4 Takeaways from the MIT Sloan Product Conference


Nafisa Rawji

on •

Apr 3, 2024

On March 1st, I opened my work laptop like most other days as a remote worker in the product and enablement space. That Friday was a bit different as I found myself immediately immersed in a thriving, eager, and impassioned Product community that had gathered both virtually and in-person for MIT’s second student-led Product Conference. This year’s ProductCon, as it’s affectionately nicknamed, was an amalgamation of the globally ranked MBA program’s best and brightest as well as leaders from enterprise and startup organizations who facilitated thought-provoking conversation around product management – how do we do it better and how do we build better products?

To no one’s surprise, this year’s theme centered around AI, and what this new era means for product managers and the products that we build. The full itinerary included a host of impressive guests that provided frank, insightful, and applicable insights and ideas on how we as product managers can not only prepare ourselves, but help shape the future.

There were more lessons than I could effectively write, but here are four key takeaways that have stuck with me and will inform my own personal roadmap for the next year as we at Artium continue our mission in making AI possible and productive for enterprise and startup organizations. In a time of shiny landing pages with minimal text and lofty buzzwords about an exponentially more interesting future, I found these four takeaways to be both pragmatic and inspiring.

AI is Bigger (And More Boring) Than What You See – And That’s a Great Thing

The vast power of AI is just as much in optimizing what we already do, as it is shooting for the stars. As Hilary Mason, CEO of Hidden Door, stated in her keynote at Open FinTech Forum – for AI to truly make its mark, we have to make it boring. How we collaborate with AI to reduce decision fatigue and improve human jobs gives humans the capacity to do what we do best – ideate and connect.  

While ChatGPT has changed the world in only two years, it’s the AI systems that complement existing technology that truly leapfrog AI’s footprint on the world. It’s the expanded learning models in Google Marketing’s targeted marketing offerings that help users make the most of their ad spend.  It’s the fraud detection algorithms that Danske Bank has deployed that has increased their fraud detection capability by 50%. It’s the seven-month trial University of Texas at Austin conducted in China which correctly predicted 70% of earthquakes one week before they happened.

While that impact is wide and ever-growing, the impact AI can have on the individual’s life to optimize executive function is just as immense. This felt increasingly clear during Max Elisman’s talk: “Productivity at Work and at Home in the Age of AI.” AI has immense large-scale potential in the world, but also the capability to optimize executive function and help you take care of yourself.

AI applications to help schedule meetings, write routine business documents, code small software projects, plan your work, and even plan your weekly meals based on your health composition are quietly increasing professionals’ capacity to enjoy their week and make the most of their day.  So the next time you look to your next AI innovation for your life or your business, think of the activities you already do that you would like to streamline.

Trust is Critical and Cannot Be Automated

When one presenter ended his talk with a quote on how trust is the basis of human relationships, the relationship between humanity and technology struck me as an interesting paradigm that Product Managers frequently face.  Quite often, technology can be seen as adversarial to the humanities – an ever-looming scary catalyst to changing the way we live, connect, and work.  Because of this positioning, innovators and entrepreneurs frequently find themselves in the balance of creating technology that moves the needle without alienating their users. While we enthusiastically speak about the computing power of AI to expand innovation, what’s often missing from the narrative is how we maintain the feeling of a human touch throughout our products to support and gain the confidence of our users, especially the more risk averse individuals.

As we iterate on reducing latency, optimizing computing power, reducing AI-driven carbon emissions, as an industry, we have to continue to consider the humanity and psychology of the technology we are building and its users. This includes intuitive user interfaces, but also thoughtful tone and language of our LLM’s generations, and replicating the context a LLM references much like humans already do.

Don’t Boil the AI Ocean

Through the 2024 MIT ProductCon, there was also a recurring theme of specialization and being iterative in both your AI product development and your individual AI professional journey. One presenter simply stated, “You don’t have to do a million things, you just have to do one thing really well.”

As companies and individuals scramble to meet the AI-powered moment where it is, this conversation was a refreshing reminder that being both flexible and intentional in your or your company’s journey will serve you best.  At Artium, much of our work is often helping our client companies cut out the noise and find a path forward that may not be defined from first step to last. Instead, our journey together is thoughtfully designed for goalposts of learning, measuring, and pivoting. Surprisingly, it is not that different for a company or individual embarking on their AI journey.

Don’t boil the AI ocean – instead, form your hypothesis, take your first well-designed step based on it, and let your findings divine your path forward.

Individual Value in this New Age

During the Fireside Chat of AI as a Threat and Opportunity, one quote really resonated with me: “No one mourns the job of the guy that was feeding your buggy horse.” With any technological advancement, there has also come a general anxiety of what this means for the people who are brought along with it. 

While it is understandable, it is always helpful to remember there was a time when automobiles were the big bad wolf of technology.  Just as every company is a “tech” company to thrive, it will become increasingly clear that every company will also need to be an “AI” company.  Whether that is AI-driven or AI-building, it is important to reflect on how your individual and your company’s value offering can be complimented, expanded, or altered to thrive within the AI evolution.

Ready to take the first step towards your AI future?