Robots might not take your job — but they will probably make it boring – Matt Beane

Matt Beane
Research Affiliate in
Management Science

From Wired

Whether they believe robots are going to create or destroy jobs, most experts say that robots are particularly useful for handling “dirty, dangerous and dull” work. They point to jobs like shutting down a leaky nuclear reactor, cleaning sewers, or inspecting electronic components to really drive the point home. Robots don’t get offended, they are cheap to repair when they get “hurt,” and they don’t get bored. It’s hard to disagree: What could possibly be wrong about automating jobs that are disgusting, mangle people, or make them act like robots?

The problem is that installing robots often makes the jobs around them worse. Use a robot for aerial reconnaissance, and remote pilots end up bored. Use a robot for surgery, and surgical trainees end up watching, not learning. Use a robot to transport materials, and workers that handle those materials can no longer interact with and learn from their customers. Use a robot to farm, and farmers end up barred from repairing their own tractors.

I know this firsthand: For most of the last seven years, I have been studying these dynamics in the field. I spent over two years looking at robotic surgery in top-tier hospitals around the US, and at every single one of them, most nurses and surgical assistants were bored out of their skulls.

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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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The blind spot: Uncovering the grammar of the social field — Otto Scharmer

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Otto Scharmer

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Otto Scharmer

From The Huffington Post

This post is a bit longer than usual. But if you are interested in the invisible dimension of leading profound social change — and in a blend of action science and consciousness to illuminate that blind spot — it may be worth the read.

My father is a farmer. As one of the pioneers of bio-dynamic farming in Germany, he devotes all his attention to cultivating the quality of the soil in his fields. That’s exactly what I find myself doing today, though in a very different type of field. My colleagues and I, along with countless change makers, leaders, action researchers and facilitators, are cultivating the quality of the social field. By social field I mean the structure of the relationship among individuals, groups, organizations and systems that gives rise to collective behaviors and outcomes.

When people experience a transformational social shift, they notice a profound change in the atmosphere, in the texture of the social field. But in trying to explain it, they tend to fall back on vague language; and even though people can agree on a surface description of what happened, they don’t usually know why it happened or what words to use to describe it.

Today, in most social systems, we collectively produce results that no one wants. These results show up in the form of environmental, social, and cultural destruction. The ecological divide (which disconnects self from nature), the social divide (which disconnects self from other), and the spiritual divide (which disconnects self from self) shape the larger context in every large system change today.

The intention of this paper is to uncover the grammar of the social field — the key variables that make it possible for the operating logics and modes (states and stages) of a social field to shift.

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The oil industry’s troubles aren’t bad enough to trigger another global crisis — John Reilly

MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer John Reilly

MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer John Reilly

From MarketWatch

The crash in the price of oil — from $108 a barrel in June 2014 to below $27 earlier this year — has rattled the stock market, triggered layoffs across the energy sector, and plunged many oil producing countries into crisis.

Oil has since rebounded significantly from its lows, to above $40 a barrel, but the price plunge since 2014 has put much pressure on oil companies. Reports have pointed to an increase in debt among oil producers, raising the specter of default on bankruptcy and default on debt, withfollow-on effects beyond oil producers.

The upheaval also has sparked fears that oil’s troubles will spread across the globe, echoing the crash in U.S. housing markets that pushed the world economy to the brink of collapse in 2008. Yet despite the woes oil is experiencing, it is unlikely that the repercussions will trigger another global financial crisis.

Looking at the numbers, the mortgage-debt crisis dwarfs what is currently happening in oil. According to a report in the Financial Times, the global oil and gas industry’s debts rose to  $3 trillion from $1.1 trillion between 2006 and 2014. Compare that to the $10 trillion of housing debt weighing on Americans in 2008.

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Cuba and entrepreneurship: An MIT MBA’s reflections — Alanna Hughes

MIT Sloan MBA Student Alanna Hughes

MIT Sloan MBA Student Alanna Hughes

Soñar no cuesta nada. Dreaming doesn’t cost anything.

As I conclude a study trip to Cuba, I am reminded of this expression that a Dominican colleague frequently used. Whenever I would “think big” – first as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and later as a social enterprise director in the Dominican Republic and Haiti – my friend Hector Romero had the ability to both encourage my idealism and remind me of the challenging reality with this simple phrase.

As someone who came to business school directly from entrepreneurship work in other parts of the Caribbean, I want to dream for Cuba. I want to hope that it is on the brink of something groundbreaking for all those in the island nation with an entrepreneurial bent. However, after having studied it more in-depth, and after having spent time in Havana, my optimism is tainted by some of the skepticism I’d perceive in Romero’s voice years ago. While Cubans as a society should dream big, the prospect of larger-scale innovation driven entrepreneurship, still feels like…well, a dream.

If Cuba truly wishes to become more entrepreneurial, it will need more than its bright minds’ aspirations. It will need to financially invest and politically change – both of which undoubtedly generate significant costs.

Like many dreams, increasing entrepreneurship in Cuba is grounded in some reality. When conducting behavioral science research to prepare for our time in Havana, I stumbled upon several examples of Cuban “hacks” to provide solutions to problems resulting from scarcity, isolation, and censorship. One common example is the paquete semanal – a collection of illegal classifieds, music, and TV series, among others – that is distributed on Cuba’s black market as a substitute for broadband internet. Other examples include metal meal trays repurposed as antennas and chargers built from non-rechargeable hearing aid batteries.

Beyond grassroots creative capacity, Cuba also possesses a highly educated populace that includes thousands of trained STEM graduates well suited to contribute to high tech businesses. Only about 200 miles separate Havana’s inventive and technical minds from Miami’s growing start-up scene and its gateway into other American innovation hubs. From a talent perspective, Cuba appears to hold a lot of untapped potential.

But will this human capital really be so easy to engage? Although our flight from MIA to HAV only lasted 45 minutes, it was clear as soon as we stepped out of Havana’s small airport onto its antique car trafficked streets that we had landed a world away. In spite of the hype we had heard in the American press about Cuba’s ability to “open up,” a lot of the gates currently remain under lock and key.  So few Cubans have regular access to the internet; they have only been allowed to own personal computers and cell phones since 2008, and wifi is only available in a handful of CyberPoints and hotel lobbies – at $5 per hour through pre-purchased cards.

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