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October 1, 2016

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Technology Review
June 2, 2010

Space Companies Get NASA's Attention

Firms look to provide automated landers and inflatable modules.
For many years the entrepreneurial space industry--collectively called "NewSpace"--has criticized NASA as slow, bureaucratic, and difficult to deal with. NASA, in turn, has devoted the bulk of its spending to major aerospace companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin, not the entrepreneurs. However, as NASA and the White House redirect U.S. space exploration efforts, NewSpace companies are finding fresh opportunities to work with NASA. A case in point is NASA's new emphasis on technology development. At a workshop last week in Galveston, TX, NASA officials outlined their "point of departure" plans for developing enabling technologies for human space exploration beyond Earth orbit. Key technologies of interest include automated landers for robotic missions to the surface of the moon, Mars, and asteroids, and inflatable modules that can be attached to the International Space Station (ISS).
Technology Review
June 2, 2010

Jewel taps technology in pre-release video concert

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Album release parties were once a way to generate buzz and boost sales of new music. These days, they may be one of the few moneymaking opportunities left for the music business.
Technology Review
June 2, 2010

AT&T caps phone data usage with new wireless plans

NEW YORK (AP) -- AT&T Inc. will stop letting new customers sign up for its unlimited Internet data plan for smart phones and iPads, hoping to ease congestion on its network by charging the people who use the most data more. The move comes just in time for the expected unveiling of Apple Inc.'s new iPhone next week.
MIT Research News
June 2, 2010

More is Less

Complex computer models can involve thousands of variables. But paradoxically, adding more variables can sometimes make them easier to work with.
The architect Mies van der Rohe is famous for promoting the slogan “less is more.” But if Venkat Chandrasekaran, a graduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, had a slogan for his own work, it might be “more is less.”

Science, engineering and other quantitative disciplines are largely concerned with uncovering the mathematical relationships between data points — such as energies of molecules, measurements of temperature or gene activity, or stock prices. In most cases, adding more data points just makes the math more complicated. But sometimes it makes it simpler. And for many types of calculations, if there are additional data points that will make them simpler, Chandrasekaran’s techniques will find them.
Read Full Article at MIT News Office
Technology Review
June 1, 2010

Wolfram Alpha Finds iPad Niche

The Elements app suggests a future direction for the "knowledge engine"--e-book interactivity.
Last May, the talk of the search world was Wolfram Alpha, the online engine that provides graphically presented answers to computationally oriented questions tapping myriad math, science, and other data sets. But by April 2010, Wolfram Alpha's traffic hovered below the numbers achieved in the launch month of May 2009. Though this does not capture use by third-party applications--including Microsoft's Bing search engine--Wolfram Alpha hasn't emerged as a notable search destination. But the emergence of e-books provides Alpha with a new outlet--as a ready-made supplier of interactive graphics, plots, charts, and real-time data. These features can be incorporated within publications developed for Apple's iPad and other devices. "Deeper information becomes available by way of tapping," says Theodore Gray, cofounder of Wolfram Research.
Technology Review
June 1, 2010

Neural Stimulation for Autoimmune Diseases

A startup is developing an implanted stimulator to treat such illnesses as arthritis and inflammatory bowel diseases.
Setpoint Medical, a startup based in Boston, is developing a nerve stimulator designed to dampen the out-of-control immune system that triggers autoimmune diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis. The technology is based on a decade of research elucidating how the brain controls the immune system, particularly inflammation. The treatment has not yet been tested in patients, but based on animal research, scientists hope it will provide an alternative treatment that is more effective and have fewer side effects than existing drugs. Over the last decade, Kevin Tracey, an immunologist and neurosurgeon at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, NY, has shown that inflammation is controlled in part by the vagus nerve, which carries signals between the brain and a number of visceral organs. Most notably for immune function, it makes direct connections to the spleen, which houses different types of immune cells poised for release at times of infection.
Technology Review
June 1, 2010

Surveillance Software Knows What a Camera Sees

Software offers a running commentary to ease video searching and analysis.
A prototype computer vision system can generate a live text description of what's happening in a feed from a surveillance camera. Although not yet ready for commercial use, the system demonstrates how software could make it easier to skim or search through video or image collections. It was developed by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, in collaboration with ObjectVideo of Reston, VA. "You can see from the existence of YouTube and all the other growing sources of video around us that being able to search video is a major problem," says Song-Chun Zhu, lead researcher and professor of statistics and computer science at UCLA.
MIT Sloan Management Review
June 1, 2010

Giving Consumers License to Enjoy Luxury

People will spend more freely if you first help them feel more virtuous.
According to an October 2009 article in The Wall Street Journal, shoppers have suffered from “luxury shame” since the financial crisis changed “the guilty pleasure of shopping…to plain old guilt.” How can marketers overcome such consumer guilt and revive consumer spending?

One answer may be for marketers to tap into the so-called “licensing effect” -- a consumer behavior wherein shoppers are more likely to partake in the guilty self-indulgence of shopping if they’re otherwise feeling virtuous. In fact, the authors’ research demonstrates that making an altruistic decision -- like a charitable donation -- is likely to increase a consumer’s luxury spending.

In one study, the authors asked participants to make a hypothetical choice between purchasing a relative necessity (a vacuum cleaner) or a relative luxury (designer jeans). Participants who in the previous part of the study had imagined committing to a virtuous act (volunteering for a charity) were significantly more likely to purchase luxury jeans over a vacuum cleaner than those who had not.

In other words, for the licensing effect to occur participants did not even have to perform the virtuous act; simply imagining it was enough to license their self-indulgent choices. This finding suggests that merely intending to start a diet tomorrow could be enough to license spending on a box of chocolates today. Imagining oneself in good shape counterbalances the negative attributes associated with the chocolate indulgence.

The authors’ research has implications for online shopping, where marketers have control over the sequence of purchasing decisions. Starting an online retail interaction by offering shoppers an opportunity to choose a charity to which they would like the retailer to make a small donation on their behalf can boost shoppers’ self images -- and thereby increase the likelihood of their choosing luxury items.

Another approach to applying the licensing effect to marketing could be item bundling. For instance, programs offering customers the option of buying so-called carbon offsets to counter planet-warming emissions generated by their airplane flights have been effective in easing customers’ guilt at using airline transportation.

In summary, stimulating indulgent consumption can be as easy as giving customers the opportunity to make a donation or imagine themselves in good shape. Actions such as participating in an online charity campaign or merely placing donation bags near the entrance area of a store do not require expensive investments. Yet such initiatives can license consumers to indulge their taste for luxury.

This article is adapted from “Giving Consumers License to Enjoy Luxury,” by Uzma Khan, Ravi Dhar and Svenja Schmidt, which appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review.
MIT Sloan Management Review
June 1, 2010

Are You ‘Pushing’ in a ‘Pull’ World?

A new book argues that companies need to adapt to a fundamental change in the business world -- and offers advice on making the tough transition.
Time was, marketers “pushed” advertising in the direction of potential customers to promote new products and services. But these days, consumers have grown accustomed to “pulling” that information for themselves by (among other things) searching the Web.

This shift from push to pull is no longer just a marketing phenomenon; it’s occurring in all aspects of business, from human resources to research and development. So contends the new book The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion, by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison (New York: Basic Books, 2010).

The authors define pull as “the ability to draw out people and resources as needed to address opportunities and challenges.” The characteristics of pull include collaboration, flexibility and bottom-up initiatives. By contrast, push relies on centralized control, conformity and top-down direction. Pulling sounds like a great idea in principle. But how can traditional push corporations make the transition to become pull corporations? The authors offer some practical advice about taking the first steps.

One step is the practice of “reverse mentoring.” Instead of seasoned executives grooming young employees, the process would work the other way. Nor does age have to be the sole determinant of who does the mentoring. Employees who are versed in pull technologies (Facebook, Twitter) could mentor other employees who are not yet hip to the pulling power of social media.

Another pull opportunity is to focus on exceptions to company norms and procedures. For example, IT applications are typically designed to standardize and automate processes. As such, they are usually ill prepared to handle aberrations -- customers seeking unusual payment terms or one-of-a-kind treatment. Rather than looking askance at these exceptions, companies should collect data on them. By doing so, they might be able to spot market trends or opportunities before their competitors do.

Helpful as these steps might be, they are but a small part of what will be a colossal push-to-pull transition for most organizations. The authors don’t sugarcoat the magnitude of what they’re proposing. If anything, they sound a dire warning: “It won’t be easy,” they write. “But the choice has become that we adopt these techniques and thrive, or we choose to ignore them and face a great risk of failure as passion, talent, and material resources head elsewhere.”

This article is adapted from “Are You ‘Pushing’ in a ‘Pull’ World?,” by Alden M. Hayashi, which appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review.
MIT Sloan Management Review
June 1, 2010

The Effects of Simultaneous Innovation Strategies

In the pursuit of innovation, corporate executives have multiple strategies at their disposal. Rarely do they pursue only one. More often than not, they pursue a mixture. After spending five years studying the innovation strategies of 81 global pharmaceutical companies, the authors of this article found that some strategic combinations resulted in productive synergies -- whereas other combinations interacted negatively.

For example, the authors found that a combination of star and non-star performers on a company’s research and development team enhances innovative performance, as measured by U.S. biotechnology patents. Their findings also show synergies between internal R&D expenditures and strategic alliances -- and suggest that a strong internal R&D capability allows a company to select and pursue the most promising strategic alliances. Moreover, strategic alliances and acquisitions frequently reinforce each other.

But in some cases, the simultaneous pursuit of multiple innovation strategies can be a waste of resources. For instance, the authors discovered that the type of knowledge obtained through strategic alliances was often redundant with the knowledge obtained through an investment in rank-and-file workers. Likewise, investments in star performers and assertive R&D spending can also lead to redundant outcomes.

In conclusion, the authors suggest that managers should carefully weigh the unforeseen costs associated with interdependencies between different innovative mechanisms. Managers should resist the siren song of the innovation grab bag -- that is, pursuing as many innovation strategies as possible -- in favor of a more deliberate approach.

This article is adapted from “Innovation Strategies Combined,” by Frank T. Rothaermel and Andrew M. Hess, which appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review.
MIT Sloan Management Review
June 1, 2010

Is Your Company As Customer-Focused As You Think?

Many managers assume their products and services will be relevant tomorrow. But employees hide problems and markets change. These five questions will help you assess your vulnerability.
Most managers agree that achieving sustainable, organic profit growth requires delivering on a clear, precise customer promise; continuously improving on that promise; periodically innovating beyond the familiar; and supporting all of that with an organization open to new ideas and negative feedback.

But how can senior executives ensure that everyone in the organization grasps and supports the brand promise? How can managers create an open organization, so that rank-and-file employees are unabashed about sharing customer complaints with upper management?

Based on interactions with more than 150 senior managers and a wide-ranging review of pertinent case studies, marketing professors Patrick Barwise and Seán Meehan developed five questions managers can pose to help assess their organization’s ongoing ability to satisfy customers -- and thereby ensure that their products and services stay relevant.

No. 1: Can middle managers accurately describe your customer promise?

By asking middle managers this question, senior executives can gauge whether those further down in the hierarchy understand the customer promise. Encouraging middle managers to articulate the customer promise can also help senior executives learn how clear and explicit the customer promise really is. The more clear and explicit it is, the better it is.

For example, Procter & Gamble Co.’s Tide detergent promised to get clothes cleaner than any other product when it launched in 1946. This clear and explicit promise was -- and remains -- easy to state; it is not subject to misinterpretation by the customer. It is unambiguous. By contrast, “overnight delivery” implies delivery first thing. But to an office worker, it probably means 9 a.m., whereas to a construction site foreman it could mean 7 a.m.

No. 2: Can all members of your senior executive team name the three things that most undermine trust among your existing customers?

Since bad news tends to get filtered on its way up the hierarchy, there’s a danger top management won’t hear about the organization’s failures to deliver on its customer promise. The goal of this question is to transmit the voice of unhappy customers to the top of the company.

Yes, focusing on customer dissatisfaction -- which typically occurs when the company fails to deliver on its promise -- is hard, because it involves pointing fingers or revisiting bad decisions. But focusing on dissatisfaction also allows managers to uncover and act on the root causes. Why is this important? Because customer dissatisfaction undermines customer trust, which in turn diminishes the value of the brand.

No. 3: Is your brand really the best option for customers? Will it continue to be next month and next year?

When you believe in your marketing story or are in love with one of your brand’s distinct attributes, it’s easy to delude yourself into thinking you trump the competition. But do your customers agree? This question forces managers to confront the ego-bruising possibility that their competitors have better offerings.

How can you learn what your customers really think of you versus your competition? Procter & Gamble asks its executives to conduct hands-on customer research. About 70% of P&G managers have visited consumers in their homes to learn how its products (and those of its competitors) fit into their daily routines. Managers see with their own eyes what is good and bad, what is valued in a product and what is taken for granted.

No. 4: Have you embraced any novel ideas that have produced significant innovations beyond the familiar during the past year?

The first three questions force management to confront difficult internal issues. This one requires management to look beyond what’s familiar and ask: How can we meet genuine customer needs in new ways? The key is to frame the aim as “beyond the familiar” -- as opposed to “completely new to the world.” The innovations of Apple Inc. epitomize this aim. Throughout its history, Apple has focused on making technology accessible and attractive to the wider market -- in other words, its focus has not been on breakthrough functionality that only geeks will find useful.

To cite a few examples: The early Mac wasn’t the first computer with a graphical user interface. The iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone. There were plenty of MP3 players before the iPod, and iTunes wasn’t the first online music store. Yet Apple has gone on to dominate these markets because its main concern has been to meet customer needs -- and make sure the products are easy to use and attractive. Apple’s products are often “beyond the familiar” but they are seldom “completely new to the world.”

No. 5: Have frontline staff posed any uncomfortable questions or suggested any important improvements to your offering during the last three months?

In most manager-subordinate relationships, managers overestimate their openness to unwanted messages and underestimate the extent to which the power difference discourages subordinates from speaking up. This inhibits the flow of bad, albeit useful, news and discourages employees from presenting constructive criticism or confessing their own mistakes.

So if the answer to the above question is no, your company probably needs to work harder to encourage openness. A case in point: When Facebook Inc. CEO Sheryl Sandberg worked at Google Inc., she made a mistake that cost Google several million dollars. After she apologized to Google cofounder Larry Page, he told her: “I’m so glad you made this mistake.…I want to run a company where we are moving too quickly and doing too much, not being too cautious and doing too little. If we don’t have any of these mistakes, we’re just not taking enough risk.”

Of course, top management always says it wants frontline staff to take risks. But when a multimillion-dollar mistake draws praise from the CEO, frontline staff starts to believe it.

This article is adapted from “Is Your Company As Customer-Focused As You Think?,” by Patrick Barwise and Seán Meehan, which appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review.
MIT Sloan Management Review
June 1, 2010

The Digital Natives, and You

What it means when people who grew up with technology in their hands join the work force.
As new generations of employees arrive -- generations born and raised with technology in their hands -- do managers really understand the huge sea change in how the young work force is wired? Jim Fister, a longtime strategy futurist at Intel Corp., doesn’t think so.

Fister believes that the next generation of workers -- the ones in school right now -- excels at collaboration. In fact, he believes that collaboration comes so naturally to them, they scarcely give it a second thought. “When I look at those high school students, I see everything done collaboratively, socially,” he says. “They’re all working together in groups.

“Get a bunch of kids together for a robotics challenge and just watch the really cool things that happen. It’s astounding. I dare you to go out to a local high school and see the way kids operate. You’ll also see how their methods accomplish a global task.

“Inside corporate walls we all talk about teamwork, but realistically, when we came in, we were all given our individual projects, and then we would kind of roll them up into a team task and achieve success. But employees coming in now are naturals at sharing information and collaboration. They can’t picture another way. And they’re doing it in ways that those of us who were trained along individual lines just don’t understand.

“They naturally team up, and do handoffs in the middle of projects -- process handoffs that would make normal corporate folks shudder but that are natural ways of doing business in a social network environment today, like a high school or even a university.

“And that’s the work force -- the one coming in -- that’s really going to change the way that IT innovates. We don’t need to change their habits; we need to recognize that they’re doing the right thing, and we need to change our habits as a result.”

This article is adapted from “The Digital Natives, and You,” by Michael S. Hopkins, which appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review.