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August 2012
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October 2012

September 2012

Report on Advanced Manufacturing

Back in July, the White House issued its report on Capturing Domestic Advantage in Advanced Manufacturing, after extensive discussions with a wide array of experts. The report was prepared by the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership steering committee (co-chaired by MIT then-president Susan Hockfield and Dow Chemical President, Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris) under the leadership of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

In the report, the committee makes the following 16 recommendations that will "set the stage for advanced manufacturing to thrive in the United States":

  1. Establish a national advanced manufacturing strategy by: creating a prioritized list of strategic needs and required technologies, creating technology roadmaps for each of the prioritized technologies, establishing and executing these technology programs and finally reviewing periodically the program portfolio by key stakeholders,
  2. Increase R&D funding in top cross-cutting technologies such as advanced sensing, measurement & process control, sustainable manufacturing, additive manufacturing, industrial robotics,
  3. Establish a national network of manufacturing innovation institutes ("public-private partnerships to foster regional ecosystems in advanced manufacturing technologies" that would operate on a mixed funding model with government - state or federal - providing funding for at least 5 years and up to 10 years, and with the institutes receiving an industrial 1:1 match to government funding),
  4. Empower enhanced industry/university collaboration in advanced manufacturing research (enact a "change in the treatment of tax-free bond-funded facilities at universities" to "remove the cap on private-use activities in buildings constructed with tax-exempt bonds"),
  5. Foster a more robust environment for commercialization of advanced manufacturing technologies ("to connect manufacturers to university innovation ecosystems and create a continuum of capital access from start up to scale up", for instance by creating a special "Phase 0" section of the Small Business Administration's Small Business Innovation Research [SBIR] program, expanding the NSF-created Innovation Accelerator),
  6. Establish a national advanced manufacturing portal (searchable database of manufacturing resources),
  7. Correct public misconceptions about manufacturing by creating a public service announcement campaign,
  8. Tap the talent pool of returning veterans by providing "a training module on the career opportunities in advanced manufacturing to the Department of Defense's Transition Assistance Program",
  9. Invest in community-college-level education by modifying the Department of Education's Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need to "have a focused solicitation on manufacturing" and developing a national network of manufacturing educators,
  10. Develop partnerships to provide skills certifications and accreditation,
  11. Enhance advanced manufacturing university programs for instance by establishing new masters-level professional degrees in manufacturing leadership at research universities,
  12. Launch national manufacturing fellowships and internships,
  13. Enact tax reform because "the United States has the highest statutory corporate tax rate, including Federal and State taxes, among the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development",
  14. Streamline regulatory policy,
  15. Improve trade policy by pursuing increased market access by addressing non-tariff barrier areas (such as forced technology transfer, weak intellectual property enforcement),
  16. Update energy policy with a focus on energy efficiency and conservation and an increase and diversification of domestic supplies.

Additional links:

Pricing at the Olympic Games

One of the best articles I’ve read on revenue management in a long time is in the June issue of Harvard Business Review: “Pricing to Create Shared Value”, by Marco Bertini and John Gourville. I found the article itself very interesting, but the case study on the London Olympics really stood out. The authors use it to demonstrate how their five principles can be put in action.

  • Focus on relationships, not transactions. The Olympic committee “increased the number of pricing tiers for many sports, which kept some ticket prices low while hitting revenue targets,” among other policies.
  • Be proactive. The “committee’s decision not to bundle tickets to a more popular sport (swimming, say) with those to a less popular sport (tae kwon do, for instance)” was motivated by the fact that people who had purchased bundles in previous Olympics often let the ticket to the secondary event go to waste, thus leading to empty seats in the event venue and wasted capacity. On the other hand, the committee did bundle public transportation into the ticket price to reduce traffic congestion.
  • Put a premium on flexibility. “The committee increased the number of price tiers across events… but did not assign a fixed number of seats to each tier. It did, however, promise that someone paying more would have a better view of the event than someone paying less.” This allowed the committee “the flexibility to better satisfy actual rather than anticipated demand.” (I found that part truly fascinating. Adaptable optimization in action.)
  • Promote transparency, i.e., repeatedly communicating the details of the pricing scheme to consumers in the media.
  • Manage the market’s standards for fairness. For instance, “ticket allocation was carried out through a simple lottery, reinforcing the fact that there was no preferential treatment.”

Customized Leadership Development

My favorite article in the June 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review was the one by Marcus Buckingham, author of the best-selling book “Now, discover your strengths”, who wrote on “Leadership Development in the Age of the Algorithm.

He makes the point that, although by now “personalized content [is] routinely served up by online retailers and news services on the basis of insights they’ve accumulated about you”, such customization is absent from most leadership development programs. Instead, such programs are usually based on a formulaic, one-size-fits-all approach, which “tries to collect all the various approaches to leadership, shaves off the weird outliers and packages the rest into a formula.”

Buckingham advocates for a change and describes his experience on a project he ran for Hilton Hotels, based on the insights that “if you’re a leader, authenticity is your most precious commodity, and you’ll lose it if you attempt techniques that don’t fit your strengths” and “you’ll learn best from leaders whose strengths match yours.”

Buckingham’s customized model has five steps.

  1. Choose an algorithmic assessment to evaluate respondents. For instance, his “analysis showed that the range of behaviors seen across those thousands of people could be divided into nine categories, which we call strength roles.”
  2. Give the assessment to the company’s best leaders. Here, Buckingham “discovered a broad distribution across all nine roles.” He then “identified a number of exceptional leaders in each category and set out to learn what fueled their success.”
  3. Interview a cross section of leaders to discover their techniques.
  4. Use the algorithm to target techniques to the right people. “Companies should… feed each [developing leader] practices derived from excellent leaders who have the same top two strength roles.”
  5. Make the system dynamically intelligent. “Intrinsic to the notion of a personalization algorithm is that it must get to know you better over time… becomes smarter about which techniques to feed you.”

This model has the potential to “accommodat[e] the uniqueness of each leader’s techniques” while “permit[ting] the training of hundreds of leaders at once but dynamic enough to incorporate and distribute new practices and other innovations in real time.”

“Big Ideas 2012” from The Atlantic

The July/August 2012 issue of The Atlantic was its annual “big ideas” issue, so for today’s post I thought I’d list a few that I found particularly interesting.

The right to be forgotten (link) This idea was motivated by the fight of an Argentinian pop star to remove from the Internet some pictures she had posed for after she changed her mind, but it touches upon the broader issue of people posting things online that they want erased a few years later. Although the Atlantic blurb about that idea comments on “the conflict between European conceptions of privacy and American conceptions of free speech”, a number of young Americans might welcome the option to erase some of the postings of their youth. This of course opens a can of worms in terms of implementability. The judge agreed with the Argentinian pop star (although maybe she should have shown better judgment before posing for the pictures), but the search engine’s answer was to block all sites referring to her instead of delinking all sites with the problematic pictures, on the grounds that the second option was too cumbersome.

Boot camp for teachers (link) This idea relies on the fact that “the only way the brain learns to handle unpredictable environments is to practice” and is inspired by the practice of Boston’s Match Teacher Residency program, which puts student teachers through “100 hours of drills with students and adults acting like slouching, fiddling, back-talking kids”. Also, “the Institute for Simulation and Training runs a virtual classroom at 12 education colleges nationwide using artificial intelligence, five child avatars, and a behind-the-scenes actor.” This could help improve the abysmal retention record of the teaching profession – “46 percent quit within five years.”

Lotteries for college admissions (link) Barry Schwartz, a psychology professor at Swarthmore College, suggests to implement the following lottery for college admissions: “every applicant who is good enough gets his or her name put in a hat, and then “winners” are chosen at random… Instead of having to be better than anyone else, [high-school kids] will just have to be good enough, and lucky.” He doesn’t get into the details of how to define good enough, but it makes sense that it’d be up to the admissions committee to identify which applicants would be a fit for the school, and thus be eligible for the lottery.

Hire introverts (link) According to the research of a Wharton professor, “introverted leaders typically deliver better outcomes than extroverts, because they’re more likely to let proactive employees run with their ideas.” In addition, “introverts are also comfortable with solitude – a crucial spur to creativity. When the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist studied the lives of the most-creative people across a variety of fields, they almost always found visionaries who were introverted enough to spend large chunks of time alone.”

Fix law schools (link) “Would-be lawyers have to be taught to see the law not as a path to wealth, but as what it has been historically – a respectable middle-class profession.” The most unwittingly funny line of the magazine comes right after that: “Too many of our current applicants do not see the law this way – and we need to bring them to clarity, even at the risk of driving them into M.B.A. or engineering programs.” (emphasis mine). Gasp! What an enormous risk we’re running, perhaps driving would-be lawyers into *engineering*! Yeah, right. But the rest of the blurb offers the excellent idea of using the hospital internship as a model to re-think the first few years of newly minted lawyers. The author views “law internships” as a possible replacement for the third year of J.D. programs, thus decreasing tuition costs and giving students deeper insights into the profession.

Before the last idea I liked, I’ll quote from another one – I don’t agree with it (“Don’t treat the sick if they’re poor”), but I found the following a very good reminder of the situation the medical field faces in the U.S.: “Conservatives say the government cannot and should not require people to buy health insurance. The trouble is that the government can and does require hospitals to treat people who don’t have health insurance and who can’t pay. The result is a free-rider problem that runs to tens of billions of dollars a year and, worse, destabilizes the whole system.”

Smartphone-free socializing (link) If you know me in real life, it won’t come as a surprise that I loved that one. (It’s actually the half idea of the “23 ½ ideas” mentioned on the cover, because it’s less fleshed out than the others.) “Certify willing restaurants, bars, lounges and coffee shops as signal-blocking Wi-Fi-free bastions of face-to-face conversations.” Can I come and teach there?      

New Blog Post

Alright, so I didn't get around to writing the blog post I wanted to write after I came back from my trips, but I'll make it happen in the coming weeks. The post that's about to go online is the one that has been ready all along and that I kept postponing to write the other one. I've got several posts already written ready to be published once a week so the blog will return to its old frequency from now on, for those of you who were looking for something to read. Things are hectic but a big part of the busyness is for very good causes! Two weeks into the semester and still excited about everything. More updates soon.