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Learn More About Andrew McAfee

For more than a quarter century, MIT scientist and Google Technology and Society’s inaugural Visiting Fellow, Andrew McAfee has been studying how digital technologies change the world. As part of this work he comes into close contact with the “alpha geeks” whose innovations create the future. A few years ago, McAfee had the most surprising realization of his career: the geeks had figured out how to build better companies.

In his new book, “The Geek Way: The Radical Mindset that Drives Extraordinary Results” (Little, Brown and Company, November 2023), McAfee reveals what they’re doing differently and why it works so well. Geek companies are much more freewheeling, fast-moving, evidence-driven, egalitarian, argumentative and autonomous than their Industrial Era predecessors. As a result, they are standout performers and fierce rivals, disrupting industry after industry – and they’re just getting started.

“Earlier in my career, it seemed like there was always a tradeoff. A company might be innovative but struggle with execution or agility. They’d rarely be good at all three,” says McAfee, a principal research scientist at MIT and co-founder of MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy. “At these geek companies, those tradeoffs have disappeared. They are consistently good in all three areas. As a result, competitive battles between geek and non-geek companies really aren’t fair fights. In my book, I look at how and why that is and how other companies can adopt geek cultures so they can execute on their missions and not get left behind.”

Though a lot of geek companies are tech firms based in northern California, McAfee says “geek” is not a synonym for “high tech” or “Silicon Valley.” Instead, it’s a label for a company that consistently follows four norms: science, ownership, speed and openness. His book is about why those norms work so well, how the geeks put them into practice, and how any company can get geekier. As McAfee says, “Geek companies don’t depend on having lots of computer science PhDs or a West Coast headquarters. Any organization can learn to move faster, be more open and more evidence-driven, and give more autonomy to its people. It’s not fast or easy — it takes real leadership — but it’s a future that’s open to anyone.”

A technology optimist and an expert on human-machine interaction and the future of work, McAfee has been shining a bright light on the far-reaching impact of technology since his first book, 2009’s “Enterprise 2.0”. In 2011 he and co-author Erik Brynjolfsson released their paradigm-shifting book “Race Against the Machine.” Their next two books, The New York Times bestseller “The Second Machine Age“ (2014) and “Machine, Platform, Crowd“ (2017) expanded on the theme of how tech progress was reshaping societies, industries and businesses. In 2019, McAfee went solo with his pessimist-defying book “More From Less” in which he shares profound examples of economic and environmental progress driven by a combination of powerful technologies, economic freedom, public pressure, and smart regulation and policy.

As a speaker and advisor, McAfee offers organizations in every industry data-driven insights into existing and emerging tech trends. His work is particularly valuable to decision makers and innovators at financial institutions, manufacturers, health care organizations and government agencies, and to firms interested in emerging technologies that can streamline operations, enhance innovation and offer a competitive edge.

“A century ago, factories were in the process of switching over from steam to electric power,” explains McAfee in the opening of “The Geek Way.” “This transition took a while, but it was inevitable because electricity was simply better along every dimension. Something similar is going on now. Geek companies are simultaneously better at innovation, execution and agility than their predecessors, and they are taking over.”

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For decades, Andrew McAfee has been studying how technology is changing the world — economies, business models, work and the environment. He has written for major publications, including Foreign Affairs, Harvard Business Review, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He’s talked about his work on CNN and 60 Minutes, at the World Economic Forum, TED, the Aspen Ideas Festival, with Tom Friedman, Fareed Zakaria and Andrew Ross Sorkin, and in front of many international and domestic audiences. He and Erik Brynjolfsson are the only people named to both the Thinkers50 list of the world’s top management thinkers and the Politico 50 group of people transforming American politics.

Andrew McAfee is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Andrew McAfee was last modified: November 27th, 2023 by Whitney Jennings

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The Surprises of Generative AI

ChatGPT and other types of Generative AI (GenAI), a new and powerful type of artificial intelligence, has taken us by surprise – we weren’t expecting its capabilities to appear so soon. According to Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the MIT Sloan School of Management who was named among the top 50 management thinkers in the world, GenAI is already transforming jobs and industries and delivering unprecedented creativity and productivity boosts. However, these systems still have serious flaws that need to be addressed in order for them to realize their full impact. In this fundamentally optimistic talk, McAfee stresses that GenAI will improve the business world and our lives, and that many of their harms are overstated.

The Geek Takeover: What Traditional Companies Can Learn From Big Tech

Over the past two decades, big tech companies have innovated and experimented with the standard Industrial Era business model, creating organizations that are now dominating the global economy. How do they do it, and will the bubble burst? In this talk, MIT digital economist and data scientist Andrew McAfee, co-founder of MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, takes audiences on a deep dive into his new book, “The Geek Way.” He pulls back the curtain on what makes these “geek companies” consistently strong performers, how they excel at disrupting industries, and what traditional companies can learn from their freewheeling, fast-moving, evidence-driven, egalitarian, argumentative and autonomous cultures.

Better Compete With the Tech Giants by Adopting Their Culture

Traditional companies are being eclipsed by digital giants like Amazon and Google for one simple reason: they have figured out how to build better companies by creating a culture that consistently excels in three key areas: agility, innovation and execution. In this talk – based on his new book, “The Geek Way” – MIT digital economist and data scientist Andrew McAfee, co-founder of MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, explains why these “geek companies” are consistently good in all three areas. He highlights the four norms they follow (science, ownership, speed and openness) and how they put them into practice. He then outlines how other companies can adopt geek cultures so they can better compete in the future and not get left behind.

Ensure Long-term Growth by Digitally Transforming Your Operating Model

The key factor that drives the success of tech giants like Amazon, Google, Facebook and Uber lies in their ability to leverage a digital operating model. Traditional businesses are getting left behind as these digital giants take over the economy, says MIT digital economist and data scientist Andrew McAfee, co-founder of MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy. In this talk, he explains why traditional companies must digitally transform their business if they want to survive in the new economy, how they can successfully make the transition, and what they need to do to prepare their workforce for the future.

The Future of Work in the Roaring Twenties

As we come out of the pandemic in 2021 and beyond, we’re not going back to business as usual. AI and automation are changing how we divide up tasks between minds and machines, and remote work is changing where and how we interact and collaborate. Both of these changes are just getting started, and they’ll bring massive changes. Companies, cities, teamwork, and innovation will never be the same. In this talk, Andy McAfee will provide an optimistic, action-oriented roadmap for leadership and success in the Roaring Twenties.

Opportunities Inside the Pandemic

Even in the age of COVID-19, MIT principal scientist and digital economist Andrew McAfee sees ways technology can lead us out of the desert and, as a researcher, he continues to identify trends and mine solutions. During this talk, McAfee will explain why and how the pandemic is unveiling opportunities by showing us what society can do without, what it needs, and outlining ways business and government can conscientiously and purposefully move forward.

Uncovering Corporate Dysfunction: What Smart Companies Are Doing Differently

Why do some businesses fail? What factors within your organization are creating bad habits and how do you break them? Do stock values reflect the real value of a company? MIT principal scientist and digital economist Andrew McAfee studies such dynamics within organizations, economies and industries and uses his research to help leaders identify and fix problems. In this talk, he shows participants how to leave behind inefficient and outdated systems and how to shape new business models that can leverage emerging opportunities for growth.

Building Business While Minding the Environment

Growth does not have to happen at the expense of the environment, says MIT principal scientist and digital economist Andrew McAfee. He and his research team have collected massive amounts of data showing how technology has contributed to increased economic growth and decreased use of energy and natural resources since the 1970s. In this talk, he shares that data and offers up smart strategies for driving profits while taking less from the earth. In the process, participants get a sneak peek at emerging trends and technologies that will help them strike a balance between profit and purpose going forward. They also learn how to understand and address systemic problems within an organization or at the public policy level with solutions McAfee continues to uncover in his research.

Humans, Machines and Jobs: The Economic Upside

While AI and machines are replacing some human jobs, more often than not they are working in tandem with humans to make their jobs easier. And now that machines, robots and AI have recently graduated to a place where they can speak, listen, write, understand and even empathize, such technologies are offering up profound opportunities for growth, understanding and problem solving, creating efficiencies in systems across sectors, industries and even languages. In this talk, MIT principal scientist and digital economist Andrew McAfee helps participants identify ways they can leverage AI and machines while still addressing the problem of human job losses with upskilling, retraining, incentive programs and other humanistic solutions.

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OpenAI and Tech (Audio)

November 21, 2023

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Geeky Leadership (Video)

November 26, 2016

Digital economist Andrew McAfee is a world-renowned authority on digital technologies that are changing the world – economies, business models, work and the environment. A highly sought-after speaker, advisor and futurist, he offers organizations data-driven insights into existing and emerging trends. His advice is particularly valuable to decision makers at financial institutions, health care organizations and government agencies, and to firms interested in emerging technologies that can streamline operations, enhance innovation and offer a competitive edge. Since much of McAfee’s work looks at ways technology can help solve larger societal problems, he is also an excellent resource for corporate social responsibility leaders and organizations interested in balancing profit with purpose. McAfee helps organizations in every industry prepare for the future impacts of technology. He can cover any or all of the following topics during virtual or in-person advisory meetings or executive education workshops, which can be customized to meet the needs of your organization and the size of your audience.

  • How to Compete With the Tech Giants By Adopting Their Cultures
  • Humans, Machines and Jobs: The Economic Upside
  • Business Model Transformation/Digital Transformation
  • Geek Leadership
  • Leveraging Technology to Solve Big Problems
  • More From Less: Reasons to be Optimistic About the Future
  • Uncovering Corporate Dysfunction
  • Post-Pandemic Opportunities
  • Building Business While Minding the Environment
  • The Future of the Global Economy
  • Technologies That Supercharge Innovation Processes
  • Economic Freedom Through Smart Regulation
  • Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies
  • Leveraging Platforms and Crowds

"The Geek Way" Foreward

I strongly believe that great technology entrepreneurs aren’t just technology geeks, they’re also business geeks. In the words of Apple’s famous advertising campaign, they find ways to “think different.” They apply their insatiable curiosity and love of experimentation to the challenge of building better products and companies. But while most people recognize that we now live in a veritable Age of Geekdom, no one seems to have analyzed and explained the core principles and mechanisms of business geekery. Even my own books, such as The Alliance and Blitzscaling, which definitely geek out on people management and building multibillion-dollar businesses respectively, don’t examine the meta question of why the geeks have inherited the Earth.

With his new book, 'The Geek Way', Andrew McAfee (who is himself an alpha geek of the business variety) tackles the central questions of what geeks are, what they believe, and why they have been so successful in the past few decades. By combining management theory, competitive strategy, the science of evolution, psychology, military history, and cultural anthropology, he has produced a remarkable work of synthesis that finally explains, with a single unified theory (which he dubs “the geek way”), the reasons why the tech startup approach has taken over so much of the world.

While many of his conclusions come from an in depth analysis of successful tech startups and tech giants such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Netflix, he also draws lessons from grade-school children, military planners, and chimpanzees and explains why seemingly human frailties like overconfidence, prestige, and gossip are actually essential to successful organizations.

Along the way, you’ll learn why so many organizations descend into bureaucracy and unethical behavior, and the four key principles you can use to build a culture that combats these value-destroying villains. I predict that this book’s greatest lasting contribution will be the way in which it presents a clear, detailed, evidence-based explanation of how culture works and why it is so important. Never again will you look at culture as a fuzzy, hand-waving management buzzword.

This book is a must-read for any leader who has wondered how to build a twenty-first-century organization. For those outside the technology industry, McAfee demystifies key concepts such as A/B testing and agile software development. But even technology veterans can benefit from understanding how so many industry best practices and articles of faith stem from underlying elements of human nature that evolved over millions of years. I consider myself a longtime student and chronicler of Silicon Valley, and I still took copious notes on the many new things I learned from reading this book. I think you’ll have the same experience.

Reid Hoffman

Praise for "The Geek Way"

“A smart, irreverent, informative guide to navigating the future of work . . . Science, ownership, speed, and openness: each of these simple words contains more than you know, until you read this remarkable book.”

Amy C. Edmondson, Author, "Right Kind of Wrong"

“McAfee understands that we haven’t just been creating new technologies in Silicon Valley—we’ve also been creating new ways to run a company in a world permeated by tech. In The Geek Way, he distills what we’ve come up with.”

Eric Schmidt, Former CEO, Google

"'The Geek Way' outlines what has become a critical advantage for the United States, for Silicon Valley, and for many American companies. If you wish to understand the last twenty years of American life, and probably the next twenty as well, this book is essential reading."

Tyler Cowen, Author, "Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero"

“In industry after industry, corporate boards are asking management what the plan is to thrive in an unsettled, fast changing environment. 'The Geek Way' provides among the best answers I’ve seen to this critical question.”

Dambisa Moyo, Global Economist; Member, House of Lords

“McAfee is a world class intellectual provocateur. He never ceases to challenge my assumptions and sharpen my thinking, and reading this book will do the same for you . . . It’s the most compelling analysis I’ve seen of what Silicon Valley has learned about building more effective organizations—and what they still have to learn.”

Adam Grant, Author, "Think Again" and "Hidden Potential"

“How fast can you find out you are wrong? This is the predictive metric of success in Silicon Valley. McAfee explains why the leaders who build organizations that can help workers learn quickly whether they are right or wrong will win in the new economy. And he shows why the leaders who allow their success to dampen their eagerness to hear when they are wrong have sown the seeds of their own failure. Essential!”

Kim Scott, Author, "Radical Candor" and "Radical Respect"

“Bold and original, relevant and rigorous, and immediately useful for any restless, curious innovator. In other words, for any geek.”

Erik Brynjolfsson, Coauthor, "The Second Machine Age"

“Juxtaposed with our outsize celebrity-obsessed culture is a subtler but infinitely more powerful shift toward geek culture. The hegemony of geekdom in Silicon Valley and across the world drives innovation and powers our economy. The Geek Way is the guidebook for understanding this shift and navigating these turbulent times.”

Richard Florida, Author, "The Rise of the Creative Class" and "The New Urban Crisis"

“If you’d rather lead the transformation than be consumed by it, start putting this book’s insights into practice as quickly as you can.”

Steve Jurvetson, Geek

Praise for “More From Less”

“Everyone knows we’re doomed by runaway overpopulation, pollution, or resource depletion, whichever comes first. Not only is this view paralyzing and fatalistic, but, as Andrew McAfee shows in this exhilarating book, it’s wrong… ‘More from Less’ is fascinating, enjoyable to read, and tremendously empowering.”

Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of “Enlightenment Now”

“For many years now, Andrew McAfee has been arguing that the fourth industrial revolution would transform our economies and the quality of our lives. . . . His optimism is a breath of fresh air substantiated by real research and empirical findings. [This book is] well worth reading even if your first impression, like mine, is: it can’t be true!”

Christine Lagarde, former Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund

“Yet another magnificent contribution from Andrew McAfee. Along with his prior works, ‘More from Less’ will help us navigate society’s future in profound ways.”

Clayton M. Christensen, Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School

“Riveting . . . By subverting our common perceptions of capitalism and technology as enemies of progress and environmental preservation, McAfee offers all of us a clear-eyed source of optimism and hope. Critically, he also makes the case for what comes next—offering up vital lessons that have the potential to make the world both more prosperous and more just.”

Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation

“Andrew McAfee’s optimistic and humane book documents a profoundly important and under-appreciated megatrend—the dematerialization of our economy. In a world where there is much to worry about his analytical optimism is very welcome. Anyone who worries about the future will have their fears allayed and hopes raised by reading this important book.”

Lawrence Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury and Director of the National Economic Council

“This book is the best kind of surprise. It tells us something about our relationship with our planet that is both unexpected and hopeful. The evidence Andy presents is convincing: we have at last learned how to tread more lightly on the Earth. ‘More from Less’ shows how we accomplished this, and tells us how to keep it ”

Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google

In ‘More from Less,’ Andrew McAfee conclusively demonstrates how environmentalism requires more technology and capitalism, not less. Our modern technologies actually dematerialize our consumption, giving us higher human welfare with lower material inputs. This is an urgently needed and clear-eyed view of how to have our technological cake and eat it too."

Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape and Andreessen Horowitz

“From the coauthor of the New York Times bestseller ‘The Second Machine Age,’ a compelling argument—masterfully researched and brilliantly articulated—that we have at last learned how to increase human prosperity while treading more lightly on our planet.”


Praise for “Machine Platform Crowd”

“For an astute romp through important digital trends, ‘Machine | Platform | Crowd’ is hard to beat. ”

The Economist

“A clear and crisply written account of machine intelligence, big data and the sharing economy. But McAfee and Brynjolfsson also wisely acknowledge the limitations of their futurology and avoid over-simplification.”

Financial Times

“A book for managers whose companies sit well back from the edge and who would like a digestible introduction to technology trends that may not have reached their doorstep―yet.”

Wall Street Journal

“The story is warmly and richly told.… This book is in many senses a primer, a thorough grounding for the digital warrior in the driving forces of the 21st-century economy.”

Times Higher Education

“Even Silicon Valley is surprised by the speed and scope of change today. The best way to stay on top of it is to understand the principles that will endure even as so much gets disrupted. This book is the best explanation of those principles out there.”

Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google and former executive chairman of Alphabet Inc.

“The digital revolution we’re entering can be unsettling, but McAfee and Brynjolfsson show how these incredibly powerful technologies will make our choices more important than ever. ‘Machine | Platform | Crowd’ is a road map for leaders to make wise choices as they navigate this new world.”

Arianna Huffington, former president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, author of Thrive and The Sleep Revolution

Praise for “The Second Machine Age”

“A New York Times Bestseller. A ‘fascinating’ look at how digital technology is transforming our work and our lives.”

Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times

“Erik and Andy have lived on the cutting edge, and now, with this book, they are taking us there with them. A brilliant look at the future that technology is bringing to our economic and social lives. Read ‘The Second Machine Age’ if you want to prepare yourself and your children for the world of work ahead.”

Zoë Baird, president, Markle Foundation

“’The Second Machine Age’ offers important insights into how digital technologies are transforming our economy, a process that has only just begun. Erik and Andrew’s thesis: As massive technological innovation radically reshapes our world, we need to develop new business models, new technologies, and new policies that amplify our human capabilities, so every person can stay economically viable in an age of increasing automation. I couldn’t agree more.”

Reid Hoffman, co-founder/chairman of LinkedIn and co-author of the #1 New York Times bestseller The Start-up of You