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Chairman’s Corner: Leading in a World of Innovation Acceleration

One of the privileges of being part of the Global Business School Network is that I have the chance to meet with leaders from business schools from around the world. One recent example was a special lunch hosted by Dan LeClair, CEO GBSN in May 2019 in Cascais, Portugal for GBSN member schools who were participating in the EFMD Annual Meeting being held at the new campus of GBSN Member Nova School of Business and Economics. Before I continue on the main topic of this blog, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the new campus of Nova is exceptional and congratulations are due to Dean Daniel Traca and his leadership team. I hope that many of you will have the chance to see the new Nova campus first hand when you participate in the 2019 Annual Meeting of GBSN which will be held there on Nov 6-8th, 2019.

Over the lovely lunch of seafood in Cascais, the conversation naturally drifted towards the constant change that business schools leaders are challenged with. As I visit business schools in my role as Chair of the board of GBSN I hear frequent voices about both the opportunities and risks facing business schools in a world of accelerating innovation.

The Technology Revolution

Most business school leaders recognize that we are living in the midst of a technology revolution, the likes of which we have never seen before. Ray Kurzweil, a noted American inventor and philosopher commented on the exponential nature of this change, “In the 19th century, we saw more progress [in technology] than in the nine centuries preceding it. In the first 20 years of the 20th century we saw more advancement than in all of the 19th century. And we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century Ð it will be more like 20,000 years of progress at the current rate.”

It is difficult to visualize the true impact of this exponential nature of the technology revolution. This is because we, as human beings, live in a world of linear time. If we are asked to predict the impact of technological change in 10 years’ time, we would typically think back to the world we knew a decade ago and extrapolate linearly from today. It is very difficult for school faculty and staff to accurately predict the impact of technological changes around us.

The Expectations Revolution

The technology revolution is being accompanied by an associated revolution of expectations amongst our students. To visualize this expectations revolution, image what the worlds looks like to a young student in one of our programs today. The world is global, open, real-time, transparent and interactive. Due to the ubiquitous spread of the internet, the world has become a much smaller place. Young adults can connect with friends around the planet with the touch of a finger. Access barriers have also come down dramatically as smart phones, data networks and other forms of connectivity at home and work have spread and become available to all. The inherent real-time nature of the Internet means that waiting times have been all but eliminated. Participation has become a way of life for all as the sharing of ideas, blogs, pictures and videos have allowed for the expression of ideas from all perspectives.

This scenario is not much different today across the developed and developing worlds. This expectations revolution – a broad and dramatic shift in expectations and needs – is fueling a demand for innovation from business schools. Business schools have to adapt to the new reality of the expectations revolution. Gone is the era in which we could take days to provide a response to a student request. In a world of instant social media, business schools need to keep their fingers on the pulse of student complaints and be ready to respond to them immediately when needed. For decades schools could be content working at a leisurely pace with limited transparency of actions to students and external stakeholders. Now, with increased expectations of transparency and participation (interactivity), students and a variety of stakeholders are placing new demands of change upon business schools, and we have no choice but to innovate in the way we operate.

Leading Change

While the acceleration of innovation presents a formidable challenge for most business school leaders, it also presents an exceptional set of opportunities for the few who dare to innovate and change. The few who are inspired to re-imagine the future and take risks. The few who are disciplined to execute with determination and resilience.

So how should business school leaders react to these accelerations in the pace of innovation? While there are no panaceas, here are three important recommendations to help frame your response.

First, don’t deny the obvious. Technology is disrupting education and no school is protected from its revolutionary impact. The speed of change caused by the dual impacts of the technology and expectations revolutions is increasing and creating both opportunities and risks. Acknowledging and internalizing the disruptive forces of change is essential to begin framing an appropriate response.

Second, have an active outside-in learning strategy. While you should certainly encourage all internally generated ideas for innovation, it is likely that most disruptive ideas will emerge from stakeholders outside our schools. It is important to have a dynamic intelligence and scanning capability that proactively reaches out to our alumni, corporate partners and other stakeholders. The focus should be to learn from these partners and so the best talent should be assigned to this role. Few schools manage this outside-in learning process effectively.

Third, lead from the top. Business schools are not designed for disruptions and so do not expect any revolution to start in a bottom-up fashion. Yes, the job of the leader is to listen to multiple voices within the school, but a more important need is the ability of the leader to make strategic bets on new potentially disruptive ideas and to steer the school in the right direction. Resources have to be allocated, voices of resistance have to be managed and the energy of the school has to be mobilized towards new directions. This requires strong and clear leadership from the top.

 width=Soumitra Dutta is a Professor of Management at Cornell University and the Chair of the Board of Directors for GBSN. Previously he was the Founding Dean of the SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell and Chair of AACSB Intl. He also co-chairs the Global Future Council on innovation ecosystems for the World Economic Forum.

Email: sd599@cornell.edu; Twitter: @soumitradutta; LinkedIn: soumitra-dutta;