Building Sustainable Legacies


Issue-centered learning

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.

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Recognizing the need to unlearn

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 divisions, 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. We have learned to negotiate hard, of winning through cut-throat competition, of either rendering our consumers dependent or seducing them to consume more “stuff”. We have learned to pay employees, suppliers and partners as little as we can get away with and to charge our customers and clients as much as we can. We thereby have created a cage which prevents us from connecting to any desire to do good or to offer our energy and efforts to a greater good. Freeing ourselves from the many written and unwritten rules in business is an essential starting point to enable leaders to connect with their hearts and souls, to stop and to listen, and as a result to liberate their desire to do well by making a positive and relevant difference.

Above and beyond these rules and regulations, we have created important walls of protection. We are so scared to be touched (more figuratively than literally) that we have created very strong mental control mechanism that allows us to go through a day without getting too overwhelmed with everything we are confronted with and are asked to digest, starting with the news in the morning, to mildly dissatisfying personal relationships at work to sorting out kids back home. Most of us are in survival mode. We have shut down everything within us, besides the few vital areas that are required to get us through our daily life. If we expect future leaders to address their fears and deconstruct these walls of protection, we need to offer them an alternative that works. Such a process starts by recognizing the fear within the person in front of us. It requires us to see where the other person stands and to acknowledge his fear by offering a hand to take a step outside of it by providing the needed support. Without this support personal transformation will not be possible. Daring to be touched and knowing how to enter into resonance with himself and the world, are the key fundamental ingredient for any future leader that will act for the world and the societies it includes.