8 new business insights from MIT Sloan Management Review
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8 new business insights from MIT Sloan Management Review

Setting goals, superminds, and saying goodbye to structure.

By Meredith Somers  |  July 6, 2018

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Why It Matters

Summer is meant for relaxing, but it’s also a time for refreshing ideas. These articles from MIT Sloan Management Review include new ways to set goals, measure success, and embrace technology.

With goals, FAST beats SMART
Donald Sull, a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan, and Charles Sull, a partner at Charles Thames Strategy Partners, propose that it’s time to rethink how companies set goals.

The Sulls write that the “SMART”— specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound — way of setting goals needs a more rapid approach. Instead, they write, set goals “FAST.”

“Goals should be embedded in frequent discussions; ambitious in scope, measured by specific metrics and milestones; and transparent for everyone in the organization to see,” the authors write.

The traditional “SMART” style of goal setting works, but only when certain conditions are met. These include aligning with priorities and accounting for “critical interdependencies across silos,” the Sulls write.

“If these conditions aren’t met, every employee could achieve their individual goals, but the organization as a whole could still fail to executive its strategy,” the Sulls write. “FAST goals help organizations improve along multiple dimensions at the same time.” 


How human-computer ‘superminds’ are redefining the future of work
Professor of information technology at MIT Sloan Tom Malone writes we don’t have to worry about machines taking our jobs. If anything, they’re going to contribute to the betterment of work and life through “superminds.”

“I define a supermind as a group of individuals acting together in ways that seem intelligent,” Malone writes.

Superminds can take many forms, Malone writes, including markets, communities, geographical groups, and democracies.

Humans shouldn’t worry about the automation of their work because groups of people and machines have been helping one another for ages, Malone writes. What’s different today is that machines can be part of not only physical activities, but intellectual ones.

“That means we will be able to combine people and machines to create superminds that are smarter than any groups or individuals our planet has ever known,” Malone writes.

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Why companies need a new playbook to succeed in the digital age
Banking and baristas. It was a risk taken by the DBS Bank in Singapore — and one that paid off, as the bank grew 1.2 million users in India in its first year, all thanks to a decision to partner with a coffeehouse franchise and open a branchless bank.

That kind of approach is one Peter Weill, a senior research scientist and chairman of MIT Sloan’s Center for Information Systems Research, and Stephanie Woerner, a research scientist there, suggest companies consider for their new digital playbooks.

“In the digital world, companies need to move to more complex, networked systems,” the co-authors write. “They must create ecosystems or webs of relationships with partners that help them become a go-to for customers. The key is using digital to differentiate a company, offering customers something new and compelling — to create a destination they want to visit.”

Along with being a destination, the researchers advise companies to make customer engagement the driver of strategy, and urge leaders to develop new skill sets.

“Digital transformation isn’t easy, but it’s something every organization must undertake,” Weill and Woerner write. “It’s not a question of whether companies need to do this, but rather how and when. Doing nothing will lead to a slow death of a thousand cuts.”

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Goodbye structure, hello accountability
Companies would do well to heed the lessons learned from the “unsinkable” Titanic’s collision with an iceberg. Organizations “must learn how to respond quickly to unanticipated opportunities and threats,” writes Jeanne Ross, principal research scientist at MIT’s Center for Information Systems Research.

Evolving from a structured organization to an agile one can be difficult, but a company doesn’t have to totally restructure, Ross writes. Instead, a business can change through the assignment of accountability.

“Leading change by assigning accountabilities involves specifying a desired outcome, putting someone in charge, and letting the responsible person decide how to accomplish the objective,” Ross writes. “Senior leaders need not divvy up necessary tasks; individuals or teams can quickly pivot as they identify what is and isn’t working.”

Assigning accountabilities is different from structuring in several ways: There’s less budgeting and more market-based resource allocation, as well as more individual flexibility, and a favoring of coaching over managing.

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Can your supply chain hear me now?
Conversational commerce is no longer just for online orders.

Technologies like Amazon Alexa and Google Home already have a place in customer interactions, and the next logical step is a company’s supply chain. The authors of this article argue now is the time for companies to talk about how they want to design their conversational supply chains, but businesses should also be ready to address challenges.

“Executives will need to learn how to fit conversational commerce into their short-term strategy,” they write. “To create integrated, end-to-end systems, companies may need to integrate such message systems with digitized supply chains.”

The article is by Brian Subirana, director of the MIT Auto-ID Laboratory; Sanjay Sarma, vice president of Open Learning at MIT; Jim Rice, director of the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics; and Ken Cottrill, a global communications consultant at the transportation center.

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What’s your cognitive strategy?
A recent survey of 60 large companies shows that a majority of senior executives think artificial intelligence and machine learning are the forces “most likely to disrupt their companies.”

But that doesn’t mean those business executives have the right strategy in place to reap the benefits of investing in those technologies. The first step in the process of establishing a cognitive strategy, is “to define the purpose, goals, and key components of such a strategy.”

Thomas Davenport, a fellow at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, and co-author Vikram Mahidhar, head of AI business at Genpact, offer some help laying that groundwork.

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Leading with next-generation key performance indicators
How are companies using key performance indicators in a digital era? Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, and David Kiron, executive editor of MIT Sloan Management Review, wanted to find out.

After a survey of 4,700 business leaders and managers, conducted by MIT Sloan Management Review and Google, several things about the use of KPIs emerged:

  • A wider variety of KPIs seems inevitable.
  • Future KPI debates will focus on how and what performances are actually critical to a company’s success.
  • Not every company will be able to easily embrace “next-generation KPIs,” especially those that rely on “financial reporting or compliance-oriented traditions.”

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Interview: John Doerr on OKRs and measuring what matters
Setting and achieving a strategic objective is important for a company. But traditional goal-setting methods won’t always work for that practice.

In this webcast, MIT Sloan senior lecturer Donald Sull interviews investor and venture capitalist John Doerr about how to bridge the gap between strategy and execution.

The highlights include:

  • the five key advantages objectives and key results (OKRs) provide organizations
  • how conversation, feedback, and recognition effectively complement OKRs and amplify employees' impact
  • why radical transparency and intrinsic motivation play into high performance 

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