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Jackson (Guannan) Lu, Assistant Professor of Work and Organization Studies at MIT Sloan, just made one of the most enviable honor rolls in academia—Poets & Quants “Best 40 under 40 Professors.” At 29, he is one of the youngest to make the list.

Jackson Lu

Lu’s research focuses on the upsides and downsides of globalization for individuals, groups, and organizations. One of his projects focuses on astrological stereotypes and discrimination in China, where western astrological signs have become increasingly popular because of globalization. Virgos, for example, are now often discriminated against in job recruitment—and in dating—because they are stereotyped as having disagreeable personalities. Although Lu’s extensive data gathering has made clear that astrological signs do not predict personality, he is concerned that astrological stereotyping will become accurate over time through self-fulfilling prophecies.

Lu, who teaches Power and Negotiation at MIT Sloan, tells Poets & Quants that he resolved to become “not only an intellectual scholar but also someone who helps inform policies and practices in the real world.” Among his many nominators, a colleague noted that Lu “puts in great effort to ensure that the lectures are not only engaging and fun but evidence-based and practical. He is very receptive to student feedback and the efforts he puts toward the quality of his lectures show how much he cares about students’ experiences in the classroom.”

In its citation, Poets & Quants makes the point that youth, in Lu’s case, is not to be equated with inexperience: “Don’t let the age fool you. Lu has already been published in premier scientific journals such as Nature: Human Behaviour, Proceedings of National Academy of Science, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and has earned top marks in student reviews in the classes he has taught since earning his Ph.D. in Management from Columbia Business School. His research has been covered in publications like Wired, Pacific Standard, Forbes, and Quartz, among others.”

One of his nominators underlined the point. “Jackson is simply a superstar. He has published as much as anyone at this career stage and nearly all of his articles are big, impactful ideas. He also knocked it out of the park on his first try at teaching, getting 4.9/5 evaluations for both sections. He is a perfectionist and is committed to excellence in all that he does.”

When asked what he enjoys most about teaching MBAs, Lu quipped, “My students are smarter, cooler, and funnier than me.” Clearly, many of his students would take exception.

Read more about Jackson Lu’s research.

The post Anatomy of a Great Professor: Meet Jackson Lu appeared first on Leadership Blog.

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In just its 13th year, the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (SSAC) has grown to be the leading industry confab, attracting the most influential names in sports. In March, more than 3,500 participants attended the event, representing 44 states, 33 countries, 130 professional sports teams, and 200 universities. To accommodate its meteoric growth, the conference was moved from the MIT campus where it originated to the Hynes Convention Center in Boston.

Houston Rockets GM Daryl Mores, left, with data guru Nate Silver Photo: Julia Zhogina

The packed roster of nearly 200 speakers featured writer and cultural observer Malcolm Gladwell, data guru Nate Silver, Hip Hop Artist Meek Mill, Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker, and the senior leadership of several major sports franchises and media outlets. Panelists and speakers also included data analysts, noted sports journalists, and coaches and players from the premier sports teams in the country.

The lectures, workshops, and panels were as diverse as the notables in attendance.

Just a sampling:

  • Data is the New Black: Building Data-Driven Organizations
  • The Performance/Precaution Tradeoff: Player Health
  • Soccer Analytics: Shaping the Future of the Game
  • Scoring Sponsorships: Metrics to Maximize Brand Value
  • Helping Dream Chasers: Social Justice with Meek Mill and Michael Rubin
  • Ticketing Analytics: The Power of Open Distribution
  • Making the Modern Athlete: A Conversation with David Epstein and Malcolm Gladwell
  • It’s Complicated: Athlete Relationships with Social Media
  • From the Martial Arts to the Art of Negotiation – Sport, Science, Art, or Philosophy?
  • Sports Mythbusting
  • Basketball Analytics: Hunting for Unicorns
  • Baseball 2.0: Updating America’s Pastime

Creative challenges

The two-day event also included a wide range of activities from speed networking conversations between industry leaders and college students to “Chess Blitz,” which convened the brightest minds in chess to discuss the transformation of the game. The Fantasy Challenge tasked graduate students from around the world with creating and presenting new fantasy sport concepts, while the Startup Competition and Trade Show gave selected enterprises the opportunity to showcase their innovations in sports-related technologies, products, and services.

One of the highlights of the SSAC is the annual Hackathon, which brings together innovative and analytical minds to create groundbreaking solutions in the sports industry.

The Hackathon actually takes place the day before the start of the conference. Participants are provided with a brief to build a digital concept and industry experts provide mentorship. Teams then pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, and finalists present their concepts to the SSAC assemblage on the last day of the conference.

Current MIT Sloan Fellow Chris Capuano, a former Major League Baseball pitcher, was on hand at the 2019 conference to share his wisdom in the panel Unlocking Potential: The Next Generation of Tracking Data.

Read the MIT News article about the 2019 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

The post Leaders Across the Sports Spectrum Connect at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference appeared first on Leadership Blog.

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The MIT Innovation Initiative—often referred to as MITii—is launching a Proto Ventures Program to generate pioneering new companies using a process unlike anything else in higher education. Program leaders will recruit subject experts to explore transformational technologies and the resulting business opportunities that follow. “Turning ideas into impact is a really big part of MIT,” says MIT Sloan professor Fiona Murray, MITii codirector. “Enabling our community to do that more effectively has always been the core of the Innovation Initiative.”

Fiona Murray, MITii Codirector

The guiding mission of the Proto Ventures Program is to “systematically discover, experiment, mature, and launch new transformative technology ventures capable of having extraordinarily positive impact on the world.”The program also will help MITii fulfill its goal of educating entrepreneurs, translating ideas to impact, communicating new information, and promoting diversity. “We try to be the tide that raises all ships of innovation at MIT,” MITii Executive Director Gene Keselman says, “whether it be helping existing programs with resources or creating new programs where there are gaps.”

The “venture builders” who will be hired in connection with the Proto Ventures Program will connect authentic real-world problems with MIT experts, resources, and support systems to create a “proto venture.” The idea is to give those venture builders the latitude to explore the spectrum of needs in a given field, tapping experts across the MIT community to create marketable solutions.

What sets it apart
How is the Proto Ventures Program different from other entrepreneurial efforts? It puts the problem first. “Normally, students or faculty have an idea for a business, and they pitch that idea. Then there’s a panel that decides on the ones they’ll bet on,” says MITii codirector Michael Cima. “That’s a tried-and-true method for doing things. But there’s a whole other way, and that’s to start with a blank sheet and a problem area and ask, ‘What are the business opportunities?’”

Murray adds, “In many cases, the degree to which real-world problems match these research solutions depends on having a human agent in the system: the graduate student at the right time in their career or the faculty member knowing someone who can be the entrepreneur. So the venture builder is a new kind of human agent who can have a broad understanding of a particular problem domain. Rather than being confined to a singular solution, they can explore the solution space and start to coalesce possible proto ventures in those areas.”

MITii has begun accepting applications for a domain expert who will work at the intersection of artificial intelligence and healthcare, a collaboration between a new research program called J-Clinic and the MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation. The project will be a pilot for future Proto Ventures collaborations.

Learn more about the Proto Ventures Program.

Read the MIT News article about the Proto Ventures Program

The post MITii’s New Proto Ventures Program Puts the Problem First appeared first on Leadership Blog.

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How smart is your enterprise? Or maybe you don’t feel you are in a position to know. That’s what the annual MIT Sloan CIO Symposium is all about. The one-day think tank brings to the MIT campus global CEOs, CIOs, senior IT executives, and academic thought leaders to explore late-breaking technological innovations. The 2019 symposium takes place Wednesday, May 22 at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium.

Senior business executives from around the world will discover how leading-edge academic research and innovative technologies can help address the practical challenges presented by today’s volatile business environment. In addition to the meeting at MIT, the symposium will include online conversations and educational webcasts.

Erik Brynjolfsson, Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy.

Leading the Smarter Enterprise will examine how we can leverage data, machine learning, AI, and other insightful technologies to create organizations that engage more deeply with customers and stakeholders. Smart enterprises incorporate data-driven insights into every decision they make, promote talent growth, focus on consumer satisfaction, and know how to get to market more quickly than their competitors. They also know how to scale, and symposium participants will look at the key hurdles to scalability—culture, entrenched processes, and a lack of talent.

Bottom line: smarter enterprises require smarter CIOs and technologists. They require leaders who can act as cultural change agents, motivating and educating their peers in the reinvention of their organizations for competitive advantage.

An agenda packed with transformational ideas
The 2019 CIO Symposium kicks off with Crafting Data Strategies that Pay Off moderated by Barbara Haley Wixom, Principal Research Scientist, at MIT Sloan’s Center for Information Systems Research and ends with The Second Enlightenment, a talk by Andrew McAfee, Principal Research Scientist and Co-Director, MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy.

Other sessions include:

Designing for Digital: How to Architect Your Business for Sustained Success, moderated by Jeanne W. Ross, Principal Research Scientist at MIT Sloan’s Center for Information Systems Research.

The Real Impact of Machine Learning and Robotics on the Workforce, a keynote speech by MIT Sloan Professor Erik Brynjolfsson, Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy.

Future-proofing the Workforce for Digital, moderated by Kristine Dery, Research Scientist at MIT Sloan’s Center for Information Systems Research.

Review the full agenda.

The symposium will also feature the tenth annual Innovation Showcase, which features outstanding early stage companies that offer valuable cutting-edge solutions to enterprise IT.

The MIT Sloan CIO Symposium is co-organized by the MIT Sloan Boston Alumni Association, the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE), and the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research (CISR).

Register for the 2019 MIT CIO Symposium.

Watch video of the 2018 symposium

The post Leading the Smarter Enterprise: The Upcoming MIT Sloan CIO Symposium appeared first on Leadership Blog.

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Arwen COO David Fragale SF ’15 has spent the last several years advising governments, financial institutions, Fortune 100 companies, and startups about blockchain technologies. As cofounder of Atonomi, Fragale helped launch an Ethereum-based platform that provides trusted interoperability for internet-of-things (IoT) devices. “We registered the identity and reputations of devices on an immutable blockchain ledger,” he says. “By working with device manufacturers and infrastructure stakeholders, we were helping to create a universal trust environment that enables interoperability of billions of devices for data and commerce.”

David Fragale SF ’15

Fragale’s initial focus was on smart-city environments, where potential benefits include coordinated vehicle and signal controls for traffic flow and emergency vehicle access. “In the near term, for example, data from sensors and control devices on a blockchain can optimize routes for ambulances and fire trucks responding to emergencies,” says Fragale. “Travel can be made faster and safer as software turns lights red to clear intersections along the route. Looking further into the future, we foresee automated systems that pull cars to the curb and clear the street for first responders.”

In the healthcare realm, Fragale envisions medical IoT devices such as pacemakers that would support more attentive care for people living far from hospitals. “We’d also have the ability to amass powerful data sets that could vastly improve predictive analytics,” he says. “IoT is a significant force multiplier in healthcare if—and this is a big if—we can provide the necessary security, privacy, and trust that people need in order to feel confident about opting in.”

Challenges inherent in physical components—electronic and human
Security is a hurdle for both software and hardware, explains Fragale. “The risk of hackers penetrating code is on everyone’s radar these days, but we also have to protect data-sharing devices. In theory, anything physical can be tampered with.” Blockchain can address this vulnerability with applications that detect—and allow distributed third-party auditors to detect—and deal with bad-device actors.

“Another fundamental challenge for IoT is human nature. You can’t abstract people out of the IoT ecosystem and expect it to function reliably,” Fragale says. “As a potential weak point in the chain, humans can be very lazy and inconsistent about downloading security patches and software upgrades. Assuming that we continue to play a role in connecting our devices to IoT, developers must create incentives that promote responsible behavior.”

The next generation of security
Fragale has recently taken on a new role as COO of Arwen, a blockchain-based company in Boston. Arwen is developing a secure trading protocol for the exchange of cryptocurrencies and digital assets. In 2018, more than $7T worth of cryptocurrency was traded while an estimated $1B was lost due to crypto exchange hacks. Arwen allows traders to swap crypto assets like bitcoin on these exchanges without ever transferring custody to the exchange. Instead of trusting a third party or central authority, such as an exchange, traders use the blockchain as an escrow agent to perform an “atomic swap” of cryptocurrencies. Fragale notes, “Arwen is the most secure way to trade crypto. You can trade on an exchange without ever having to trust that exchange. Even if the exchange is hacked during your trade, your coins are safe.”

The post Blockchain as a Force Multiplier in Smart Cities and Beyond appeared first on Leadership Blog.

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When conceiving their new AI-powered agriculture financing venture Traive, cofounders Aline Oliveira Pezente SFMBA ’18 and Fabricio Pezente SFMBA ’18 were motivated by a startling fact. Global food demand will increase 70% in the next 30 years, with annual investments of at least $80 billion needed to keep up with the demand (according to a World Bank study). Much of the burden—and many of the opportunities for investment—lies with mid-range farming operations.

Aline Oliveira Pezente SFMBA ’18

Aline Pezente, who has spent her career in Latin America’s agriculture and commodities sectors, notes that small to medium-sized farms account for 70% of all commercial agriculture in Brazil and in the world. “Farmers in this category are particularly vulnerable to liquidity crises,” she says. “They are typically too big to qualify for significant government support, but too small for capital markets. Most traditional lenders view them as risky investments. Our goal is to bridge the gap between the borrowing needs of medium-sized farmers and the difficulties lenders face in collecting all the relevant data points necessary to risk assessments.”

Not one to one, but many to many

Fabricio Pezente SFMBA ’18

Lenders face two problems when considering these mid-range farmers, according to Traive CEO Fabricio Pezente. “This is a very complex sector,” he explains. “If you are not literate in how agriculture works, you will have no idea how to collect the data you need to assess credit worthiness. Then there’s the problem of connecting with these farmers. They’re widely scattered across Brazil, and it is very costly for banks to go out and find them.” Fabricio understands the lenders’ perspective well, having spent 15 years with Credit Suisse in Brazil before entering the MIT Sloan Fellows MBA program.

“Rather than tackling these challenges with one-to-one matching of farmer to lender, we’re utilizing artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to connect many to many,” says Fabricio. “Our platform uses AI tools to aggregate real-time agricultural data and to process the information for potential lenders. Because no lender wants to finance a single medium-sized farmer, we bundle investments across diverse sectors and scales— soybeans in Argentina, wheat in the U.S., coffee in Colombia, and corn in Brazil, for example.”

Technology that facilitates financing facilitates more technology
The main source of technology is the AI to process the credit risk assessment and generate the bundled portfolio of loans. The company is in the process of combining AI and a confluence of application programming interfaces (APIs) and microservices to create an autonomous platform that is equally accessible to financiers and farmers. “Because the execution of agreements and the transfer of funds are handled by blockchain solutions, our model reduces the friction and costs associated with traditional intermediaries,” says Fabricio. “And with continual updating of agricultural data and loan terms, the transactions are transparent for everyone involved.”

The other revolutionary aspect of Traive’s model, according to Aline, is how they approach the credit risk assessment to provide pre-planting financing. “Traditional agricultural bank lending in Brazil is based on what a farmer has performed in the past and not necessarily on their full potential. Under that model, the incentive for farmers is to cut costs before planting—cheaper seeds, less soil-friendly pesticides, and so on. None of which contribute to greater or more sustainable yields. With increased credit availability ahead of planting, farmers are more willing to invest in seeds, fertilizers, and other technologies that promote higher yields and more sustainable practices. It’s a fundamental catalyzer for the levels of production we need to achieve in the coming decades.”

The post Bridging the Gap Between Farming and Finance appeared first on Leadership Blog.

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The spinoff effect of MIT research into blockchain technology is already influencing the development of new ventures. The Blockchain Challenge (TBC), cofounded by CTO Natalie Gil SF ’17 and CEO Silvana Lopez SF ’16, was inspired by both Gil’s independent research project under MIT Sloan Professor Simon Johnson during her year in the MIT Sloan Fellows MBA program and Lopez’ desire to go beyond the hype. Launched in 2018, TBC unites global interdisciplinary teams—entrepreneurs, programmers, psychologists, economists, and others—to build the “next cool thing” in blockchain.

Natalie Gil SF ’17

“My work with Simon led me to MIT’s D-Lab and the Digital Currency Initiative,” says Gil. “As I learned about technology development ecosystems in Latin American countries, I realized that the environment was well suited to the creation of innovative blockchain applications. The combination of new digital infrastructure, good local programming talent, and rising governmental interest in tech development make Latin American countries ripe for blockchain uses cases.”

 Forty-eight hours with programmers and potato farmers
TBC has set its sights on expanding access to shared resources and creating incentives that promote more inclusive financial systems. “So far, all our use cases tie back to some form of distributed ledger,” Gil explains. “The underlying technology is fairly consistent. It’s the integration of diverse data collectors and relevant network participants that defines the distinct challenges of each case.”

Gil points to the recent TBC Peruvian Potato Challenge—an event hosted by the World Potato Congress—as an example of how blockchain technology can effectively integrate community knowledge with pioneering digital tools. The 48-hour hackathon in the Andean Mountains at Cusco, Peru brought together  agricultural engineers, agronomists, economist, biologists, and other technical experts. “Many participants have a foot in both worlds—technically trained daughters and sons who inherited ancestral knowledge from their parents,” Gil says.

The Peruvian government backed the initiative, and IBM partnered with TBC to provide technical expertise in coding and blockchain. “Because potato farming represents 13% of Peru’s GDP—and the livelihood of more than 700,000 families—the capacity of blockchain to promote inclusion could be game changing,” says Gil. Participants ultimately zeroed in on a common issue to address: how to manage plant disease outbreaks and grow crops more efficiently. Potential solutions incorporated geo-localization, image-recognition technology, machine learning, and data analytics—all supported by a blockchain platform.”

Broader lessons about blockchain
Gil emphasizes that the challenge, along with TBC’s other use cases in transportation and finance, are still in the proof-of-concept phase. “As with all responsible deployments of new technologies, we believe it is essential for strategists and developers to be thoughtful about setting expectations and managing deployment. As we learn more from our fieldwork about the promise and pitfalls of blockchain, we need to establish guidelines and regulations that protect participants and ensure the widest possible benefit from the technology.”


 

The post Global Blockchain Hackathons appeared first on Leadership Blog.

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MIT Sloan Professor Stuart Madnick is not necessarily predicting a repeat of the dot-com bubble. He is concerned, however, that the proliferation of blockchain hype obscures some serious weaknesses in the technology and makes entrepreneurs overeager to adopt it.

Madnick is only half joking when he says that the easiest ways to make money with a startup in the current climate is to put “blockchain” in the company name.

Stuart Madnick

Bloomberg.com reported on a version of this phenomenon in October 2017, noting that shares of the British investment enterprise On-line Plc surged 394% in direct response to the company’s new name “On-line Blockchain Plc.”

A wide range of financial losses
Madnick cautions business executives, investors, the financial press, and his students not to be blinded by the sparkle surrounding the technology. At latest count, Madnick and his research colleagues have gathered 72 cases of blockchain security breaches that occurred between 2011 and 2018.

“Some attacks resulted in relatively small losses in the range of $12,000, but others have cost companies as much as $600 million,” says Madnick. “In total, the publicly reported losses by cyberattack against blockchain systems during the last eight years exceed $1 billion. Our research reveals that such attacks happen much more often than is commonly appreciated. You can lose a lot of money, IP, network trust, and market confidence in a very short period of time.”

A taxonomy of vulnerabilities
Madnick and his team are currently developing a taxonomy of vulnerabilities, and he notes that certain analogies come to mind when he seeks to promote security consciousness among blockchain advocates and potential developers. “Splitting the atom is not easy and banks are made of atoms, but banks and bank vaults can get robbed. Blockchains can be hacked without actually having to ‘crack the chain.’ Blockchain may be tamper resistant, but it certainly isn’t tamperproof.”

One of the earliest cases from Madnick’s research involved a Bitcoin owner who printed his blockchain key on his t-shirt. Someone took a photo of him and used it to drain his account. “It never occurred to him that someone would do that—a classic case of leaving the key under the mat for the burglar to find,” says Madnick. “Much more common and subtle are flaws in the writing of algorithms, such as the Ethereum hack where an intruder discovered the programming mistake and used it to move the money into his account.”

Blockchain may be its own worst enemy
The things that make blockchain great also make it vulnerable, Madnick points out, especially when it comes to security.  “Blockchain’s distributed control is an important feature, meaning that there is no central authority. But it also means that there is no central ‘On’ or ‘Off’ switch. Thus, an attack is almost impossible to turn off even after you detect it, and this has happened.” One of the key notions Madnick and his team hope to dispel is that blockchain technology involves no elements of human control. And where humans are present, so is the possibility of human error. “That’s why I urge decision-makers to reflect carefully on the risks involved,” he adds, “well before jumping on the blockchain bandwagon.”

The post Blockchain Hype: Irrational Exuberance Redux appeared first on Leadership Blog.

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Simon Johnson

“One of my favorite things about MIT is the enthusiasm people have here for talking through new ideas in an informal, friendly, and direct manner,” says MIT Sloan Professor Simon Johnson, faculty chair of the MIT Sloan Fellows MBA program. “We have many such discussions and research projects underway at the Institute related to blockchain. It’s all very exciting and confusing at the moment, but we’ll gain clarity over time about which aspects of the technology deliver distinct value and utility and which fall into the category of wishful thinking. If you can show us something real that you or someone else is doing with blockchain technology, we want you to join the conversation.”

In Johnson’s view, the overarching potential of blockchain is to shift the balance of power in financial, commercial, and social ecosystems away from established intermediaries toward something new and, as yet, only partially defined. “The vision of widespread decentralization is at one end of the spectrum,” he says. “The emergence of a new set of intermediaries with nontraditional business models is also in the mix. And we already see many dominant intermediaries in the marketplace morphing their policies and practices to incorporate this new technology. I expect that some companies will adapt successfully and others will fall behind.”

Predictions of blockchain’s dominance may be premature
As to the nature of prognostication outside the MIT community, Johnson notes that the Financial Times recently poked a bit of fun at business gurus who predicted that blockchain technology was well on its way to becoming an established norm. The January 10, 2019 piece “Occum’s blockchain shaver” tracked a significant rethink by a globally renowned consulting firm between 2015 and 2019. Following three and a half years of decidedly optimistic predictions, the January 2019 assessment struck a more cautionary tone:

“There is a clear sense that blockchain is a potential game-changer. However, there are also emerging doubts. A particular concern, given the amount of money and time spent, is that little of substance has been achieved. Of the many use cases, a large number are still at the idea stage, while others are in development but with no output. The bottom line is that despite billions of dollars of investment, and nearly as many headlines, evidence for a practical scalable use for blockchain is thin on the ground.”

A need to get into the weeds
“I think it’s helpful to remember that blockchain applications are still very much in an exploratory phase,” says Johnson. “We’re applying a lot of technical firepower to those efforts.” He notes, for example, that MIT’s Digital Currency Initiative (DCI) has dozens of MIT students and researchers working with a variety of companies and development agencies on projects designed to harness blockchain’s potential. DCI’s overriding mission is to empower individuals by making it as easy and fast to move value across the world as it is to move information.

Although it’s difficult to say at this point which aspects of blockchain will turn out to be interesting and consequential, Johnson is upbeat about the technology’s future. “We have robust investigations underway, and I’m confident that we will create value with blockchain applications across a variety of sectors.” Johnson’s latest book Jump-Starting America: How Breakthrough Science Can Revive Economic Growth and the American Dream, with coauthor and MIT Economics Professor Jonathan Gruber, examines the lessons of the post World-War II American success story and lays out a plan that will create the industries of the future—and the jobs that go with them.

The post Seeking Evidence For and Against Blockchain Applications appeared first on Leadership Blog.

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When it comes to miracle cures and silver bullets, we humans can be a susceptible lot. But if you are wary of falling in line behind the pied pipers of blockchain technology, you’re in good company. A growing contingent of researchers, business leaders, finance professionals, and tech experts are resisting the hype. At the same time, many who urge caution acknowledge the outsized potential of blockchain and are eager to determine how to exploit it for competitive and societal advantage.

Gary Gensler

“So much of life is about maintaining perspective,” says former Goldman Sachs partner, Wall Street regulator, and MIT Sloan senior lecturer Gary Gensler. “I think it’s essential to apply that mindset to blockchain technology. As often happens with potential breakthrough technologies, the rush to adopt it may be outpacing broad knowledge of its limitations.”

Assessing your use case
If blockchain technology isn’t applicable to all aspects of finance and entrepreneurship, how best to identify where the technology will create or add value for an enterprise—or for society as a whole? “A blockchain is an innovative database tool that facilitates novel approaches to money and the use of available computing power through a shared ledger system,” he says. “If your data lends itself to a ledger structure, then take a look at whether blockchain technology could enhance its utility or value.”

Gensler focuses on two key features that distinguish blockchains from traditional ledger systems. “The technology enables append-only logs, and it requires multi-party consensus about what the next block of data should be. Before you ever get to the currency side of things,” he says, “you can make an initial assessment of your use case with a handful of questions related to those two characteristics.”

The simple economics of blockchain
In Gensler’s mind, the assessment starts with a simple set of questions that tie back to the essential nature of the technology:

  • Which transactions and data need recording?
  • Which multiple stakeholders require write-and-read access to your ledger?
  • Which verification and networking costs can you reduce by using blockchain technology?

In relation to this last question, Gensler cites the work of MIT Sloan Associate Professor Christian Catalini and University of Toronto Professor Joshua Gans. The two researchers recently updated a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) about the economics of blockchain technology.

In “Some Simple Economics of the Blockchain,” Catalini and Gans explain that the cost of verification relates to the ability to cheaply verify the attributes of a transaction. “If we can reduce the amount of infrastructure needed to ensure a consensus of facts, we can conceivably lower the threshold for creation and participation in such networks—monetary or otherwise,” Gensler says.

The second cost consideration highlighted in the NBER paper is networking. Catalini and Gans note that “a blockchain allows a decentralized network of economic agents to agree, at regular intervals, about the true state of shared data. This shared data can support multiple types of online transactions and corresponding payments, exchanges of IP, information, or other types of digital assets.” In digital marketplaces, benefits could flow from increased competition, reduced privacy risks and barriers to entry, and the diminished market power of a platform operator resulting from the joint investment in shared infrastructure by network participants.

The future is a hybrid
Given the buzz around blockchain technology and its potential to decentralize economic activities, many organizations fear that other companies will figure out the technology first and gain a competitive advantage. Gensler urges all organizations to proceed with caution. “I don’t see a massive wave of decentralization sweeping across the global economy any time soon. Instead, I think you’ll see nodes of decentralization where entrepreneurs are able to solve collective action challenges—i.e., how to incentivize network participants with tokens or other means—and deliver a broad public benefit. I also foresee nodes of existing centralization that continue to provide broad public benefits. Finally,” Gensler says, “I think we’ll see a number of hybrids develop, such as the Australian Stock Exchange, that allow a limited number of participants into the network and achieve verification efficiency gains using blockchain technology.”

The post Cutting Through Blockchain Hype to Harvest Real Value appeared first on Leadership Blog.

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