MIT Study: Entrepreneurship Education delivers Value beyond Startups

At MIT, the delta v accelerator is our capstone entrepreneurial experience for students. As educators, we always want to know what students gained from our programs and how it helped them in their post-MIT life. We recently interviewed delta v alumni to understand how their entrepreneurship education has had an impact on their life, and we wanted to share the findings.   

We reached out to over 400 delta v alums from 2012-2019 with 60 responses.

87% Consider Entrepreneurial Skills a Core Competency

Slightly more than four out of five survey respondents currently consider themselves entrepreneurs. However, the vast majority of alumni (87%) view entrepreneurial skills as a core competency by 87% of respondents – rather than just a means to start their own business. These people may be creating their own ventures now, but they may transition throughout their careers between entrepreneurship and other roles. It’s important that these entrepreneurial skills will support them in either situation.

Respondents consider who consider entrepreneurship a core competency credit both the MIT program as well as the importance of hands-on experience to develop their entrepreneurial skillset. Many also noted they view entrepreneurship as a set of skills that must be honed through practice.

Entrepreneurship is Seen as an Important Part of People’s Identity

Many alumni view entrepreneurship as a way to solve important problems and pursue their visions. Entrepreneurship is the lens through which they approach these challenges and visions, with 62% of respondents reporting that an entrepreneurial outlook is an important part of their identity.

However, a select few respondents see entrepreneurship as a strict occupation, and not a core part of their identity. Others described themselves as entrepreneurs within their specific field or company, for example, an “entrepreneurial scientist.”

92% Say MIT Entrepreneurship Classes Support their Current Role

The classwork that delta v alumni participated in has proven to be on target. A full 92% of respondents either strongly agreed or agreed that what they learned in MIT entrepreneurship classes supports their current role, even if they are not an entrepreneur today.

Specifically, delta v alumni said the skills learned in the classroom help them in the following situations:

  • It gave me a playbook when I have to do things I have not done before.
  • I use what I learned at MIT every single day, in working with my team, financial planning/strategy, product development and management, and making sure I am looking at the right problems, in various different ways.
  • I focus a lot on management – and classes in particular help understand people and teams.
  • I need to assess new technologies according to their business promise and their technical risks.
  • I can more effectively voice my concerns and disagreements.
  • I can think about problems from a variety of different angles – rather than just technically.
  • The classwork provided a structured approach to innovation.  
  • The presentation skills and network taught in delta v are still used to this day.

Entrepreneurial Skills are Marketable

Respondents feel that the entrepreneurial skills they learned while at MIT are marketable with 79% strongly agreeing or agreeing with that statement. They feel that:

  • The skills are an asset in their current role (86%)
  • The skills will be an asset in their future roles (68%)
  • The skills will help them in landing a future job (37%)

Some of the general entrepreneurial skills respondents bring to the table include customer identification/market research, Identifying competitive positioning and use cases, product design, business modeling, and scaling a business.

MIT’s entrepreneurship courses benefit participants by providing frameworks, structure, and discipline to their ideas. It also gave them opportunities to test out ideas and take risks, iterating those ideas in a supportive and knowledge-based environment. Many respondents mentioned the supportive delta v ecosystem and cohort, providing mentors in the entrepreneurship community and a network that gave the entrepreneurs confidence.

One of the delta v alumni sums it up nicely, saying:

“delta v gives people the opportunity to create transformational value in society. It gives young people the tools and skills they need to make that happen. The future rests on the next wave of entrepreneurs to bring about that change and growth.”

My Reflections: One Week Working from Home

Today I put the dogs in my car to drive to a field where I could take them for a walk. I then went back to the house because I forgot my phone and when I came out, I got into the other car, and started driving to work. I was well into the next town before I realized it was 8:00, and I work from home now. It was a bit of a wake up call.

I know my mind is not in the game yet. I am running from item to item and finishing nothing. And, I don’t even have kids in the house. Like others, I do have family, community, and colleagues that I am worried about.

So, I am going to cut myself a break and figure this out.

I may need a slotted time. At a former employer, I was a slave to instant messaging, and I still hate it. I worked long hours, and I was busy, but not productive. I don’t want to make that mistake again. I don’t know what this “new normal” will look like yet, but I encourage all of you to find a way to work that works for you.  

If you are home with kids, you know they need, deserve, and want your attention. If you have a spouse or partner at home and you are sharing a room or alternating rooms, you have to find a rhythm. If you are caring for an elderly parent, relative, or friend, I’m sure you’re especially stressed right now. 

We all need patience. In one of my training sessions, the instructor said that you need patience and that you may not be able to do everything. They are right. This is a unique opportunity, and how can we take advantage of it? Each of us needs to figure out how it works for them and let one another know. 

As part of MIT’s entrepreneurship community, we are a team that cares about each other. The work will get done as long as we take care of ourselves. So, I encourage you to experiment. If you want to partner up as we do for delta v applications, then set up time ahead so others can plan for it. If you need time for yourself, take it. 

It looks like this is going to be a long road. This is a tough time, no doubt. We need to continue to deliver excellent programming, engage with students, teach in an innovative way, and continue to be a high performing team. However, first and foremost, we need to take care of ourselves, and if we all do that, we will get through this even stronger.  

I know we’ve heard Rudyard Kipling’s quote from The Jungle Book, “For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack,” and in this situation, I believe it is extremely apt and timely. 

Those are my thoughts for today. 

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments as well.

Why We Need to Redefine Start-up Culture With Positive Mental Health Habits

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Data shows self-awareness practices helped M.I.T. entrepreneurs better manage the stress of entrepreneurship.

Anxiety and depression are rampant among entrepreneurs. The stereotype of a founder — fueled by caffeine and ramen noodles, while forgoing sleep, exercise, fresh air, friends, and family in the quest for success — has been the norm for years. It has been encouraged, and even glorified, by start-up culture.

The Inc. article “The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship” explores this topic and explains, “the same passionate dispositions that drive founders heedlessly toward success can sometimes consume them. Business owners are ‘vulnerable to the dark side of obsession.’” Yet this is not healthy or helpful for long-term success.

Compounding this problem is the start-up founder’s hesitation to show weakness or self-doubt. They feel the need to project confidence for investors and employees, despite any inner insecurities. They also tend to connect their self-worth and identity to their start-ups, which can lead to feelings of depression if their start-up fails.

We also commonly see “impostor syndrome” — an unjustified, yet pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence. This can slow down an otherwise well-designed new organization by curtailing its ultimate impact and potentially even its existence. The majority of entrepreneurs have experienced these feelings, but they are pushed away and not discussed.

At M.I.T., we don’t believe entrepreneurship has to be this way. The health of a start-up doesn’t need to impact founders’ mental health. We believe self-awareness and mental preparedness can enhance an entrepreneur’s abilities. This, in turn, leads to creating a more successful business. The right tools can help entrepreneurs work through stress, rather than work in spite of it. This is a real game changer for the start-up culture.

Through a new exploratory program, we’ve found data affirming that when entrepreneurs understand their thoughts, feelings, and biases, it is useful in managing stress — and this is a skill that can be taught. In fact, 93% of M.I.T. delta v entrepreneurs believe self-awareness practices can help them create more successful businesses. Here’s more about the program:

Entrepreneurial Confidence and Communication

Last year, we debuted Entrepreneurial Confidence and Communication (E.C.C.) at M.I.T.’s delta v accelerator. This is the first comprehensive program to address mental health challenges in the start-up community and builds on our previous smaller experiments in this area. Our goal was to teach 84 student founders and their team members tools to build greater self-awareness and to provide a confidential environment for venting and peer feedback. Stress is inevitable in start-ups, but by learning how to be less affected by that stress, participants could make better choices for themselves and their start-ups.

In the first six weeks of the program, participants were taught the tools of self-awareness, including meditation and mindfulness, and their benefits. What are the benefits of meditation or mindfulness? Studies abound, but two that may be of particular interest to entrepreneurs are:

  • Harvard study on practicing mindfulness meditation for at least 30 minutes a day reports that the practice can increase grey matter in the hippocampus. This is one of the more important meditation facts, since this part of the brain plays an important role in memory and learning.
  • Another study, published in Heliyon, showed that practicing mindfulness meditation for a short period of time may enhance visuospatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning.

In the second six weeks, they applied their learnings, discussing key choices entrepreneurs face — taking breaks vs. spending all your time on your start-up, working through limiting beliefs, considering others’ perspectives, and approaching challenges with fear or curiosity. Participants learned through readings, optional group meditation, and small group sessions where they could talk confidentially about challenges they were facing with people who could relate to what they were going through.

The results were significant. Participants didn’t just learn that a self-awareness practice can benefit them — they decided to implement it on a regular basis in their own lives. The overall experience had a measurable effect on their well-being.

The student entrepreneurs started becoming what we call “antifragile.” The term antifragile is used by professor and author Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book titled Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. When applying his systems analysis to humans, antifragile people are those who “grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.”

A comparison of surveys conducted before and after the program, with 60 participants responding, revealed the following results:

Learning new skills

Before the program, 65% of participants had never meditated and only 21% were regularly practicing meditation or mindfulness.

By the end of the summer, 88% of had independently established their own regular, weekly meditation or mindfulness practice, despite heavy workloads and continual critical deadlines. And, their practices were measurably impacting how they worked through stress. After the program, 53% of participants were using a deliberate technique to calm themselves when in the midst of a stressful situation.

Sharing challenges

Most founders rarely have the opportunity to talk about the challenges of entrepreneurship with someone who is knowledgeable, and whom they don’t feel the need to impress. Participants in E.C.C. reported significant value from both small group discussions and optional one-on-one sessions, which were both 100% utilized by the students. The fact that very busy students took full advantage of E.C.C.’s optional one-on-one coaching, in particular, indicates the strong value the participants realized from the program.

Credit: The Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship

Making better choices

We hypothesized that self-awareness tools could help founders make better moment-to-moment choices in their daily entrepreneurial lives. We found that after the program, 34% of participants who had established a meditation or mindfulness practice were more confident in their communications with others. And 40% were more aware of the emotions they were feeling, choosing to go ahead and feel those emotions rather than push them away.

The data affirms that self-awareness tools are useful in managing stress — and they can be taught. These tools help you understand your automatic responses to difficult situations and to perspectives different from your own. You start to notice problems earlier and feel more personal confidence, making it is easier to treat yourself and others with respect and to be resilient in the face of entrepreneurship’s challenges.

As demonstrated in this Boston Consulting Group article “Unleashing the Power of Mindfulness in Corporations,” meditation and mindfulness have proven positive effects in other industries — and now we have data that shows they can be significantly beneficial in entrepreneurship. Integrating self-awareness into the entrepreneurial experience will help prevent burnout, encourage better mental and physical health, and create better team dynamics. It’s great for entrepreneurs, and it could be great for their start-ups’ bottom line too.

Self-awareness education can guide entrepreneurs to not only take care of themselves, but to spread these skills across the entrepreneurial ecosystem, building company cultures that are supportive of both individual and start-up success. As M.I.T.’s delta v program works to redefine the start-up culture by incorporating positive mental health practices, we want to help entrepreneurs practice the self-awareness skills necessary to nurture their own mental health and create more successful businesses.

This piece originally appeared in Thrive Global and was co-written by Kathleen Stetson.

Why Give Back? Reflections from delta v Board Members

At MIT delta v, the capstone educational accelerator for MIT students run by the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, our board members are a very special part of the entrepreneurial mix. Each summer, the student teams work extremely hard to identify their beachhead market, build the right product, and secure initial customers as they form and grow their startup companies. On a daily basis, they receive mentorship and coaching from the Trust Center staff and the Entrepreneurs in Residence, but the rubber really meets the road when it’s time for the board of directors meetings. The board members bring in their real life, outside perspectives as the teams prepare to formally present their startups at the culmination of the program on Demo Day.

The delta v students live and breathe each detail of their startups every day, and interactions with their board members gives the students a chance to step back, look at the big picture, and convince others of their vision. They must rise to the challenge of communicating their business plan clearly and succinctly. There is a huge opportunity to learn from people on the board, who know a great deal about business fundamentals and have tremendous networks that can help an entrepreneur.

Our board members are incredible! Each of them is assigned to a startup team based on their industry interest, and they dedicate a minimum of 90 minutes per month during the summer to these meetings, not even counting preparation and follow up. The board’s specific role is to evaluate a team’s progress based upon rubrics and metrics focusing on customer and market understanding in month one, product development in month two, and the readiness of the business to launch in month three. In each meeting, the board evaluates how successful the team has been in meeting benchmarks and then awards the team an associated amount of equity-free funding. As a result, both the teams and the members of the board take these meetings very seriously.

But what’s in it for these volunteer board members?

Each of these people are highly successful, incredibly busy business executives, entrepreneurs, faculty, or domain experts. I’m sure each and every one could use a little extra downtime in their lives – especially over the summer – but instead they choose to engage with us at delta v. None do so passively; they come prepared and are tough graders for these student teams. Since delta v is an education accelerator, none of them have an equity stake in the companies they advise.

So why give back? I reached out and asked board members why they chose to do this. Their answers are truly amazing and inspiring.

Why have you chosen to give of your time, talent, and wisdom?

“Entrepreneurship requires a support network. It is almost impossible to do it alone. I have received so much support from the MIT ecosystem (that) I want to do whatever I can to help provide the same support for others in the community.” Adam Blake, entrepreneur and investor, Board Member for Viridis

“To me, the energy that radiates from the MIT community is like no other in the world. The ‘pay-it-forward’ mindset is so intrinsic to the culture at MIT; thus, I feel honored to be able to share anything I have learned so far, which might be helpful to others.” Amanda von Goetz, FERMATA Profiling,
Board Member for
Season Three

“My brain finds all this engaging. The board members and the structure help these [students] move along on their developmental path, which in turn contributes to the world’s ‘good’ business karma.”
Antoinette Russell, Eaton Vance, Board Member for
CaroCare

“I have received a lot of help and encouragement in my career to take on tasks that seemed impossible (sort of like starting a company!), and this is my way of paying it forward.” Chris Zannetos, Covered Security, Board Member for Quantifai

“All the time I invest in it is well spent, for it’s equally inspiring and enriching to hear new ideas, thought processes, and extract so much from all this talented and diverse melting pot.” Jerome Selva, IBM Watson Customer Engagement, Board Member for Quantifai

“Entrepreneurship matters! It drives our society forward and helps us solve the world’s greatest problems. Giving our time and sharing our experience is how we keep the startup fire alive.” Max Faingezicht. Entrepreneur, Board Member for Precavida

“Servant leadership is very important to me – it’s all about enriching the lives of others, building better organizations and ultimately creating a world that is more caring and equitable.” Rita B. Allen, Rita B. Allen Associates, Board Member for CaroCare

With all the worthy causes, why delta v?

“It’s always as much of a learning experience for me to be a part of a team on the ground floor of some amazing ventures. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to network with students in the program, as well as colleagues and business professionals/executives throughout different disciplines and industries within the Boston community.” – Rita B. Allen

 “delta v is the program that I wish existed when I was a student. I believe it epitomizes the ‘manus’ part of the MIT motto ‘mens et manus’ and serves as one of the most important mechanisms for enabling MIT technology and talent to create value for the world.” Adam Blake

“It is an incredible opportunity to connect and reconnect with out-of-this-world alumni from all corners of the MIT community, to problem solve alongside diverse minds, and to continue learning and growing through the experiences of others.” – Amanda von Goetz

“delta v is a driving force of the entrepreneurial ecosystem where you mix talent with motivation to go out and change the world.” Max Faingezicht

What is one thing that you can look back on during this summer’s program that makes you say, “This was worthwhile”?

“The common passion and conviction embodied by the participants – alumni, faculty, and board of directors – to seek ways to make the world a better place.” – Jérôme Selva

“The team I worked with is moving to India to start the company that they worked on. I’d like to think that we helped them to refine their approach over the summer and seeing the team follow through with real action is very gratifying.” – Adam Blake

“To be able to be a part of the launch and initial pilots of CaroCare, a new venture founded by two visionary young women.” – Rita B. Allen

 “I have found the teams to be tremendously open to feedback and re-assessing their assumptions; seeing them not just take our advice on face value, but really evaluating the feedback and exploring whether it should impact their plans. That makes it worthwhile.” – Chris Zannetos

“Seeing the progress of the teams is humbling. The amount of work that happens in just a few weeks gives us a glimpse of what is possible when we are focused and determined.” Max Faingezicht

“The team’s energy, their passion, their pure and unbridled excitement for what they do, is contagious in the best possible way. This is positive energy that reinvigorates and re-inspires you, which you can then take back with you into your own respective spheres.” – Amanda von Goetz

If you could share one piece of advice with students as they launch their startups, what would it be?

“You need to lead. Never forget that pivoting – and communicating the pivots – is an integral component of building.  You cannot build this on your own – you need those teammates – but you also need to lead.” – Antoinette Russell

 “Try to get as far as you can with as little capital as you can before scaling up.” – Adam Blake

“Get physically fit and work as hard as possible to stay that way. Being a founder is not an easy job, and it comes with a pretty hefty amount of stress. For that reason, it is really important that you stay as strong and healthy as possible. Get into ‘fighting shape,’ not just for yourself, but also for your team, and for all of the people who believe in you.” – Amanda von Goetz

“Be intellectually honest about your assumptions and challenge them constantly.” – Chris Zannetos

“Follow your passion, fuel your conviction, focus on outcomes to succeed together! The results will come!” – Jérôme Selva

“It’s always about people. Don’t get lost in the minutia and forget about your team, your customers, your partners, or your investors. In the end, people make up the journey, and that will determine the breadth of your impact.” Max Faingezicht

“Stay humble, honest, paranoid, and ALWAYS hustle.” – Rita B. Allen

One final note …

I’d like to give a big thank you to Martin Trust and his family; without him there would be no platform for delta v. Marty Trust passed away recently, and he will be fondly remembered by all of us at the center that bears his name. To learn more about Marty and his legacy, read this tribute by our Managing Director, Bill Aulet.

Three Profiles of Cannabis Entrepreneurs

Over 35 million US citizens use marijuana every month, more than the number of Americans who smoke cigarettes, according to the Dennemeyer Group. Research shows that the number of cannabis users is growing at over 15% a year. Interestingly, since cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, the US Patent and Trademark Office must refuse all cannabis-related trademark applications, but that hasn’t stopped entrepreneurs.

As outlined in my previous blog post, there is a multi-billion dollar market for cannabis and CBD products, which opens up entrepreneurial opportunities in both the plant-touching and ancillary businesses. This post will look at profiles of three entrepreneurs working in cannabis-related start-ups and their views on the market space.

From helping growers, to distribution, to working with individual consumers, the cannabis market provides many opportunities.

AdaViv: Predictive Agriculture for Smarter Growing

Founded by an interdisciplinary team of MIT researchers and alumni, AdaViv emerged from MIT’s delta v accelerator.  Julian Ortiz, co-founder of AdaViv, explains how predictive agriculture can help cannabis growers to develop a competitive advantage: “We help producers grow smarter – from disease prevention to rapid experimentation, improving yields, and quality optimization.” 

The company uses computer vision and AI to uncover hidden plant biometrics, then translates this data into actionable insights for indoor and greenhouse growers. AdaViv aims to transform agriculture and deploy their technology to a variety of crops grown in controlled environments, though the founders initially are focusing on cannabis due to the high value in the crop, the level of quality control needed for the medical market, and the level of differentiation they can offer to growers. AdaViv has recently closed a $1 million funding round and has lined up initial customers. (See this video of AdaViv’s delta v Demo Day presentation.)

I Heart Jane: ECommerce Marketplace for More Efficient Distribution

Another cannabis company started out of MIT is Jane Technologies, Inc., a retail tech company that can be found online at IHeartJane.com. I Heart Jane is the cannabis industry’s only complete online marketplace where consumers can discover and order cannabis online. Founder Socrates Rosenfeld is a West Point grad and an Iraq War veteran. Suffering from PTSD after his return from combat, he realized the benefits of cannabis for symptoms such as sleeplessness and anxiety. After receiving his MBA from MIT, he founded the company with his brother using a business model similar to the Grubhub food delivery service. 

The company website states, “We believe in the cannabis industry’s ability to bring well-being, health, and love into this world, and it is our mission to bring confidence to the online cannabis shopping experience.”  Their online marketplace lets consumers shop for cannabis with the same ease and sophistication that they shop for everything else.

JBS Holistic Nutrition: Healing Alternatives for Consumers

The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill removes hemp (with less than 0.3% THC) from the Controlled Substances Act and propels hemp-derived CBD to be a potentially $22 billion market by 2022. While cannabis is still illegal in many states, CBD products are being embraced nationwide by both entrepreneurs and major retailers.

Joanne Burke-Sherman, owner of JBS Holistic Nutrition, works one-on-one with clients for health coaching and healing alternatives and offers CBD products. CBD, or cannabidiol, offers therapeutic benefits without the high. Clinical research on CBD includes preliminary studies of anxiety, cognition, movement disorders, and pain. Although CBD products are only one aspect of her business, she initially saw a lot of interest in CBD because everyone was curious. “I have seen many people supported in pain and anxiety,” said Burke-Sherman. “One client with addiction issues felt it truly helped and ‘saved his life.’  Others feel their joint pain is reduced and others say their anxiety is reduced.”

As the market gets more crowded and large chains start to carry CBD products, small entrepreneurs may be squeezed out. Burke-Sherman is concerned that most consumers will not know what to use. It is very similar to the existing nutritional supplement market – there is high-quality and low-quality. She would highly recommend going through a qualified person who has knowledge about the product in order to buy it.  Otherwise, a person should spend time doing research.  Some basic information is whether a product is organic (no pesticides and herbicides) and non-GMO.  Is there third-party testing?  What is tested? Consumers should check for solvents, heavy metals, or other harmful materials to make sure anything they use is safe.

Conclusion 

As the market opportunities continue to spark up, everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Jim Belushi to Jay-Z are getting involved in the blazing hot cannabis industry. But the hope is that there is plenty of green available for the less-famous entrepreneurs profiled here as well.

For more on the cannabis market, please read my last post, A Growing Market Sparks Up: Cannabis Opportunities for Entrepreneurs.

An abbreviated version of these posts was published in Xconomy, under the title, The Entrepreneurial Potential of Cannabis.

Women and Work: Intentional Invisibility?

Be seen. Speak up. Make your voice heard. These are lessons we are taught as we enter the workforce and climb the ladder to corporate success. Yet, many women are uncomfortable with this advice, even though they want to succeed

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review titled, “Why Women Stay out of the Spotlight at Work,” explores the concept of “intentional invisibility” and why some women use this as a strategy to navigate the workplace. Immersed in a women’s professional development program, the HBR authors learned how this cloak of invisibility enabled women to “get stuff done” and quietly move things forward without drawing attention to themselves. The drawback? Although these women were well-liked, they were underappreciated, (probably underpaid), and often overlooked for promotions.

Women tend to choose intentional invisibility for three reasons:

  1. to avoid conflict,
  2. to be authentic to their personalities, and
  3. to seek personal and professional balance.

The term intentional invisibility really clicked with me. I believe that looking at this issue more closely can help C-level executives and managers value and encourage leadership qualities in women they work with, even if those women may not lead in the same way as their male colleagues. Here are some examples I’ve encountered in my own life.

Conflict Avoidance when Choosing a Startup CEO
At MIT’s delta v, student venture accelerator program, I mentor entrepreneurs. During the program, student teams form startup companies and choose a management team. Although women are well-represented in delta v overall, we still have more male CEOs than female CEOs. Often, the most extroverted person in the group is rewarded with leadership responsibility, and more reserved women on the team defer and don’t put forth an argument as to why they should be considered as CEO. Later, I’ve had female team members share with me that it just wasn’t worth the fight, or that it doesn’t matter who has the CEO title, they will all work together. This conflict avoidance lets the team initially move forward more quickly, but hidden resentment sometimes bubbles up to cause problems later. Ultimately, if the company succeeds, it is important who is the CEO. I’m encouraged that a lot of women in the delta v program this year took advantage of the personal coaching sessions we offer to address imposter syndrome. As leaders, we should ensure employees are evaluated on several different, varied criteria because the person who speaks up the loudest is not always the best for the job.

Self-Identified in a Helper Role
In another example, many women I know (myself included) often end up in the job of the indispensable helper or chief assistant, the so-called right-hand man … only in this case, it’s a woman. Whether it’s as a COO, vice president, or research assistant, the right-hand woman makes it easy for her boss (usually a man) to be successful while she stays in the background. This role may be more aligned with her authentic sense of self, or it may be how she has been guided through the organization. When we meet these women, we wonder if their bosses could ever survive without them. In my opinion, many of these women would make excellent top executives themselves, but they may gravitate toward these roles because they define themselves as helpers. I’d encourage women to think about what they really enjoy in this role and find a voice. They should strive to shine independently and get credit for their accomplishments, not just enable their boss’ success. If they realize they’ve been hiding in their bosses’ shadow and would rather be the boss themselves, they should take the steps to grow into that position. I was fortunate enough to work with an executive coach who told me, “You don’t need a seat at the table, you already have it. Now, act like it.” No one had ever told me that before and it really re-framed the way I thought about my job.

The Balancing Act and the Second Shift
Finally, women tend to choose invisibility over face time when they need to balance responsibilities at work with those at home. However, what women really need is flexibility, not invisibility. Although the dynamic is changing, most of the women I know are still responsible for the lion’s share of household duties, our so called second shift – especially when it comes to parenting and elder care. While face time is important to get ahead in an organization, it becomes deprioritized for women who need the flexibility to bring a sick child or parent to the doctor, assist with after-school activities, or even to be the one who works from home when the cable guy is coming. Jobs that involve travel for work, networking events outside of regular work hours, or even casual after-work drinks often deliver undue stress for women. They know it’s good for their careers, but they either decline to attend or need to do a lot of juggling to make it happen. While the boss is getting chummy with the guys over a beer, often the female colleague is rushing home to pick up the kids, get dinner on the table, throw in a load of laundry, and get everyone ready to do it all over again tomorrow. When it comes time to pick someone for that plum assignment, Tom gets chosen because he’s a good guy and the project leader got to know him socially after work. This is a tough one, because it’s an implicit bias. I believe things will only change when both partners at home equally share responsibilities and both must deal with juggling the needs of a demanding job and home life. Of course, this is even trickier for single parents and caretakers.

Reality Check

As the HBR article explains, organizations value leaders who stand up, are visible, and take credit. But, this definition of leadership can leave women out in the cold because their behind-the-scenes contributions are overlooked or undervalued. It suggests that organizations value unconventional forms of leadership, fight implicit bias, and balance women’s second-shift responsibilities in order to make it easier for them to be seen and promoted. I wholeheartedly agree that today’s leaders must dig deeper to recognize and value the contributions and leadership qualities of women who are intentionally invisible in our workplaces. Most of these women truly don’t want to be invisible, so as leaders we need to see them, encourage their input, recognize their contributions, and offer flexibility. We need to make it OK to succeed by following a different path.

If you feel like you gravitate toward an intentionally invisible role at work, what can you do? Be mindful to push yourself out of your comfort zone and step in the spotlight. Find your voice and own your career, rather an allowing other people to do so. There are a lot of paths – you are allowed to do things your way and own your success!

Capturing the Promise of AI

robots-764951_960_720Capturing the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) will require that companies understand that their current software support infrastructure is inadequate. Right now – to the extent that AI exists in organizations – it exists in small models in distinct units.  These models are being created using unique data sets, targeted toward particular outcomes.  However, taking AI to scale and putting it in operationally critical places will require a more robust approach organizationally and therein lies the management challenge.

For example, today if you shop on Amazon, the company’s AI models will give you three related items to purchase – the risk of their being wrong is small to both the organization and the individual consumer.  However, when you are running or building gas pipelines or chemical manufacturing plants, the risks and dangers become much more significant if AI models in those places are wrong.

As we move AI models from small department level models to models that predict and decide in a way that removes important manual work (automating), we change the requirements of the model. Models will need to be more real-time, consistently accurate and available. In short, they will need to act like large-scale enterprise resource software commonly known as tier one software.

The challenge for most organizations and their senior leadership will be scaling up from small, bespoke department models to enterprise-wide models. If companies just take all the small models at the department level and put them into production across the business, you could end up with multiple models doing similar things.  Also, because models are, in essence, small pieces of software, without a strategy, you end up with a lot of custom software that needs to be supported and maintained.  If this software is automating core business decision areas, this becomes a serious problem.

Furthermore, models are like software on steroids –not only do you need to know that if you ping it, you will get a response, you need to decide whether you should use the response that you get. However, that ability to know whether you should trust the response lies in details of the data. For example, is it the same as the data the model was built on?

Finally, unlike software, for a model to be really good at solving a specific problem, it may have limited generalizability.  As a result, there will be strategic decisions and tradeoffs to be made about how when and where to train the model to solve a specific problem exactly and where to generalize and maybe lose some accuracy.

For that reason, the long-term care and feeding of the models themselves will be critical.  This represents a new and significant management challenge as senior executives struggle with the new technology.

Like other revolutionary technology advancements in the enterprise, the business value will only be realized if companies look beyond the technology, to the integration, maintenance and quality process required to scale business impact. Teams will need to develop tools and standards and adhere to appropriate testing and integration processes and develop governance structures that oversee these disciplines. In other words, the use of AI will need to become another well-managed business procedure as it matures in order to have impact enterprise-wide.