MIT Sloan Executive Education innovation@work Blog

Fashion statements apropos of MIT

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 6 hours ago

© 2012 Tangible Media Group / MIT Media Lab / Photo by Hannah Cole

The latest fashion trends can be found in couture magazines and the runway at Bryant Park, but did you also know that you can also spot the latest innovations in fashion here at MIT?

In fact, MIT has a long history at the intersection of high fashion, high tech, and innovation—from our pioneering efforts in textile programing, adaptive clothing for people with disabilities, wearable computing, new biologic fabric that literally breathes, and the many successful ventures spun out of our Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship.

A surge of startups

For years, fashion-minded MIT students and alumni have been creating companies targeting niche consumer styles and voids in the retail industry. These companies include everything from traditional ventures in textiles and garments to tools that enhance the online shopping experience to completely reinventing the stiletto.

  • Ministry of Supply, co-founded by a group of MIT Sloan students and an MIT engineering alumnus, uses thermal analysis, robotic engineering, and advanced materials to design better-fitting men’s business attire. The company has developed a rapidly growing science-based clothing line and the industry’s first 3-D robotic knitting machine.
  • AHAlife is a curated online marketplace of thousands of luxury fashion items and other high-end products. AHAlife re-creates the in-store experience of discovery while shopping online by featuring quality, well-crafted products with a story.
  • Sundar, a global mobile search engine startup for sourcing materials and suppliers, was incubated at MIT and founded by MIT Sloan alumnus Jag Gill. “Our mission is to streamline the discovery and sourcing process by providing sophisticated search, curation and data-driven insights on what to purchase, produce and stock, to buyers and sellers 24/7,” said Gill in this Forbes feature.

A minisurge of MIT start-ups like these in recent years is driven by a budding category of fashion industry entrepreneurs. “About two years ago, we thought these companies were outliers,” said Bill Aulet, Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, in this Boston Globe article. “Now the pace has definitely picked up.”

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Why enterprises should care about blockchain

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 days ago

Why businesses should care about blockchain

Blockchain technology is hard to understand and even harder to predict. But given the promise of blockchain and its golden child, Bitcoin, you’d be wise to start making sense of it now. For the uninitiated, this recent article from the MIT Sloan Newsroom sheds helpful light on these intertwined terms. We’ve also blogged about crypotechnology previously, in posts related to Bitcoin’s role in digital strategy and its meteoric rise in value in 2016.

The MIT Media Lab's Digital Currency Initiative describes blockchain as a decentralized public ledger of debits and credits that no one person or company owns or controls; its users control it directly. This system lets people transfer money without a bank, for example, or write simple, enforceable contracts without a lawyer.

“Blockchain technology is particularly useful when you combine a distributed ledger together with a cryptotoken (as in Bitcoin),” explains MIT Sloan Assistant Professor Christian Catalini. “Suddenly you can bootstrap an entire network that can achieve internet-level consensus about the state and authenticity of a block’s contents in a decentralized way … This is one step away from a distributed marketplace, and will enable new types of digital platforms.”

Blockchain and business

Blockchain and cryptocurrencies have enormous potential impact on global enterprises.

When Bitcoin was introduced in 2008, the Internet saw the effects of a drastic reduction in the cost of verification and the cost of networking. “For the first time in history, value could be reliably transferred between two distant, untrusting parties without the need of a costly intermediary,” writes Catalini in a research paper on the economics of blockchain.

Blockchain technology could also mean greater privacy and security for businesses and their customers. Blockchain has the capacity to make transactions more secure by increasing transparency about sellers, buyers, and supply chains, increasing the speed of transactions, and by providing built-in recourse for unfulfilled contracts. In his paper, Catalini writes, “While this is still an active area of research, new protocols are being developed to obfuscate transaction data, offer full anonymity to users, and implement different degrees of access to transaction information.” Distributed ledgers, secure identity mechanisms, and end-to-end encryption have the potential to revolutionize applications ranging from smart contracts to supply chain management, automation, and artificial intelligence.

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MIT’s Charles Fine envisions the future of urban mobility

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 6 days ago

Faster Smarter Greener by MIT's Charles Fine

We’ve had a century-long love affair with the car and, for the most part, it’s been a great ride. But our relationship with automobiles is changing.

In the U.S., recent studies suggest that Americans are buying fewer cars, driving less, and getting fewer licenses with each passing year. People are more attached to their smartphones than their cars; millennials in particular value cars and car ownership much less than they value technology. Combine this disenchantment with the fact that, in many cities around the world, cars are not always the quickest mode of travel. And, of course, emissions from the rapidly growing number of cars threaten the planet. It makes one wonder: is our global love affair with vehicles cooling?

We recently spoke with MIT Professor Charles Fine about his new book, slated to hit the stands in September: Faster, Smarter, Greener: The Future of the Car and Urban Mobility. Fine teaches operations strategy and supply chain management in MIT's Communications Futures Program, and he is Faculty Director of the MIT Sloan Executive Education program, Driving Strategic Innovation: Achieving High Performance Throughout the Value Chain. His research focuses on supply chain strategy and value chain roadmapping, with an emphasis on fast clockspeed manufacturing industries. Fine's work has supported the design and improvement of supply chain relationships for companies in electronics, automotive, aerospace, communications, and consumer products.

Faster, Smarter, Greener brings Fine’s research into the future, envisioning a new world of urban mobility that is connected, heterogeneous, intelligent, and personalized—what Fine and his coauthors Venkat Sumantran and David Gonsalvez refer to as the CHIP architecture. This architecture embodies an integrated, multimode mobility system that builds on ubiquitous connectivity, electrified and autonomous vehicles, and an open, entrepreneurial marketplace.

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Are “Good Jobs” finally becoming fashionable in retail?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 11 days ago

Zeynep Ton's Good Jobs Strategy in Retail

Retail jobs have long been considered undesirable. Back in 2013, Zeynep Ton, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan and author of The Good Jobs Strategy, told a TedxCambridge audience that retail jobs “are not just bad because they offer low wages and chaotic schedules, but because they make workers feel meaningless.” She shared how one retail worker had told her, “We are throwaways who are a dime a dozen.”

Thankfully, albeit slowly, the retail industry is changing how it views, treats, trains, and ultimately retains its employees. The President and CEO of the National Retail Federation (NRF), Matthew Shay, recently published a piece on LinkedIn titled, “Good Jobs Change Lives.” In this post, Shay unveiled a new initiative by the NRF to help workers secure jobs in retail and advance in their careers. The program provides hands-on training in topics such as retail tools and technologies, customer service, and retail math. Participants receive credentials they can put on their resumes and cite during their job searches. More than 30 retailers, foundations, and non-profits are collaborating in this initiative.

The NRF itself has approximately 700,000 entry-level openings. According to the organization, “individuals who hold a certification or license are significantly more likely to be employed and have 34-percent higher earnings.”

Training is a proven cornerstone of Zeynep Ton’s Good Jobs Strategy. In her recent Harvard Business Review article, “How 4 Retailers Became ‘Best Places to Work’,” Ton and co-author Sarah Kalloch share strategies and policies that have made HEB, Costco, TraderJoe’s and QuikTrip successful, innovative companies staffed by employees who are happy and eager to work hard.

“For Costco founder Jim Sinegal, retailing is fundamentally a people business, which means it has to get the people part right,” writes Ton. “Costco hires good people, teaches them and pays them well, and gives them opportunities to advance. In return, Costco gets better productivity.”

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Workplace negativity? Difficult conversations? Turn to improv

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 17 days ago

Improv for business leaders

At first blush, improv may not seem like an obvious leadership tool. Business often works best when knowledgeable leaders follow a script for getting feedback and fostering buy-in, notes MIT Sloan's Daena Giardella. But business leaders also need to be able to shift their sensemaking skills into high gear–especially in today’s complicated political environment, where leadership and communication cues from the White House may not be the best approach for corporate leaders. Improvisation leadership skills may be required, writes Giardella in a blog post for The Hill.

In a time of governmental volatility and inconsistency, CEOs should "focus on your own stakeholders and pay attention to your real audience," Giardella writes. Improvising means cultivating the ability to react with agility, creativity, and flexibility. It also means developing a mindset that includes curiosity, high-stakes listening, and resilience.

In teaching improv to business leaders, Giardella pushes them out of their comfort zones and sets them up for potential failure as they learn. "And as soon as I say that, usually I get so many eyebrows going up, because of course in a business environment, and certainly an academic environment, use the word fail and people take notice," Giardella tells NPR. "But as an improviser, you gotta know how to rebound. It's not about whether you make the perfect offer, it's about how you rebound if you don't."

Cultivating a "Yes, and" mindset

Improvisers know that there are shifts in status within each conversation, and they use them to their advantage to progress the action of the scene. A hallmark of improvisational leadership skills is the "Yes, and" approach, where one moves the scene forward by creating a collaborative spirit—as opposed to "Yes, but," which creates roadblocks, as Giardella explains in this Quartz blog post. “Yes, but” translates to “Yeah, but that's not really valid because here is the better point."

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Overcoming discord means getting beyond survival instincts

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 17 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 - 23 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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Leanne McDonald taps into the wealth of knowledge at MIT

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 26 days ago

Leanne McDonald

We recently sat down with Leanne McDonald, Group Manager of Organizational Capability at Allianz, a large financial services company headquartered in Munich, Germany. McDonald works in the Sydney, Australia offices and is leading several change initiatives within the multinational company. We had the pleasure of speaking with her when she was here attending Leading Change in Complex Organizations, a week-long course led by MIT Sloan Professor John Van Maanen.

For starters, we’re hearing that you have a history of extreme sports? Is this true?
Yes! While the most exciting sport I’m doing these days is driving in rush hour traffic, I used to be quite active in extreme sports in my earlier days. I did all kinds of things like sky diving, rock climbing, scuba diving, parasailing, canyoning—even swimming with sharks. I loved it!

That’s amazing! Have any of those experiences informed how you approach your work now?
Absolutely. It certainly helps you become more familiar with the feeling of fear. Extreme sports often require you to talk yourself through your fear—but once you’re over it, and in the action of the sport—your fear goes away and it’s exhilarating. The tricky part is just getting started, and not talking yourself out of taking action. I find the same is true when starting new projects or taking on new roles.

I also learned a lot about understanding and assessing risk. I often had to ask myself—what’s the likelihood that something could go wrong here? What’s the worst that could happen? What will I do then in that scenario? Often in extreme sports, you have people with you—advising you—you’re working in teams, you’re relying on equipment, and if one aspect of that fails, you have to be prepared with contingencies. Work is a lot like that too. And I have also found that, as a team leader, I am better equipped to coach people through their fears through assessing risk. Being comfortable with change is really the key takeaway—for myself and others—getting out of that “stuck” feeling and moving forward can be challenging.

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