MIT Expands Action-Learning Options

by Marc Ethier on

MIT Sloan School of Management

MIT’s Sloan School of Management plans to launch a pair of executive education labs to help EMBA students learn to fashion better organizational road maps and practical recommendations. The Innovation-Driven Entrepreneurial Advantage Lab (IDEA Lab) and the New Executive Thinking for Global Challenges (NEXT Lab) will begin Friday (January 27), expanding the school’s action-learning options for EMBA students.

About the IDEA Lab, MIT Sloan Professor Fiona Murray, associate dean for innovation, said in a news release that the building of “innovation-driven entrepreneurial advantage is deeply embedded in the culture of MIT Sloan and is an intellectual and practical cornerstone of the EMBA program.” Student teams in IDEA Lab will explore paths for engagement by large organizations in the Boston innovation ecosystem, the Northeast’s answer to Silicon Valley; other IDEA Lab projects will include working on students’ own startups and helping ventures expand into Boston, Murray said.

IDEA Lab co-teacher Phil Budden, a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan, said, “This is an exciting opportunity for EMBAs to work with interested organizations, or on their own startups, to explore and leverage innovation ecosystems to build greater strength and more innovation-driven advantage.”

PUTTING COLLECTIVE PROBLEM-SOLVING TO THE TEST

Action-learning is a 50-year-old approach to problem-solving that involves taking action and reflecting upon the results. In NEXT Lab, MIT Sloan students will look at the global challenges the world may face in the next eight to 10 years to explore emerging dilemmas and needs in health, climate, and the environment. Among the questions to be addressed: how companies can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and how they can use new technologies to expand services to needful populations.

With an assist from the considerable resources of MIT, student teams will build a map of the future focused on a partner company to generate ideas for the future, along with action steps that can be taken in the present.

“The big challenges we face put our collective problem-solving to the test, calling for new modes of thinking and collaborating,” said Anjali Sastry, a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan who will teach NEXT Lab. “Foresight and action are essential. To ensure that both are effective, we need to refine our understanding of emerging problems and opportunities, scout for new ideas, then formulate, test, and improve upon potential solutions.

“NEXT Lab aims to rise to the challenges ahead by combining imagination with discipline.”

IDEA AND NEXT LAB PROJECTS

IDEA Lab will begin with 14 projects focused on the Boston innovation ecosystem. For example, EMBAs will help develop a roadmap for a large government agency to interface with the Boston ecosystem; they also will map a large industrial-Internet company’s engagement with MIT’s ecosystem; and they will assess Boston-based diversity programs.

Other projects, according to a news release from the school, include exploring design options for an EMBA-led angel investment vehicle for startups; assessing go-to-market strategies for a student startup that provides mesh-based surgical products to the developing world; and assessing the viability of a student startup developing a wearable device to help care for children with special needs.

NEXT Lab will launch with six projects, all focused on a partner organization’s “NEXT Question.” Students working with Dell EMC India, for example, will look at how to launch and expand a new universal health record in India that integrates data with that country’s rural health system. Students working with Takeda’s Vaccines will study how to design a future cost structure for vaccines, and students working with the International Committee of the Red Cross will research how information and communications technology can change how refugees and those in conflict situations find missing relatives.

‘AN INVALUABLE OPPORTUNITY’

MIT Sloan’s executive MBA is a 20-month program. The Class of 2017 features 120 global executives from a broad range of sectors and industries, including healthcare, tech, biotech, and education. With an average age of 40, they boast an average of 17 years’ experience.

The school announced that the two new labs continue MIT Sloan’s tradition of concluding the EMBA program with a capstone action-learning project that addresses a real business issue for a real company. This year’s EMBA students will be able to pursue a final project from NEXT Lab, IDEA Lab, or Global Organizations Lab (GO-Lab), which helps international companies solve cross-border business challenges.

All projects wrap up in May.

“These labs provide an invaluable opportunity to build and apply students’ knowledge of innovation, systems thinking, sustainability, organizational behavior, and global strategy,” Sastry said. “They offer opportunities to learn about the MIT and broader Boston innovation ecosystem. The projects not only add great value to the partner organizations, they also enrich students’ learning and enhance their abilities to make a greater impact in their own organizations and in the world.”

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