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Our top 5 ‘Working Definitions’ of 2019

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In business and management, every day brings new words and phrases to define emerging ideas and concepts. Other words reappear, as tried and tested ideas come back into favor. Most hang around for a while before being jettisoned when they’re no longer useful or relevant.

At its best, this language gives meaning to the most exciting and interesting new ideas, those that will advance management practice and build a better, smarter world. Some of them even stick.

Early in 2019, MIT Sloan launched “Working Definitions,” a weekly Instagram series exploring these new phrases in context. And because Instagram measures likes, we know exactly which ones people liked best. Here they are. 

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The design thinking process has been applied to business problems that range from @airbnb’s operations to a model for selling solar panels in Africa. It’s not just for designers and artists. It’s an innovative way for anyone to get a thorough handle on a problem and solve it in the way that’s most relevant to the people it affects. At a high level, it’s understanding the problem; involving users to map out their needs; developing many ideas for solutions; prototyping and testing; and implementing, according to professor Steve Eppinger, whose research focuses on improving product design and development practices. Many people jump to the solution phase of solving a problem prematurely. But the design thinking process puts actual users at the center, allowing people to realize the true scope of the problems, and update their solutions accordingly. #WorkingDefinitions

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Since the 1970s, the U.S. has potentially missed out on millions of inventors, which researchers at the Equality of Opportunity project refer to as “lost Einsteins.” Kids born into the richest 1 percent of society are 10 times more likely to be inventors than those born into the bottom 50 percent — and “this is having a big effect on innovation,” MIT Sloan professor John Van Reenen said. To harness the power of these children, the researchers said, efforts must be made to expose them to established inventors and innovation at a young age. “You want to increase the pipeline of people on the supply side who are great inventors,” Van Reenen said. “You want to take the talent that is already in America and get those kids imagining themselves being an inventor or potential inventor. It is not a quick fix, but in the long run it is going to be a more effective policy.” Link in bio for more research on America’s lost Einsteins. #WorkingDefinitions

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An inclination to not think methodically about information and problems suggests someone is more likely to be taken in by fake news. A study co-authored by MIT Sloan associate professor David Rand found people who engage in more analytic thinking, as measured by the Cognitive Reflection Test, are better at discerning true from false when reading news headlines — regardless of political biases and motivations. Conventional wisdom holds that readers fall for fake news when it aligns with their political beliefs, no matter how outrageous the story; in fact, the study found that analytical readers were actually better at distinguishing fake and real news when the content fit with their political views. The upshot: “... susceptibility to fake news is driven more by lazy thinking than it is by partisan bias per se,” Rand and his co-author Gordon Pennycook found. Link in bio for more. #WorkingDefinitions

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There are competitive, financial, and moral cases for a high-road strategy. A company that encourages employee engagement and high productivity can offer its customers lower prices and a better experience, said Zeynep Ton, MIT Sloan associate adjunct professor of operations management. The company is also likely to be better at adapting to change than competitors because of its capable, motivated workforce. The moral case, Ton says, is straightforward: “I haven’t yet met business leaders who would rather offer bad jobs than good jobs.'" Companies that use a high-road strategy include Costco, Trader Joe’s, and New England grocery chain Market Basket. #WorkingDefinitions

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