again and learn more about MIT Sloan and entrepreneurship. I'm a fairly young entrepreneur, and I want to be able to guide my decision-making and perspective by learning from a well-known and excellent program. Diversity of ideas is important, and the diverse faculty and student population was a key selling point for me. I enjoyed the class because I was able to learn alongside people from around the world and learn the perspective of faculty and guest speakers, whom I quite possibly would never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

I want to further my education without leaving my full time work. I hope to be a lifelong learner, and the MIT Sloan program definitely fits this description for me. In the future, I hope to pursue an Ed.D or Ph.D and focus in on business, technology, and the future of education. Participating in the virtual environment was especially exciting to me. Participating with an institute of learning known for being on the cutting edge of technology was major bonus.

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All the world is China's stage

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 years and 2 months and 25 days ago

China's slowdown

China's stock market has been on a wild rollercoaster ride in recent weeks. More than $3 trillion in market value has been lost, and roughly half of China's 2,800 listed companies have suspended trading. Unfortunately, this extreme market volatility is also paired with sluggish economic growth. Last week, a key gauge of China's manufacturing activity tumbled to its lowest level in 77 months.

There are several drivers of this chaos. Over the past year, China's central bank had used the Chinese Securities Finance Corporation (CSFC) as a conduit to help Chinese people buy stocks with borrowed funds, helping to prop up stock market prices. Investors poured more and more into Chinese stocks, even though economic growth and company profits were weak. This effort had not stabilized the market as hoped, and recently the CSFC stopped injecting funds into the stock market. A classic bubble had developed, and burst.

And then there is the yuan (also called the Renminbi). Since 2009, rapid growth in the Chinese economy has pushed the value of the yuan up relative to the dollar. But then the slowing Chinese economy started to push the yuan downward. China's central bank intervened in foreign currency markets to maintain the yuan's value, but on August 11 it decided to let the currency drop by about 3 percent. This move may have been China's attempt to improve the credibility of its currency (the International Monetary Fund has been pressing the Chinese government to loosen its control over the exchange rate). For whatever its purpose, this devaluation should have, in theory, provided a boost to the Chinese economy by making Chinese exports more affordable to foreigners. And yet this wasn't enough to prevent further declines in the stock market.

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Simple Rules: A new book by strategy expert Donald Sull

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 years and 3 months and 2 days ago

Simple Rules small

The world is highly complex, and we struggle to manage the complexity of it every day. Most os us accept this complexity as unavoidable, attempting to manage the complex systems we face with complicated solutions. But meeting complexity with complexity can create more confusion than it resolves. So how can people better manage the complexity inherent in the modern world?

Donald Sull, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan, swears by simple rules, whether in his personal life or in helping companies he consults with make better decisions. His latest book, Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World, co-authored with Stanford University's Kathleen Eisenhardt, aims to help more people put these simple rules in practice.

A decade ago, in the course of studying why certain high-tech companies thrived during the internet boom, the authors discovered something surprising: To shape their high-level strategies, companies like Intel and Cisco relied not on complicated frameworks but on simple--and quite specific--rules of thumb. The simple rules these companies had mapped out in order to manage complex processes helped them make on-the-spot decisions, adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, and bridge the gap between strategy and execution. All this even though they were in extraordinarily complex, challenging, and fast-moving industries.

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Market Basket: One year later

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 years and 2 months and 30 days ago

Market Basket

Last summer, New England's consumers and much of the business world were mesmerized by the public saga of Market Basket, a privately held, small chain of grocery stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. Market Basket is owned by the DeMoulas family, which saw a long-running battle over control of the chain by two of its family members, Arthur T. DeMoulas and his cousin Arthur S. DeMoulas. 

Disputes like this are often confined to board rooms, but this one also played out in the public arena. After the board voted to oust the president, Arthur T. DeMoulas (commonly referred to as Artie T.), Market Basket employees (who are not unionized) decided to walk out on their jobs as a sign of solidarity with Artie T. Eventually the public, and even Market Basket's vendors, supported the walk out, leaving shelves empty and the chain’s business in jeopardy. Arthur T. was reinstated to the management ranks on Aug. 28, 2014, after reaching an agreement to buy the 50.5 percent of Market Basket owned by Arthur S. and other relatives. Employees worked day and night to replenish shelves stripped bare by the summer-long family standoff over the business.

So why did non-unionized employees, many of whom are paid by the hour, risk their jobs for a multi-millionaire? Because for decades they had been treated well and shared in the company's profits. As the business drama unfolded, the public heard dozens of stories by Market Basket employees about the ethical and generous gestures of Artie T.

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Are you a digital or analog leader?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 years and 3 months and 6 days ago

As digital technology reaches into every corner of the business world, the rules are changing. Digital has reshaped the expectations of customers and changed way teams collaborate. Digital platforms have given rise to companies like Uber and Airbnb, and other new business models are just around the corner

George Westerman, Research Scientist at the MIT Center for Digital Business, refers to companies that are using digital for a strategic advantage as Digital Masters (see our previous post on the topic). "Digital masters differ not only in their capability but in their clarity of vision," writes Westerman in a recent article in MIT Sloan Management Review.  Rather than incrementally adjusting current practices, they search for ways to use today's fast-moving technologies to transform the way they do business. And it’s worth it--Westerman's research shows that digital masters are 26% more profitable than their industry competitors 

Leading Digital

Of course, Digital Mastery begins with people. More specifically, it begins with senior leaders. Among the hundreds of companies Westerman studied for his recent book, Leading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation, co-authored by Didier Bonnet and Andrew McAfee, none created true digital transformation (of the entire company) from the bottom up. According to Westerman, digital vision from senior executives is pivotal in driving change than spans all boundaries of the company.

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The path to new ideas: Tinkering, testing, and Play-Doh

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 years and 3 months and 13 days ago

Play-Doh 2

Previous posts in our series on innovation* surveyed four of the five skills found in some of the worlds most innovative executives: Observation, associating, questioning, and networking. In this final post in the series, we’re sharing insights on experimenting--the final discovery skill that perhaps best differentiates innovators from non-innovators.

The argument that innovators are experimenters is certainly not new. 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 Innovatorsit's the ways in which they experiment, however, that sets them apart. The innovators in his ongoing research--including founder entrepreneurs and CEOs at the most innovative companies in the world--often generate their best ideas when engaged in one of these three approaches to experimentation:

  1. Trying out new experiences through exploration (think Steve Jobs at an ashram in India)
  2. Taking things apart, either physically or intellectually
  3. Testing ideas through pilots and prototypes

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Preparing the next generation of leaders at the Fung Group with custom programs from MIT Sloan

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 years and 3 months and 16 days ago

Fung Group

MIT Sloan also has long been respected for its custom programs, and in the last few years alone, we've provided tailored learning engagement for more than 45 companies across six continents. One such company is the Fung Group.

While the Fung Group may not have instant brand recognition, the Hong Kong-based global sourcing and purchasing giant has been in business for over 100 years, and its products can be found in most homes in the developed world. The company employs 46,800 men and women across 40 economies worldwide.

The Fung Group came to MIT Sloan seeking to establish and reinforce a shared business culture across its multinational operations, including supply chain management, distribution, logistics, and retail. At the outset of its collaboration with MIT Sloan, "The initial goals were to help our business leaders understand the principles of strategic thinking, collaboration, principles of leadership, leading change, and sustainability as a competitive advantage in the supply chain," says Dr. Leonard Lane, Group Director Leadership Development at the Fung Group. 

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Networking your way to innovation

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 years and 3 months and 20 days ago

Networking. It's a word that evokes very different reactions among us. Love it or hate it, you probably associate networking with making your way up the ladder, developing relationships, and expanding your contacts. But if you don't associate it with innovation and breakthrough ideas, then you're missing out on perhaps the greatest opportunity networking can provide.

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 Innovatorsinnovation requires radically different points of viewAs we outlined in previous posts in this series,* innovators have a unique and practiced set of skills that help them acquire these out-of-the-box ways of thinking. Unlike typical delivery-driven executives who network to access resources, innovators driven by discoveryThey devote time and energy to finding and testing ideas through a network of diverse individuals. They go out of their way to meet with people of different backgrounds and perspectives to extend their own knowledge and get new ideas. Networking is a critical skill not only for generating new ideas but also for mobilizing the resources to launch new ventures.

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