Five Courses That Should Be Launched Or Revamped By B Schools In The Post-Pandemic World

B Schools need to significantly enhance their curriculum and pedagogy to develop managers who can innovate in such a manner.

In case there was any doubt about it, the events of the last two years have confirmed that we are indeed living in a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Such an environment requires managers, whether they are working in established companies or start-ups, to respond quickly and creatively to these VUCA opportunities and threats. These responses generally take the form of innovative solutions that must be rapidly iterated. B Schools need to significantly enhance their curriculum and pedagogy to develop managers who can innovate in such a manner. So far, the herd response from B Schools has been to offer topical courses like AI, Analytics, FinTech, and Digital Marketing to their students. Tomorrow, B Schools will be tripping over each other to offer courses in quantum computing or virtual reality or whatever the next hot technology is. While exposure to emerging technologies is indeed important, equally critical is the need to develop fundamental innovation capabilities in students that can outlast the cascading waves of technology. Here are five courses that can build these foundational capabilities in B School participants. 

Entrepreneurial Venturing

2021 has been a watershed year for the Indian start-up ecosystem with 42 unicorns with a total valuation of $ 82.1 B. With a blockbuster IPO, Nykaa has shown that there is no age to start a business and ace it. Falguni Nayar’s success may give a fillip to a million dreamers. In fact, Google noted that in 2021 there were more searches on how to start a business than how to find a job. A good entrepreneurial-venturing course would immerse the students in the venture process and ecosystem from seed funding to IPO, and provide them with hands-on opportunities to prototype, refine, and pitch real solutions to emerging opportunities to real investors. As importantly, this course would develop an entrepreneurial orientation or mindset - a unique mix of risk-taking, frugality, and a passion for novelty - that will benefit students throughout their careers even if they choose not to become entrepreneurs.

Corporate Venturing / Intrapreneurship

Innovation is not just the domain of start-up ventures; established companies will need to continuously reinvent themselves. While digital transformation, which is much in focus today, is one form of reinvention, the pursuit of new solutions and opportunities requires going beyond such transformation to also include the right mergers and acquisitions, new market entry strategies, new organizational forms for incubation, and managing the tension between old and new businesses. In India, TATA exemplifies this multi-pronged approach - digitally transforming their core businesses, acquiring next-generation businesses like 1MG, and pursuing international expansion vigorously. Intrapreneurship shares some similarities with entrepreneurship, but is distinct enough to merit its own study.

Product Management

In both entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship contexts, product management has emerged as a key driver of innovation. Product management is the process of managing the product innovation life cycle - from conception to launch to continuous improvement and to sunsetting. As a process, product management is ultimately a cross-functional effort, orchestrated by the product manager. LinkedIn shows 34,000+ openings for product management jobs in India and Glassdoor rates the role of product manager as one of the most aspirational roles across the world. Moreover, in addition to product managers, many other players from other functions such as UX design, marketing, and operations participate in the product management process. Therefore, an understanding of product management and related concepts such as product marketing and product stewardship is mandatory for any manager operating in the innovation economy, regardless of their functional affiliation.  

Complex System Dynamics

Developing innovative solutions that actually work in the real world requires competency in socio-technical system design. Systems thinking reveals the societal and environmental externalities or implications of managerial actions. Systems dynamics, pioneered by Professor Jay Forrester of MIT, has been around since the 1950s, though it never became mainstream in Indian B Schools. A growing popular interest in complexity and chaos theory, starting in the ’90s and culminating in the 2008 financial crisis, brought the topic of complex adaptive systems and concepts such as feedback loops and tipping points back into the conversation. But it took the recent pandemic to really highlight the importance of systems thinking. Fortunately, some of the barriers that prevented the wider adoption of systems dynamics principles in business, such as the need to understand non-linear programming, have been solved with an emerging generation of tools. Many B Schools rightly teach design thinking as an innovation enabler. It is now time to also drive systems thinking into the curriculum.  

History of Innovation

Innovation requires lateral thinking and a deep understanding of human aspirations and the social and economic parameters that humans operate within. There is increasing consensus that B Schools and Engineering schools must therefore integrate the liberal arts into their curriculum. One way of doing so is through a study of history. The American philosopher Santayana pointed to history as a source of learning. Studying the history of innovation is fascinating because it is possible to place innovations against a long arc of time, understand the interplay between innovation and society, and gain an appreciation of technology diffusion and the often unintended consequences of innovation. Ultimately, the purpose of innovation should be to create a positive impact on society and on our planet. History and philosophy are necessary to guard the rails for wise innovation.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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