MIT Sloan Executive Education innovation@work Blog

Category: Faculty Insights

The need for speed: Steve Spear on why faster is better for business, and for the Navy

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 7 days ago

Steve Spear is helping the Navy create high-velocity learning

There’s been tremendous encouragement for creativity and innovation as critical elements for success—rightly so. Bringing new forms of value to market creates the chance to reap rewards for providing better solutions to problems, some of which customers may not have even been able to articulate. Less well articulated is the essence of speed in capturing the benefits of new, novel, innovative, and creative.There’s been tremendous encouragement for creativity and innovation as critical elements for success—rightly so. Bringing new forms of value to market creates the chance to reap rewards for providing better solutions to problems, some of which customers may not have even been able to articulate. Less well articulated is the essence of speed in capturing the benefits of new, novel, innovative, and creative.

“Talking about speed is not part of the traditional managerial conversation,” says MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Steve Spear, an expert on sustainable competitive advantage and author of The High Velocity Edge. “The convention is far more static, focusing on ‘position,’ sustainable, preferential access to suppliers, and customers that are somehow enduringly unassailable. But in a world wired for near instantaneous flow of data, money, and transactions, and with material and people able to float or fly from anywhere to anywhere in hours or days, the ecosystem is tumultuous. Nothing is static. If you slow down, the world goes by.”

Creating competitive advantage through the speed of broad based relentless discovery

Despite the fact that for every incumbent there are always intruders and for every ‘position,’ there are always assailants, some organizations nevertheless stay ahead across multiple measures—quality, cost, variety, novelty—whatever factors are appreciated in their markets, collecting outsize rewards for doing so. “For Apple, for example, being out in front with new features, form factors, functionality, and connectivity means selling 1/5th the world’s smart phones but collecting 90+% of the segments profits,” says Spear. “For Intel, it’s singular relentlessness in adhering to Moore’s Law—the exponential growing of microprocessor speed— means it dominates with 80-90% market share each successive generation of computing technology. And for pharmaceutical companies, each month earlier to market is an additional $50 million in patent protected revenue.”

In his executive education program, Creating High Velocity Organizations, Spear shows how exceptional organizations create unmatchable speed and agility to out maneuver their rivals when powered by an unmatched discovery dynamic. This means realizing what to do and how to do it far faster and better and hence sustaining a relevance others cannot meet.

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Speeding the cure for cancer: Financial engineering and Dynamic Work Design

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 29 days ago

Speeding the cure for cancer: Financial engineering and Dynamic Work Design

A business school may not seem like the most logical place to find a solution for virulent disease. However, several MIT Sloan scholars have recently taken a deep look at cancer research and treatment in an effort to speed the development of a cure. From the way research is funded to the efficiency of genomic sequencing, the methods and models created by these MIT Sloan professors have the potential to reshape the industry and raise the probability of finding a cure.

Using Dynamic Work Design to improve genetic sequencing

Business professionals typically think of “work design” as an approach to making repetitive human activity more productive—and therefore especially suited for the factory floor. As such, work design would seem just about as far from the cancer research lab as you could get. However, a recent paper by MIT Sloan Lecturer Sheila Dodge and MIT Sloan Professors Don Kieffer and Nelson Repenning proves juts the opposite, sharing the results of their extended effort to improve the productivity of the genomic sequence operation at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard using an emerging framework called Dynamic Work Design.

The report details how, in the last three years, the Broad Institute—a leader in genomic research—has made dramatic reductions in cycle time and cost using dynamic work design principles to reconfigure the process of DNA sequencing. These gains allow genetic researchers to both run more experiments and get the results of those experiments back more quickly. Redesigning the Broad’s work has played a critical role in identifying the roots of the Ebola virus and is quite literally speeding the search for a cure to cancer and many other diseases.

Dynamic work design builds on the idea that work needs to “fit” the humans who do it, meaning that it needs to be designed in ways that matches our cognitive and emotional processes. This approach unites the contributions of process improvement methods designed for factory-like settings into a set of cohesive principles that can be extended to more creative or intellectual work. In the case of the Broad, this meant, for example, using process mapping to identify excess work and streamline their process; identifying points in the workflow that could benefit from face-to-face interaction; and instituting the notion of “pull,” a scheme widely used by proponents of lean manufacturing that involves maintaining the ideal amount of (prioritized) work.

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Overcoming discord means getting beyond survival instincts

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 months and 14 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 - 2 months and 21 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 - 3 months and 6 days ago


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 - 5 months and 7 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 - 7 months and 7 days 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 - 7 months and 11 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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