Today’s ever-changing leadership questions inspired the MIT Sloan Leadership Club to reevaluate its mission.
“We need to think about the impact of the digital economy on people,” said Lea Peersman Pujol, MBA ’17, one of the club’s three co-presidents. “We are now leveraging different kinds of technologies — what does it mean for the future?”
The club is exploring this and other ideas with the debut of The Future of People Conference, planned for Dec. 3 at the MIT Media Lab. The conference is the launch of the Future of People initiative, and the larger goal is to democratize future thinking so more people, organizations, and communities feel they can have a voice and a role in it, Peersman Pujol said.
Supported by an array of sponsors, including the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, the conference will begin at 7 a.m. with a “wake up and dance” party, orchestrated by Berklee College of Music students. Attendees will then explore how science and technology are impacting the future of the human body, mind, and society as a whole. Scientists, designers, futurists, and other community members will all share their views in various sessions.
“This conference will be an opportunity to ask the bigger questions about science and technology’s effect on humanity, to bridge the gap between generations, to identify and tap unconventional talent, and to empower a new kind of leader capable of enabling inclusive innovation,” Peersman Pujol said.
Speakers include author David Brin, scientist Aubrey de Grey, and investor and Discovery Institute co-founder George Gilder.
The conference’s FastForward Challenge asks participants to research and prototype a futuristic scenario in response to the most pressing issue they envision in the future. Provocative examples include, “Are computers going to outsmart us?” or “Are women still going to have babies in the future?”Peersman Pujol said the storytelling involved in the FastForward Challenge is an important element in motivating people. “It’s like when you were a kid and your mom is telling you a story. If it’s a good one, the lesson behind the story will stick — it will shape your mind,” she said.
Leadership lessons for everyone Although Peersman Pujol is leading the conference, the MIT Sloan Leadership Club is a group effort with her two co-presidents, Lissy Alden and Rebecca Minsky, both MBA ’17. The co-presidents share a focus on inspiring leadership learning outside the classroom.
Founded in 2013, the club was revitalized when the three new co-presidents came on board last year. According to Alden, although the club’s mission targeted human resources and leadership programs on campus, it lacked focus. “We felt [the club] needed a little bit of a face-lift because more and more workplace conversations about human capital issues (such as building productive and collaborative workplaces) don’t just sit with human resources. They sit with every leader in an organization,” Alden said.
Minsky said that while many students come to MIT Sloan for an education in entrepreneurship and analytics, leadership is an essential skill for everyone. “Taking the time to reflect and develop these skills, while we have the opportunity to do so at Sloan, can be really meaningful and important for future success — even if people don’t want to actually pursue careers in this specific space,” Minsky said.
“Leadership is now considered a big word, but it’s actually really hard to manage talent through this digital transition, so we are proposing a modern definition of leadership through smart activities,” Peersman Pujol said. The club provides resources that enable students to make time to learn about themselves from peers and other experts.
The club’s Inspirational Leadership in Action speaker series brings in well-known leaders — like Jan Mühlfeit, former chairman of Microsoft Europe — to discuss their experiences. Students can expand their creative thinking skills in the club’s Strategic Creativity workshop, and share personal stories in the Leadership Student Speaker series. The group also organizes salons in which students meet for a meal for small group discussions focused on individual, organizational, and societal levels of leadership.