How to Cultivate Leadership That Is Honed to Solve Problems – Deborah Ancona and Hal Gregersen

MIT Sloan Prof. Deborah Ancona

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

From strategy+business

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, the terrorists responsible for that act took the life of a police officer, Sean Collier, who worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Those who knew and loved him at MIT resolved to commemorate his memory. J. Meejin Yoon, head of MIT’s department of architecture, designed a memorial to honor Collier’s love of the outdoors and spirit of service, while reflecting the university community he served. The memorial is composed of massive interlocking granite blocks. Making them stand up required a feat of engineering that pushed the technical limits of the material. A multidisciplinary group assembled to figure out how to complete the project. The group included faculty, students, and staff with expertise in architecture, construction, engineering, and masonry, as well as consulting experts in structural and civil engineering, landscape architecture, and lighting design. No one person directed the project from start to finish; instead, teams stepped up and stepped out, forming for just as long as their expertise was needed. The Collier Memorial was unveiled on April 29, 2015, just a few days after the second anniversary of the officer’s death. It stands today on MIT’s campus as a tribute to a life given in service to a community that rises to meet challenges.

When a collaborative project like the Collier Memorial comes to fruition, it might seem to happen without leaders. But in reality, the many leaders involved were following a model of leadership that is hard to spot until you know how to look for it. We call this approach challenge-driven leadership. These leaders are propelled by the intrinsic desire to solve problems and meet challenges creatively. They are not motivated by the trappings of authority, status, or showmanship. They don’t particularly want to lead, and they certainly don’t want to be led. But they excel at choreographing and directing the work of others, because their expert knowledge enables them to spot opportunities to innovate in a way that cannot be done by working alone.

Challenge-driven leadership is not right for every situation. But where innovation and entrepreneurship are required — and in particular where developing a solution requires drawing together diverse talents and perspectives to discover novel approaches — it tends to work well. No wonder we find it in many places where people are dealing with “wicked problems,” a term coined in 1967 by design theorist Horst Rittel that refers to broad challenges with no obvious solutions. This is the kind of leadership that many companies, government agencies, and nonprofits would do well to recognize and cultivate.

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Wow! That’s Such a Cool Job! – Trish Cotter

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.

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The surprising way to come up with your next business idea — Hal Gregersen

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

From Fortune

Scott Cook, founder and CEO of Intuit INTU -0.43% , didn’t come up with his concept for the popular Quicken money management software sitting behind the desk or spit-balling ideas in a brainstorming session. He first conceived of it while watching his wife grow increasingly frustrated preparing the family’s finances. From a single observation, combined with Cook’s understanding of computers, one of the world’s most successful financial software companies was born.

Consider all of the times you’ve asked yourself: “Why didn’t I think of that?” Indeed, the world’s next pioneering innovation could be sitting in plain view for anyone to discover. But what is it that inspires some people to take the next step on something overlooked by others?

Our research of high-impact leaders shows about one-third of them fall into the camp of observers –carefully observing the world around them with all of their senses, and identifying common threads across often unconnected data to provoke unique business ideas. Observation has transformative power. Yet, in today’s 24/7 culture, many of us operate on autopilot, starving our brain’s creative capacity. Here are three ways to tune this critical discovery skill and increase the odds that your next observation adds up to great innovation.

Schedule It

The most obvious way to become a great observer is to actively observe. Take a page from Cook’s book and watch your spouse or child perform a task. Schedule observation excursions; pick a company to follow, or set aside 10 minutes to observe something intensely. Following observation periods, think about how that might lead to a new strategy, product service or production process.

Read the full post at Fortune.

Hal Gregersen is Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Startup Resolution 2017: Embrace Believers, Bounce Skeptics & Keep Moving – Bill Aulet

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Bill Aulet

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Bill Aulet

From Xconomy

The holiday period is a great time for reflection and then behavior modification – often referred to as resolutions. While a bit artificial to the logical engineer, this opportunity can be helpful. This year, my favorite insight came from a former student and employee, Elliot Cohen, co-founder of PillPack.

While thinking about the major aspirational goals for the upcoming year that motivate me to get out of bed every morning with high energy and purpose – such as getting my second book out in March, significantly raising the endowment of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, developing the concept of “Inclusive Entrepreneurship” to battle the deep societal alienation we have seen in 2016, and, of course, just becoming a better entrepreneurship educator to my students – there is one underlying enabling resolution that can help me achieve all of them more efficiently and effectively.

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Why entrepreneurs in the developing world need new funding models – Fiona Murray

MIT Sloan Associate Dean for Innovation Fiona Murray

MIT Sloan Associate Dean for Innovation Fiona Murray

From City A.M.

Increasingly, it is innovation-driven entrepreneurs who are providing effective and scalable solutions rather than aid agencies or governments.

Traditionally, the focus of entrepreneurship in the developing world has been on creating small- and medium-sized enterprises serving local markets. However, that emphasis must shift from small firms to what MIT calls innovation-driven enterprises: start-ups that can scale for significant impact.

Building an innovation-driven enterprise is full of challenges for any entrepreneurial team. They must find an appropriate beachhead market, prototype and pilot, and recruit and retain top talent. They also require specialised entrepreneurial finance at each stage.

For development entrepreneurs, access to appropriate types of capital is a significant constraint.

Their challenges are not just about the limited availability of institutionalised venture capital, but to the full range of “risk capital” options, from initial financing by friends and family and angel investors to VCs, private equity and commercial banking. The creation of a pipeline of financial instruments is a critical bottleneck.

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