Technology, Policy and Education: Leaders in Technology and Policy

moderator: Frank R. Field, Center for Technology, Policy & Industrial Development, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Nicholas Mabey, E3G
author: Jessica Stern, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School
author: Bryan Moser, Global Project Design
published: Sept. 16, 2013,   recorded: June 2006,   views: 2036

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This panel offers three perspectives on life after TPP, with a consensus among the speakers that this MIT program has had a powerful impact on their careers.

Nicholas Mabey boasts a unique resume, in spite of claims that it’s “a lesson in the Zen of career planning, the career of no career.” He’s built power stations, campaigned on environmental issues, and worked in the British prime minister’s “strategy unit.” Through all these turns, he’s been animated by the “spirit of curiosity” acquired at TPP. His new brief is sustainable development, informed by years of hammering out policy within government bureaucracies, often in the face of fractious interest groups. TPP’s approach to complexity has served him well, he says. Some guidelines: “Policy making is design…. Invest in analyzing systems, even though it’s incredibly hard work. Manage risk and uncertainty, even though it’s quite frightening; do politics with the policy.”

Jessica Stern, one of the world’s top experts on terrorism, credits her TPP time with making her “feel deeply uncomfortable” -- a “pretty critical lesson.” She learned “to ask questions that make you squirm,” and subsequently diverged from the normal route for academics, delving not just into intelligence, but seeking out the most dangerous terrorists, and getting to know them. Her work has helped create more insightful profiles of terrorists, and suggest alternative approaches to dealing with them. Poverty and lack of democratic structures do not create terrorists, she says, nor does lack of education. There are “more promising risk factors,” such as high male to female violence, inadequate education for women, substandard health care, and “youth bulges.” There’s also a correlation between an engineering education and support for terrorism. Ultimately, terrorism arises around “the spread of a powerfully bad idea in a vulnerable population who feel dissed, or feel vicarious humiliation with a group they strongly identify with.”

Bryan Moser entered the corporate world from TPP, and found in factory after factory, “ways of working and thinking that were so entrenched, and core assumptions unchanged in a century.” As these organizations expanded globally, becoming more complex in production and communication, management thinking remained centralized and mechanical. So Moser decided to help firms face the chaos and uncertainty inevitable with growth. He develops design strategies, for instance, to assist corporations in executing international, multiyear initiatives. When you “bring complexity as a natural phenomenon into the business world, they have real problems with it.”

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