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The top 10 MIT Sloan news stories of 2019

2019, illustrated

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MIT Sloan faculty insights: 6 books from 2019

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'The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty'

By Daron Acemoglu, professor of economics, and James A. Robinson

The concept of liberty likely brings to mind declarations and New England battlefields, but in Acemoglu’s book, he proposes that political freedom comes from a difference source: the space between anarchy and authoritarianism.

“What makes this a corridor, not a door, is that achieving liberty is a process; you have to travel a long way in the corridor before violence is brought under control, laws are written and enforced, and the state starts providing services to its citizens,” the authors write. “What makes this corridor narrow is that this is no easy feat.”

'The Business of Platforms: Strategy in the Age of Digital Competition, Innovation, and Power'

By Michael Cusumano, MIT Sloan professor, and Annabelle Gawer and David B. Yoffie

How do you build a platform business? Is your market right for one? Do you really want your company to be the “Uber” of your industry, given the fact the company loses billions of dollars a year?

Cusumano answers these questions and more in his platform strategy book.

“We really do live in a platform world, so it’s worth trying to understand this at a deeper level, whether or not you’re an entrepreneur or a manager or even a user,” Cusumano said in a webinar that highlighted lessons from the book. 

Further reading: Digital platforms: High valuations, but high risk of failure

'Jump-Starting America: How Breakthrough Science Can Revive Economic Growth and the American Dream'

By Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson, MIT economists

Between World War II and the mid-1960s, America’s investment in research and development saw significant returns for the country. Gross domestic product grew nearly 4% each year through the early 1970s, the median family income doubled, and the U.S. put a man on the moon.

But research and development investment has slowed in the last few decades, and America is feeling the effects. Gruber and Johnson propose a solution: $100 billion in federal funding annually for research.

“So many good things can come out of technology development. We need to create very obvious win-wins,” Johnson said in an interview. “Other countries are investing in public R&D. It’s not a zero-sum game, but there’s an advantage to being the first mover.”

Further reading: To jump-start America, invest (a lot) in science

'More from Less: The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources ― and What Happens Next'

By Andrew McAfee, MIT Sloan research scientist

If you’ve developed a crushing sense of dread spurred by seemingly endless global resource consumption, Andrew McAfee is here to calm your worries. In this book, McAfee explores and defends the concept he calls dematerialization — that through a combination of capitalism, technical progress, and other forces, humanity is doing more while using less.

“I call tech progress, capitalism, public awareness, and responsive government the ‘four horsemen of the optimist,’” McAfee writes. “When all four are in place, countries can improve both the human condition and the state of nature. When the four horsemen don’t all ride together, people and the environment suffer.”

Further reading: Tech, capitalism, and a hopeful remedy for the planet

'Designed for Digital: How to Architect Your Business for Sustained Success'

By Jeanne W. Ross and Martin Mocker, research scientists at the MIT Center for Information Systems Research, and Cynthia Beath

Ross, Mocker, and Beath spent four years studying roughly 200 companies to come to the conclusion that “Big, old companies are simply not designed for digital.”

Fortunately for those big, old companies, the researchers also used that time to write a manual to help those same companies survive and thrive in the digital era.

“We argue that business leaders cannot just hope that all the activities in their companies will coalesce in ways that will enable them to figure out how to solve customer problems and rapidly deliver new, digitally inspired value propositions,” the co-authors write. “They must design their companies for digital success.”

Further reading: 5 building blocks of digital transformation

'Engineering Rules: Global Standard Setting since 1800'

By JoAnne Yates, MIT Sloan professor, and Craig N. Murphy

Sometimes it’s worth reading the fine print — or you can read Yates’ book on the 140-year history of setting global standards.

Standardization has helped economic growth, and Yates breaks down its history into three waves: For the common good, transcending politics, faster but not necessarily better.

This system of voluntary standards is what makes our economy work, yet no one pays attention to it, Yates said. And that has to change now that we’re in the internet age where decisions are made much faster by fewer stakeholders.

“Balance among producers and users was important in terms of achieving compromise and adoption,” she said. “Is it still possible to do this in a world of rapidly changing technologies?”

Further reading: The unsung heroes of global technology? Standard-setters

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