Take Control of Your Learning at Work

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Human beings have an astonishing ability to learn, but our motivation to do so tends to decrease with age, particularly in adulthood. As children, we are naturally curious and free to explore the world around us. As adults, we are much more interested in preserving what we learned, to the point of resisting any information — and data — that challenges our views and opinions. Unsurprisingly, there is now big demand for employees who can demonstrate high levels of “learnability,” the desire and ability to quickly grow and adapt one’s skill set to remain employable throughout their working life. This demand has been turbocharged by the recent technological revolution.

Indeed, one of the major cultural and intellectual changes of the digital age is that information has been commoditized, and access to it is now ubiquitous. With the right question (and WiFi), we can all pretty much find

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Two Questions to Ask Before You Set Up an Innovation Unit

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Despite good intentions—and widespread acceptance of the importance of innovation—efforts to innovate at large companies often lack a clear mission and framework, and as a result, they go off the rails.

At one large European energy company we consulted with, no less than four separate corporate functions were supposed to be working on innovation—yet none of them was supporting critical needs at the business unit level. To make matters worse, the various functions involved were competing internally for space and resources, while duplicating each other’s work.

Without realizing it, even well-managed businesses versed in modern management practices can generate an environment that is hostile to innovation. For all of these reasons, large companies need to have a distinct Innovation Unit headed up by a senior executive who ideally reports to the CEO.

In our work at the European Center for Strategic Innovation (ECSI), we have extensively

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Most of AI’s Business Uses Will Be in Two Areas

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While overall adoption of artificial intelligence remains low among businesses (about 20% upon our last study), senior executives know that AI isn’t just hype. Organizations across sectors are looking closely at the technology to see what it can do for their business. As they should—we estimate that 40% of all the potential value that can created by analytics today comes from the AI techniques that fall under the umbrella “deep learning,” (which utilize multiple layers of artificial neural networks, so-called because their structure and function are loosely inspired by that of the human brain). In total, we estimate deep learning could account for between $3.5 trillion and $5.8 trillion in annual value.

However, many business leaders are still not exactly sure where they should apply AI to reap the biggest rewards. After all, embedding AI across the business requires significant investment in

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A Study of Thousands of Dropbox Projects Reveals How Successful Teams Collaborate

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The use of virtual file-sharing platforms like Dropbox, Google Docs, and others has become ubiquitous in business, academic, and other settings. But is your team using such collaborative platforms as effectively as they could be?

Whether working on cancer cures or the latest consumer-tech products, how teams collaborate affects their performance and success. We know a lot about how teams collaborate face-to-face, with regard to leadership, communication, conflict resolution, and other areas. But less is known about how groups work together virtually. As more and more collaboration happens in digital settings, it’s critical to understand best practices for working in such spaces.

To address this question, we studied the virtual interactions of research teams at universities around the word on Dropbox, analyzed how the collaborative dynamics related to performance and developed a list of best practices that organizations can use on any file-sharing platform to improve team performance.

Dropbox gave

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Survey: 68% of CEOs Admit They Weren’t Fully Prepared for the Job

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CEOs are known for their confidence. It is, after all, one of the reasons they’ve made it to the top. And yet, that confidence sometimes flags, as we at leadership advisory firm Egon Zehnder learned from a survey  of 402 CEOs from 11 countries—executives who together run companies with  $2.6 trillion in sales.

Participating anonymously, CEOs told us that while they did feel ready for the strategic and business aspects of their roles, they felt much less prepared for the personal and interpersonal components of leadership, which are just as critical to success.

Here are some of the most surprising findings:

How to Make an AI Project More Likely to Succeed

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A recent survey by Deloitte of “aggressive adopters” of cognitive technologies found that 76% believe that they will “substantially transform” their companies within the next three years. There probably hasn’t been this much excitement about a new technology since the dotcom boom years in the late 1990s.

The possibilities would seem to justify the hype. AI isn’t just one technology, but a wide array of tools, including a number of different algorithmic approaches, an abundance of new data sources, and advancement in hardware. In the future, we will see new computing architectures, like quantum computing and neuromorphic chips, propel capabilities even further.

Still, there remains a large gap between aspiration and reality. Gartner estimates that 85% of big data projects fail. There have also been embarrassing snafus, such as when Dow Jones reported that Google was buying Apple for $9 billion and the bots fell for

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You’re Never Going to Be “Caught Up” at Work. Stop Feeling Guilty About It.

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Most people I know have a to-do list so long that it’s not clear that there’s an end to it. Some tasks, even quite important ones, linger unfinished for a long time, and it’s easy to start feeling guilty or ashamed about what you have not yet completed.

People experience guilt and its close cousin shame when they have done something wrong.  Guilt is focused internally on the behavior someone has committed, while shame tends to involve feeling like you are a bad person, particularly in the context of bad behaviors that have become public knowledge.

The fundamental question is whether these feelings are a good thing. To answer that, it’s worth quoting the movie Bridge of Spies. Mark Rylance plays the spy Rudolf Abel. He’s asked at one point whether he is worried, and he responds, “Would it help?”

In this case, the answer

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Task Shifting Could Help Lower Costs in U.S. Health Care

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If you ran a fancy restaurant, would you want the chef also to clean dishes and mop the floor? Of course not. You’d hire others to do these things and let the chef focus on producing delicious food. This simple idea — that one should match the skill level of the individual to the skill requirements of a task — has influenced how many businesses operate. That’s why lawyers are helped by paralegals, professors by teaching assistants, and chefs by sous chefs.

Task shifting of this kind moves routine tasks requiring lower skills away from high-skilled professionals. It must be done judiciously, because if a person is less qualified than a task requires, it will hurt quality and may add to costs if rework becomes necessary. On the other hand, if a person is overqualified for a task, it will increase cost and, counter-intuitively, may lower quality

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The Productivity Booster You Have in Your Pocket, But Probably Don’t Use

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The world’s 230 million knowledge workers are frazzled. Modern life is an interminable cacophony of emails, notifications, messages, alerts, feeds, data and information. 70% of us look at our phones within 30 minutes of waking up. All this causes stress. With multiple notifications on multiple apps on multiple pages of our devices, where do we start? Who will help us?

Fortunately, almost all of us already have a personal assistant. It’s a piece of software on a device you own: the intelligent assistant (IA). We carry IAs around on our laptops (Microsoft’s Cortana), phones (Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, Samsung’s Bixby) and smart speakers (Amazon’s Alexa, Baidu’s Little Fish). You probably have more than one. There are an estimated one billion IA-enabled devices in the world today. With smartphone penetration in the UK and US approaching 70%, it’s easy to believe that there will be as many intelligent assistants as

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It’s Time to Make Business School Research More Relevant

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One of the biggest challenges facing management scientists has been the struggle to produce knowledge that is both academically rigorous and applicable to practicing managers. In an Academy of Management Journal editorial, we described two problems that contribute to this challenge.

The first is what we called the “Lost in Translation” problem, which refers to the fact that almost no managers turn to academic journals (publications like the Academy of Management Annals, the Academy of Management Journal, the Academy of Management Review, the Journal of Applied Psychology, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, to name a few) for advice on how to improve their skills or practices. Researchers have found that managers tend to be unaware of research-supported management insights reported in academic journals, and that such insights are typically excluded in practitioner-oriented journals. Relatedly, managers tend to hold on to long-held assumed truths that often management scholars’

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How to Get Someone to Put Away Their Phone and Actually Listen

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No, it’s not just you. If you’ve ever doubted that you had your boss’s full attention while her laptop is open in front of her, stop doubting. In spite of her protests that “I’m listening, go ahead…,” she wasn’t. Decades ago, research settled the question of whether you and I can do two things at once. We can’t. But emerging research shows that even the simple presence of a cell phone — much less its glowing screen and constant beeps — interrupts our ability to connect.

The problem is that manners haven’t caught up with technology. In one online survey, my colleagues and I found that nearly 9 out of 10 people say that at least once a week, their friends or family stop paying attention to them in favor of something happening on their digital devices. And 1 in 4 say these interruptions have caused a

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4 Ways Leaders Can Protect Their Time and Empower Their Teams

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We know that controlling what we pay attention to is the key to living an intentional life.  According to an informal poll of my clients, one of the biggest impediments to attention management is “O.P.P.” — other people’s problems. This is a particular problem for my clients in leadership who find it difficult to disconnect from their team, even for short periods. The primary reasons they give for this constant availability are that they “don’t want to be the bottleneck that holds up important work,” and they want to be available to make decisions and mentor their staff through problems.

So in this article, I want to take a deeper dive into learning to control your environment. When leaders’ time is constantly in demand from staff, they report they have too little time remaining to engage in what might be their most important role —

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How to Pump Yourself Up Before a Presentation (or Calm Yourself Down)

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Public speaking affects people in different ways. Some people get jittery and anxious before they talk; they need to spend time calming themselves down before they go onstage.

Other people want to make sure they have extra energy when they’re in front of an audience. These people need to spend time amping themselves up before a talk — doing whatever helps them feel invigorated.

My pre-talk ritual has always been to be still; I would consider this a spiritual ritual. I’ll typically find a dark spot backstage to center myself, exhale calmly, and create quiet space in my head. Meanwhile, I interviewed over 40 professional speakers some of who have a more amp-it-up ritual, like doing power poses or rocking out to heavy metal bands.

Out of curiosity, I decided to try out some of these different, energizing pre-talk rituals before my last big keynote. I

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How to Build Trust When Working Across Borders

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In countries like India, South Africa, Italy, and the United States, institutional trust is declining. People have less faith in businesses, governments, and the media. But this is not a global trend. The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that China, the UAE, and Sweden are experiencing dramatic gains in their faith in institutions while the United States has seen a drop of 37 points.

So how can companies successfully navigate this complex state of affairs? Research  from the University of Minnesota confirms that understanding the basis on which people trust has become increasingly important to forging international business relationships. As Stephen Kehoe, Edelman’s Global Chair of Reputation, told me in an interview, “If you are even slightly unaware of how a particular set of stakeholders regards your company, sector, or country of origin, you are at a disadvantage. You may not be aware that you are acting

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To See the Future of Competition, Look at Netflix

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I’ve been following Netflix since 2005, when I first visited its headquarters in Silicon Valley and interviewed Reed Hastings, its founder and CEO. I don’t think I’ve learned more about strategy, technology, and culture from any other company I’ve studied. It’s a stretch to claim that everything I know about business I learned from watching Netflix, but there’s no doubt that many leaders can see glimpses of the future of competition and innovation by looking at how the company does business.

Despite this week’s news that the company had added fewer new subscribers than expected, if there were an Academy Awards show for business performance, Netflix would still sweep this year’s categories — the corporate equivalent of “Titanic” or “Lord of the Rings.” Wealth creation? The company, which is barely 20 years old, has a stock-market value of nearly $165 billion, more than Disney. Cultural

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The 2 Types of Respect Leaders Must Show

Kristie Rogers, an assistant professor of management at Marquette University, has identified a free and abundant resource most leaders aren’t giving employees enough of: respect. She explains the two types of workplace respect, how to communicate them, and what happens when you don’t foster both. Rogers is the author of the article “Do Your Employees Feel Respected?” in the July–August 2018 issue of Harvard Business Review.

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How Regulation Could Help Cryptocurrencies Grow

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Ignorance may be bliss for some, but ask anyone in commerce or finance, and they will make it abundantly clear: Ignorance is risk. For that reason, U.S. markets embrace reasonable regulation to ensure transparency and fairness. Stocks are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), commodities by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and government currency by the Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve. But an emergent fourth asset class, cryptocurrencies, has no single regulator, and that is leading to uncertainty and confusion.

In early June the SEC announced the appointment of one of the agency’s veteran attorneys, Valerie Szczepanik, as associate director of the Division of Corporation Finance and senior adviser for Digital Assets and Innovation. This is a welcome development. As “crypto czar,” her job will be to rationalize the application of U.S. securities laws

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What GE’s Board Could Have Done Differently


During Jeff Immelt’s tenure as CEO of General Electric, from 2001 until 2017, the company’s stock price fell by over 30%, a decline of roughly $150 billion in shareholder value. Since Immelt’s departure, GE’s stock is down another 30%, as its new CEO, John Flannery, has struggled to cope with the cash flow drain from years of problematic acquisitions, divestitures, and buybacks. Because of these dubious decisions, GE’s ratio of debt to earnings has soared from 1.5 in 2013 to 3.7 in early 2018, according to Moody’s.

So, during GE’s long and steep decline, where was the company’s board of directors? Composed almost entirely of independent directors, it was a distinguished and diversified group of former top executives and other leaders with relevant experience. In my view, however, the structure and processes of the GE board were poorly designed for effectively overseeing Immelt and

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7 Skills That Aren’t About to Be Automated

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Today’s young professionals grew up in an age of mind-boggling technological change, seeing the growth of the internet, the invention of the smartphone, and the development of machine-learning systems. These advances all point toward the total automation of our lives, including the way we work and do business. It’s no wonder, then, that young people are anxious about their ability to compete in the job market. As executives who have spent our lives assessing and implementing digital technology in every type of organization, we often get asked by them: “What should I learn today so that I’ll have a job in the future?” In what follows we’ll share seven skills that can not only make you unable to be automated, but will make you employable no matter what the future holds. 

Communication. In a world where U.S. adults’ total media usage is nearly 12

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