The survival of any organization depends on its ability to outperform competitors and marketplaces in attracting and rewarding talent, ideas and capital. As communication and transaction costs have drastically declined because of the internet, new platforms have emerged, delivering goods and services at a speed and efficiency previously unimaginable. These new digital players took advantage of the changes in the underlying technology to challenge established business models and rethink pre-existing value chains. The ones that succeeded did so because they achieved a level of efficiency that their brick and mortar counterparts had trouble replicating. Through online reputation and feedback systems, digital players were able to create global marketplaces where individuals, products and services could be matched more effectively than ever before. By providing curation and ensuring the safety of transactions, these new types of intermediaries were able to reap the returns of this first wave of digitization.
A similar transformation is about to happen as blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies mature and mainstream applications emerge. Under this new wave of technological change, intermediaries will still be able to add value to transactions, but thenature of intermediation will fundamentally change. Whereas some established players will be able to use this opportunity to further scale their operations, others will be challenged by new entrants proposing entirely new approaches to value creation and value capture.
The first thing an organization can do to nurture innovation is to tap into its own human capital. At a high level, all organizations care about ideas, and more often than not, in corporate settings, people already have ideas. Staff have expertise, know the customers, and throughout the organization they can interface with interesting sources of data and information. It’s just that their day-to-day requirements do not allow them to execute. Slack time can be an important lever for incubating creativity and a meaningful way for executing ideas employees have had in mind for some time.
But if you ask employees to be entrepreneurial, it’s not same – they may end up directing their own unit, but not building and scaling a multi-billion dollar start-up. It’s hard when you have the safety and surroundings of a large organization to act like entrepreneurs who have to attract capital from outside. The challenge is once you identify talent and the ideas inside to incentivize to execute an experiment as though it were a start-up. Perhaps the biggest organizational change is to think like a small start-up.
From an organizational perspective, firms can learn a great deal from university accelerators. At MIT, we have Global Founders’ Skill Accelerator, where we get students with good ideas to scale businesses. The interesting thing is that students who have no experience of entrepreneurship get feedback and advice from a set of seasoned entrepreneurs. Similarly, an enterprise may have skills and expertise on the tech side, but no track record of taking an idea and scaling it to a multi-billion project. The challenge is how to recruit entrepreneurs to train employees with the good ideas to take them to the next level.
MIT Sloan Lecturer in Entrepreneurship Trish Cotter
I have recently been catching up with colleagues from companies past, and when I let them know what I am doing now, I often get the reaction, “Wow! That’s such a cool job.” And it is … I’m fortunate to be the director of delta v, MIT’s student venture accelerator. Each year, we guide a new group of startups through “entrepreneurship boot camp” and help them to launch their startup ventures into the real world. This past summer, I worked with 21 startup teams as they were striving to either gain traction or make the tough decision to regroup. It was an amazing group of students with ideas that address real world problems.
But, I also thought I had a cool job at age 12 when I cleaned up after dogs at a kennel. I had a sense of purpose, got to fulfill a passion of mine by working with animals, and met some great people as well.
The organization I worked at most recently, prior to MIT, was IBM – a company that is trying to bring data analytics insights to companies, so they can address real world problems. The complexity of what both our MIT startups and IBM are doing, albeit in different ways, struck me. Are they so different? I have deep respect for IBM’s CEO, Ginni Rometty, who is moving a company the size of a small nation. However, the leaders of the MIT three-person startups are also scaling difficult challenges and placing bets with tremendous odds of failure.
Joining a family business isn’t for everyone. It’s a risky decision that needs a lot of careful consideration. You might build a successful dynasty that grows into a Fortune 500 company, with generations of family continuing to lead the business. Or, like the vast majority of family businesses in the U.S., your business might not make it to the second or third generation. Even worse, your family dynamics could break down, leaving a legacy of dysfunction that long outlasts the business.
So how do you decide whether to join a family business? The next generation should consider six key issues before diving in:
1. There can only be one CEO Think about where you currently stand in the family and where you can potentially go in the business. If you’re in the second or third generation, there may be siblings and cousins all hoping to take over as CEO. Stop and think about whether your goal is senior leadership. If it is, ask yourself if this is realistic. Who is competing for those positions? Is your cousin the “golden child” of the family? Are you the most qualified? Are there family politics involved?
Gender bias is sneaky. It’s often subtle, yet pervasive – and the effects are far reaching.
We’ve heard a lot this summer about outright sexual harassment and discrimination against women in the tech industry. This is certainly disgraceful and I applaud the actions taken to remove the offenders from their positions. Yet, beyond these blatant examples, there is an implicit gender bias that has a cumulative effect in everyday decisions that stacks the deck against women and minorities.
This blog post will look at how we can help budding entrepreneurs to think differently – and how Educational Accelerator programs, like MIT’s delta v, are making changes to identify and root out these implicit biases.
Gender Bias in the Tech Industry
First, let’s look at some examples of gender bias in established tech industry companies. Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, wrote an exclusive feature for Vanity Fair on “How to Break up the Silicon Valley Boys’ Club.” She says she was “frustrated that an industry so quick to embrace change and the future can’t break free of its regrettable past.”
Wojcicki brings up sometimes subtle forms of bias that even well-intentioned male colleagues or managers may overlook. These include:
being frequently interrupted or talked over;
having decision-makers primarily addressing your male colleagues, even if they’re junior to you;
working harder to receive the same recognition as your male peers;
having your ideas ignored unless they’re rephrased by your male colleagues;
worrying so much about being either “too nice” or “sharp elbowed” that it hurts your ability to be effective;
frequently being asked how you manage your work-life balance; and
not having peers who have been through similar situations to support you during tough times.
Wojcicki states that by employing more women at all levels of a company, it creates a virtuous cycle that has proven to address both explicit and implicit gender discrimination.
So, how can we work with startups to take these biases out of the picture from the very start of a company’s formation?