Making the Middle Matter – Trish Cotter

MIT Sloan Entrepreneurship Lecturer Trish Cotter

From Xconomy

Call it the problem of the middle—the middle states and the middle class—two groups that have struggled with problems that, while they are inexorably linked, are different all the same.

Historically, most of the venture capital in America has been active on the coasts, leaving a vast portion of the country without seed money for innovative new startups. At the same time, the Midwest has suffered from a loss of manufacturing jobs and, as a result, has in some ways failed to flourish in the same ways as other parts of the country. And, of course, there is no shortage of news articles outlining the many struggles facing the middle class, in general, in America.

“We live in a fractured society,” argues MIT economist Peter Temin in an MIT News article on America’s two-track economy. “The middle class is vanishing.”

According to Temin, America now features two sectors: an FTE sector, where people who work in finance, technology, and electronics tend to thrive, and a low-wage sector, where workers often struggle. The middle class, traditionally an area of national strength, is starting to disappear. Moreover, the FTE sector, overwhelmingly focused and fixated on both coasts, has for a long time neglected investment opportunities in the Midwest.

Venture capital—specifically venture capital aimed at the oft-ignored middle states—could be part of the solution. The central part of our country is often ignored as an ideas hub. Most accelerators, venture capitalists, and startup programs are focused on a few key cities on the east and west coasts. The Kauffman Foundation, known for its emphasis on education and entrepreneurship, recently published an article focusing on both the middle class and the middle states, asking: “Is the Middle the New Edge?”

It states: “The middle ground is too often dismissed as unremarkable, when it is truly necessary. The middle should be appreciated as an admirable place to be – where people work together to solve big problems and move our nation forward.” Read More »

Artificial intelligence and the future of work – Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

From InfoTechnology

Artificial intelligence is quickly coming of age and there remain lingering questions about how we will manage this change.

AI will eliminate some jobs, there’s no question, but it will also create some new ones. So the first question we will face as business people, workers and citizens is about balance: are we going to create more jobs than we eliminate or not?

The second and much more fundamental question is: how are we going to proactively manage our AI investments so we can use AI to create new jobs or career opportunities for the future? And how will we make sure those jobs reach out to various sectors of our society increasing our overall wealth and well being and not overly increasing the inequities that already exist in our society.

I believe if we think about it strategically and if we engage more people in the design of AI systems, we’ll be able to make this transition successfully. It will require a proactive strategy. The American public and people all over the world have been shown the negative consequences of not being proactive—take global trade for example. The benefits of global trade have not been widely shared and we are now witnessing the effects of the anger and frustrations this has produced in the movement to more extreme politics and the deeper social divisions laid bare by recent events. We can’t make the same mistake about the future developments of technology.

Read More »

Beer’s role in innovation – Joe Hadzima

Joe Hadzima,
MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer

From Huffington Post

Many great—or seemingly great—ideas come to fruition during the course of drinking a beer. When you’re out with the guys (or girls), one or two cold ones could have you rhapsodizing about how you’re going to change the world. This is most likely when self-lowering toilet seats, automatic pet petters, and self-twirling ice cream cones were all dreamed into existence.

As great as these and other inventions are, we’re not sure beer had any role in their creation. But has beer had a role in actual innovation?

Self-driving cars are all the rage in the news lately, with Google and Uber fighting it out over patents and racing to the front of the line for consumer release. While they were focused on cars for the everyday driver, the first self-driving truck delivered 50,000 cans of Budweiser 120 miles in Colorado.

That’s right. The first self-driven truck was used to deliver beer.

Budweiser has come a long way since the days of the horse and cart, right? In the first days of beer delivery, customers only had access because their drink of choice was brought daily by horse and wagon.

You’re probably familiar with the Clydesdales, still often used in Budweiser commercials to tug at heartstrings. These horses were bred by farmers along the banks of the River Clyde in Lanarkshire, Scotland. The Great Flemish Horse was the forerunner of the Clydesdale, which was bred to pull loads of more than one ton at a walking speed of five miles per hour. While that kind of pulling power was amazing during those days, it was still slow and expensive. Each hitch horse needed 20 to 25 quarts of whole grains, minerals and vitamins, 50 to 60 pounds of hay, and 30 gallons of water per day.

Is it any wonder that Anheuser Busch was the exclusive US licensee of the Rudolph Diesel patents? One might assume Ford or the railroad would have been first on board with the development of diesel powered trucks, but it was actually beer.

Knowing how much was needed to keep those magnificent horses healthy and hardy, it seems diesel was a logical next step. This is a classic example of early adopter customers driving a new technology.

Read More »

Does the amount you sweat predict your job performance? – Tauhid Zaman

MIT Sloan Assistant Professor Tauhid Zaman

From the Wall Street Journal

In a recent study, people who sweated when the stakes were low did the best when stakes were high.

IN “GATTACA,” THE DYSTOPIAN cult classic set in the “not too distant future,” parents genetically program their children before birth, coding them for desirable strengths and skills. For them, biometric data is destiny: A person’s genetic code, tracked through a massive database, determines their career, which, of course, affects everything.

Nearly 20 years after that movie’s release, we are closer than ever to using biometric data as part of the hiring process, specifically to solve one chronic problem: Employers are bad at predicting who will perform under pressure. Each year tens of thousands of new Wall Street hires undergo boot camps that cost up to $6,000 a person, yet finance has a suicide rate 1.5 times the national average and the second- highest voluntary turnover rate (14.2%, after the hospitality industry). And if an industry as well-funded as finance struggles with vetting applicants, what hope do smaller businesses have?

Read More »

Election rage shows why America needs a new social contract to ensure the economy works for all — Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

From The Conversation

The recent U.S. election exposed two major intersecting fault lines in America that, if left unchecked, could soon produce an era of social and economic upheaval unlike any in our history.

First, it revealed deep divisions across racial, ethnic and gender lines that led to a surge in hate crimes last year, particularly against Muslims. Addressing this will require a sustained effort to heal these growing divisions and will be very difficult to resolve without strong leadership and a renewed willingness to listen to each other’s concerns.

Second, it gave voice to the deep-seated frustrations and anger of those who feel left behind by economic forces and fear their children will experience a lower standard of living than they did.

Read More »