MIT Sloan Executive Education innovation@work Blog

Category: Faculty Insights

Overcoming discord means getting beyond survival instincts

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 month and 9 days ago

MIT Sloan Lecturer Tara Swart TEDx

Recent national votes in the U.S., Britain, and elsewhere have exposed bitter divisions based on things like country of origin, economic status, political persuasion and other factors. MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Tara Swart, a neuroscientist, leadership coach, medical doctor and executive advisor, has a theory about how some of our basic survival instincts have resulted in this widespread political rancor—and how to get beyond it.

In a TEDx talk on neuroscience and nationalism at the London School of Economics, Swart explains that humans have evolved and thrived in group settings. Survival required people to cooperate to obtain food, keep warm, and protect each other. “When we lived in caves, being cast out of the cave meant certain death,” she says. “We became the most successful animals on the planet because we could exist in large groups.”

However, the flip side of our social tendencies is an “us vs. them” mentality. The group has to protect itself from threats from other groups—and “others” are those who look, speak, and act differently from us. In prehistoric terms, “engaging with someone outside your tribe could prove fatal,” and over time, differences began to be defined not just by race, language or gender but also by social class, education, religion, and more,” Swart says.

“It’s not about your or my opinion, or being right or wrong, or even our political choices. It’s about the evolution of the human brain from tribal origins through ethnic and geographical diversification to the creation of the nation-state all the way up to modern nationalism,” Swart says. “It’s about why we created ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups in our societies, whether we’re hard-wired to act on stereotypes or whether we can change, and how we regulate our fears and other emotions.”

The human brain evolved to give “survival emotions”—fear, anger, disgust, shame—a lead role in shaping our behavior. As a result, “it’s easy to motivate people based on fear or disgust,” Swart says. In political terms, this may mean that Candidate A highlights Candidate B’s scandals and potential threats rather than focusing on the positive things he himself has to offer. Loss aversion—the fear that someone outside your tribe could take away what you value—is another form of safety wiring in the brain, and all these emotions in turn result in unconscious biases.

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Getting unstuck: Easy steps for achieving conversational breakthroughs

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 month and 16 days ago

Breaking Through the Gridlock

When was the last time you tried to have a productive conversation with someone, despite diametrically opposing viewpoints? Were you successful? Or did your conversation get … stuck?

Jason Jay, a longtime environmentalist and director of MIT Sloan's Sustainability Initiative, often found himself frustrated by stonewalled discussions and the poor results of impassioned arguments with those he most hoped to persuade. Jay teamed up with Gabriel Grant, a social entrepreneur and doctoral candidate at Yale University, and the two began six years of research stemming from a question they both shared: How do we turn these conversations around?

Jay and Grant conducted more than 2,000 workshops at 15 universities, drawing lessons from the experiences of people who got stuck in conversations and tried again using new frameworks. In following up with workshop participants, they gained significant anecdotal evidence that profound shifts were possible if conversations were approached in the right way. Jay and Grant crafted and honed a methodology to make progress in difficult conversations, including how to address our own biases and approach people with a more positive mindset. The tool sets they developed, tested, and have since deployed in workshops, conferences, universities, and organizations around the country are now shared in their new book, Breaking through Gridlock: The Power of Conversation in a Polarized World.

Opening the lines of communication

Values-laden conversations—whether political, social, or other—can quickly become heated and feel hopeless. No matter your side, it’s easy to make polarizing moves that you don’t even realize you’re making. In fact, Breaking Through the Gridlock will make you laugh in recognition of some of your own divisive blunders. Jay and Grant offer easy steps for opening the lines of communication when conversations get stuck, and a way forward for groups that feel trapped in seemingly zero-sum conflicts. These tools are even more relevant now than when the authors began this project six years ago.

“In the beginning, we were writing for progressive advocates who wanted to create positive movements for change,” says Jay. “In fact, our working title was Beyond the Choir. Then, in the middle of last year, as the U.S. election was heating up, the landscape was becoming more and more polarized. Brexit happened. And all of a sudden, people were knocking on our door. We realized these tools, this book, are not just for advocates. We’re all embroiled.”

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New research shows integrated solutions are key to digital transformation

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

MIT CISR

Digital disruption is rapidly changing the entire competitive landscape for companies, prompting them to learn how to apply new technology and organizational capabilities. In a working paper published earlier this year, "Designing Digital Organizations—Summary of Survey Findings," researchers including Jeanne W. Ross of the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) looked at the digital capabilities of 171 senior business and IT leaders and offered recommendations on how companies can stimulate their digital transformations.

Digital disruption, as Ross explains in this 2016 video, involves the impact of "SMACIT"—social, mobile, analytics, cloud, and the Internet of Things. In the course of their research, the paper's authors noted that efforts to leverage digital technologies and enhance customer information and engagement is resulting in the need for greater integration of products, services, and processes across entire organizations.

Among the report's key findings:

  • The extent to which digitized solutions are integrated and customer engagement is personalized predicts a company's performance relative to competitors.
  • Companies that create both integrated digitized solutions and personalized customer engagement demonstrate more innovativeness and agility.
  • Companies rely on three key technology resources to build this innovativeness and agility: an operational backbone; a digital services platform with reusable business, technology, and data components; and linkages between newer digital services and data and infrastructure services embedded in the operational backbone.

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Hot off the presses: The latest books by MIT Sloan faculty

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 4 months and 2 days ago

Learn new strategies for starting companies, solving conflicts, and harnessing the digital revolution. Check out these recent titles, written by our faculty.

Disciplined Entrepreneurship Workbook by MIT Sloan's Bill Aulet

Disciplined Entrepreneurship Workbook
By Bill Aulet

A companion piece to MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Bill Aulet’s Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup—a book that transformed the way professionals think about starting a company—the Disciplined Entrepreneurship Workbook demonstrates ways to implement practical steps in the entrepreneurship process, such as how to conduct research or interact with customers. It also includes worksheets, a visual dashboard to track progress, creativity tools, and real-world examples that help entrepreneurs set their businesses up for success. Aulet teaches in the Entrepreneurship Development Program and the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program and is Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship at MIT.


Breaking Through the Gridlock

Breaking through Gridlock: The Power of Conversation in a Polarized World
By Jason Jay and Gabriel Grant

You probably recall the last time you had a disagreement with someone, possibly about a political, social, or environmental issue. Did you have a breakthrough? Or did you get stuck and retreat to your own camp? Breaking through Gridlock: The Power of Conversation in a Polarized World, is a new book co-authored by MIT Sloan Lecturer Jason Jay that offers ways to turn difficult confrontations into positive dialogue. Through practical exercises and examples, this book explains how to communicate when you are on opposite sides of an issue. Jay, who is Director of the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative, teaches in Strategies for Sustainable Business.


Handbook of Collective Intelligence edited by Thomas Malone

Handbook of Collective Intelligence
Edited by Thomas W. Malone and Michael S. Bernstein

Selected by Choice magazine as an “Outstanding Academic Title” for 2016, The Handbook of Collective Intelligence, edited by MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Malone, includes essays by various authors who examine interconnected groups of people and computers doing intelligent things collectively and cover disciplines such as artificial intelligence, cognitive and social psychology, and organization theory. Malone is Director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence.Learn new strategies for starting companies, solving conflicts, and harnessing the digital revolution. Check out these recent titles, written by our faculty.

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Three perspectives on organizational change: more answers from MIT Sloan Professor John Van Maanen

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 6 months and 1 day ago

John Van Maanen

Over 3,500 registrants signed up for our most recent webinar, Three Perspectives on Organizational Change. During the event, MIT Sloan Professor John Van Maanen discussed innovative approaches to change management and delved into three different perspectives embraced by most organizations: strategic, political, and cultural. In this post, Professor Van Maanen responds to some questions from webinar attendees that were not addressed during the live event.


With the rapid pace of technological advancement, as well as increasing globalization with its accompanying challenges, which lens is the most undervalued or most challenging to get right? Which lenses most commonly contribute to failures for organizations to execute well on change management strategies?

The cultural lens is the most difficult to "get right" in the sense of having a culture that fits the challenges the organization is presently facing. It certainly is the most vexing to both diagnose and alter, in terms of difficulty and time. Change that threatens valued professional or occupational identities is particularly problematic. My sense is that if you can figure out a way to work within and with respect for the various cultures represented in the organization, change is somewhat easier. Culture is not a variable that one tunes up or down. It is a set of deeply embedded habits and ways of looking at the world that works and works well for cultural members. So, there are limits, serious ones, to the extent which cultural change can be directed and hastened.

Can organizations survive if there are competing perspectives between workgroups? E.g., if one department is politically powerful and another is strategically powerful, is it best to lean towards one or the other method?

To some extent this on-going battle for power and control of strategic moves is built into organizational life. It contributes motivation, ambition, innovation, and drama, and works at the individual and group levels. One fights for what one thinks is best for the organization (strategy) and marshals all the evidence one can collect in its support. The loyal opposition does the same. If power--the ability to get things done--is not so imbalanced, things generally work out and adjustments can be made. Tinkering is continual.

Over time, culture usually helps select which groups have power, and those groups select strategic designs that support their position. When the lack of fit with the environment is apparent to all (falling revenues, unmet goals, customer abandonment, etc.), a change movement (from outside or inside or both) typically forms to shift the power balance. If successful, strategic design changes usually follow in its wake. To cling to one lens or the other is a recipe for failure.

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Streaming insights: Recent podcasts by MIT Sloan faculty

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

Podcasts with MIT Sloan Faculty

The insights of our faculty can be found in scholarly journals, popular blogs--and even podcasts. We've gathered a few of their more recent "audible insights" on subjects ranging from the effects of sleep deprivation to launching a startup to the application of sports analytics strategies in business. We hope you enjoy these good listens.


What we learned from the NFL/Twitter partnership
In discussing the recent experiment between the NFL and Twitter, MIT Sloan Lecturer Ben Shields talks about the sports industry as an innovation driver, why social networks are becoming today’s media companies, and the ways in which content creators are experimenting with a variety of distribution strategies to maximize revenue. Find out how to apply these ideas at your organization in Shields' new course, Sports Analytics Management.

Four things to keep in mind on the road to entrepreneurship
Thinking of starting a new business venture? Listen to what consummate entrepreneur and MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Bill Aulet says about launching a successful startup. In his New Enterprises podcast series (part of MIT's Open Courseware), Aulet talks about the importance of customer focus, experimentation, iteration, and discipline in the entrepreneurial process. Aulet teaches in the Entrepreneurship Development Program.

How innovative processes affect the customer experience
Listen to what world-renowned thought leader on innovation and Research Fellow at the MIT Center for Digital Business Michael Schrage has to say about the consumer innovation processes and how the diversity of technology gives people more options and flexibility to create, consume, and exchange value.

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Binge on business insights--MIT Sloan Executive Education 2016 webinars

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 8 months ago

If you missed any of our webinars in 2016, we have good news--you can access all the complimentary recordings in our webinar library. Jump right in and explore the latest research and innovations from MIT Sloan faculty.

Leading in a World of Uncertainty, with Deborah Ancona
Learn MIT's unique approach to executive leadership that will help you make your organization knowledge-driven and truly innovative.

The Dynamics of Climate Change—From the Political to the Personal, with John Sterman
Take a tour of C-ROADS—cutting-edge simulation software developed at MIT and used by political leaders and businesses around the world to explore the dynamics and projected impact of climate change.

The New Frontier in Price Optimization, with David Simchi-Levi
Hear the latest breakthroughs in the development of pricing models that combine machine learning and optimization to significantly improve revenue and reduce inventory risk.

Digital Disruption: Transforming Your Company for the Digital Economy, with Jeanne Ross
Find out how you can create a digital strategy for your organization that is responsive to ever-changing customer demands, new technology, and organizational learning.

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Unlocking the potential of analytics: A Q&A with Ben Shields

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 9 months ago

Ben Shields is a Lecturer in Managerial Communication at MIT Sloan. His research focuses on the intersection of social media technologies, data analytics, and audience behavior in the sports, media, and entertainment industries.Shields served previously as the Director of Social Media and Marketing at ESPN.

Recently we asked him a few questions about the topic of sports analytics and his upcoming MIT Sloan Executive Education program, Analytics Management: Business Lessons from the Sports Data Revolution..


MIT: The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference is happening in the spring. Can you tell us a little about this conference?

Shields: The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference is the premier event in the industry. Founded in 2007 by MIT Sloan alum and Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey and CEO of Kraft Analytics Group Jessica Gelman, the conference has grown from about 175 participants in its first year to more than 4,000 in 2016. A similar crowd will be on hand this year.

The conference is the nexus point for the most innovative researchers, executives, and students to share new analytics approaches, debate current trends, and network. It is an energetic, fun, and fascinating event that never fails to make you smarter.

MIT: Following the conference is the very first session of your new MIT Sloan Executive Education program, Sports Analytics Management. Is this program intended to pick up where the conference leaves off? What prompted you to design this course?

Shields: Through the influential conference, MIT Sloan has become a hub for sports analytics research and practice. However, the conference lasts only two days. With our Analytics Management: Business Lessons from the Sports Data Revolution course, we are expanding the dialogue and learning opportunities about this fast-growing and exciting field of sports analytics throughout the year.

Our course is designed to complement and extend key themes from the conference. Critically, we focus on helping students develop an analytics strategy and program that works for their organization or initiative. Whereas conference attendees will learn about new research methods and key trends, students in Sports Analytics Management will have the opportunity to synthesize this new knowledge into actionable plans going forward. Today, the biggest barrier to unlocking the potential of analytics is often not a technical one; it’s how leaders and organizations set up and manage an analytics program. We address the latter in our course.

The sports industry has been a pioneer in the analytics revolution, and there is so much we can learn about analytics management from studying it. I designed this course to help executives in all industries identify strategies and best practices in sports analytics and apply and refine them to their own efforts.

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