Back to Harvard Business School

In a globalized world, our systems are increasingly driven by networked, not linear, behaviors. Yet nearly all of our decision-making is based on linear analyses.

Global Grand Challenges are complex, non-linear, interrelated and interconnected in nature. Poverty, climate change, innovation, AI, supply chains, the macro economy and pandemics all have one thing in common: they need to be thought of and dealt with as complex systems.

In my previous role at MIT Sloan I began to think creatively about the interaction of democracy, authoritarianism and technology as a "complex" and networked system. Modeling the system in this way allowed for a type of problem solving that enabled policy makers to better understand the conflict between desiring more democracy whilst simultaneously desiring more innovation.

Now, I am moving back to Harvard Business School to join Michael E. Porter at the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness to start thinking about and working on other Grand Challenges in similar, non-linear ways. This role will be a mix of academia (thinking) that is driven by industry (doing). I will be working with leaders whose businesses or governments face complex challenges that need new ways of tackling issues: inspired by networked, evolutionary and biological computation.

I will be thinking about these wide-ranging Grand Challenges through two distinct lenses: (1) climate, and (2) technology. Why? Not only because these are instrumental in informing important strategy and policy decisions today. But because the impacts of both climate and technology, when applied to a business, turn that business into a networked system. For example: A changing weather in Brazil today impacts sales in Mumbai tomorrow. Technology development in India now creates industries in Nigeria.

I’m really happy to be back where I started (at HBS), and to work alongside Prof. Porter who is so deeply influential in private and public sectors. He has a clear innovation and leadership style which is welcoming of the new approaches I am bringing with me. And of course, I am looking forward to continuing my work with the HBS Digital Initiative, where I will be creating some new work on the Business and Economics of Space.

This new opportunity builds on 18 months of doing some very experimental work that wouldn’t have been possible without the strong support of some excellent and fringe thinkers, such as Michael Ferrari, Turlough Downes, Danielle Soban, Gary Pisano, Michael Garfield (and the wider Santa Fe Institute community), Neave O’Leary, David Homa, to name just a few. So thank you! And I’m looking forward to continuing these discussions, plus more, into the future! Sinead