Columns

Showing 1-20 of 61

Should Businesses Fight for Democracy?

Traditionally, businesses act politically only when they feel they are under attack, and they act by writing op-ed pieces, lobbying, and cultivating relationships with policy makers. But to the generation preparing to move into business leadership, this seems inadequate at best and corrupt at worst. Business is embedded in society, and it’s time for business leaders to care as much about democratic freedom as they do their own organizations.

The Regulation of AI — Should Organizations Be Worried?

As companies pour resources into designing the next generation of tools and products powered by AI, many are failing to simultaneously examine the question of who is ethically and legally responsible for the societal backlash if these systems go awry. Over 80% of Americans now believe that robots and/or AI should be carefully managed. Because there are no clear-cut answers or solutions, the talk of regulations — and, more lightly, standards — is getting louder.

Digital Success Requires Breaking Rules

Developing new rules for the digital age is proving uncomfortable for people at every organizational level. Digitization (the transformation for operational excellence) requires top-down leadership principles with centralized accountabilities, while success with digital business (the transformation toward rapid innovation) requires local empowerment with distributed accountabilities. These are basically opposite approaches to accountability, but they’re both necessary.

New Frontiers in Re-skilling and Upskilling

Everyone at some point will have to spend time either reskilling (learning new skills for a new position) or upskilling (learning current tasks more deeply). Embracing this idea requires an individual sense of agency, but corporations also have to step up. There are promising pilots underway: Some companies are figuring out how to engage on this issue, to the advantage of both individuals and the businesses themselves.

How Previous Generations Influence Our Decisions

Folktales and stories from our ancestors were designed to keep new listeners from repeating the mistakes of the past. But in an era when employees move between companies at a faster pace than decades ago, leaving little time to transmit organizational mythology, are companies at risk of losing touch with the lessons of the past? In a time of great technological change, which demands reflection and clear corporate culture, this is a vital question.

advertisement

What Does an AI Ethicist Do?

Microsoft has been active in advocating for an ethical perspective on artificial intelligence, and in 2018 it appointed its first general manager for AI policy and ethics. Tim O’Brien, who had been with the company for 15 years, says his activities as “AI ethics advocate” include extending the community of people who are focused on the ethics topic, meeting with Microsoft customers, and leading a research effort to develop a global perspective on tech ethics.

Imaginary Time Travel as a Leadership Tool

Leaders can help employees manage immediate problems by harnessing the human capacity to think beyond the moment and recognize that “this too shall pass.” Psychological tools such as temporal distancing help ease the sting of current troubles. And the tool of “failure premortems” can help people identify dangerous risks and delusions in new projects by imagining they’re in the future looking back at why a project failed.

Let Your Mind Wander

Leisure time does two important jobs for us. Recharging is the obvious one. But it can also heighten our powers of creativity, given the cognitive benefits associated with letting our minds wander — and that gives us an edge over AI in the battle for jobs. Kellogg professor Adam Waytz makes this research-based argument in “Leisure Is Our Killer App,” the lead article in MIT SMR’s package on talent in a digital age. Check it out, along with the other pieces, in the fall issue of the magazine.

The False Choice Between Business and Ethics

Should there be an imperative — moral or otherwise — to consider what’s fair when making a business transaction? Many say that it’s perfectly ethical to profit from an asymmetry of information, where, for instance, one party is paying much more for an item or service than others would say it’s worth. But other people are working to integrate the business case with the ethics case. They reject a narrow, transactional view of business in favor of a more relationship-oriented approach.

advertisement

The First Law of Digital Innovation

Most of us know Moore’s law, that the power of semiconductor chips grows exponentially, not linearly, over time. Moore’s law, though, is only part of the technology equation. There’s another critical law that needs more attention. It’s this: While technology changes quickly, organizations change much more slowly. That means digital transformation is as much a leadership challenge as a technical one.

Why Hypotheses Beat Goals

Companies that aggressively pursue learning must accept the possibility of failure. But simply setting goals and being nonchalant if they fail is inadequate. Instead, companies should focus organizational energy on hypothesis generation and testing. Hypotheses force individuals to articulate in advance why they believe a given course of action will succeed. A failure then exposes an incorrect hypothesis — which can more reliably convert into organizational learning.

A Shared Passion for Place Can Make a Business More Resilient

Leaders are increasingly strangers in the places where their organizations reside. With greater mobility and a disconnect from a physical office space, many leaders have identities that are not tied to one location. Yet leaders who lack a clear “passion for place” and well-established stakeholder connections might be putting their companies at a disadvantage during times of hardship.

Talking About Sustainability Can Drive Sales: Lessons From a Casino Giant

Do consumers care enough about companies’ environmental and social practices to give them more business? Caesars Entertainment tested the question at one of its hotels, where one group of customers was told about its green efforts and the other group was told nothing. The casino company got encouraging results: The group who got the message spent 1.5% more. That group also recommended the hotel more enthusiastically.

advertisement

Ethics as Conversation: A Process for Progress

Most organizations can agree on what questions to consider before making a decision about marketing, finance, or operations. But many stumble when the issue has ethical consequences. Leaders need to define what set of questions they want to consider when confronted with an issue that has ethical implications. Seven basic questions can get them started.

How Customer Obsession Creates Accountability for Change

Organizational change is difficult. Some 70% of change efforts fail, and awareness hasn’t improved the odds of success. But there are exceptional companies, making strides with everything from digital transformation to employee engagement to diversity and inclusion. And they have one thing in common: They are customer-obsessed. When customers are truly at the center of your business, change proceeds from one organizing principle: What’s best for them?

Act Like a Startup

As leaders of established businesses focus on becoming digital, they often embrace the mantra, act like a startup. A startup is an experiment, and its early goal is to learn, as quickly and inexpensively as possible, if an idea has merit. That same ability to figure out how a new value proposition might create revenues and profits is key to digital success. Established companies that want to test ideas for such propositions should be nurturing four traits of startups.

It’s Time to Make Paternity Leave Work

Longer life spans are the new normal, and many people alive today will live to be 100 years old. How will we use that time? One option: Rather than working full time for decades and then spending our later years with our grandchildren, we could redistribute some of that projected time from our 60s and 70s into our earlier decades and spend more of it with our children. For fathers in particular, this would be a radical life decision.

How to Get Others to Adopt Your Recommendation

When a business is growing fast, decisions can get lost in the fray — especially if it’s unclear that a decision even needs to be made. People in the workplace bring recommendations to four audiences: a manager or top executive (those who approve a recommendation), and peers or a broader set of stakeholders (those who execute a recommendation). To sell an idea and get others to take action, you have to understand what your particular audience needs to hear.

Showing 1-20 of 61