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Embracing Disruption Through Engagement and Innovation

May 2015

Tom Robinson

By Tom Robinson, President and CEO, AACSB International

We are definitely living in interesting times. Education in general and management education in particular face potentially disruptive forces—some known and likely more as yet unknown, given the pace of change today. Business schools planning to continue to deliver the same lectures in the same format in the next decade as they did a decade ago face the very real possibility that they will become irrelevant.

On the other hand, every challenge also brings opportunity. For example, advances in technology have created alternative learning pathways, particularly for millennials who grew up immersed in technology and who demand the same level of ease of search and access from education as they do from the products and services of companies like Apple. These same technological changes provide opportunities such as an alternative means of conveying basic knowledge outside of the classroom and allowing classroom time to focus on higher-level skills and abilities. There are potentially positive, not just negative, aspects to disruptive forces. How can we best position ourselves to not only survive future disruptive forces but also take advantage of them?

AACSB’s 2013 Standards, which focus on engagement, innovation, and impact, can help us meet the new challenges and opportunities, mitigating and taking advantage of disruptive forces. By being better engaged with business, we can keep our finger on the pulse of management needs and make sure we are “in the loop” for potential disruptions. By being innovative, schools can maximize the possibility that they are prepared for and can benefit from disruptions. We know in science and fields like venture capital, there are potentially high returns to innovation—whether on a large-scale experimentation or through “little bets.” As a result, business schools can make the positive impact on business, society, and their graduates that they were created to make.

Let’s talk a little more about engagement. Today’s business environment is global, complex, competitive, and dynamic. The knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to perform at a high level in this environment are constantly changing. Business schools must be engaged with business to make sure they are providing relevant education to prepare students. Business schools can also provide opportunities for students to be engaged with current business practice through experiential learning activities, internships, and access to business leaders, helping students prepare for important trends.

Turning to innovation, business schools are already in the innovation business; through their intellectual contributions they create new knowledge to advance theory and/or practice. Schools may be less prone to turn this innovation inward to look at how they disseminate this knowledge. We need to encourage innovation. At ICAM 2015 we were fortunate to have Daniel Pink present on “How to Build a Culture of Innovation.” Pink notes that organizations can foster innovation by giving people freedom over time, technique, team, and tasks. He provides examples of how innovative companies have created “islands of time” such as a few hours a week or a periodic day to come up with new ideas, products, or ways of doing things. This is akin to the “little bets” approach of author Peter Sims to discover, test, and improve new ideas. With such an approach, the organization is engaged in continuous improvement and has a portfolio of new ideas, some of which will succeed and some of which will fail. Of course, larger-scale innovation is also to be encouraged, and with larger experiments we need to have a sound process for development and planning.

Engagement and innovation together will enable business schools to remain relevant and have a bigger impact on business practice and our communities. AACSB is launching a new visioning website to bring together various conversations occurring about opportunities for the business school of the future, such as the Business Education Jam that is discussed in “Management Engagement in a Jam?” in our October 2014 issue. We hope these efforts will help you engage, innovate, and have an impact in your communities.