BUSINESS LEADERS STRIVING to build long-term success should think about “what’s not going to change in the next 10 years,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently recommended. This is also sound
advice for business school deans. Building a strategy around predictable elements helps focus efforts and investments; it also allows organizations to reap
potentially rich dividends.
We can predict with reasonable certainty that certain breakthrough technologies—including artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, blockchain, and the Internet of Things (IoT)—will continue to change the way we live, learn, produce, and consume content. As these technologies are interwoven into every job, they will change how employees and enterprises work across all industries. In particular, they have the potential to transform sectors that involve a substantial share of knowledge work. These advanced technologies will seamlessly integrate the analog and the digital worlds as they usher in the age of digital convergence.
Business schools must prepare future leaders for this emerging reality. At Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business, we believe three distinct “literacies” will be essential:
Technology literacy. Business leaders must understand the technology if they’re going to manage it. Matt Sigelman, CEO of analytics company Burning Glass, recently told me that a marketing major’s salary increases from US$76,000 to $101,000 when he or she has skills in the programming language SQL.
Analytics literacy. More than a year ago, Forbes magazine estimated that 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created each day, and this pace is only accelerating with the growth of IoT. Data is now recognized as operational currency, so a facility with analytics will be a crucial competency for all firms.
Human-centered literacies. Creativity, entrepreneurial thinking, critical reasoning, and ethical thinking are among the abilities that make people different from machines—and that give humans skills that machines can’t match in the workplace. In his book Robot-Proof, Northeastern’s president Joseph Aoun argues that colleges and universities must help the next generation of workers develop these skills as a way to ensure that they continue to stay employable.
Advanced tech will integrate the analog and digital worlds and usher in the age of digital convergence.
At our school, we call this unique combination of technology, data, and human literacies humanics. Leaders who want to be successful in the future will need to master each one.
But while we prepare our students
for digital convergence, we also must
ready our business schools for the
transformation. I believe digital convergence
has the potential to create
five paradigm shifts in the way higher
We will acknowledge our dual
role as content creators and content
curators. To give our learners the best
possible educational experiences, we
will need to meld relevant content
from many sources. While it’s important
that our faculty generate new
knowledge through their own research,
it’s equally important that they read
and disseminate the knowledge created
by our corporate partners. But even
as we include outside material in our
classrooms, we can emphasize our
unique internal strengths, such as our
ability to engage deeply with students
in synchronous settings.
We will rely on humanics to develop
well-rounded students. Focusing too
much on technology literacy could lead
to what author Evgeny Morozov calls
technology solutionism. In a September
9, 2013, article on PublicBooks.org, he defines this term as a tendency
for people to develop the limited view
that all their problems can be solved
through technology alone. Of course,
data points are critical, but they should
never be viewed as cold, technical facts, but rather as representations of people.
In the blog post “Data Humanism, the
Revolution Will Be Visualized,” Giorgia
Lupi describes how to design thoughtful
visualizations that “connect numbers to
what they really stand for: knowledge,
behaviors, people.” The more data we
generate, the more data humanism we
will need to make insights meaningful.
We will realize we cannot exist in
silos. Humanics education obviously
requires interdisciplinary experiences,
so business schools will have opportunities
to become the connective tissue
across the university. At D’Amore-
McKim, we attempt to do just that with
our new “MBA x” program concept.
With MBA x, students can develop
multifaceted perspectives by blending
their business studies with other
areas of expertise, such as artificial
intelligence or experiential design.
We’re also fully embracing combined
undergraduate majors and interdisciplinary
degree programs by allowing
students to explore different academic
fields—for example, math and finance
or accounting and data science. By connecting
students across a diverse array
of knowledge, we set them on a path
to solving the grand challenges of our
times, driving significant impact, and
living more rewarding lives.
We will promote lifelong learning
as mandatory. According to the
Bureau of Labor Statistics, the
average worker stays at his or her
job for 4.2 years. But this longevity is
greatly reduced for workers between
the ages of 25 and 34, whose median tenure is 2.8 years. This means that they
could have 15 to 20 jobs over the course
of their working lives! These facts,
coupled with current and impending
technological change, make it clear that
lifelong learning will become a key product
line for business schools. We should
be in the business of education, not just
the business of degrees. One way we are
meeting this need at D’Amore-McKim
is by offering a range of educational
products of varying lengths. This
includes noncredit modules that,
over time, learners can stack together
to earn certificates and degrees.
We will make employers the cornerstone
of our strategy. U.S. student
debt is currently estimated to total
$1.52 trillion, and the average student
debt is about $38,000. To make education
more accessible and affordable,
business schools can put more focus on
work-centered pathways. Employers
can help us shape curricula, provide a
pipeline of prospective students, enrich
our learners with opportunities for
cooperative education and experiential
projects, and volunteer as subject matter
experts that help marry classroom rigor
with practical relevance. This collaborative
strategy also offers pragmatic benefits
to schools. A 2019 Strada-Gallup
education survey points out that onethird
of adults without college degrees
are likely to enroll in courses offered by
In the era of digital convergence,
business education will become a
playground of unbounded opportunity
where digital platforms will meld
with physical locations to create new
markets and new possibilities. If we
play by the new rules, this may very
well be the golden age for higher
education in business.
|Raj Echambadi is the Dunton Family Dean of the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts.
This article originally appeared in BizEd's January/February 2020 issue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to [email protected].
OPERATING IN THE GAP
By Terence Tse
Business schools must bridge the distance between technical workers and business leaders.
ACHIEVING A DIGITAL MINDSET
By Ritu Agarwal
Digital transformation relies on leaders, not technology.
COMPETING IN A DIGITAL AGE
By Anh Nguyen Phillips
Organizations must rethink how they organize, operate, and behave.
By Ying-Ying Hsieh
Transformation takes place across multiple levels and dimensions of an organization.
COMMITTING TO RESPONSIBLE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION
By Rubén Mancha, Steven Gordon, and David Nersessian
Schools must emphasize personal responsibility as they educate the next generation of digital leaders.