Building Sustainable Legacies

The challenge for business educators

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As business educators we must challenge the underlying assumptions of economic and business development, like the need for economic growth, unlimited consumerism, shareholder value. It is up to us to ensure that we create leaders who will focus on creating value for the world rather than only for a few shareholders. Leaders who act as servants for the common good operate a conscious business, they are engaged with society and the planet and they are asking for their real needs concerning economic innovation.

This is the contract we as management educators have with the world and with society. No more silos, no more tenure, no more clear-cut divisions between institutions, nor between business and other active players in the world (formally known as NGOs) , nor more citation indices to evaluate scholars.  This is what we must measure ourselves by and this is what we should strive to achieve. And we shouldn’t leave a stone unturned in order to get there, even if it means undoing some brick and mortar and doing away with some ivory towers.

Business executives – more than any other profession – have developed the capacity to deal with complexity and to adapt their strategy to an evolving environment. Businesses have evolved beyond national boundaries into global enterprises, uniquely able to address and act on global issues. As such, they do have an important contribution to make as co-trustees and co-actors, working with all stakeholders towards a larger vision for the world (“Living well and within the limits of the planet’s natural resources”, WBCSD).

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Author: Dr. Katrin Muff

Dr. Katrin Muff is a thought leader in the transformative space of sustainability and responsibility at Business School Lausanne, where she acted as Dean from 2008-2015 until self-organization made such a title redundant. Under her leadership, the school focused its vision on entrepreneurship, responsibility and sustainability in education and research. Her business experience includes 10 years at ALCOA (GM in Russia, Industry Analyst for Global M&A in the U.S. and Business Analyst Europe), 3 years as Director, Strategic Planning EMEA at IAMS Europe (Procter&Gamble), and 3 years as a co-founder of Yupango, a coaching consultancy dedicated to start-ups and training management teams.

One thought on “The challenge for business educators

  1. Katrin,

    If we look at business and other organizations as we know them today have a goal – implicitly or explicitly. A for profit company will have a goal that is something like ‘make lots of money now and even more in the future’. To achieve that there are some necessary conditions that must be met 1. customers must be satisfied better than they are satisfied by competitors; 2. employees must have a satisfying and secure employment (so that they cooperate with the goal – the goal of the company and the employee(s) are aligned. The customers under point 1 include the environment in which the company or organization operates … so there is in fact a necessary condition to look after the environment (but only as far as the peoples’ organizations require it!).

    NGOs are no different from for profit company’s. The variation is simply that the stated goal might be to ‘save the whales’, nevertheless they then have a necessary condition to make sufficient money now and more in the future – save even more whales!

    Here is a belief. A business, NGO, economy are all not that complex – they contain an inherent simplicity because they are all systems of dependent components. If we have a system of dependent entities physics teaches us that there must be this inherent simplicity – one limiting factor constrains our ability to achieve whatever our goal is. So we must look for this inherent simplicity.

    Goals, however, may be in conflict which will lead to conflicting possible actions by the components of the system.

    We need to understand these conflicting goals … the goals themselves are likely all to be desirable. How individuals or groups want to achieve their goals will be in conflict with someone else’s preferred action. The preferred actions to achieve the various goals are very likely to be in conflict – the needs the actions are to fulfill are not in conflict – they are both good.

    So, to take another leaf from physics – there can be no conflicts in reality – the height of a building can only be one, not several – if several heights are measured then someone or all people measuring is making a mistake. In our conflicts in business and society we all also make assumptions to underpin our desired actions – one or more of these assumptions will be invalid which can help lead us to a valid solution that fulfills all needs.

    I know this word in simpler situations within a business – I am not so sure it will with different societies. Some assumptions are religious and difficult for certain groups to accept as logically invalid. Start wit the concept o a God …

    A bit of a ramble, but the inherent simplicity of systems and the nonexistence of conflicts may be a way to bring various patties to the table – lets talk about needs and not our favorite actions. Lets check our assumptions/paradigms etc in a friendly logical way – maybe we can find a way out of the conflicts we have … like the € crisis, like global warming, like dwindling resources …

    Rudi