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Ideas Made to Matter

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2022, illustrated

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­­Nostalgia for a time one could stroll the Blockbuster aisles looking for a Friday night movie. Empathy for physicians in distress. Optimism through vibrant hues and a sunny coffee meetup.

These are some of the emotions sparked by our favorite illustrations of 2022, illuminating topics ranging from supply chain to ESG ratings:

Credit: Rob Dobi

Triumph of the underdog: How to beat the odds as a startup

As an elder millennial I have a soft spot for Blockbuster, the rental chain that owned the hearts and wallets of movie fans in the 1990s and early 2000s. But nostalgia won’t keep the lights on, as MIT Sloan marketing professor Birger Wernerfelt shows in his analysis of several well-known business rivalries and the underdogs who defeated their incumbent competitors.

When assistant art director Mimi Phan and I started discussing the image for this article, we both thought it would be fun to pit the well-known logos of Blockbuster and Netflix against each other. And we knew just the person for the job. Rob Dobi’s piece really could be a movie poster: The colors are so vivid, and the perspective perfectly captures the underdog about to engage in an epic battle with a juggernaut. As we tested out the art in the backend of our website, Mimi messaged me to say: “I’m going to take a wild guess that this will be in the top art of the year.” She was right!  —Meredith Somers, news writer

Credit: Huan Tran

Supply chain resilience in a steady state of disruption

How do you illustrate the unknown? According to likely apocryphal lore, cartographers once drew dragons and other frightening creatures, or even wrote “here be dragons,” to indicate unexplored and potentially dangerous areas.

Here in the 21st century, companies have had to navigate many uncharted, potentially dragon-filled situations in their supply chains. Everything from natural disasters to unexpected demand can cause upheaval, not to mention recent crises such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic. Jarrod Goentzel, founder and director of the MIT Humanitarian Supply Chain Lab, compared companies’ traditional lack of preparation for supply chain disruptions to the idea of dragons on maps — an admission of lack of knowledge and, perhaps, fear. That inspired this illustration by Huan Tran, which depicts trucks driving on roads that turn into colorful, fearsome dragons straight out of Harry Potter. It is a fun, striking image, and an apt depiction of heading into the unknown. — Sara Brown, senior news writer and editor

Credit: Jennifer Tapias Derch

New study quantifies the impact of face-to-face interactions on innovation

In 2022, return-to-office versus work-from-home was a monumental point of contention between management and employees, as bosses issued edicts that workers continued to ignore or dispute. Yet however much employees want to skip the commute, a growing body of research shows that innovation slows when workers remain remote.

The color-soaked image that accompanies findings from MIT economist David Atkin on the benefits of “knowledge spillovers” among workers in Silicon Valley could work a billboard enticing employees back to the office. Jennifer Tapias Derch illustrates with joy just the kind of collegial coffee klatch that Atkin’s research found leads to “a transfer of knowledge or a collaboration” between firms. “Come on back,” the vibrant blues, oranges, and yellows seem to say, “the ideas are flowing, and the double skinny oak milk lattes are just fine.” —Tracy Mayor, senior associate director, editorial

Credit: Laura Wentzel

Why sustainable business needs better ESG ratings

Environmental, social, and governance investing was a popular topic this year as more investors moved to align themselves with companies that share their values. One complication: ESG data is messy, as portrayed by Laura Wentzel in our story focusing on why sustainable business needs better ESG ratings if they are to be used as an effective tool.

Just like Wentzel’s depiction of a storm of numbers that’s impossible to tame, ESG data is noisy, according to MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative’s Aggregate Confusion Project, which aims to improve the quality of ESG measurements. Because ESG ratings are measured differently across agencies, they can be an inconsistent measure of performance and therefore, not always reliable.

At first glance, the illustration is beautiful and delicate, like the idea of ESG investing. But upon closer inspection, the delicateness is replaced with complexity from the movement of a wind-blown chaos of numbers that the individual tries to rake, haplessly. How to tame this messy storm of numbers? Improving data quality and ESG measurements, making reporting mandatory and more standardized, and enacting some form of industry governance are just a few ways ESG ratings can be more effective. Mimi Phan, assistant art director, editorial

Credit: Rob Dobi

Ripple effects from Russia-Ukraine war test global economies

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February of this year, a new flashpoint emerged in the global supply chain crisis that began during the trade wars of 2018 – 2019 and accelerated through the pandemic. On top of the disturbing humanitarian toll the war was taking on the people of Ukraine, anxiety quickly spread regarding the potential economic fallout of the invasion. Ukraine and Russia are substantial contributors to the global food supply, accounting for about a third of the world’s wheat production and some 75% of sunflower oil. Disruptions to exports would have an especially dramatic impact on developing countries that depend on those commodities.

Rob Dobi’s artwork gives visual representation to this tension. Two giant arrows pushing a cargo ship in opposite directions speak to the urgent need for Ukrainian exports and the Russian blockades obstructing them. A single column of containers remains between the arrows, enduring the pressure for now, but, like the supply chain itself, seemingly fragile enough to collapse at any moment. In the background, an uneasy yellow sky meets the still blue water to form an upside-down Ukrainian flag, an agonizingly real distress signal. — Devon Maloney, associate director, digital marketing

Credit: Judith Rudd

New study quantifies occupational distress among physicians

A survey study conducted in a California medical center in 2020 found nearly a quarter of physicians felt mistreated, harassed, or intimidated while on the job. Patients and visitors were the most frequent source of abuse.

Physicians who experienced abuse were more likely to consider leaving their job and more likely to report burnout. Women experienced abuse — which includes sexual harassment — at higher rates than men. Nonwhite doctors were more likely to experience abuse, though the small sample size begs for more research.

The data hints at the exhaustion and loneliness borne by these physicians. Judith Rudd’s blue light illustration shows us what it looks like. She reminds us this happens at work, in a job that demands long hours, sometimes overnight.

There is room for improvement. The study found that the perception that a bystander will intervene when someone is mistreated had a “modest positive association” with occupational well-being. MIT Sloan adjunct professor Mary Rowe, one of the study’s co-authors, recommends bystander training and an integrated conflict management system as mechanisms that can improve the work lives of physicians. — Zach Church, editorial and digital content director

Read next: 2021, Illustrated 

For more info Mimi Phan Associate Art Director, OC (617) 253-0735