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Carlo Brumat

Everything I Need to Know I Learned (or Didn’t Learn) in Business School Wherever globalization and the network society have arrived, they have transformed most markets into buyers’ markets.

Everything I Need to Know I Learned (or Didn’t Learn) in Business School

Wherever globalization and the network society have arrived, they have transformed most markets into buyers’ markets.

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For every company, the imperative is to make itself and its products stand out when differences are infinitesimal and needs count less than wants. Fierce competition among companies leads to innovations that, like fashion goods, only have a brief season on the market. Customer choice is dictated more by emotion — in particular mimetic desire — and by aesthetic appeal than by functional considerations.

Companies operate more and more as contractors, and work becomes project work: The project-oriented society is here.

Now “to project” is also a verb, meaning to anticipate ends — that is, desired fantasies — and then retro-determine the means needed to attain them.

Fantasies must be imagined, and means must be mobilized. These tasks require that managers rally support around these goals, largely by emotional appeal.

Business schools teach project management but have little to say about the power of convocation, of calling together, of attraction and persuasion. What’s needed is rhetoric, the effective use of language, and poetry, the measured language of emotion, which Webster’s dictionary defines as “the art of apprehending and interpreting ideas by the faculty of imagination.”

So it all comes together: imagination, emotion, rhetoric. With rare exceptions, all this is absent from business-school curricula that are dictated by an irrational passion for the calculating rationality of consumers. We need instead a less Apollonian and more Dionysian view of human nature — less light and order, more dream and fantasy.

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As markets expand and become more efficient, transnational corporations become fewer and stronger, and states become more numerous and weaker. Inequality increases, and the Blade Runner world appears closer.

The alternative is a global open society where those who bear the fruits of labor share equally in the fruits of their success. If we truly believe in competition, we should first level the playing field and equalize opportunities. In agrarian societies, this required the distribution of land. In today’s society, it requires equal access to health and education.

But, as states get weaker, health and education are increasingly left to the private sector, which operates them as businesses. How is the field to be made level then?

Tomorrow’s business decision makers are taught lots about means, ways, and methods; little about conscience, compassion, and responsibility.

The ethos of business schools is that of the economically acquisitive individual — of social Darwinism, of the naturalization of socioeconomic inequality. Furthermore, triumphalism about the successes and benefits of markets and technology fails to address the crucial questions: For whom? For how long?

Society needs business people who are more than simply clever adolescents; generosity, in the form of charitable foundations, won’t suffice.

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Business schools must not prettify, or simply ignore, global reality if they want their students to prepare for leadership roles. Let them invite speakers like Noam Chomsky along with the financial gurus; show the photographs of Sebastião Salgado. And let them teach students some of history’s lessons about the rise and fall of empires. “Diminishing credulity by providing instruction as to the prevalent forms of mendacity,” as Bertrand Russell put it, is another neglected, but worthwhile, goal.

Carlo Brumat, currently dean of DUXX Graduate School of Business Leadership, in Monterrey, Mexico, worked for many years in industry both in the United States and in Europe — first as a physicist and later as a financial analyst at the Fund of the West, a venture-capital firm based in Beverly Hills, California.

Returning to academic life, he earned his PhD in management science at UCLA and later moved back to Europe to teach at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France. While there, he became a consultant to several European firms in the oil, electricity, telecommunications, and computer industries. He has had a lifelong interest in science and its impact on society. He is the founder of ETHICA, a forum of ethical reflection based in Asti, Italy. He is also the author of some two hundred articles and papers on different aspects of the science of effective action.

He’s learning:

Brumat says the following questions keep him up at night.

Erotetic logic: To what extent is knowledge acquisition and construction the result of an interrogative process? More generally, what interesting things do we know about questions — including those which are destined to remain without an answer — and about questioning?

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Diasporas: What kinds of diasporas are there and in what sense are they key components of late-modern society? What can we learn from their study about such things as the future of politics, the modes and limits of assimilation and integration, and transnational networks and their significance for politics and economics?

Geoeconomics: Churchill predicted in 1943 that the empires of the future would be empires of the mind, whether creative or captive. This means that we now live in a new space, free of territorial constraints and limitations where aggrandizement is being sought by different means. Geopolitics is in the back seat; geoeconomics is in the driver’s seat. Or not?

He’s reading:

Coordinates: cbrumat@duxx.mx

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