Human Behavior

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Hacking Inequality at Home

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  • Read Time: 5 min 

Working couples are turning to technology to divide household labor more equitably. But the results have been mixed. Those who treat chore-management apps as the solution to imbalance often jump straight to implementation, making things worse. A better approach is to first have probing conversations about the underlying forces driving imbalance in the relationship. These discussions aren’t easy, but they form the basis of a deal, and then the couple can use technology to help make it happen.

AI Can Help Us Live More Deliberately

AI spares us from many mundane, time-consuming, nerve-wracking annoyances. The problem is, such annoyances play a key adaptive function by helping us learn to adjust our conduct in relation to the world around us. But AI designers can tackle that problem through system enhancements. By incorporating cognitive speed bumps, they can prompt users to engage in reflective thought rather than “outsourcing” cognitive, emotional, and ethical labor to software.

A Structured Approach to Strategic Decisions

Many decisions about strategy require that senior executives make evaluative judgments on the basis of extensive, complex information. Such work is prone to common errors, but a disciplined, sequential approach can mitigate those errors and improve the quality of both one-off and recurrent decisions in an array of business domains. The process described in this article is easy to learn, involves little additional work, and (within limits) leaves room for intuition.

Leadership Lessons From Your Inner Child

Examining childhood traits such as boldness, experimentation, and resilience may help leaders access these qualities in service of their leadership roles. Rather than trying to learn how to be more creative or innovative, learning how not to lose the innate creativity and curiosity within us is more effective.

Artificial Intelligence Brings Out the Worst and the Best in Us

As AI develops better decision-making skills, leaders may feel threatened and push back, resisting the imperative to leave their biggest and most critical decisions to mechanical minds. And that might be a mistake, says psychologist Daniel Kahneman, given AI’s potential to reduce the bias in human thought processes.

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The Truth About Behavioral Change

In this article drawn from his new book, How Behavior Spreads, UPenn professor Damon Centola explains how the thinking about social networks is changing. Recent research reveals that depending on long-established concepts such as “weak ties” and “long bridges” to drive the adoption of new innovations and organizational change can be a prescription for failure.

Gender Discrimination Still Exists — Now What?

In both practice and research, we are doing a better job at bringing attention to the problem of gender bias. But we haven’t established enough tangible suggestions for how to challenge it. New research has begun to investigate the efficacy of ‘scripts’ — a set of words or phrases, such as, “Can you repeat what you just said?” that would signal to a peer that he has crossed a line, whether knowingly or unknowingly.

The Impossibility of Focusing on Two Things at Once

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Neurological science has demonstrated that brains are not hardwired to focus simultaneously on day-to-day activities and long-term objectives. In the workplace, that presents a challenge: How can employees maximize individual performance while enhancing organizational success? Research into employee behavior underscores the need for organizations to help employees familiarize themselves with perspectives not readily available in their current roles.

Pass the Word: Peer Influence Has Big Impact on Online Market Dynamics

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A study of cryptocurrency markets provides some new insight into why people make the choices they do online. Crypto-currency traders used bots that executed over 100,000 small trades in 217 cryptocurrencies over the course of six months. Analysis reveals that traders are very susceptible to peer influences. The design of the online exchanges also appears to contribute to activity if functionality, graphical user interfaces, or application programming interfaces promote collective excitement.

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Rationalizing Yourself Out of a Promotion

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Some women who feel like they won’t “fit” a stereotypical job description will talk themselves out of wanting it. This process of negatively evaluating promotional opportunities is due to a process called “job crafting.” As a result, managers who wish to employ female executives at the highest levels of their organizations should be especially careful of the signals they might be communicating to potential applicants.

Could AI Be the Cure for Workplace Gender Inequality?

Artificial intelligence is beginning to replace many of the workplace roles that men dominate. The parts of those jobs that will have staying power are those that rely more heavily on emotional intelligence, abilities such as empathy, persuasion, and inspiration — skills in which women typically excel. In the AI economy, men won’t be as successful as women unless they embrace these differentiator skills.

Are AI Learning Scenarios Unpredictable Enough?

AI’s strength is processing input from many signals quickly to build an accurate short-term estimate of what will happen. But sooner or later, AI must confront the dark side of human behavior in real-world situations — where people don’t always respond in ways that make sense. The concern: When people know what AI will do, but AI can’t predict how people may behave, there’s an opportunity to “game the system” in ways that hurt businesses that use AI.

Putting an End to Leaders’ Self-Serving Behavior

Business leaders are often selfish. They honestly think they are entitled to more resources than anyone else, and that they have earned the right to take more. Their self-serving behavior is usually enabled by their organizations. But three strategies can help: Organizations can choose leaders who tilt away from self-serving frameworks; create systems that reinforce fairer evaluations; and recognize the added complexities that arise on the global stage.

Who Gets Caught in Online Echo Chambers?

Echo chambers — that is, exposure to information that closely mimics our own experiences and points of view — are burgeoning. In the online world, personalization algorithms lead to even more personalization over time. New research that looked at the way people navigate through videos of TED Talks highlights which types of people are most at risk for falling into extreme echo chambers. The research also suggests ways organizations can help content viewers navigate the noise.

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The Upside of Being a Woman Among ‘Bros’

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“Bro” culture in business and the institutional sexism it can breed are hot topics these days. But could there be situations where there is an advantage to being a woman in a workplace full of bros — men who form tight, in-group ties? New research on gender and leadership in the workplace looked at the willingness of managers to accept advice and feedback from subordinates. The findings: In certain circumstances, managers are actually more responsive to suggestions from the opposite gender.

The 10 Most Popular New MIT SMR Articles

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In the first half of 2017, MIT SMR website visitors showed high interest in articles about how artificial intelligence will affect the job market and organizations. In fact, three of the 10 most-read pieces of new MIT SMR editorial content during that period address some aspect of that question. But the other seven most popular new articles cover a wide range of topics — from dealing with negative emotions in the workplace to exploring the organizational implications of blockchain technology.

When People Don’t Trust Algorithms

Even when faced with evidence that an algorithm will deliver better results than human judgment, we consistently choose to follow our own minds. Why? MIT Sloan Management Review editor in chief Paul Michelman sat down with the University of Chicago’s Berkeley Dietvorst to find out.

The Missing Piece in Employee Development

In recent years, organizations have begun to prioritize processes for improving future performance over evaluating employees’ past efforts. Yearly development objectives and annual reviews are being replaced by real-time feedback delivered directly by line managers. Although this shift holds much promise, it risks bumping up against some hard realities — namely, the ability of line managers to help employees develop. In reality, many managers aren’t confident they can change employee behavior.

The Need for Culture Neutrality

Companies today work with an incredibly diverse array of people. To thrive, these organizations need culturally neutral, globally coherent leadership standards. These standards should promote needed outcomes without prescribing behaviors, since some behaviors are outside of the cultural norms in some countries. Inevitably, significant advantage will accrue to companies that ready their people for truly global leadership.

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