Dr. Thomas Mical, Dean, Jindal School of Art & Architecture | Dr. Pavan Gandhok, Vice Dean – Outreach, New Offerings & Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Professor (Dr.) of Practice Strategy & Entrepreneurship, JGBS
The future of work is changing rapidly and repeatedly. Even pre-pandemic, automation, outsourcing, and the gig economy were changing the landscape. Every few years, the adage ‘the jobs of 10 years hence don’t exist today’ is proven right.
Moreover, the nice to have soft skills of yesterday are core skills today. How can management professionals keep up? And how does a B-school adapt to remain relevant, and keep student skillsets relevant?
It almost feels like management programs are chasing the tail of something that has already passed. By the time innovations and new market practices find their way into the curriculum, they are already being disrupted.
Management education also emphasized optimization, efficiency, and standardization because business ethos was about mass market solutions. This has become obsolete thanks to randomness, chaos, and chance, besides demand for creative and tailored solutions, laying bare deficiencies in managerial talent.
Looking at India specifically, we could argue that rote learning and regurgitation has aided development of analytical skills, improving India’s competitive positioning in several domains. However, confounding risk and opportunity is an outcome of this approach.
The real world is different from analytical models and is moving faster than models can keep up. Modern education seems to focus on teaching skills that are learned at the cost of important human skills.
It is a misnomer that only technology is disrupting work; the human element is also forcing change. Paradoxically, for the future we need to look at the distant past, a time that emphasized human skills, and at human sciences as they were called in the Renaissance, a period of great innovation and progress.
There is a need to respond in a change-sensitive manner and students need to be taught to not just be clever but curious as well.
They need to know how change works, understand it, manage it, and benefit from it rather than be shocked by it. Higher level cognitive skills will be required for this understanding and these cannot be automated.
Imbibing systems and adaptive thinking, developing comfort with dealing with wicked problems, and observing patterns to do root cause repairs versus looking for quick fixes will help.
This should lead to an ability to find problems rather that only solve problems because learning to wrestle questions is the better skill versus ability to come up with a smart answer quickly.
In terms of focus, alongside numeracy and literacy, visual and story-telling skills need to be incorporated in instruction as they become universally required. This will help us teachers move from dispensing knowledge to growing it through wonder, curiosity, and genuine explanation.
Group and project-based learning, experiential techniques, and wider variety of alternative testing and evaluation methods are also enablers that are not as widely prevalent as they ought to be.
At its core, students also need to look at work not just as a profession but a learning process – learning from peers, seniors, and even juniors. This is true lifelong professional development versus just upgrading through courses at regular intervals.
People need to ask ‘What could I be learning constantly through my social circle and human interactions to develop my own super-power?’. The interactions also need to be with a diverse pool.
If we look at it from the architecture perspective, neighbourhoods that are the most homogenised produce the least innovation. Hence there’s a growing trend to promote common space design that forces people unlike each other to meet and promote creative collisions.
For answers, we need to look at creative fields like design, and even history. We can draw lessons from fields adjacent to management that can permeate into the business world to overcome the stagnation of standardization.
The field of design can offer several insights on how to solve for deficiencies. Design is about anticipating future conditions and coming up with creative problem-solving techniques.
The lessons from creative areas and processes such as interaction design and service design, besides soft sciences and human sciences are sources of enrichment, knowledge, as well as value.
Pattern recognition, storytelling, and empathy are key human skills that we have forgotten. There are rich traditions of this kind of holistic development in India if we look at the writing of people like Tagore.
Also, respect for education is higher in India compared to other countries. People here will invest and families will make sacrifices for relevant education. Impressive value systems thus exist under the chaos we see around us.
Entrepreneurial tendencies are also strong here as people move constantly to find better opportunities constantly. India should make the most of these advantages.
Management education is compressed into 1 or 2 years. In contrast, Architecture requires 5-6 years of study, and Medicine in India needs 6 years of graduate studies including internships. Historically, to learn a profession a person had to be an apprentice for decades. Hence, the challenge begins with the time available.
The second challenge is that many of the aspects that need to be inculcated can be learned but cannot be taught easily. Then again, things taught more easily also become obsolete easily.
This is a big challenge for educators, and requires active collaboration between students and teachers. Students would do well to remember Emily Dickinson’s words: “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity”.
Think about a common problem we see in India – fixing the water supply problem in an area. What if professionals from biology, design, anthropology, business management, could work on a community project to solve this problem more effectively. Clearly, “interdisciplinary” is not just a buzzword considering the kind of problems we face.
For a business manager, a focus on the ‘triple bottom line’ forces him/her to think more holistically, leading to more sustainable solutions. At a personal level, this common suite of skillsets can help manages move effortlessly across multiple careers and multiple successes.
The faster professional schools respond to these opportunities (not just threats) the better it will be for them and their students. This requires that faculty helps students learn versus just teaching students; to develop them rather than just educate them.
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