I was delighted when I heard that Bradford has become a technology university. As the world’s leaders are struggling to manage the impact of technology – is this an opportunity for the University of Bradford School of Management to lead the world in helping business leaders create strategies and manage for the future?
Management teams need to destroy their own businesses
I have been asked to help the executive team of a global bank to understand the questions they should be asking and how they should be challenging on their digital strategy. One of the things I want to talk about is that every leadership team should be working through how they would destroy their own business. You need to leap forward five or ten years and imagine what the world will look like then; it is easier to jump ahead ten years than one year – the brain doesn’t get so worried about what is or isn’t possible today.
These skills are very different from what is currently taught in the world’s business schools, EQUIS and AMBA accredited or not. So who is going to help executives with these new skills?
Recently I wrote an article in the Financial Times which said that business schools needed to change radically if they are to be fit for the 21st century.
I thought that all I would get from business schools would be pushback against the idea. Instead the wonderful Karthik Kannan contacted me to say that he agreed! He is a Professor at Purdue’s Krannert School of Management in Indiana, in the States.
They are struggling with the fact that, while they have made MIS a core module that all students take, it’s hard to get students to be interested; they are either technology agnostic or advanced programmers already.
The students’ views are that technology moves so fast that whatever they learn now is not going to be relevant in the future. That is true but the important thing for them to learn is not the particular technology, which will be overtaken, but why technology is important and how and why they should stay up to date.
What should business schools be teaching?
Clearly an approach to technology is not the only thing that business schools need to change. Looking at the curriculum, I think the sensible things to include would be
- How does technology disrupt?
- Examples from the history of disruption so that students can recognise disruption when they become business leaders
- Creating a case study of the effects that current technologies may have in particular industries. As examples, what are the effects of drones and driverless vehicles in the logistics industry? What are the next Ubers or Air BNBs – how do you spot them? (Can you imagine the academic response if ten years ago a student had presented her MBA thesis on a business model based on getting ordinary people to rent out their spare rooms?)
- The ability to understand enough technology to be able to understand its possibilities and its limitations and its potential applications to whatever business they are in
- How to counter threats and exploit opportunities
- How to create organisations with employees who are comfortable with technology in every area of the business – and its pace of change
What business schools need to be teaching is critical thinking around technology, more than just balance sheets.
And that takes us to the second change that business schools need to make.
Businesses and academics need to get closer
They need to get closer to business. There is much too big a gap between the corporate and academic worlds. Almost all business schools are part of universities and academic thinking is driven by considerations of academic prestige that drives funding. The two worlds need to get much, much closer so that the work of universities is rooted in the messy reality of business. Academics need to work in business, business people could usefully step back and look at the bigger picture from an academic perspective. Schools are spending far too much time teaching “stuff” when they should be teaching people to think and constantly adapt.
I have been so concerned about the lack of understanding in the boardroom, last year I carried out my own research with business leaders, March of the robots … into the boardroom. This examined the issues and corporate responsibilities of technology, from executives to HR to professional advisers.
It was in writing the paper it struck me that business schools are partly to blame for this complete lack of technology management skills at the most senior levels.
Bosses do not understand technology
Fifty eight per cent of UK bosses admit their boards are not good at understanding or managing technology; 47 per cent have not looked at the impact of automation on jobs and only 19 per cent think automation will hit managerial jobs and just three per cent leadership positions – yet already an algorithm sits on a board in the Far East with an equal vote.
Business schools have taught core modules of strategy, finance, marketing, people and economics for the last 50 years. There may be optional extras such as leadership, M&A or not-for-profit but IT has barely had a look-in on a typical MBA programme and certainly technology does not feature as a core.
I believe a new discipline is needed, call it Future Technology, looking at new robust strategy processes and technology impact on every area of business.
Business schools need to shake up everything they do. Research analysing trends of the last 50 years is no longer useful. Course content is out-dated. Academics themselves need new mind-sets to look at technology impact in every discipline – and also business-wide.
Business leaders need help. As business schools face increased global competition themselves, this could be their opportunity for new relevance and markets. It will be interesting to see which schools can walk the talk and not just adapt to new challenges, but take the lead in this challenging area.
March of the robots…into the boardroom can be downloaded free from patchapmanpincher.com.