Within the next five years, how will technology change the practice of management in a way we have not yet witnessed?
MIT Sloan Management Review posed this question to 15 of the world’s foremost experts on the intersection of technology and management who responded in a series of essays available in MIT SMR’s new Fall issue, published online today. The essays were commissioned to celebrate the launch of the magazine’s new Frontiers initiative. Appearing as part of both the print and digital editions, Frontiers explores how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
Technology and management are typically viewed as separate entities. A common theme that emerges from these essays is that many of the most significant new concepts in management are emanating from the collision of the two. I believe we’re on the crest of sweeping changes in the practice of management, being spurred on by technological innovation.
Reid Hoffman, co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn, echoes this sentiment in Using Artificial Information to Set Information Free. Specialized artificial intelligence, he says, is about to transform management from an art into a combination of art and science. Not, he says, because we’ll be taking commands from science fiction’s robot overlords, but because it will allow us to apply data science to human interactions at work in a way that earlier theorists like Peter Drucker could only imagine.
In Managing the Bots That Manage the Business, Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, writes that algorithms themselves are now serving as managers. He cites such ‘Next Economy’ companies such as Uber and Lyft, which dispatch cars by a ‘management’ program that collects passenger requests in real time, and serves them up to the closest available drivers. In turn, algorithms are playing the role of ‘employees’ for such companies as Google, Facebook and Amazon, with human ‘managers’ taking in feedback about their electronic workers’ performance, as measured in real time data from the marketplace. The great management challenge of the next few decades, he stresses, will be understanding how to get the best out of both humans and machines, and understanding the ins and outs of who manages whom.
Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School, agrees that software will not render managers obsolete; however, managers will need to be more skilled than ever before. In Rethinking the Manager’s Role, she spotlights the need to develop and hone skillsets such as effectively managing virtually rather than face to face.
Below are brief summaries of the remaining 11 essays. All of the essays in this package will be free and open on the MIT SMR site for the next several weeks
Hal Varian, Chief Economist, Google; Emeritus Professor, University of California at Berkeley
The mobile cloud is about to democratize one of the most prized perks of management.
- Edward Freeman, Professor, Darden School of the University of Virginia; and Bidhan Parmar, Assistant Professor, Darden School of Business
Behind every piece of code that drives our decisions is a human making human judgments about what matters, and what does not.
George Westerman, Principal Research Scientist, MIT Sloan Initiative on the Digital Economy
Technological advances will help managers to increase productivity, innovation, and customer satisfaction in the coming years. However, those leading traditional companies should be careful not to let these forces push their management approach to extremes.
Rita McGrath, Professor of Management, Columbia Business School
Traditional hierarchies are giving way to market forms of organizing that will recast the role of management and require managers to be more facile than ever before.
Monideepa Tarafdar, Professor of Information Systems, Lancaster University, UK
Digital technologies are increasingly making work-home boundaries a thing of the past. What employees need now–and what managers should encourage –is a mindful approach to technology usage that fosters flexibility rather than burnout.
Catherine Turco, Associate Professor of Work and Organization Studies, MIT Sloan School of Management
Long-held assumptions about corporate communication and hierarchy are breaking down. In
the coming years, the savviest leaders will tap into the spirit and tools of openness from social media to build what Turco calls ‘conversational firms.’
Andrew Winston, Author, Green to Gold, Green Recovery and The Big Pivot
Digital technology is facilitating radical transparency about the way companies do business. New data on supply chains – and a generation of workers raised to share everything – will open up everything a company does to public scrutiny. This, in turn, will increase companies’ willingness to help tackle pressing societal issues.
Andrew Moore, Dean of the School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University
By analyzing new types of data, including real-time video and a range of other inputs, artificial intelligence systems will be able to provide managers with information about what is happening in their businesses at any moment in time — and detect early warnings of problems that have yet to materialize.
Robert D. Austin, Professor of Information Systems, Ivey Business School
In the next five years, managers will widely deploy digital technologies designed to augment human creativity, which will greatly enhance our ability to iterate and innovate.
Virginia “Ginni” Rometty, Chairwoman, President and CEO of IBM
Digital is not the destination. Rather, it is laying the foundation for a much more profound transformation to come. Within five years, all business decisions will be enhanced by cognitive technologies.
Thomas Davenport, Professor, Babson College; Director of Research, International Institute for Analytics; Senior Advisor, Deloitte Analytics
Right now, humans may be ahead of smart machines in our ability to strategize…but we shouldn’t be complacent about our human dominance.
These collected insights of our Frontiers contributors creates a deeply intriguing, exciting, and predominantly optimistic vision of the future, but one also rich in its challenges. There is no management practice in which technology’s impact does not loom large. Its effects will be felt by everyone who works for, partners with, or consumes the goods of an organization. In other words, all of us.
Paul Michelman is editor-in-chief of MIT Sloan Management Review, which leads the discourse among academic researchers, business executives and other influential thought leaders about advances in management practice, particularly those shaped by technology, that are transforming how people lead and innovate.