Contemporary Management Education: Eight questions that will shape its future in the 21st century

Piet Naudé introduces the themes of his new book.

Described by pre-viewers as ‘a brilliant read’, a ‘powerful and superbly compelling book’ that makes ‘a deep and valuable contribution to our thinking’, this book asks tough questions of management educators: “Why are we so important?”, is followed by two self-critical questions on “the value” we create and “the good” we produce. The twin issues of colonization (“who is in the centre?”) and inequality (“whom do we exclude”) are framed by critical discussions on technology (“what are we embracing?”) and ecology (“can management education help stop climate change?”). The last chapter reflects on the “leadership lessons” learnt in the Covid crisis.

Below is an extract from chapter 3: What “good” do we create?

Four “goods”

I propose four “goods” that business schools should encourage and produce: private good, public good, common good, and – my own suggestion – transcendent good.

Private Good: Students enroll in business schools and then work hard because they believe that successful completion of their studies will lead to financial gain, upward mobility, and social recognition. The private benefits are therefore monetary, social, and psychological.

Social Good: In our current situation, a cluster of three social goods is of particular importance: educating for democracy, for character, and for multilateralism.

Common Good: The common good is a collective term describing benefits that are shared by all and where the responsibility for its usage is also carried by all. In our time, the previously “unnoticed” benefits of the natural environment – taken for granted and assumed as infinite – have come to represent the ultimate test for humankind’s commitment to the common good.

Transcendent Good: Management Education must, I argue, also include the transcendent good. Transcendent goods are not material in nature like money or education systems or common natural resources. They are those capabilities that enable us to continuously transcend the current reality for the sake of a better future.

Hope

The briefest expression of transcendent good is the word “hope”. The twin capabilities that enable hope are a critical mindset of “what is” coupled with a creative imagination about “what is not yet”. In theology, this is called the eschatological proviso.

For hope to “work”, the order of strategic planning is reversed: One does not start with a critical SWOT- analysis of the current situation, A, and then build on the emerging opportunities and strengths to plan toward a desired state B. In this kind of rational, linear thinking, B will always be an exponent of A and subject to the limitations of A, albeit making slight improvements.

Hope springs from a creative, alternative future, Z, which is both qualitatively and quantitatively different from A. In business, people sometimes say that if a vision does not scare you, it is just a slightly different strategic plan. What distinguishes hope from optimism is that the latter stems from a calculating mindset: In a specific situation, I do my best to analyze factors for and against me. If there are more factors in my favour, I am optimistic and positive. If not, I am pessimistic and negative.

That is why business confidence indices are so volatile: They measure the collective swinging moods of people in the market, subject to daily or even hourly assessments of positive or negative sentiments. (Commentators do not always realize how funny their so-called “causal” explanations are: “The price of gold is up because of uncertainty about Prince Harry’s future in the royal household and how he will gain financial independence”.)

“I propose four “goods” that business schools should encourage and produce: private good, public good, common good, and – my own suggestion – transcendent good.”

Whereas optimism (and pessimism) stem from a calculative mind that comes naturally for businesspeople, hope springs from an unwavering belief in an alternative future irrespective of and despite the current situation. Hope stems not from a realistic prolongation of the present, but from an imagined alternative future.

This is what Victor Frankl discovered during his internment in the Nazi concentration camp: As a medical doctor, he would assess whom he thought would die due to physical symptoms like dehydration and exhaustion. But some who seemed physically good, in fact, died; whereas some who seemed physically weak, continued to live. The difference, says Frankl, lies in the ability to imagine life after the camp; to find a “why” to live for.

It is abundantly clear that no SWOT- analysis would be of any use to those in the camps.

The same holds for Nelson Mandela and his compatriots:

He closed his speech in the dock during the Rivonia trial for treason on 20 April 1964: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all people live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But, my lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Mandela and his fellow trialists were found guilty and received a sentence of life imprisonment. He – and others deemed terrorists – could afterwards not even be quoted in public.

If one hypothetically would visit Mr Mandela on Robben Island and ask him: “What is the situation on the island?,” he would probably answer that he is not optimistic. If you would ask him, however, what his view was of the future of South Africa, he would say: “The democratic ideal is what I live for and am willing to die for. I am certain about the moral quality of this ideal. I am filled with hope.”

On 27 April 1994 – exactly 30 years and one week later – this ideal, this alternative future which no rational political and business commentator could foresee as a realistic scenario, was realized. On 11 May of that year, he was inaugurated as president.

I am not sure how one teaches for imagination in the sense of prescribed material: music, poetry, artworks, wandering in a natural environment? Nor do I have a clear idea of teaching methods: meditation, drawing/painting, body language? There are, though, some indicators from my personal journey of reading old books – an activity that seems to be dying a slow death.

Classical examples

Reading classic Greek philosophy, Heraclites observed that all things are in constant motion, and nothing stays the same, forever transcending the status quo. One cannot step in the same river twice. Plato’s cave parable tells us that what we currently believe, might simply be shadows of the real world. But because the cave is dark, our eyes cannot bear the light of the sun, leading us to return to the dark where we think we see reality. Socrates’ attitude to stated positions was to use argumentative dialogue to question and expose assumptions, clarifying existing and drawing out new ideas.

Reading the prophets and apocalyptic literature from the Jewish-Christian Scriptures also inspires: Jeremiah entered into a real estate transaction in a war zone, defying all market indicators because he firmly hoped for a post-exilic future in Jerusalem. It took roughly 70 years to come to fruition. St John, in isolation on the island of Patmos, wrote the Apocalypse around 96 AD and imagined a completely different world order than the oppressive Roman regime of his time. This only materialized in 313 AD with the Edict of Milan issued by Emperor Constantine.

If I take my cue from these classical examples, it seems that transcendent good arises from an openness to the wisdom of others; acceptance of change as a constant reality; relative isolation; suffering; time for contemplation and imagination; and resilience to exercise utter patience that the good we strive for might only be realized after our lifetime.

I have not yet seen a business school pronouncing wisdom, isolation, suffering, imagination, and patience as graduate attributes. We are too busy with “problem-solving” and “critical thinking”.

This is why we are so poor at creating transcendent good.

Let us conclude this discussion:

Business Schools are in many ways already creators of the good. There is however a tendency to fall into the double error to think that “the business of business school teaching is business” (creation and promotion of the private good only) and that the teaching of other forms of good is a “soft option” that stands in contrast to and impedes business success.

To the contrary: Apart from having legitimate intrinsic value beyond monetary gain, transcendent good, common good, and social good are indeed prerequisites for financial good as they are part and parcel of building flourishing societies in which business plays its designated role.

So, I hope we can now state with confidence: Responsible and enlightened business schools engage in management education for the good.

contemporary management educationContemporary Management Education: Eight questions that will shape its future in the 21st century (Springer 2022) is written by Piet Naudé, former Director of University of Stellenbosch Business School and member of the EFMD Quality Services.

The book can be accessed via this link.

 

 

 

Contemporary management education - eight questions that will shape its future in the 21st century

1 Comment

  1. Claudia Schmitz on March 17, 2022 at 10:36 am

    These words do good in times of war. All the business topics fall apart if we look at the reality in Ukraine. Yes and it is hope for a better future … it is the power of reaching the souls of people who belong together. They create the spirit to fight and die for it. I think Piet Naudé could not imagine that his book was out just some days before the war in Europe broke out. But exactly what he mentions in his 8 questions are the topics managers have to be grounded these days. So we as consultants take this inspirations into the companies and it would be good, if young managers at business schools would be confronted with business and people, sense and belonging, ethics and war. Thank you.

Leave a Comment