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Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at MIT Sloan and co-founder of the Initiative on the Digital Economy, and Erik Brynjolfsson, MIT Sloan professor and co-founder of the Initiative on the Digital Economy, discuss the major changes coming to the way companies and managers work in MIT Sloan’s “Data Made to Matter” podcast..

 Why disruption is important to your work

McAfee — “Most companies that we come across, I believe, are too fond of minds and human decision ability. They’re too product oriented and they place too much emphasis on their core: their core capabilities, their core competencies, their core processes. They underweigh what machines can do. They undervalue having a platform orientation as opposed to a product orientation and they’re not sufficiently aware of the wisdom and the power of the crowds. Our point … is not that minds, products, and the core are obsolete. But we do need to rethink and rebalance minds and machines, products and platforms, and the core and the crowd.” 

Brynjolfsson — “It doesn’t always work to have a machine make all the decisions, but sometimes it does. It doesn't always work to have the crowd take over for you, but if you understand the underlying principles, I think you’ll have a playbook that you’re much more likely to be successful. I say playbook not really cookbook, because I don’t think that this gives you all of the answers, because the world will continue to evolve but if you understand these strategies and the underlying economics involved, I think you’re in a better chance to succeed.”

Data that matters

Brynjolfsson — “Bill Joy [co-founder of Sun Microsystems] made that famous remark that ‘most of the smart people in the world don't work for your company.’ That’s true for every company, including MIT. The great thing is, we now have a way of reaching out to all those other smart people across the planet who may have insights. For that matter, many of them aren't even in the same field as you might think. Organizations like Kaggle have specialized in bringing together data scientists and experts from a diverse set of disciplines who can come together sometimes for just a couple of weeks and solve problems that had baffled the experts at a company for years.”

McAfee — “The craziest example that I came across was a study done by Karim Lakhani and his colleagues. He did this study about sequencing the genome of human white blood cells. Sequencing it is really difficult, so instead of relying only on the National Institutes of Health or Harvard Medical School, they opened it up to a two-week contest on a coding platform called Topcoder and they got about 150 people to propose solutions. The best of them were easily 10 times better than anything that the core had come up with.”

What should you focus on in the future?

Brynjolfsson — “As the machines become more powerful, being able to define the question becomes the key human superpower.”

McAfee — “There’s another huge category of work where people are going to be essential and that is in the tasks that have a social aspect to them, tasks where you’re trying to negotiate, or motivate, or coordinate, or persuade people.”

 

What to read after you listen

Machine, Platform, Crowd Q&A: Understanding the Triple Revolution

Machine learning will redesign, not replace, work

How to approach the second machine age

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