THINKING FORWARD – Ideas for your work from MIT Sloan School of Management


Ideas for your work from
MIT Sloan School of Management | Office of Communications

December 6-12, 2020

1. “Working Definitions,” MIT Sloan’s weekly Instagram series, explores new ideas that advance management practice and build a better, smarter world.

This year’s top Working Definitions dealt with decision-making and leadership — an unsurprising theme given all that’s happened in 2020.

Here are the top 5 most-liked definitions:

Data storytelling — The interpretation of data and information in a narrative format that helps decision-makers absorb insights and initiate appropriate actions.

Black swan — A rare, surprising event that has a large, unpredictable impact on business and society, often leading to periods of high uncertainty and volatility.

The beer game — A role-playing game that simulates a manufacturing supply chain, demonstrating how panic buying and instability emerge from the actions of smart, well-intentioned people.

Challenge-driven leader — A person who motivates others by framing and organizing work as a vehicle to solve problems and meet challenges in a creative and effective way.

People analytics — A data-driven approach to improving people-related decisions for the purpose of advancing the success of not only an organization but also of individual employees.


2. Cars are expensive and underused, but they provide U.S. owners with a sense of security and control — feelings that contributed to the more than threefold increase in the value of car access during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A survey from the MIT Energy Initiative’s Mobility Systems Center found car owners would need an average of $3,300 to give up ownership and use of their car for just one month during the pandemic, compared to an average of $933 during a typical month.

The results highlight the significance of option value — in this case, that the car is there for its owner at a moment’s notice to get them where they need to go.

It’s a concept that mobility experts and transportation planners must consider if they want to create successful alternatives to private car ownership.

“We can say people do value the car more than it costs,” said Joanna Moody, research program manager for the center. “Until we can provide them with an alternative that rivals the private car … they are not going to switch, and that’s a perfectly rational choice.”


3. From the Caribbean to the Alps, global financial efforts using digital currency and blockchain are underway, with development help from the MIT Connection Science Research Initiative.

Among the projects are:

  • The Sand Dollar — a state-backed virtual currency rolled out by the Central Bank of the Bahamas in October. The MIT initiative contributed to high-level design of the Bahamian effort over several years, especially the digital identity and anti-money-laundering features, said Alex “Sandy” Pentland, founding faculty director of the initiative.
  • The Swiss Trust Chain system — offered by Switzerland’s national carrier, Swisscom, and the Swiss Post national postal service. MIT helped with asset exchange technology and market design of the blockchain system, Pentland said.
  • Akoya — Fidelity Investment’s privacy-preserving asset transfer spinoff, which adopted MIT’s Open Algorithms and digital identity design plans.

Those initiatives and others underway in Singapore, Switzerland, and Bermuda will offer customers and banks lower costs, greater privacy and security, and improved auditability, Pentland said. Moreover, “the transparency on how money, data, and other assets move will produce fairer, less corrupt outcomes for individuals, companies, and societies,” he said.

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