Kenneth W Freeman and Howard Thomas outline some of the crowdsourced ideas about the future of business schools and other institutions that emerged from the first Business Education Jam.
For four days last autumn, researchers, scholars, students, executives and thought leaders engaged in an unprecedented online brainstorming session about the future of management education.
The Business Education Jam, conducted by Boston University Questrom School of Business in the US in collaboration with EFMD and other global partners, attracted more than 4,000 participants from over 40 industries, 350 academic institutions and 122 countries.
Around the clock and around the world these “Jammers” shared insights, experiences and ideas about issues critical to business and business education: how to engage new-generation students and employees; impart 21st century competencies; develop innovators for the future; foster more collaboration between industry and academia, and much more.
Participants could join in from their laptop, desktop or smartphone, begin a conversation, leave for a while and come back without missing a beat thanks to the full record and analysis Jam technology provides.
The experience was much like that of any social network with the added benefits of real-time aggregation and analysis that directed the conversation to maximise productivity and enable synthesis of the results.
Those results – the wisdom of this “crowd” – include many innovative answers to the challenging questions facing everyone with a stake in business education. From among the many questions the Jam addressed, three that are particularly closely related illustrate the power of crowdsourcing to help chart a course to the future.
Q1 – How can we foster ethical leadership?
Given the malfeasance of the recent past and today’s time of great transitions in the environment, health care and global economies, Jammers almost universally agreed that educational institutions and businesses have a new and urgent responsibility to nurture deeply ethical leaders.
Ideas about fostering ethical leadership converged around a central principle: integrate ethics with all aspects of business education and organisational culture.
Strategies proposed for integrating ethics with education include the case method, simulations, presentations from business leaders who have faced difficult ethical questions and more.
Some participants favoured courses that do a deep dive into values, culture and ethical ideas.
A number advocated building an ethical dimension into functional courses such as finance, marketing and operations.
Others argued for beginning programmes with a course devoted to ethics in order to equip students with ethical frameworks they could apply in functional courses.
But there was also a strong feeling that educators have paid lip service to ethics and corporate social responsibility by merely bolting ethics courses onto the existing curriculum. Many suggested that more radical action learning, such as required community service projects mentored by professors, could provide a far more effective means of instilling moral values by directly exposing students to the kinds of ethical issues they will have to face.
The challenge globally, many participants noted, is to create uniformly high ethical standards across cultures that have different outlooks on ethics and behaviour.
In all cases, the overall message from participants was clear: break through the abstractions and make ethics real – in the classroom, the work place and the world; strongly reinforce the cultural and contextual dimensions of values; and bring together leaders, governments and educational institutions in civil society to find holistic solutions for propagating ethical leadership.
Q2 What role can we play in developing the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs?
Many Jammers agreed that the ability to innovate and launch enterprises, far from being a mysterious gift is a skill like any other. Many of these skills can be taught inside the classroom and out and they can be put to work in new ventures and big enterprises alike.
As with ethics, participants offered a rich array of ideas for making innovation and entrepreneurialism come alive, with an emphasis on action learning.
Business schools could also invite companies to bring their innovation ideas and problems to campus where students and faculty from various disciplines could work on those challenges. Students would gain valuable experiential learning and companies could tap a potentially rich source of ideas. B
usiness schools could also go much further by underwriting entrepreneurship as some Jammers reported their schools are already doing. Underwriting can take many forms such as donating office space and providing a way for faculty, students and entrepreneurs to connect. A business school entrepreneurship centre could transition promising newbusiness projects to start-ups should students want to pursue them after graduation.
Schools could become accelerators or incubators of new businesses with faculty providing mentoring. They could also establish venture funds run by alumni to support fellow alumni entrepreneurs. Alumni could be enlisted to help in student learning through classroom presentations and mentoring and they could offer opportunities for students to participate in their start-ups.
In turn, schools could serve those alumni through networking opportunities like the Jam itself to bring together knowledge, resources and talent around the world.
Q3 How can industry and education tap the potential of the millennial generation?
Born between 1980 and 2000, millennials now make up about a third of the world’s population. By 2025, they will constitute 75% of the global workforce. And for the past decade they have occupied the overwhelming majority of places in our business schools.
How well are those schools preparing millennials for the world they will soon lead? Not so well, according to the Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2015.
When asked to estimate the contributions that skills gained in higher education made to achievement of their organisations’ goals, the average figure for the millennial executives in 29 countries was only 37%.
And how well is the world prepared for them – especially their desire to create value not only for their companies but also for the world? Some 75% of the millennials in the Deloitte survey believe that businesses are focused on their own agendas rather than on helping to improve society.
To turn numbers like those around we will need to reimagine business education and employee engagement through the lens of the millennial generation, as a number of Jammers suggested.
The millennials are the first truly global generation in history with instant electronic access to their peers everywhere. Realising the full promise of this unprecedented globality will require knowledge of international relations and an understanding of the differing impacts of globalisation on world economies.
Study and learning abroad are essential. In addition to imparting skills of emotional and analytical intelligence, business schools must instil cultural and contextual intelligence.
Integrating digital technology with the business curriculum is also critical. Although digital technology is ubiquitous in students’ lives and in business it has entered business education in piecemeal fashion.
In fact, students often know more about digital technology and social media than their professors. Schools will need to systematically integrate collaborative digital technology with classroom and course design, provide data-rich and immersive teaching materials and facilitate real-time problem solving.
That means that in the near term schools will have to find ways to develop faculty so that they can stay abreast of technology and use it effectively in their teaching. Digitally savvy students can help by providing input to new pedagogical approaches.
Companies, for their part, can more fully engage millennials and develop them faster by adopting reverse mentoring, an idea supported by Jam participants of all kinds.
Instead of an older executive mentoring a younger colleague, they mentor each other. The more senior executive coaches the junior colleague on leadership, company culture, and business and industry practices. The younger colleague tutors the older in social media or generational trends that might affect the business – and has an opportunity to make an impact early on.
Millennials who desire to innovate and act as entrepreneurs can be offered opportunities for “intrapreneurships”. Initially, millennials might be offered low-risk, internally focused projects that give them opportunities to make a difference right away and become better team members in the process. Eventually, they would move on to market-facing intrapreneurships.
Acting as entrepreneurs within the larger organisation, they could take an idea from concept to profitable product, harnessing their drive to innovate and engaging them deeply in the organisation.
These are just a small sampling of the ideas and proposals the Business Education Jam generated. And that was just the beginning.
The Jam is part of a larger movement employing analytics and crowdsourcing to shake up current practices. IBM has deployed crowdsourcing technologies across the world to engage stakeholders in strategic conversation. McKinsey Solutions deploys software and technology-based analytics and tools that can be embedded in a corporate client to provide continuous engagement outside the typical project-based model. Other initiatives are in place or being developed.
The Business Education Jam has built a broad-based open platform – in this case bringing together industry, civil society and academia from around the world in a completely open forum.
Focused Jam sessions are now being conducted within major global conferences. New webinars have been created in collaboration with the Financial Times. Deans of business schools have used the Jam as a springboard for discussing strategic options with faculty, staff, students and advisory boards. A full report on the Jam findings, Reimagining Business Education, has been published and is available at bu.edu/jam.
The report, for use by business schools and businesses in advancing management education, synthesises emerging themes, critical questions and actionable solutions crowdsourced during the conversation.
Where do we go from here? In late 2016, we plan to advance the discussion of business education with another massive online global brainstorming event. We will seek to broaden it even more to include under represented areas such as Africa, South and Central America, and parts of Asia in the conversation.
We will explore the ever-changing nature of globally responsible leadership along with more cross-culturally sensitive approaches to business education. And together we will bring the future we have collectively begun to envision into even sharper focus.