March 4, 2021

Leadership recommendations from an MIT leader | Talent

David Niño is a full professor of Bernard M. Gordon Engineering Leadership Program from MIT. In addition, he directs the leadership and innovation program within the area Professional Education which this institution directs to the business field for the training of managers and professionals from all over the world. Firmly committed to spreading a leadership style linked to humanism among engineers and other technology professionals.

David, what are in your opinion the main factors that explain that companies that are not technological in their foundational origin have a hard time innovating and transforming their cultures despite trying with investments and digital strategies?

That's a good question. I believe that all companies struggle to keep up so that their technological innovations are at the forefront of the market, but there are many examples of companies that were leaders in innovation for a while but later failed to maintain their status. Each success or failure is explained by a set of circumstances that are unique and specific. That is why I believe that it is important for business leaders to maintain a double vision or perspective from which to operate and make their decisions.

The first would be the look out, that is, to capture and understand the changes that happen outside its scope or its main business, attentive both to the changes that are larger and more evident and to those that are more subtle. And the other look would work inward, to measure honestly what are the capacities that each one really has and identify all those that are lacking, and from that awareness anticipate actions that serve to maintain the long-term strengths at the same time that one risks in developing new ones .

If you search through the different definitions that exist in a dictionary of the term technology, you will realize that very different aspects are always emphasized, such as the optimal use of scientific knowledge, the process and the methods applied to solve a problem, to have a compendium of skills and, of course, it is emphasized that at end of all its effects reverse in the improvement of humanity. So, returning to the question, I think it coincides that successful companies are because, in one way or another, they have technological strengths. However, the key is to really understand them and simultaneously have the will to develop alternative ways of applying them or to produce new technologies that are not yet part of your main business.

Then, the cultural aspect you allude to is complicated. In my opinion, cultures develop over long periods of time and each company has its own trajectory (with its own subcultures). Here the empirical rule of outside versus inside. Leaders must look outward, towards larger cultures and industries, and then turn their eyes inwards. If leaders do not understand what the prevailing cultures are in their organizations and the causes that determine them, it will be very difficult to adapt or evolve them in the right direction.

In this regard, an MIT professor, Edgar Schein, has written some extraordinary books that I recommend (including Organizational Culture and Leadership). Harrison Trice and Janice Beyer have also published a very complete book about it (The Cultures of Work Organizations). They explain how to understand cultures and how to adapt them. Simply put, surround yourself with competent leaders in all areas of the organization to move all your subcultures to new directions, and, something vital, do it as a team.

In the education models of the best universities and business schools, what role do you think the humanities should have in the future as a complement to technology training? Do you think it is important that engineers and mathematicians acquire a certain domain of fields such as philosophy, anthropology or psychology?

My first university degree focused on the study of Greek philosophy. And to this day (after three more titles), that training in philosophy remains one of the learning experiences that I value most in my life.

I think the humanities have a lot to offer to university students. In contrast to some technical areas of knowledge, where the applicable human experience has a short lifespan and is increasingly easily obsolete, I believe that many of the questions addressed in the humanities are timeless. Who are we (or, who am I)? How do we get to know? What is knowledge? How do we relate to each other? What is morality? These are issues that the sphere of the humanities allows you to address from infinite forms and points of view.

In the future, with the advances in biological engineering and artificial intelligence, we will have to start rethinking transcendent questions such as: What does it mean to be someone of the human species? or what does knowing mean to a person? Therefore, I am convinced that the humanities will end up recovering a prominent place in our schools and, more importantly, throughout our lives.

One of my personal mentors, Paul Woodruff, of the University of Texas at Austin, recently wrote the play The Garden of Leaders: Revolutionalizing Higher Education. It refers to the fact that the humanities not only continue to play an important role in the education of our university students, but also in the development of our future leaders. Woodruff taught me how to read books written by Greek philosophers from the mentality they had when they were written.

Why do you think that theoretical thinking is so stigmatized or devalued in the last 30 years in the business field against applied and priority practical thinking? What should be the ideal balance and what role should the university play to guarantee it?

I trained as a social scientist to appreciate that theory and practice do not have to be opposite forms of knowledge. Good theory can be practical and good practice can be documented by theory.

MIT has a motto in Latin, Mens et manus (something like mind and hand), which represents the aspiration of our institution to educate students to apply what they learn. Recently, MIT has carried out the campaign A better world, which raises this aspiration one more step towards the ideal of educating youth to apply what they learn with the superior goal of seeking the improvement of society. It represents a beautiful example of what I teach: leadership.

If you self-analyze yourself, what do you think are your best strengths, skills or attitudes? Do they match the ones that value you most in the job market?

I have done multiple self-assessments with myself and I think I have a certain objective criterion on what my strengths are. Basically there are two: the love for learning Y always be motivated to make a positive impact. Since my job right now is to be a leadership educator, my strengths match the demands I have to be able to supply.

In general, any of us would benefit from stopping to understand the content and scope of the strengths we possess and assess whether they meet our current demands. In the same way, I think it is important to consider what our I from the future we could demand and worry about developing other strengths.

Currently, I am trying to learn how to offer knowledge in an effective way through the online courses in which I participate, and this is forcing me to be creative and to have to develop new skills that I don't have so experienced. Creating new strengths is hard work, but that is what it takes to grow in new areas of contribution.

Does strong artificial intelligence and potential superintelligence Will it forever transform the role of universities, and especially the role of the teacher or educator?

I am not an expert in the field but I think it will change the way university students will learn in the future. AI-based technologies will allow personalized learning for each student. Next semester I will develop an immersion on this topic because I start teaching a new class under the title Engineering Leadership in the Age of AI. So we can resume this question next year as I hope to be better informed by then and with some critical assessment to provide.

What do you think will be the profile of the most important competencies of the secondary and university professor in the next fifteen or twenty years? How will this change affect the practice of leadership in future entrepreneurs and managers?

On July 13 I conducted a search query to educator of the future on Google and I got 217 million results. I did another search query for leader of the future and I got 928 million results. These figures already give a clear idea about our collective interests.

This question could become one of the most important for our shared history. For educators, as well as for leaders, there is likely to be a basic set of skills that will always last over time (for example, how to challenge the ability to understand the unknown, or how to facilitate the learning and growth of the intelligence of a positive way). But I believe that advances in technology (especially artificial intelligence) will shape the future of these two roles, in the same way that they will also determine the direction other global problems take, especially climate change, economic differences and political instabilities.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is causing that, from certain economic and cultural spheres, it is being considered that in the long term (towards the last quarter of this 21st century) an increasing percentage of the world population may not have the possibility of working in all his life. If this radical scenario were fulfilled, what could be the mission of technology to soften the social consequences? Is it important to lavish an ethical identity in technological progress (and the companies that represent it) to take responsibility for the consequences of their findings in societies?

There is great concern about whether AI-enabled technologies will eliminate or create more jobs in the future. MIT takes these types of ethical and social concerns very seriously, and we have several committees of teachers that have recently been convened to begin addressing them. We are also seeing that forums and ethical committees are formed to manage AI. But one aspect that we cannot ignore is that ethical codes do not necessarily affect real behaviors or actions.

Two decades ago I was co-author, along with Janice Beyer, of an academic article entitled Ethics and Cultures in International Business. In it, we urge business leaders to carefully study how ethical codes are implemented in their organizations and that they themselves should be the main tool for them to become part of the real world, in other words, they should be role models. I still think the same today.

The best MIT Professional Education training is now available in Spanish and online, such as the program Leadership in Innovation that you have come to present to Spain through a workshop on the subject Can this elimination of geographical and language barriers in training help to mitigate the inequalities of the digital revolution?

Digital learning has certainly allowed many more people than usual to have access to educators from universities in other countries. I love that my Spanish class at MIT has trained so many Spanish-speaking people all over the world. A fact that makes me corroborate that digital learning is providing access to quality education by breaking with some of the traditional social barriers, especially those that are part of the models of the most selective universities. Now, as I emphasize in my own leadership classes, the learning It is only part of the equation when it comes to having a positive impact on the lives of others.

The differential aspect is what Americans like to say about take action, that is, to gather people around a common purpose to do something that is meaningful and that enriches us all. Digital tools do not always work to do the hard work of leadership. You could even put aside all these tools and focus on practicing it among us in an essentially social and, therefore, more natural and direct way.

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