As an educator, I deal every day with the question of whether a business-school degree is worth the time and money students will invest. Will it prepare them, they want to know, for the many challenging — yet conflicting — change processes associated with the new knowledge economy?
Typically, I suggest that students ask themselves the same questions I would ask myself if I were in the process of choosing an education: Will I be working with an issue that deeply absorbs, interests, and challenges me? Will I be working within a cultural and attitudinal framework that motivates and thus brings out the best in me?
If I were to choose a business school in either the United States or Europe today, I’d go for a school capable of living up to these core demands. “Business as usual” is no longer viable as a professional or economic strategy, even for the most traditional and experienced business schools on both sides of the Atlantic.
Even if the educational institution in question is one of the “prestige schools,” there’s no guarantee that students will emerge equipped to tackle the economic, cultural, and political paradoxes, conflicts, and issues embodied in today’s hypercomplex modern society.
I’ve often experienced the contrary.
So business-as-usual schools are the last place young people — and the rest of us looking to build on our existing education — can find what they need. We need courageous, radical, change-the-game schools characterized by an ability to train students in perceiving connections and relationships. We need schools that sharpen their students’ analytical and critical abilities — prerequisites for identifying, formulating, and addressing truly intelligent, radical questions.
But how can young people know when they’ve found the right change-the-game school? A good litmus test is whether the program focuses on:
- Professional competencies: making students experts in something others value
- The competence to act: developing students’ ability to define, pinpoint, and pursue concrete, visible goals
- The ability to change: developing students’ curiosity and appetite for new knowledge and insight
- Social competence: making students good team players who are able to communicate, tackle, and solve conflicts
- If all four fields of competence are on the agenda, then students could, theoretically, decide to enroll after the summer holidays. But I believe schools in question should also be looked at using a cultural or attitudinal checklist:
- Are the programs characterized by political openness, by curiosity about all aspects of life, and by an awareness of social and environmental responsibility?
- Is teaching on a daily basis creative, sensory, aesthetically courageous, and willing to take risks?
- Are form and content, theory and practice integral? Is there a balance between individual and team-based challenges?
Or, to put it another way, are the schools’ or programs’ approach to life playful and open? If that’s not the case, we’re not talking true change-the-game culture, but rather a business-as-usual culture wrapped in nice, politically correct verbal packaging. And that’s just not enough — not if we’re to exploit the positive potential of the new knowledge economy, something we owe both young people today and the world we’ll be sharing in the future.
Lars Mortensen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a team coach at the KaosPilots in Aarhus, Denmark.