Technology and innovation, on a human scale

Scientific progress, the availability of technical facilities, cross-fertilisation between different research communities and combined innovation are giving us an unstoppable progression of human capabilities. But how much, and more importantly, which innovation is really on a human scale?

 

Giovanni Miragliotta, Professor of Advanced Planning, Co-Director of the Industry 4.0 Observatory, Politecnico di Milano

 

Everywhere we look, as citizens and as researchers, we read about the “magnifiche sorti e progressive[1]” that, by means of new technologies, are changing our society and our lives. From the more familiar ones, such as broadband communication networks, to the more advanced, such as bioengineering, to those operating behind the scenes, such as cryptography, it all comes together to the point where it is almost difficult to realise the potential for change in the research and innovation system we have built up in developed countries. This potential is realised from time to time by some unexpected  discontinuities, such as the pandemic we are currently experiencing, which, by combining the various existing innovations, show us how the way we work, teach, plan and treat can be overturned in just a few months. A very powerful reflection in this sense, also and above all because it comes from a man of letters and not from a scientist, is the one recently published by Alessandro Baricco[2].

This occasion, which has shown us the extent and speed of possible change, can be used to elaborate on what innovation is at a human scale; it more important than ever to do so right now, in view of what is being developed in universities and laboratories all over the world, since the forthcoming technological breakthroughs could materialise a change, which many believe (and I am one of them) could be disruptive to the very core of our society.

If we consider western democratic states as the main scope, our society rests on a set of pillars, a mix of worldview ideology, morals and common sense, which form the glue. Some technological innovations (first and foremost bioengineering and artificial intelligence) are, so to speak, on a collision course with these pillars, and could lead to new societies, the extent to which they will be on a human scale is difficult to predict, at least as we currently interpret that scale.

Let’s us consider the central role that the work plays in the structure of society, even just focusing on its economic value and disregard the psychological aspects or that of personal fulfilment; for the first time in history we are beginning to glimpse a possible future in which not only we can no longer predict what our children’s jobs will be in 30 years’ time, but we are beginning to doubt that there may even be any jobs left. In an increasing number of specific fields of work (=Narrow AI), in fact, machines have already achieved superhuman abilities and, as you probably know, there is a huge debate about the balance between jobs created and lost. The analyses carried out in the Artificial Intelligence Observatory, at least for the next decade, seem to indicate a positive scenario[3], but if we extend the horizon of analysis, we cannot exclude a situation in which the demand for human labour will be much lower, made unprofitable or useless by the new skills of machines[4].  In the context of fragile monetary and fiscal equilibrium of nations, a significant alteration in the labour market could represent a strong element of instability.

Changing the technology of choice, the advent of biotechnology could in the near future bring about such major changes that the very foundations of society will be shaken: how will the concept of the family evolve if it were normal for human beings to live to be 120 years old, with youth lasting over 40 years?  What will happen when the wealthier classes, in addition to being able to afford better traditional health care, can also afford to take steps to improve their genetic set-up in a way that cannot be matched by most people? Will we, for the first time in history, observe a divergence in our species, with a (small) fraction of the population having more capable, durable and long-lasting “hardware” (body + brain) than the majority of the population?

These examples make us think about the extent of possible economic and social change, but they do not yet seem to affect the ideological foundations of the society we have built in the West since the American and French revolutions, namely the profound belief in the value of freedom and the uniqueness and individuality of the person. But what if, in principle, by observing all the interactions of a person with their environment and their fellow human beings, it were possible to predict exactly what their feelings and needs would be? What would happen if Google or Facebook or others, on the strength of the immense amount of data they collect about us, knew how to advise us on the right book, the right job, the right investment, the right wife, the right preventive surgery, much better than we would know how to do on our own, confused and lost in an endless number of important decisions to be taken dozens of times in our (very long) lives? Would we then still be “free”? And if there is any freedom left, should we make use of it, or would it not be more convenient to delegate our decisions to a “life advisor” technology that would achieve to us a much higher probability of success and happiness than we could do with our own hands?

This last scenario, envisaged by many thinkers, opens up a radical rethinking of the founding principles of our society, first and foremost the liberal principle, leading to outcomes that could range from a further loosening of existing points of reference (in the wake of Bauman’s liquidity) to its total opposite, a very rigid technocracy.

The point is always the same: it is not possible to make predictions of any kind and, after all, the little that needs to be known, of pure speculation on the future, has already been written. These reflections, on the contrary, bring us to a very great responsibility, that of remaining very vigilant over the changes, even the slight ones, that technological innovation is imprinting on our society.

A future awaits us which can only be on a human scale if we will care about building it.

 

 

Reading notes

This reflection arises, and can be further developed, by drawing on the insights of the following authors:

  • Yuval Harari: I recommend the whole trilogy on man’s past, future and present;
  • Mark Tegmar, “Life 3.0”, and the debate at the Future of life Institute;
  • Zygmunt Bauman, in particular his key text “Liquid Modernity”.

 

 


[1] Citation of the Italian romantic poet Giacomo Leopardi, “magnificent destiny and progressions”

[2] Alessandro Baricco, “Five years in one”, https://www.ilpost.it/2021/05/28/baricco-2025/

[3] See report Artificial Intelligence Observatory, “On your marks”, ed. 2019.

[4] Consider, for example, “A 3D printed car which is designed by AI”, www.thereviewstories.com/czinger-21c-ai-3d-printed-car/

 

Innovation: the key pillar for future managers

A year has now passed since I introduced myself with my first article for the Polimi School of Management community. Back then, I had only high hopes for the path I was about to undertake. Today, as a result of the new knowledge and skills that I have acquired, I have many more convictions. One of the main focuses of MIP’s MBA Programs is innovation, which is covered in many courses, such as the last one I attended: Innovation Strategy, held by Dean Federico Frattini, Prof. Josip Kotlar and Prof. Reinhard Prügl.But first, what is innovation?

In the current economic and social context, innovation is one of the main development drivers and a determining factor for business success. It is talked about a lot, but all too often without its true meaning being known. My favorite definition of innovation is that of the Hungarian biochemist, Albert Szent-Györgyi:

“Innovation is seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.”

One of the most interesting aspects is that this “innovation awareness” no longer belongs only to large companies: in fact, we are witnessing a process of a progressive “democratization of innovation”, also driven by the most recent paradigms, such as Open Innovation, which are multiplying the opportunities to innovate, even in smaller companies. This is, above all, thanks to the lower cost of access to innovative solutions, ideas and skills, a privilege historically reserved for large multinationals.

This is the historic moment when every company should ask itself: “Am I doing things right?” And to achieve this awareness, one cannot only look inside, but also (and above all) to the continuously developing economic and social context that surrounds us.

As the famous inventor, Charles Franklin Kettering, once said: “If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.” And this is absolutely true! If the world around us changes, we, too, must change accordingly. And if we haven’t done it yet, we are probably already lagging behind.

Successfully innovating, however, is not always easy. There are some enabling factors that can help achieve the desired goal.

The first of these is having good vision, or the ability of the top management to steer their company effectively towards the chosen goal.

Another important key factor is the culture of failure. While it is essential to have clear methods to avoid the commitment of resources in favor of initiatives that will not be successful, it is equally essential to activate mechanisms for capturing knowledge and learning from cases of company failure.

Finally, the last fundamental factor is to have a well-defined strategy, focused on specific objectives. Frenzy and instinctive decisions can be very dangerous. For example, introducing a very powerful technology, but one which you do not know what to do with, or do not have the skills to manage, can have a negative impact on the performance of an organization.

In this regard, from what emerges from a recent study conducted by PwC, 54% of the managers interviewed argue that within innovative companies there is a struggle to bridge the gap between business strategy and innovation strategy. Both strategies must move in the same direction. Even better, they should be two sides of a single model geared towards achieving economic results over time. And this is even more achievable through the concept of Open Innovation, theorized by the US economist, Henry Chesbrough, in the essay “The era of open innovation”.    According to Chesbrough, “Companies can and must make use of external ideas, as well as internal ones, and access markets internally and externally if they want to progress in their technological skills”. Adopting an open approach, therefore, means innovating by leveraging one’s talents within the organization, but also involving various actors outside the company boundaries.

The result? A much more democratic and much more widespread access to new technologies.

Now, the last question which could come to your mind is: “Ok, in the MIP classes you talk a lot about innovation. Do you really put it into practice, though?”

The answer is yes, if you’re willing to. MIP offers you access to research articles, events and webinars about innovation. Most of all, however, it provides all the alumni with the chance to be supported in the creation and development of deep tech startups, providing services for acceleration, access to funding, mentorship, and advice, thanks to the strong connection to PoliHub, the Innovation Park & Startup Accelerator of the Politecnico di Milano. So what we learn is not just the concept of innovation, but how to make it real. And that’s important, because, quoting Goethe:

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”

 

About the author
Marco Di Salvio

Student of the International Part Time MBA at MIP Politecnico di Milano.
Industrial Engineer currently working @ Gucci as WW Supply & Demand Planner, based in Florence.
Tech passionate, Cinema-lover, Sports addicted.
Solving the world’s problems one spreadsheet at a time.

 

Innovative design and technology for an inclusive society: new Joint Research Center

Creating a more ‘smart’ and inclusive world: this is the scope of the new Joint Research Center ‘Innovative design and technology for an inclusive society’ created through a five-year agreement between the Politecnico di Milano, NTT DATA, and POLI.Design, with the participation of the Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering of the School of Management.

The new Research Center will see the work of NTT DATA — a leading Japanese multinational company in consultation and the IT sector — POLI.Design — a company of reference for post-graduate education that acts as a hinge between the university, institutions, companies and work — and, for the Politecnico, the Department of Electronics, Information and Bioengineering, the Department of Design, and the Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering.

The idea of working together grew out of not only a desire to make joint studies on innovative technological issues, but also sharing important values for promotion together, such as equality, diversity, and inclusion.

One of the collaboration’s primary goals is to use the most advanced technological and design tools synergistically to initiate a cultural transformation, to ‘focus on people’, supporting the inclusive development of society and placing technology at the service of individuals.

The collaboration establishes financing for activities and research projects related to different areas and topics of primary importance to create and realize ‘transparent’ technological solutions with impacts on our daily lives: Smart Mobility, Cybersecurity, Blockchain, Internet of Humans, Diversity Management, Universal Design, Design for Social Benefit, Product and Service Design

In particular, the contribution of the Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering will focus on the issues of Data Analytics and Technology Tools for Diversity and Inclusion in close collaboration with the Department of Electronics, Electronics, Information and Bioengineering at the Politecnico di Milano.

For more information, read the press release.

Practicing Continuous Innovation in Digital Ecosystems

Luca Gastaldi, Associate Professor, Politecnico di Milano
Jeannette Visser-Groeneveld, Executive Secretary CINet, University of Twente
Harry Boer, Professor of Aalborg University

On 20-22 September 2020, the 21st CINet Conference on Practicing Continuous Innovation in Digital Ecosystems was held. The conference was preceded by the 20th CINet PhD workshop.

The event was hosted by the School of Management of Politecnico di Milano (Luca Gastaldi, Mariano Corso, Daniel Trabucchi, Stefano Magistretti and Rosella Onofrio) but took place virtually, due to the Corona pandemic.

The PhD workshop attracted 16 students from six different countries, who presented and discussed their research designs and early findings. Reflecting current hot topics in industry and science, the studies discussed included digital technologies, maturity and transformation, business model innovation, and digital platforms.

In the conference, the same topics were on the top of the agenda. In total, the 110 attendants from 16 countries worldwide, presented twelve papers on Value Creation in Digital Ecosystems, and an additional four papers on (Innovation in) Ecosystems. Other popular topics included Design Thinking and Continuous Innovation (eight papers), Innovation through Digitalization (eleven papers), and Healthcare Innovation (four papers). Furthermore, considering emerging societal issues in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, a special session was held on Innovation and Resilience, aimed at stimulating new research avenues and knowledge on how innovation management approaches are interlinked with resilience in organizations and how resilience can become a focal aspect in these approaches and innovation outcomes

Keynote addresses were delivered by Professor Wim Vanhaverbeke (Surrey Business School, United Kingdom) who spoke on Digital Technologies and the Role of Innovation Ecosystem Management: Examples from Agriculture and Healthcare, and Professor Roberto Verganti (Politecnico di Milano, Italy and Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden), who shared his thoughts on Data and Platforms in the New Normal.

Having an entirely virtual conference cum workshop was an entirely new experience for all participants. The digital platform created by Luca Gastaldi and his team functioned perfectly, without any glitch. The conference program was fully navigable, and gave direct access to the session rooms, the plenary rooms, and the papers collected in the conference proceedings. Attendance to the sessions was quite comparable to that of “normal”, physical, conference and the same held for the interactions between the participants.

All in all, a very and, perhaps, unexpectedly, good experience. Yet, many participants agreed that going virtual can be done quite effectively and provide a good climate for presentations and discussions, but does not exceed the benefits of face-to-face interactions. Hopefully, the 22nd CINet Conference in Gothenburg, Sweden, 12-14 September 2021 brings us back to the old “normal”.

Exploring Innovation and Design as Leadership: the IDeaLs project

The world of Innovation Management is being disrupted, as companies all over the world explore new ways to develop new products and services. With the advent of Artificial Intelligence and other digital technologies, the role of people in innovation processes is increasingly uncertain.

IDeaLs was born to explore how companies can achieve Innovation through collective Design activities and shared forms of Leadership.

Founded by the Politecnico di Milano and the Centre for Creative Leadership, IDeaLs is a research platform that unites Academics and Managers to discover new ways of engaging people in activities of collaborative design to Make Innovation Happen.

Over the past two years, IDeaLs has collaborated with nine international organisations operating in diverse sectors, ranging from utilities to logistic providers, healthcare organisations, and sportswear.
For each organisation joining the platform, a core team of 2-3 managers would bring an innovation challenge to the research team. Over a time period of 4-6 months, each challenge was analysed, and multiple workshops performed with the partner organisation. At the end of the time frame, the results of the research, and the impact in the organization, were shared among all partners in a collective final event.

In line with the requests made by managers, IDeaLs aims to develop new tools and methodologies to support organisations during their transformation processes. Over the past years, IDeaLs has developed a “Story-telling” experience: upon briefing by managers, through a series of workshops, participants designed their own transformation story, a roadmap for both individual and collective change. This experience had a positive effect on all partner organisations: firstly, every participant committed to three concrete actions to perform, resulting in an average of 120 small, autonomous steps towards the destination outlined by the managers; and secondly, the workshops increased the levels of engagement towards innovation, which was constantly monitored by the research team.

Ultimately, IDeaLs represents a community of “innovation leaders”, who discuss relevant topics on leadership and innovation, besides learning about the case-studies of the other companies. Three yearly events are organised in which members discuss their insights, share success stories, and examine their organisations’ approaches to innovation.

As a founder of the platform, the School of Management is contributing both to consulting the companies and to the research.

First of all, the activities are related to the design of new methods and tools to foster collaboration among individuals in an innovation setting. Second, the platform aims to give a methodological contribution, developing a measurement instrument which makes it possible to assess the strategic readiness of an organisation to pursue an innovative direction.

From a research perspective, the team is involved in the design of research directions for each year and is currently developing three separate Ph.D. programs related to the platform. The School of Management is further responsible for the dissemination of the knowledge acquired, through a yearly booklet which describes the partners’ projects, as well as presenting the theorical insights in international conferences and publishing the same in academic journals.

When it comes to us as individuals, we are often overwhelmed by innovations and know very well that the problem goes far beyond the process we apply to make them happen. The world of innovation was so focused on finding the perfect innovation process, but it forgot the people who run it.[1] IDeaLs aims to bring the person back to the centre, as a driver of organisational innovation.


The Research Team – http://www.ideals.polimi.it/

Scientific Directors: prof. Roberto Verganti; Prof. Tommaso Buganza; Joseph Press, Ph.D.
Research Team: Paola Bellis; Silvia Magnanini; Daniel Trabucchi, Ph.D.; Federico P. Zasa

_________________________________

[1] Source: IDeaLs Booklet 2019

What is innovation and how can it be achieved in daily life?

Today “Innovation” is a keyword used in a huge variety of contexts. In the business world, it has become almost synonymous with fame, fortune and money, and it is a tool that can make your business much more competitive. But what is innovation really?

If we Google it, we get the following result:

“Innovation – Every novelty, change, transformation that radically modifies or in any case causes an effective rejuvenation in a political or social order, in a production method, in a technique.”

Trying to translate it into simple words, innovation is nothing more than a change that positively transforms a situation or status quo. The concept of innovation is closely linked to one of the main dogmas of Lean Manufacturing: continuous improvement. If, within a company, it can be carried out through investments in R&D, Industry 4.0 technologies, innovation can also be carried out at an individual level. Each of us can achieve continuous improvement and be an innovator.

According to research published in the Harvard Business Review, there are 5 characteristics that distinguish the most innovative people:

  1. Ability to associate ideas, problems and situations: as Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is connecting things”. Innovative people are able to generate ideas from old solutions, also taken from other areas, recombining them in a different way.
  2. Ability to ask questions: innovative people ask “Why?” and “What if?”, and they try to understand how existing processes (i.e. the status quo) can be modified to provide better results and are able to change their assumptions, going beyond the boundaries dictated by their own thinking and imagining opposite alternatives.
  3. Observation: innovators must be able to observe common phenomena in detail and without preconceptions.
  4. Experimentation: an innovator must be able to effectively translate new ideas into prototypes and pilot projects.
  5. Relationship: with this term, we intend to highlight that some of the innovator’s time and energy must be dedicated to the relationship with individuals capable of providing him with a radically different perspective on the same problem.

So, the question now is “how do you innovate?” Here are two pieces of advice I’d like to share:

CHANGE YOUR MENTALITY AND TRY TO GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE

Our brain often tends to rest in routine, in already known thought patterns and, for this reason, finding the mental space to innovate is difficult. Innovating means allowing your mind to accept risky ideas, stepping outside the comfort zone and questioning your own little world. The price of freedom is uncertainty! If you can handle the emotional fear of not knowing what will happen, then you can absolutely be free and, without preset patterns, thinking out-of-the-box becomes simpler.

WORK AND INTERACT WITH PEOPLE DIFFERENT FROM YOURSELF

In our private and working lives, we tend to always relate to people who have the same mentality and worldview as ourselves, because they will always be ready to support our theories when necessary. Of course, It’s helpful to work with people who understand you and think like you, but not always. So, when you can, it’s always best to surround yourself with people who have a different mentality than your own. It is impossible to grow up without understanding the point of view of people with ideas distant from yours.

Ok, now what? How to put these tips into practice?

The options are many. You can start small, in daily life, traveling, meeting people with different lifestyles, attending multidisciplinary conferences, reading, etc. Otherwise you can make some slightly more “drastic” choices. Mine was to apply for an International MBA at MIP. What prompted me to limit my social life, choose to go back to school and devote time to classes and exams? Was it madness? Masochism? Maybe in part, yes, but the main motivation is the continuous search for personal innovation, which nowadays is becoming more and more a necessity rather than an option. And what better environment to reach it than in an international context full of ideas like an MBA?

 

About the author
Marco Di Salvio

Student of the International Part Time MBA at MIP Politecnico di Milano.
Industrial Engineer currently working @ Gucci as WW Supply & Demand Planner, based in Florence.
Tech passionate, Cinema-lover, Sports addicted.
Solving the world’s problems one spreadsheet at a time.

 

Disruption? No, thanks. Innovation and Leadership in the New Normal

Whatever the post-Covid future, the new normal will require a fundamental change in the leadership of companies. What kind of mentality should leaders have to do business and innovation in a world that will be completely different? In a period in which the temptation will be to be increasingly competitive due to the scarce resources available, learning to share may be the only strategy that can guarantee survival.

 

Roberto Verganti, Professor of Leadership and Innovation
School of Management Politecnico di Milano, Stockholm School of Economics, Harvard Business School

 

Many executives wonder about a fundamental question: how to get ready for the “new normal”? How markets will look like when the main wave(s) of the Covid-19 pandemic will recede? How to redesign products, services and operations to address potential structural shifts?

The start line to rethink how we operate is getting close. Those who get ready now, will start with the right foot. Those who wait, will look like dinosaurs from an old era (though that era was just a few months earlier).

Magazines, futurists, consultants, organizations. Everyone is trying to picture how the scenario will look like as people open up their doors to a new normal life. And everyone agrees on two things: first, the world will look different than before. Second, this transformation will not be temporary. Even when Covid-19 will be fully defeated (and hopefully it will be), our attitude towards socialization, our openness towards the world, our need for health (and anxiety for new infections), will be radically different, for the bad, but also for the good.

Yet, as we move closer and try to get into the details of how life will look like, how markets and operations will work, the real challenge emerges: the phenomenon we are facing is so unprecedented, disproportioned, and swift that capturing the essence of what will happen is implausible. A simple figure to explain the rapidity and magnitude of the discontinuity: in March 2020 more than 7 million Americans have filed for jobless claims per week. This is about tenfold compared to what happened during the financial crisis in 2008. So, regardless to the intelligence and effort we invest to predict what will happen, we need to admit that the answer to the question “how the world will look like?” is: no one really knows. This is a bit of a dismay for the classic way we picture leaders (and experts), who are supposedly those who always know. Yet, in this context, “pretending to know” is the most dramatic mistake we could do.

Amy Edmondson illustrates in her book The Fearless Organization that when a person admits that she does not know, then she opens the doors to learning. To understand how to do business in the new normal the mindset we need therefore is not to guess how it will be, but to get prepared to learn.

How? Being the context completely new, we cannot rely on past experience. We will need to learn “on the fly” through continuous experiments and adaptation. There are two ways to experiment and learn: by competing (learning by trying) or by collaborating (learning by sharing).

Learn by Trying. This the classic way of learning. The purpose here is to learn by yourself in order to beat your competitors. In this approach, organizations compete by conducting different experiments. Each organization tries its own ideas, fail, learn, adjusts the direction, and iterate. As companies aim to disrupt their competitors, they do not share their findings and insights with other organizations, nor the data that fuel the learning. This implies that every time an organization has an idea, it needs to explore it by only relying on its own resources.

Learn by Sharing. In this approach organizations conduct again different experiments. They generate their own ideas and iterate. However, they share the data and findings of their experiments. Why? Because this way they can leverage the trials of other players. If an idea has already been tested, and fails, others can avoid this unpromising path and focus on other options. And if the idea succeeds, others can build on top of it, instead of having everyone starting from scratch. Of course, this path reduces distances among competitors. Disruptions with one big winner and many losers are less likely to happen. But the advantage, however, is that that this approach requires less resources (individual and collective) and less time to get to good solutions. This increase in overall productivity and speed facilitates the growth of demand for solutions, which fuels returns to each player. In other words, this mechanism of learning replicates the mechanisms of the prisoner’s dilemma: cooperation between players leads to higher yields than what players would earn if they would maximize their own individual returns.

Learn by Trying is the kind of learning that has been prized in the past decade by many innovation thinkers and epitomized by the motto “fail often to succeed sooner”. It worked as long as the environment changed rapidly but in a linear fashion, so that learning from one experiment could be applied to the next one without the context being changed dramatically meanwhile. The change we are facing now with Covid-19 is however discontinuous and unprecedented. If in this context everyone conducts experiment by itself, each player has not sufficient time to explore this uncharted space of solution and then iterate before the context evolves again.

To innovate in the new normal we need to learn by sharing. This strategy is the only one that can guarantee sufficient scope, speed and productivity of the experiments. In fact, data sharing enables a larger community of players to participate to the experiments, from a larger variety of settings. And the sharing of findings enables to avoid unproductive trials.

Learning by sharing is already practiced in scientific research connected to Covid-19. Foer example, PostEra, a start-up based in Santa Clara, CA, and London, UK, is coordinating a massive collaborative project, Covid Moonshot to rapidly develop effective and easy-to-make anti-Covid drugs. The focus of the project is to design inhibitors of the SARS-CoV-2 main protease (the enzyme that enables the virus to replicate). The project leverages data shared by experiments conducted in a synchrotron radiation facility, Diamond Light Source, that has identified 80 fragments of molecules that might attach to the protease. A community of scientists and manufacturers use those data to design compound inhibitors, which are submitted through the PostEra website. The start-up then runs machine learning algorithms in the background to check for duplications and prioritize candidates for testing. More than 3’600 molecules designs have been submitted with only 32 duplications in the designs.

Shared learning is getting its way also in ordinary business not connected to Covid-19. Microsoft has recently launched an Open Data Campaign. The Open Data movement promotes the sharing of data, similarly to what Open Source does for sharing of software code. Microsoft will develop 20 new collaborations built around shared data by 2022, including, for example, publishing a Microsoft’s dataset around broadband usage in the US.

Note that shared learning does not imply that different players collaborate on the same idea or solution, like in consortia. On the contrary, organizations explore different ideas and experiments. This enables to explore the entire space of solutions. What is shared, instead, are the data that feed the experiments, and/or the insights and findings they generate.

Learning by sharing is built on a will to cooperate. Which is not easy to achieve. Especially in a period of scarce resources. The temptation is to look inward, and behave even more competitively, to secure the few things left, instead of focusing, collaboratively, on building more. What kind of culture and mindset will innovation leaders need to promote learning by sharing in their own organizations?

Whatever the future will look like, the new normal will require a fundamental change in the way we create innovation and lead our organizations. Whereas the innovation mantra of the pre-Covid era was to “disrupt competitors”, this is not really the moment to disrupt. This is rather the moment to collectively re-build a new economy and a new world. The real heroes, in business and society, will not be the disruptors, but those catalysts who will foster a cooperative mindset. Which, in innovation, it means to share data and learnings from the experiments everyone conducts. Organizations will need to try different competing ideas, but they will also benefit from sharing insights, in order to avoid unpromising avenues, improve collective productivity, and rapidly build a new society. Covid-19 is the moment of truth for leaders: where they can prove their authentic orientation to lead organizations around purpose and meaning.

The future of business schools between innovation and entrepreneurship

International business schools are competing in a situation which is undergoing a profound and rapid transformation. The need for increasingly specialised managerial training, competition from new players and building a more inclusive and sustainable future, requires a rethink of operating and business models.
What are the transformations required for greater entrepreneurship and innovative capacity of business schools?

 

Federico Frattini, Dean MIP-Graduate School of Business, Politecnico di Milano

 

International business schools are competing in a situation which is undergoing a profound and rapid transformation. This requires a thorough rethink of business schools’ “standard” business and operating models.

Some of the trends that have recently emerged are the shift in demand for managerial training from “general management” programmes to “specialist” programmes, and stronger competition in the management training market owing to the entry of new players. Consulting and executive search companies are expanding their service to include training for the development of human capital. New “edtech” players are entering the training market, and global technology giants (e.g. Microsoft, Google, Amazon) and increasingly seeing the training world as a possible new frontier to sustain their growth.
The demand for life-long learning services is growing rapidly, due to the fast obsolescence of skills that are learned in “standard” management training courses. Extra-curricular activities and what we call “campus life” are becoming increasingly important in students’ choices. Finally, there is a “crisis” of academic institutions’ social value as they swiftly lose reputation, especially in the eyes of the younger generations.

In addition to these transformations, there are others that have been profoundly accelerated by the consequences of the Coronavirus health emergency. Business schools need to redefine their purpose and clarify their contribution toward building a more inclusive and sustainable future. But they cannot delay the start of a deep digitisation of their processes, teaching methods and approaches.

Responding to these challenges requires a profound rethink of business schools’ business model. Some of the relevant changes that should be carefully considered by international business schools’ leadership include moving from “disciplinary” to “transversal” skills, including entrepreneurship, digital skills, sustainability, critical thinking. There needs to be a move from “separate from practice” training models to “hands-on” training based on a growing interaction with managerial and entrepreneurial practice. Undifferentiated approaches for training for “homogeneous populations of students” need to move to “customised” training, in a “one-to-one” perspective from “intermittent” and time-concentrated training to “on-demand” training, and continuously mixed with students’ professional activity and private life. We need to move from Face-to-face vs. digital training to “omnichannel” training models. The focus on the production of knowledge through research and its transfer through a portfolio of training products must change to the research and integration of knowledge available outside the business school boundaries (for example availability of high-quality training content on MOOCs – Massive Online Open Courses platforms).

These transformations have a scope and potential impact that clash with the “bureaucratic” culture of business schools, their consensus-building processes, and governance mechanisms that require time to approve decisions fail to meet the above conditions. It is essential for international business schools’ leadership to promote a transformation of organisational culture, processes, staff skills, and organisational structures for greater entrepreneurship and innovative capacity. This means borrowing the management solutions and approaches which business schools teach and applying them to their management models. For example, to manage “radical” innovation projects, which require profound changes to established routines and operating models (e.g. the launch of distance learning platforms, or life-long learning services enabled by digital technologies), many business schools are creating spin-offs to place these projects in a more agile and entrepreneurial organisational background. Many business schools are creating positions among their Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) staff to promote a process of continuous digital innovation and transformation of operations and training. Coopetition models in business schools are becoming widespread. These aim at reaching a higher critical mass and sharing the risks and costs that radical innovation projects entail (such as the development of innovative Learning Management Systems).

Many of these transformations will take time to manifest in the world of business schools, but they will be fundamental to sustain their competitiveness over time and ensure their survival.

Amazon Innovation Award 2020 – PrimePeerz, an innovative and sustainable project

Five students in their second year of the Master’s Degree in Management Engineering have won first prize in the Amazon Innovation Award 2020, with the PrimePeerz project.
Giorgio Damuzzo, Nicola De Giusti, Simona Esposito, Fulvio Gargiulo and Romain Lerouge faced the competition as an integrative project during the Logistics Management course held by Professors Alessandro Perego and Riccardo Mangiaracina, going up against 300 other students from Italian and French universities.

They decided to work on sustainability: they were tasked with devising an innovative solution for the processes of product pick-up, packaging, shipping and returns, which would be as efficient as possible and at the same time would result in a reduction of CO2 emissions, an issue which is very important for Amazon at the moment.

The team’s idea focuses on “last mile” delivery, the core concept is the relational economy of human beings, with the intention of exploiting the existing social ties between Amazon’s large customer base in order to reduce the company’s environmental impact.
PrimePeerz aims to establish further consolidation points in the downstream logistics network, by aggregating orders from customers that are linked to each other, thereby reducing the number of shipments, the resulting transport costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

We are very pleased with the victory, because it shows that we have managed to capture both academic interest and recognition from Amazon, and for us this means we have reasoned in the right way.”

The award, postponed due to the current epidemic, includes a trip to Seattle, where our students will present their idea to managers at Amazon’s headquarters.

Amazon has selected their project to represent the Politecnico di Milano at the national finals, in competition with the Politecnico di Torino and Rome Tor Vergata. In the final, which took place remotely on April 17, Amazon then decreed their project as the winner of the contest.

It was a shame for us not to be able to celebrate the victory all together physically and to be able to meet Amazon’s representatives in person. We hope to make our dream come true and visit Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle once the health containment measures are completed.”

«Good ideas aren’t enough: at MIP I learned how to develop them»

Dialogue with colleagues from the master’s programme, two years of experiments and progress and, above all, a mentality devoted to continuous improvement. Martin Leban, AMIE (now IMIE) alumnus, tells us how the idea of a shampoo contained in biodegradable marbles came about.

Training in the family business, discussions with colleagues in the master’s programme from around the world and, finally, the establishment of a startup that, inspired by principles of social and environmental sustainability, gives life to a small product, but with a large potential. It’s the story of Martin Leban, a young Slovenian entrepreneur and co-founder of the startup OneTwoThreeZero, as well as alumnus of AMIE (now evolved into IMIE, International Master in Innovation and Entrepreneurship) at MIP Politecnico di Milano: «The master’s taught me that there are a lot of ideas, good and less good. What makes the difference is the effort put into developing them. And that’s exactly how I and my colleagues conceived of shampoo in biodegradable marbles».

From the idea to its implementation

Leban comes from a family that owns a small hair care product company. «An environment in which I learned a lot, observing day by day», says Leban. «Creating no waste cosmetics has been a goal of mine since I was working at my family company and saw how much plastic we produce. When Renata Alessio, Indira Pambudy and Sarra Elamin started the project of biodegradable shampoo marbles at AMIE I immediately liked it and asked them to join the team».
The ecological potential of this idea is clear: «The cosmetic industry uses a lot of plastic for its packaging, even for small quantities of a product, as is the case, for example, with the vials distributed in hotels. We started from a product conceptually like the detergent capsules used in dishwashers. In that case, however, the covering is a plastic material. For us, the challenge was to find a biodegradable material that at the same time was resistant enough to contain the shampoo inside it». A challenge taken up by his two partners and chemists, Anja Pajntar and Uros Novak. «It’s a research process that has now lasted for two years. The difficulty is due to the small percentage of water in the shampoo, 10%, which on its own is a big savings compared to the 80% of average shampoos. We could have fallen back on a product without water, but the effect on hair wouldn’t have been the same». The roadmap for OneTwoThreeZero foresaw a series of important tests in April 2020, but the current health situation has forced Leban and his team to postpone. «By now we’re there, however. So much so that the laboratory that hosted us until now is no longer sufficient; we will shortly start to produce larger quantities of our product».

The importance of not being satisfied

Leban doesn’t hide that the MIP experience was crucial for the creation of this startup. «Starting with my classmates, from 17 different nationalities. This diversity has proved to be a real value added, because it gave me exposure to different points of view and cultures, which generated a true creative flow. Now I make use of the principles of design thinking learned thanks to the master’s programme, which taught me how to set up a balanced team, evaluating the most strategic individual characteristics for the company».
The project work experience was also important: «It’s one of the reasons I chose MIP. I learned what makes up the development process, which isn’t only a matter of notions, but also of mentality. Focusing deeply on an idea, to discover its real potential and give life to a series of virtually infinite possibilities».
Finally, some advice for those are about to enrol in a master’s programme: «The best way to experience it is to try to arrive with clear ideas on what you want to achieve. And never be satisfied, but work on yourself. The level of lessons is very high, and pushes you to aim even higher, to increasingly deepen your knowledge. It’s this mentality that allows you to approach your goals, both if you want to work as an entrepreneur, or as a consultant. The job prospects tied to this master’s are manifold».