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Leadership

8 business insights from MIT Sloan Management Review

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‘Self-driving’ companies. Cybercrime. Balancing the vast power of technology with what customers actually want. Leaders today have to navigate an increasingly complicated digital landscape, with unforeseen opportunities and concerns. For a helpful guide, check out the latest insights from the MIT Sloan Management Review.

How to create digital offerings customers want

Digital technology is a game changer, and businesses are feeling pressure to balance technology’s prowess with customers’ needs and wants — and wallets. In an excerpt from their upcoming book “Designing for Digital,” MIT Sloan professor Jeanne Ross and her co-authors write that companies can harness digital potential by finding the elusive intersection between what’s possible and what customers are willing to fund.

Research about how nearly 200 companies developed new digital capabilities showed three important parts of finding this balance.

  • Experiment repeatedly. A constant flow of experiments, rapid test-and-learn iterations, and encouraging experimentation all lead to more learning.
  • Co-create with customers. Every company, according to Ross, has made false assumptions about what customers want. Working alongside customers reveals what they value, and what their problems are and how to solve them.
  • Assemble cross-functional development teams. Bringing people together from different departments mitigates the risk of designing things that the company can’t afford to support and wards off unexpected hassles.

How to use analytics to drive smarter collaboration

Collaboration is a nonnegotiable part of most jobs, but it takes time and energy from already overextended workers.

Analytics are a valuable tool for companies looking for smarter collaboration, according to a team of researchers including Thomas Davenport, a fellow at the MIT Institute on the Digital Economy. Professional basketball and soccer teams have long used analytics to identify successful collaboration patterns between teammates and try to replicate them. Businesses can follow.

According to Davenport and his co-authors, companies can use collaboration analytics in a variety of ways, including understanding how networks cross hierarchies and team structures, and linking employees who are engaged in similar work but distributed across different functions, units, or geographical areas. Collaboration analytics even help leaders manage talent by identifying collaboration patterns that predict retention and studying the networks of high performers.

How cybercrime is changing, and how companies should respond

Cybercrime has evolved into a business ecosystem, where criminals turn to the dark web for an end-to-end supply chain for launching and supporting cyberattacks.

A team of researchers from the Cybersecurity at MIT Sloan consortium identified 24 key primary and supporting services for sale that allow criminals to buy and assemble the products and services needed to mount attacks at scale.

These cyberattacks-as-a-service marketplaces are a game-changing development. Researchers offered some new ways to combat attacks:

  • Expand the focus of cyber-threat intelligence. New services reveal the kinds of attacks brewing and allow businesses to identify and possibly block them.
  • Create a cyber-defense service value chain. Defense can’t be relegated to law enforcement alone: It requires an ecosystem that includes businesses, government, banks, and others, the researchers said.
  • Pursue a good offense as the best defense. Most companies focus on defending themselves after an attack. The value chain model supports a more proactive strategy to anticipate and prevent hacks.
  • Approach defense as a business problem first, not a technology problem. Organizations can use managerial expertise in processes, operations, and strategies to protect against cybercrime, the researchers suggested.

How to find your leadership narrative

What leadership traits are important in the new digital economy, where leaders often manage highly distributed networks in a rapidly changing landscape? A recent study of executives from 120 countries found authenticity, transparency, trust, inspiration, the ability to connect and invest in others, analytical capability, curiosity, and courage got high marks.

But above all leadership requires a clear purpose, vision, and strategy, according to MIT Sloan senior lecturer Douglas Ready. Constructing a leadership narrative helps bring teams together behind a purpose. Ready cited Susan Sobbott, former president of American Express Global Commercial Services, who said, “You have to be able to see a story emerging and to articulate that story in a way that has meaning and inspiration for a wide range of people.”

To model these traits, executives need to find their own leadership narrative based on strongly held convictions, Ready said. Leaders should set aside time each day to reflect on what leadership means to them, write down the answers, and compose a narrative, he said. By sharing these stories, leaders model ideal behavior with their teams and emphasize their core principles.

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Artificial intelligence can break down silos. Tools powered by artificial intelligence have been shown to improve how employees at a company communicate, collaborate, and coordinate, breaking down traditional silos and leading to greater efficiency.

The scoop on self-driving companies. Fully automated cars are moving closer to reality. Self-driving companies, in which routine, data-intensive decisions would be made by machines in partnership with humans, might not be far behind.  

A new look at KPIs. Key performance indicators are no longer used just to monitor past performance. Increasingly they’re used as an organizing principle to drive investment in data and decision-making and reorganize people, processes, and technology.

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