National Conference on Indian Management Education: Time to Transform

30-Jan-2019
Xavier Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship, Bangalore

Valedictory Address
As prepared for delivery

Prof J Philip, Founder and Chairman of XIME Bangalore;
Prof A Anantharaman, Provost, XIME;
Mr P Muthuraman, Former Vice Chairman, Tata Steel Ltd;

Members of the academia, friends from industry, distinguished faculty, and students,

Good evening!

It is an honour to deliver the valedictory address at this topical and timely conference on ‘Indian Management Education – Time to Transform’.  And it is a special pleasure to be with two people I deeply admire, Prof Philip, who is a true institution builder and Mr Muthuraman, who is an exceptional industry leader who led his company through historical transformations.

Transformation is all around us.  I was at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week where many transformative themes were discussed. The focus was on the Fourth Industrial Revolution or i4.0 and its impact on Globalization and what shape indeed “Globalization 4.0” would take.  It was only ten years ago that we were talking about the third industrial revolution, the digital revolution. And the second and first industrial revolutions took place a hundred and three hundred years before the third. Thus, it is clear that the changes wrought by technology are coming at us at an ever increasing pace.

Alongside such conversation, in Davos I heard serious concern that all of these advances were creating a polarized society, with increasing inequalities and inequitable distribution of the benefits of progress. We can see, around the world, the alienation of those who feel they have not been benefited by these changes, those who have been left behind by society: the phenomena of Trump, of Brexit and the yellow vests in France are examples.

It is worth pausing to consider what the role of management education is in the context of such change – both technological and societal.

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, the Red Queen said, “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” That describes a normal day in today’s world.

In biology they call this the Red Queen Principle. This principle states that continuing development is needed just in order to maintain an organism’s fitness relative to the systems it is co-evolving with. Everything is changing around you. If you are not reinventing yourself, you will not survive. The Red Queen Principle is an injunction to keep transforming.

What kinds of skills and tools should management education equip its subjects with to succeed in an era of continuous change?

Careers will last many decades during which technologies and paradigms will continuously change. Many of the roles and skills of yesterday are now redundant.  It has been predicted that as much as 60% of present work activities world-wide will be displaced by 2030.

Curiosity, the thirst for knowledge – and the intellectual equipment to assimilate new knowledge and expertise — will be a critical determinant of success. Specific domain knowledge by itself, while important at any point in time, will have short shelf lives. Managers will have to be constant learners. Those who know how to learn — and can effectively convert learning into self-development and action – will flourish.  The ability to learn is different from the actual learning itself. I think of it as the difference between the training of a doctoral student and a bachelor’s student.

The doctoral student learns the tools of research and scholarship which can be applied to new problems over decades to come. The bachelor’s student becomes proficient, generally, in the topics of the day. Management education, and in fact all education, will have to move in the direction of also mastering the techniques of learning, of scholarship, inculcating learning agility as a critical skill of the future.

Our testing and marking systems must motivate creativity rather than conformity. They need to encourage and recognize original contributions in form of creativity, problem solving, valuable original research and innovation. 

In fact, entrepreneurship and innovation will be more important than the traditional corporate career.Management education must encourage entrepreneurs and innovators who are the bedrock of a knowledge economy.

There are several challenges we need to overcome to become an innovation-led society.  Our education system has not focused adequately on cultivating a scientific temperament. Management schools can play a role here, encouraging inquiry and the courage to tread into the unknown.

As India crosses China to be the most populous nation by 2030, it is clear its large scale of employment generation will have to come from more entrepreneurs.   India is already one of the leading start-up nations today. The knowledge base and temperament for entrepreneurship need to be fostered by management educators.

Second, management education, in a broad sense, must prepare students on how to work with and, ideally, lead people.   We may come to leadership via a functional route, but a manager is always managing and leading people. The emotional quotient of a manager is therefore as if not more important for success than intellectual quotient.

Emotional intelligence covers self-awareness, empathy and relationship skills. EQ in itself facilitates greater learning as for instance it enables people to be open and learn from others. It helps communication skills, an essential element of leadership.

Let me share a story from U.S. history. After the 92 year old, revered US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr met the newly inaugurated President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933, Holmes observed to a friend that the new President had a “second-class intellect but a first-class temperament.” Temperament is more important for leadership than intellectual capacity. Our educational system recognizes how we fare on tests of intellectual ability but not equally on how we work with others, on our listening or persuasive abilities.  This is an area for management education to address.

Softer skills are going to be equally important as students and professionals learn to navigate the new organization that will be less hierarchical and more of a peer to peer network. These softer skills, according to the World Economic Forum, will be facilitated by promoting ‘cultural literacy’ or humanities as a core requirement of education. Learning about human character, by critically reading fiction, may be as important for management education as a course on decision theory.

Third, technology fluency will be critical. We may need to be as good at using new technologies all the time. For instance, today, the ability to program in Python may be as important as using a spreadsheet. The technologies of AI, analytics and new databases are expanding human and organizational capacity as never before. People and organizations will have to master these.  And newer technologies will continually rise to the fore. The system of education will need to change, with short courses supplanting the multi-year programs we are now used to.

In the new world, the men and machines will co-exist.  Smart machines are getting ready very quickly to do complex tasks, but without the morality which we humans have. The future leaders will need to deal with this challenge and our education system should enable this new age skill.

Given this complexity and the pace of change, an equally important imperative is change management.

While technology is an integrator, it is also an isolater in many ways. This changes the parameters of communication across generations and organizations, and could result in a diminution of emotional intelligence.

Fourth, competitive advantage in the future will be built on multidisciplinary expertise. The Fourth Industrial Revolution itself is about the confluence of physical, digital, and biological domains and covers advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, the internet of things and more. Solutions will be demanded that combine knowledge of multiple domains. Necessarily, team knowledge and collaboration will outweigh individual expertise. Institutions that promote such team learning and organizations that foster collaborative work will have the edge over those that do not.  This in turn goes back to the importance of emotional intelligence, of the interpersonal skills of collaboration.

Our education system typically celebrates individual excellence whereas the practical business world is about teamwork and collective success.  Transformation in this area is essential to produce effective team members and leaders.

Fifth, companies and executives will have to be all the more cognizant of and responsive to societal and global trends. The outside and the inside norms of an organization will need to synchronize more than ever before.

The rise of the millennials and their impact on markets and organizations is an example of the kind of adaptation that will be critical. Millennials demand a more hands-on and social learning environment, where they can be more directly involved in the learning process.  They expect on-demand services that are available at any time and with low barriers to access.  Management education will need to address the learning styles of millennials.

India, is in fact, an interesting mix of millennials, baby boomers and women returning to the workforce. India adds almost a million millennials to its workforce every month.

An example of the outside-inside intersection relates to the way in which companies and managers deal with inequality. More and more, companies are recognizing their responsibilities to their communities. In India, we have had the pioneering example, from over a hundred years ago of Tata Steel, which Mr Muthuraman led. A recent example globally is of Microsoft deciding to spend $500 million to help with the housing shortage in Seattle.  Taking it closer home, do companies treat their employees equitably? Do employees get to share in the fruits of a company’s success? These are important issues, and management education must evolve to address these topics.

One area which I believe is not as widely discussed as it should be, but is gaining significance in these changing times, is the focus on ethics.  With increasingly stricter regulatory regimes around the world, and the growing importance of public trust, leaders need to embrace an ethics-first culture.  It is imperative to introduce the concept of ethics and accountability within management education and college curricula. 

Conclusion

As I said, I am just back from Davos.  Three years ago, on that platform, Klaus Schwab had emphatically claimed the global emergence of Industry 4.0.  In his famous book “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” he has said, “The changes are so profound that from the perspective of human history, there has never been a time of greater promise or potential peril”.

And it is indeed a time when educators must think of how to equip their students for this new age. The deliberations of this conference are therefore timely.

With this, I would like to close by expressing my appreciation for Mr Muthuraman, Prof Philip, Prof Anantharaman and the entire Board and Management of XIME, for all their work in focusing attention on the need to transform management education in India.

Thank you.