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 13-19, 2020

1. Prior to the pandemic, Zoom was a name known mostly to large and medium-sized businesses — organizations that typically had IT departments to help users keep their web conferencing secure.

Then came COVID-19, a tsunami of new, less-experienced users — and a charge from the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection that Zoom had deceived users about its level of security.

At the recent MIT CFO Summit, CFO Kelly Steckelberg described how Zoom addressed its security problems amid record demand. Among the lessons learned:

  • Be transparent. Rather than take a defensive position, Steckelberg said, Zoom formed a council of chief information security officers from outside the company to get feedback and collaborate on ideas, and CEO Eric Yuan set up weekly ask-me-anything webinars.
  • Shift focus. To address the security issues internally, Zoom put a 90-day stop to all development unless it was related to a feature or functionality that would make the platform more secure and improve user experience.

Make a new habit. Where user experience was frequently the top design priority, the balance has shifted. “Security is front and center in everything that we do,” Steckelberg said.

2. It’s easier to develop new ideas and drive change during an emergency. Understanding why can help leaders innovate even in the absence of a crisis, according to MIT Sloan researchers Elsbeth Johnson and Fiona Murray.

Writing in the Winter 2021 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review, Johnson and Murray identified five interdependent conditions that characterize a crisis and boost innovation:

  1. A crisis provides a sudden and real sense of urgency.
  2. This urgency enables organizations to drop all other priorities and focus on a single challenge, reallocating resources as needed.
  3. With this singular focus and reallocated resources, it’s now everybody’s job to come together to solve the problem, bringing a new diversity of viewpoints and perspectives.
  4. This urgency and singular focus legitimizes what would otherwise constitute waste, allowing for more experimentation and learning.
  5. Because the crisis is only temporary, the organization can commit to a highly intense effort over a short period of time.

“In our work with both public- and private-sector leaders, we saw how the COVID-19 crisis enabled new forms of innovation at a scale and pace that many of these leaders did not believe possible,” the researchers wrote. “The challenge now is to take these lessons into the post-crisis environment without losing their essence.”

3. When Bloomberg LP announced a plan to develop its own environmental, social, and governance scores, it entered a crowded but crucial market: In 2019, an estimated $30 trillion of assets invested worldwide relied in some way on ESG information, up 34% since 2016.

As the product manager for sustainable finance solutions, Lenora Suki leads development of those ESG scores for Bloomberg. In a recent Q&A, Suki, who holds an MBA from MIT Sloan and is an MIT Sloan Industry Advisor, shared her process for generating ideas and seeking feedback.

How do you know an idea is a good one? There’s a clear need, an addressable market, encouragement from potential customers, and a way through to a minimum viable product. And — very important — I can get excited about it and “fall in love with the problem.”

What is your biggest idea? Right now, information about sustainability is often non-financial and so diffuse and diverse that it’s difficult for decision-makers to digest. I want to help address the market failures with a combination of information, capital, and convening and ecosystem building. The idea is to deliver clearer market signals to the organizations that can do business and finance business to address these broader, tougher problems.

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