The business school is dead, long live the business school. This declaration, modeled on the cry that used to go up when one monarch passed away and a new one took the throne, is not designed to strike fear into the hearts of deans. Instead, it should encourage them to recognize that one business school model is dying off and a new norm is taking its place. The business school as we know it is no more—or at least it shouldn’t be.
The reason behind this “velvet revolution” in business education? Hybridization. The word might conjure up images of cross-bred experiments produced by mad biologists, but it is likely to be a key term in the next generation of business education. Schools no longer can afford to mold managers by teaching traditional and distinct subjects such as finance, marketing, and strategy. Companies are demanding graduates with cross-disciplinary skills that can be delivered only through hybridized courses.
A study that was published by EY and LinkedIn shows the business landscape is shifting so fast that 60 percent of tomorrow’s careers are not yet known. Before 2020, we should see the development of a host of new professions that sound as if they belong to the realm of science fiction: augmented reality architect, waste data manager, 3-D printing manager, seed capitalist, and corporate competition designer, just to name a few.
These future professionals won’t be identified with simple labels such as manager, engineer, or technician; they won’t follow classic, fenced-off career paths. They will need multidisciplinary education that blurs the boundaries among professions and qualifications.
Business schools need to embrace hybridization by working at the intersection of innovation, entrepreneurship, and science. This is the place where the majority of tomorrow’s professions will be found—and where recruiters will seek their managers in years to come.
WHERE WE ARE NOW
Many business school deans will say they already offer cross-disciplinary programs; they’ll note that it’s common for business students to take courses in subjects far removed from core management classes. A few can even point to partnerships with specialized higher education providers.
However, as I see it, true hybridization demands a much deeper commitment. I would even say that business schools need to go just as far as the aforementioned biologists creating cross-breeds in their labs. They need to make non-management subjects an integral part of their own DNA. They must undergo hybridization themselves.
This is not to say that business schools should compromise on their strong points and dilute their own well-formed identities. Rather, they must put their weight behind an evolutionary leap that will allow them to innovate for a corporate world that finds itself in constant flux. They must commit to turning out multicultural graduates with deep expertise across multiple sectors—and they must consider these hybrids to be the norm, not the exception.
Over the last few years in France, there has been a wave of mergers in which two or more smaller business schools fused together to create a “super” school. Before merging, these schools had the same outlook, the same sort of faculty teaching the same subjects, the same research goals, and the same types of students on campus. After merging, these schools still have the same outlook, faculty, subjects, research goals, and students. True, some of them have gained global visibility or advanced in the rankings, but they haven’t added any real value for students, recruiters, staff, or themselves.
I believe that business schools need to create alliances, not with other business schools, but with their counterparts in areas as diverse as law, electronics, and the fine arts. In place of student exchanges that barely give future managers a taste of another branch of higher education, we need to construct true double degrees that do justice to both subjects. Only then will we be able to send viable hybrids into the job market.
Naturally, this approach is more complex and takes more time. To make it work, a business school must find room on its board of governors for representatives from different types of institutions. It must work as closely as possible with personnel in these other schools, particularly in their business incubators, corporate relations departments, and student affairs offices. It must allow students from those other schools open access to its facilities. And it must bring together diverse faculty to conduct research and teach classes.
AN EXAMPLE OF HYBRIDIZATION
At Audencia Nantes School of Management, we have formed a triple alliance with an engineering school, the Ecole Centrale de Nantes, and an architectural school, ensa Nantes. We have debuted a management-engineering double degree and soon will launch a management-architecture double degree. The management-engineering degree already has enrolled more than 100 students who will spend two years in an engineering program before studying management at Audencia for 18 months.
The partner schools also maintain deep connections beyond dual degree programs. I sit on the board of directors of the two other schools; their deans sit on Audencia’s board. We run joint executive education programs. We also work closely with engineering schools in countries such as China, Italy, and Romania.
In addition, we have identified three research areas where our trio of schools can work together: big data, marine industries, and the city of the future. The technical know-how of engineers, the creativity of architects, and the organizational skills of managers are all key in these areas. Through hybridization, our research will move to a new level, and we will share our discoveries in both classrooms and corporate headquarters.
Having lived through this process of hybridization, I can confirm that it is not always simple. Much discussion, preparation, and soul-searching must take place if there is to be a successful alliance among schools with different cultures and structures. However, these very differences produce the richness that makes the alliances so valuable. Audencia and our partner schools have placed complementarity at the heart of our ambitions. Our alliance inevitably leads to innovation, because to work together, we all must operate in a new manner. For instance, in our joint work on the city of the future, we have created an institute that unites experts in the design, management, and technical aspects of smart cities. Our goal is to make this institute an international source on intelligent urban development.
What better way to serve a business world in need of innovation than to operate with an innovative mindset within the business school? Hybridization equals innovation. If 60 percent of future professions are as yet unknown, a vast amount of what tomorrow’s professionals need to learn is also unknown. Business schools have to recognize this fact. They must look beyond their boundaries to become as adaptable and multi-skilled as their future students will have to be.
Frank Vidal is dean of Audencia Nantes School of Management in France.