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

July 18 – July 24, 2021

1. Who should own innovation within an organization — C-level leaders in technology, information, or digital? Or CEOs themselves?

A panel of executives at this spring’s MIT Sloan CIO Symposium offered succinct advice about debating digital innovation ownership: don’t. The experts said leaders are better off focusing their energy on creating a culture of innovation throughout the organization.

Here are four tips for making that happen:

  • Look beyond the technology. Creating a technology roadmap remains critical, but alignment with business strategy and customer expectations should influence that roadmap more than specific internal hardware and software needs.
  • Be a city planner, not a traffic cop. Inward-looking technology leaders are traffic cops, managing enterprise software applications, networks, data centers, servers, devices, and so on. City planners bring an outward focus with big-picture thinking, envisioning an entire business landscape.
  • Prioritize skills, not roles. Organizations should “broaden the tent” in determining who is considered a digital worker. At a time when social scientists joining the workforce are able to program in Python, “the last thing they want to hear is, ‘You’re not on the technology team,’” said one panelist.
  • Automate with care. Digital innovation initiatives must balance human and machine work. Without human oversight, bias in machine learning could lead to decisions that widen equity gaps.


2. The market damage wrought by COVID-19 got MIT Sloan senior finance lecturer Mark Kritzman thinking: How could investors build portfolios to resist the shock of an event like a pandemic while accounting for ongoing “drift” factors — like climate change or the impact of artificial intelligence on jobs?

With that question in mind, Kritzman and David Turkington, a senior managing director at State Street Associates, developed a data-centric approach to portfolio formation that they believeprovides a more nuanced view than mean-variance analysis.

“By basing the portfolio on all of the returns — rather than just a statistical summary of the returns — we can account for a lot of real-world complexities that get ignored in a traditional mean-variance approach to structuring portfolios,” Kritzman said.

Going forward, the authors plan to begin building portfolios that comprise:

  • Defensive assets to help guard against shocks.
  • Growth assets to capture the fact that over time, risky assets tend to deliver higher growth in wealth than defensive assets.
  • Opportunistic assets that seize on opportunities created by factors such as climate change.


3. As a student, Dannielle (Sita) Appelhans majored in mechanical engineering and imagined her future self focusing on the physical nature of work.

As chief technical officer for Novartis Gene Therapies, her responsibilities have expanded into strategy, finance, operations, and management. “In the end, it is crucial that you do not limit your own growth and potential,” said Appelhans, MBA ’11, in a recent Q&A.

More of her insights:

In what ways is your professional life different from how you imagined it would be? At several points, I chose to take on roles or projects that I was advised not to take. These opportunities, while difficult, really challenged and developed me. Do not be afraid to take the role no one wants.

What is the most difficult lesson you’ve learned in your career? At times, I have seen individuals trade off their own integrity to “get ahead” professionally. In those moments, I was disappointed and even mad, [but] with time I also saw that often there was only short-term benefit to these individuals. This reinforced my belief that your legacy is not only defined by the “what” of your achievements, but the “how.”

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By MIT Sloan CDO