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

March 28 – April 3, 2021

1. COVID-19 didn’t break the supply chain, it simply accelerated changes already underway, according to Yossi Sheffi, director of the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics.

In his recent book, “The New (AB)normal: Reshaping Business and Supply Chain Strategy Beyond COVID-19,” Sheffi lays out the ways supply chains coped with the pandemic and are now strategizing to operate post-pandemic.

During COVID-19, Sheffi writes, organizations were able to maintain momentum in several key areas, among them achieving end-to-end visibility of the supply chain; eliminating paperwork and person-to-person handoffs; increasing use of automation; embracing agile development practices; and rethinking their relationships with China.

As companies and industries prepare to move forward, Sheffi believes a number of pandemic-induced trends will have lasting impact, including the increased adoption of omnichannel retail and e-commerce; the rise of platforms, which allow independent stores to compete online and capture much broader markets; and new roles for “dark stores” as companies repurpose unused retail space into fulfillment centers.

Overall, Sheffi sees in the industry a renewed emphasis on connectedness over self-reliance. Improved connections give companies the flexibility and agility they need during a disaster while positioning them to capture long-term global opportunities afterward, Sheffi writes.


2. What are human resource leaders doing to prepare their workers for job changes related to artificial intelligence? Not a lot.

When researchers asked talent heads in several large companies how they are getting ready for AI-enabled changes in the occupations and skills in their organizations, the most common answer was, “We’re not doing much.”

Writing in MIT Sloan Management Review, senior lecturer George Westerman, a principal research scientist for workforce learning in MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab, and Babson College’s Thomas Davenport detailed four workforce strategies companies are pursuing. In order of popularity:

Do nothing. This strategy is “not irrational,” the researchers write, given that the impact of AI and robotics on jobs has happened more slowly than predicted.

Build digital skills. Giving people role-based training to attain the right level of digital skills can help better prepare them to accept change and even innovate.

Predict job trends. Identifying which roles are most likely to change helps leaders proactively drive that change at a pace that’s right for the organization.

Help workers choose their own futures. Showing employees a variety of career paths and helping them acquire necessary skills helps employees feel less stuck and more likely to stay for the long term.


3. Americans still value private car ownership. With the purchase and use of private vehicles rising, the country isn’t yet at “peak car.”

How to reverse that trend and reap the economic and environmental benefits of alternative transportation? In a recent podcast, Joanna Moody of the MIT Energy Initiative’s Mobility Systems Center and David Keith, a professor in the MIT Sloan System Dynamics Group, outlined three thorny challenges:

  • Shifting the U.S. to multimodal transportation. Almost half of U.S. car trips in cities are three miles or less; even a small shift from driving to walking, cycling, using mass transit, ride-sharing, or renting cars could significantly decrease congestion (and pollution).
  • Providing the same level of convenience with alternatives that private cars offer. Because vehicles sit idle most of the time, they’re ready at a moment’s notice. That degree of flexibility is hard to design into alternative transportation options, the experts acknowledged.
  • Make “mobility as a service” a competitive option. One possibility is peer-to-peer car sharing: Think Zipcar, only with vehicles shared among, say, a small group of neighbors. Another is a monthly subscription model that offers a sampling of both public and private transportation alternatives.

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