MIT Day 1

My Fellowship is focused on how to leverage the power of data to enable economic growth and public sector transformation in New Zealand. A recent report published by the Innovation Partnership measured data driven innovation as contributing $2.4 billion or 1.5 per cent of our GDP ? significantly behind neighbouring countries like Australia and Singapore due to lack of uptake by companies. In launching the report, Bill English challenged our commercial sectors to catch up with Australia and also called for government to use data to drive value for customers by transforming public services.

On my Fellowship, I want to find out how we compare in a variety of areas and what strategies others are using to harness the potential of the ‘data revolution’ to drive growth and change lives. These three weeks are also a rare opportunity to reflect deeply on how I am working and to grow my skills as a leader.

To kick off my Fellowship, I am doing a week long intensive course on leading change in complex organisations at MIT Sloan School of Management in Boston. The course started on Sunday afternoon (and evening) with a session led by John van Maanen introducing us to the history and culture of MIT, outlining the aims of the programme and giving us a chance to meet the people we'll be sharing the experience with this week.

It emphasised the remarkable privilege that it is to be here. Here are some highlights.


  • The university's motto is "mens et manus" ? " mind and hands". MIT has a strongly pragmatic and practical orientation, as focused on "doing" as on theory. The community of 22,000 people includes only 10,000 students. There are many labs and research facilities, and an entrepreneurial culture resulting in many patents and start-ups. MIT ran its first adult, open-enrolment executive course in 1863.
  • MIT invented the words "nerd" and "hack" ? in MIT, a hack is a student prank that must to be clever, benign, announced, and done collectively by student body (like putting a fire engine on top of the dome of the main university building.) It has a culture of meritocracy and competition, and takes pride in its focus on science and technology.
  • MIT has a strong New Zealand connection: its president from 1909?1920 was Richard Cockburn Maclaurin, whose name I recognise from Victoria University of Wellington. He was MIT's saviour in a time of economic, enabling its survival through his talent as a fundraiser.

My programme "leading change in complex organisations"

The aims of this course are to provide:

  • Conceptual roadmaps for understanding basic principles of change
  • New ideas about leading change from recent research
  • Tools and techniques for leading and managing change
  • Opportunities to learn from one another and a reflective learning community.

We'll learn as much from each other, as from our readings and lessons. We'll also have a chance to take an "innovation tour" of the MIT campus.

We're a diverse group of c. 30 students:

  • 18 per cent are from government, and 81 per cent from the private sector.
  • 16 countries are represented, including the USA, Saudi Arabia, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Iceland, Abu Dhabi, Peru and New Zealand.
  • We are from a variety of industries, including IT, energy, aerospace, banking, consulting, education, financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, mining.
  • And also from a variety of functions ? general management, strategy and transformation, research, consulting, operations, IT, operations, communications, investment planning, engineering, project management  and more.

Some of the people I talked with at dinner have MBAs and have already completed multiple programmes at MIT and other leading business schools, as a means to keep fresh in their industries. They're applying the lessons learnt in a range of industries from tertiary education, to commercial firms, to government departments with several hundred thousand employees. Many are interested in technology, big data and analytics as potential game changers for their sectors. Most are interested in New Zealand and at least one has lived here (giving her South American English a delightful kiwi twang!).

John van Maaenen opening the course on Leading Change in Complex Organisations

John van Maaenen opening the course on Leading Change in Complex Organisations



picture of Richard Maclaurin

Richard Maclaurin