Putting the Science in Management Science?

Andrew McAfee, research scientist at the Center for Digital Business in the MIT Sloan School of Management, says new IT capabilities will bring science to management decision-making.

Andrew McAfee, research scientist at MIT Sloan School of Management

It doesn’t matter whether your business is science-oriented, tech-oriented, media-oriented, people-oriented, or far-off-the-grid-oriented. If you’re not now using data and scientific analysis to back up intuition when making a decision, you will be.

That’s the message of Andrew McAfee, research scientist at the Center for Digital Business in the MIT Sloan School of Management. “It's not that human intuition is bad,” he says. It’s not that intuition has been made irrelevant in a scientific world. But “if all you're doing is relying on your intuition, in what a scientist would call close to a data vacuum, you are really leaving a huge opportunity on the table.”

As his bio notes on his blog, McAfee studies the ways that information technology “changes the way companies perform, organize themselves, and compete” and looks at “how computerization affects competition itself – the struggle among rivals for dominance and survival within an industry.”

In a conversation with MIT Sloan Management Review editor-in-chief Michael S. Hopkins, McAfee talks about how companies can adopt a more scientific mindset to decision-making, the lessons of Gary Kasparov’s losing battle against computer chess programs, and how technology’s incomprehensible rate of change is cause for optimism.

The Leading Question

How can companies bring a scientific discipline to their decision making?

  • Companies need to consider how they blend intuition and data when making decisions.
  • It’s a hard but valuable uphill battle to make a business more data reliant, to train staff to become more quantitatively oriented, and to understand what makes a scientifically-significant experiment and control group.
  • The leader of the future will be able to balance to opposing viewpoints: able to impose the rigors of technology onto some situations, and able to get out of the way and allow creativity to emerge among staff.
  • The rate of change will increase, and competitive companies will be able to propagate good ideas throughout their organizations more quickly than others.

You’ve said that technologically, we’re in a fast, weird place. Do you think we know what’s ahead for us?

We have a clue where we are, and we have a clue where we're headed, but we don't have more than a clue.

A couple things are pretty clear, though.