We need students and participants – whether they labor in a narrow, disciplinary area or in a broad leadership capacity – to understand that they are an integral part of something bigger than themselves. This realization encourages and empowers our students to embrace their responsibility towards the greater whole. It will also enable students to have a greater awareness of the inter-connectivity and complexity of things. Although it may be impossible to fully understand what happens when one tugs at an edge of the universe; a more holistic, comprehensive and systemic perspective will increase the probability that future graduates are problem-solvers, rather than problem-creators.
This perspective that will lead teachers and students alike to innovative models, frameworks, practices, structures, systems and processes that comprise superior solutions compared with the current global economic and social systems that often optimize locally but in the process create global challenges that threaten the well-being of the entire human race and the planet of which we live. With this perspective and a comprehensive portfolio of knowledge and skills, business leaders (and other leaders) will be able to create a positive impact far beyond what they imagined possible and thus contribute to a world that is optimized locally, regionally and globally on multiple dimensions: economic, environmental, sociopolitical, spiritual and societal.
We need to recognize that unlearning is equally important as learning. What we have learned in the past may represent a serious impediment to being able to become the kind of leaders the world needs. As a result of fractioning business out of its context and separating business functions into separate disciplines, we have created operating modes in business that represent serious limitations to a more holistic approach, whereby business defines its role as contributing to the well-being of society and, by extension, to all living beings in this world.
One of the core pillars of management education for the future is to turn current functional-based, single discipline teaching into issue-centered, trans-disciplinary learning. The development of a question-based, creativity-focused approach that enables critical and divergent thinking is an integral part of this.
Future learning environments will be established both inside a classroom and as collaborative learning platforms for action learning and research (collaboratories) in business and other organizations as well as in communities. The choice among all of these different learning settings depends on what stage a student or participant is in the journey towards mastery. As such different settings are needed for acquire awareness and actionable knowledge than we need for guided practice and independent application.
Embedding business and management education in its larger context is an important way to ensure that students perceive the necessity of engaging multiple disciplines and develop the skills required to successfully apply knowledge. Historically, some business schools have attempted to do this through the case study method. Increasingly, innovative business schools are complementing the case method with action learning projects and in this sense are following the lead of medical schools, and also engineering schools that require field-based, engineering capstone projects.
Through learning and skills development that is conducted within a context selected both for its potential learning value and for its potentially positive impact on the problem being addressed, the role and purpose of business, the state of the planet, and awareness of existing and emerging societal issues is dramatically enhanced. Teaching disciplines in isolation may be an efficient way to transfer knowledge, but it misses the opportunity to develop in students and participants deep understanding of when and how to apply knowledge, and the skill to do so effectively. Disciplinary expertise is a necessary but insufficient condition for success. It must be complemented by deep understanding and leadership skills if students are going to develop the competencies required to solve complex multi-disciplinary problems.
Issue-centered learning is organized around existing and emerging societal and environmental global issues (i.e. water, health, poverty, climate, pollution, migration, energy, renewable resources) on a global and local scale and ensures that students develop the following characteristics, skills and competencies that complements the functional knowledge they learn and enables them to become leaders for a sustainable future:
A global, holistic, long-term and visionary perspective
Clarity, focus and intensity of commitment
Highly motivated to do good; to do the right thing (ethical thinking translated into action)
Highly evolved capacity for creative, critical, holistic, ethical and systemic thinking and decision-making
Ability to navigate through uncertainty, ambiguity, setbacks, challenges and problems
Action and results oriented. Self-starter with a high need for achievement.
Patient (with respect to staying the course) AND Impatient (with respect to being driven to achieve results as fast as possible)
Highly skilled in learning by doing; adapting; making and learning from mistakes quickly and inexpensively
Integrative; skilled at boundary spanning
Skillful in figuring out root causes; determining critical success factors; and focusing on what is most important
An issue-centered education integrates disciplinary knowledge (finance, marketing, strategy, HR) when appropriate in the learning journey of attempting to resolving a specific issue (water, migration, climate change, poverty, etc.). Conventional wisdom is challenges by uncovering underlying assumptions of the dominant discourse – in any domain. We need to develop innovators who will question the status-quo and challenge current assumptions. Issues-centered learning is critical for ensuring that graduates are able to embrace the larger context within which their organizations operate.