If retailers want to compete with Amazon, they should use their tax savings to raise wages – Zeynep Ton

MIT Sloan Adjunct Associate Professor Zeynep Ton

MIT Sloan Adjunct Associate Professor Zeynep Ton

From Harvard Business Review 

Walmart announced today that it is raising its starting wages in the United States from $9 per hour to $11, giving employees one-time cash bonuses of as much as $1,000, and expanding maternity and parental leave benefits as a result of the recently enacted tax reform. It is part of Walmart’s broader effort to create a better experience for its employees and customers. The new tax law creates a major business opportunity for other retailers as well — if their leaders are wise enough to take advantage of it.

The U.S. corporate tax rate is dropping from 35% to 21%. Retailers, many of whom have been paying the full tax rate, are going to benefit substantially. Take a retailer that makes 15% pretax income. Assuming its effective tax rate goes from 35% to 21%, it could save the equivalent of 2.3% of sales. Specialty retailers with higher pretax income will save even more.

Retail executives have a choice in how they use these savings. I believe the smartest choice — one that will help them compete against online retailers like Amazon — is to create a better experience for customers and to achieve operational excellence in stores. For most retailers, doing both requires more investment in store employees — starting with higher wages and more-predictable work schedules. My research shows that combining higher pay for retail employees with a set of smart operational choices that leverage that investment results in more-satisfied customers, employees, and investors. Read More »

Young doctors struggle to learn robotic surgery, so they are practicing in the shadows – Matt Beane

Matt Beane
Research Affiliate in
Management Science

From The Conversation

Artificial intelligence and robotics spell massive changes to the world of work. These technologies can automate new tasks, and we are making more of them, faster, better and cheaper than ever before.

Surgery was early to the robotics party: Over a third of U.S. hospitals have at least one surgical robot. Such robots have been in widespread use by a growing variety of surgical disciplines, including urology and gynecology, for over a decade. That means the technology has been around for least two generations of surgeons and surgical staff.

I studied robotic surgery for over two years to understand how surgeons are adapting. I observed hundreds of robotic and “traditional” procedures at five hospitals and interviewed surgeons and surgical trainees at another 13 hospitals around the country. I found that robotic surgery disrupted approved approaches surgical training. Only a minority of residents found effective alternatives.

Like the surgeons I studied, we’re all going to have to adapt to AI and robotics. Old hands and new recruits will have to learn new ways to do their jobs, whether in construction, lawyering, retail, finance, warfare or childcare – no one is immune. How will we do this? And what will happen when we try?

Read More »

The philanthropy data gap: measuring what matters – Tavneet Suri

MIT Sloan Associate Prof. Tavneet Suri

MIT Sloan Associate Prof. Tavneet Suri

From Financial Times

As philanthropy becomes a common source of finance for poverty-fighting programmes, it is natural for donors to want data about their impact on the people they want to help.

Yet measuring the benefits of philanthropy is surprisingly hard. How can we define and measure “income” in a village of subsistence farmers? Can we ask a street kid enrolled in a violence-prevention programme about his illegal activities? How do we know if a change in nutritional outcomes was the result of a social programme and not some other variable, like a change in food prices? How can we measure non-quantitative or non-monetary outcomes, like women’s empowerment or entrepreneurial motivation?

For many years, aid impact studies were based on anecdotal evidence or fragments of data. Over the past decade, searching for a more rigorous approach, development researchers have applied the “gold standard” of medical research: randomised controlled trials. In an RCT, researchers allocate an intervention, such as a microfinance loan, to a randomly selected test group of people and compare their outcomes with a control group. Read More »

The GOP plan to turn students into Trump voters – Michael Whinston

MIT Sloan Fellows Professor of Management  Michael Whinston

From Boston Review

Much has been written about who the likely “winners” and “losers” are if the Republican-controlled Congress is able to pass a version of its tax bill. The middle class: losers; the wealthy, who own nearly all of the stock in U.S. corporations that isn’t owned by foreigners: winners. Those whose income comes from wage earnings: losers; those whose income comes from “passive” ownership of businesses: winners.

It has even been suggested that several geographic distinctions in the legislation may be “payback” for how California, New York, and other coastal blue states voted in the 2016 election. Taxpayers in high local and property tax states such as California and New York, for example, are losers in the GOP plans while Texans and others in low-tax “Red” states are winners.

If that seems like an overly sensitive reading, consider this: under the GOP plans, the ability to deduct personal casualty losses from wildfires and earthquakes would be phased out. The deduction for damage from hurricanes and floods, however, would be kept. As California State Senator Mike McGuire, a Democrat whose district includes areas ravaged by wildfires, told the New York Times, “. . .it’s hard not to think that Congress has their sights set on the Golden State.”

But the aims of this legislation are more politically ambitious than mere retribution, and nowhere is this more evident than in the House bill’s assault on higher education. If enacted, three provisions promise to have a devastating effect on college students, graduate students, and higher-education institutions. First, the House bill eliminates the deductibility of interest payments on student loans—a deduction that more than 12 million people used in 2015, according to the New York Times. Next, it taxes the tuition grants given to graduate students, grants that enable them to forego entering the workforce and instead pursue a Masters degree or PhD. As a result, a typical graduate student on a $20,000 stipend and a tuition waiver could end up owing nearly $10,000 in additional tax. And finally, it taxes the endowment investment income of roughly seventy universities and liberal arts colleges, reducing the funds available for undergraduate and graduate scholarships.

While these changes will help offset the massive tax reductions for the rich, they are a pretty small drop in the bucket towards that goal. And it is strange that pro-growth and pro-investment Republicans would sign off on something that so harms those who want to invest in human capital. So why then did the House pass this bill? The answer can be found by looking at the 2016 election results. Read More »

IOT’S people problem – Peter Hirst

MIT Sloan Associate Dean of Executive Education Peter Hirst

MIT Sloan Associate Dean of Executive Education Peter Hirst

From Insight

This spring, I participated in three major IoT-focused events and came away with mixed feelings about the state of the industry. The first was the Internet of Things World in Santa Clara, California. The conference tends to focus on more technological aspects of IoT and draws thousands of attendees. A few days later, I flew to London to take part in the Internet of Things World Forum (IoTWF), an invitation-only event that caters to the C-suite audience. The third was a board meeting and strategy workshop for the Internet of Things Talent Consortium, a spinoff from the IoTWF, of which MIT Sloan Executive Education is a founding member. The three events were highly educational, thought provoking and inspirational in their own right, but all shared a common theme—we, the people, are the main barrier to faster and wider IoT adoption. Moreover, it’s the very nature of humanity, our habits and idiosyncrasies that seem to be stalling the robots’ march toward making our lives wonderfully better—or toward total world domination, depending on how you look at it. More seriously, here are some themes that emerged in my mind once the conference excitement wore off.

Stop Resisting Change
People are creatures of habit. We are comfortable with what we know. It’s not laziness—it’s an evolutionary trick we’ve developed to survive as a species. New is scary and we tend to resist it, willfully or subconsciously, but this resistance can hinder progress. For example, as we heard from the main stage at IoT World Forum in London, GE— who is one of the earliest and relatively successful entrants into IoT—sees organizational inertia as one of the biggest problems in digital transformation. Culture clashes between different kinds of businesses within an organization are dragging down the entire enterprise. Traditional engineers and digital engineers are not speaking the same language. Business leaders are not yet adept in the ways of leading required to drive a digitally-enabled transformation. At IoT World, I was on a panel discussing the future leadership needs around IoT. The panel featured professionals in different industries from education to talent recruitment to defense. And what everybody was saying is that when you look at executives, the need to have agility and resilience is just as great as the need for people who can understand both the technology and the business. In the IoT era, leaders need to have awareness of all sorts of business-environment issues, as well as other important concerns, such as privacy and cyber security, regulation and public policy. Whether it’s strictly IoT or not, you could see that in examples like Uber or Airbnb, as they’ve run into public policy, regulatory and other kinds of situations. I think it’s fairly self-evident that it would be hard for those businesses to succeed without having leaders who are able to take on those kinds of aspects as well.

I’ve touched upon this subject previously, and hearing from companies like GE only reinforced my impression that there is an immediate need to not only train the workers who will work on the IoT implementation, but also to educate leaders on how to lead the transformation. In light of this, the IoT Talent Consortium is redoubling its efforts to help organizations understand and analyze that question. The group sees itself as a community where digital-transformation pioneers and people who believe that they need to or want to go through this kind of journey can share experiences and identify successful practices.

Read More »