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

June 20 – June 26, 2021

1. Post-pandemic, it’s not enough for organizations to excel at a steady state — they need resilience to be able to respond to irregular operations and conditions. Systems thinking can help, according to a pair of MIT Sloan experts.

In a recent webinar, senior lecturer John Carrier and professor Retsef Levi recommended companies consider four tenets of systems thinking as they reassess their ability to withstand business interruptions.

  • Check your assumptions. They are the bedrock of risk models, but assumptions are not infallible. Use technology to continuously check assumptions in real time and make adjustments, Carrier said.
  • Beware the “hidden factory.” These are hard-to-see, ad hoc workarounds that can reduce organizational productivity over time.
  • Identify design and management changes that can make your system of operations more robust and resilient in response to disruptions.
  • Deploy technology wisely. Complex systems are inherently riskier, Levi cautioned. With that in mind, leverage technology to simplify a scenario rather than overcomplicate it.


2. Sustainable investing is at a tipping point, but challenges remain.

“What’s really accelerated in the last five years is that investors are starting to consider the social and environmental impacts of companies as being important to their own return,” said Jason Jay, director of the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative.

In a recent talk, Jay, an MIT Sloan senior lecturer, identified three obstacles slowing that momentum:

Misalignment in the investor community. Pension funds, endowments, and philanthropic family organizations have multiple stakeholders with varying priorities. A key issue going forward will be how to align social priorities with those various investment objectives, Jay said.

Outdated or inaccurate “mental models.” Jay is concerned that people’s perceptions about how investment actions can affect change are inaccurate. “Divesting from a stock doesn’t really change anything about how that company is going to behave,” Jay said.

Inconsistent measurement. Measuring success and progress can be a huge challenge, Jay said, due to faulty reporting and rating agencies with methodologies that are noisy and opaque. “There isn’t quality data that’s consistent about how firms are doing on sustainability,” he said.


3. As companies make plans for a hybrid workplace, they should be collecting information from employees about what they need to get their jobs done.

Each team has to decide what’s the optimal combination of home versus office time for their group, said productivity expert and MIT Sloan senior lecturer Robert Pozen in a recent Fast Company article. Ideally, there will be at least several hours per day a few days per week when team members’ schedules overlap and they can collaborate.

To avoid overwork and burnout among employees, organizations should establish a framework for the work week, stating when team members are expected to be in and out of the office and available for meetings or collaboration sessions, how results will be measured, and other expectations. “Lots of people complain that they’re working 24/7 because they don’t know what the boundaries are,” Pozen said.

Finally, Pozen gave shared workstations and “first come, first served” seating a thumbs-down from a productivity standpoint. “It leaves people in the office with a real sense [that they’re] transitory. They have to reorient, and it’s really going to undermine their productivity,” he said.

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