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10 Learning Experiences Transforming Business Practice

The Aspen Institute's 2019 10 Ideas Worth Teaching Awards feature business school courses addressing societal issues like distrust in institutions, fractured public debates, climate crisis, and economic inequality.

This post was originally published on the Aspen Institute Blog on December 9, 2019.


Capitalism is searching for a new adjective to describe itself. Sustainable? Inclusive? Conscious? … or just new?

This moment represents a call-to-action for all of us. Through our everyday decisions—as citizens, consumers, students, academics, and executives—we collectively reimagine and design the future. Capitalism doesn’t just happen to us; it is a system based on rules and regulations, and most importantly on our behaviors, assumptions and values. And it is always changing.

Global business schools have a special role in defining and feeding the dynamism of capitalism. Business school professors produce ideas that are deeply influential in business decision-making. They are the go-to trainers and consultants to firms worldwide and collectively, they teach hundreds of thousands of students each year.

Today, those students enter business school increasingly aware of the challenges that the world is facing. They are hungry to effect change, to use business to create value, scale solutions, and improve societal well-being. But, as we heard recently from a group of top-tier MBA students, this passion and creativity can get stifled in the first few months of business school.

Since the 1980s, the prevailing ideas in management education have driven and supported a shareholder-centric version of capitalism—externalizing costs, discounting the future, and outsourcing the many functions (and workers) of the firm outside its core competencies. These often short-sighted and narrow concepts reveal a disconnect between theory and the realities on the ground. Students are left struggling to bridge their education to the complex and messy world outside the classroom.

But management education itself is also always changing. Our analysis of this year’s Ideas Worth Teaching Award nominations shows there are ground-breaking academic intrapreneurs teaching to a version of capitalism that moves well beyond shareholder-centric metrics of business success—and even beyond a “doing well by doing good” mantra.

These professors are leaning in—to address societal issues like deep distrust in institutions, fractured public debates, and crises such as climate and economic inequality. The 10 Ideas Worth Teaching Award-winning courses for 2019 shine a bright light on the future of management education—and paint an aspirational picture for the future of business practices.

These courses:

  • Focus on business decision-making. They offer cutting-edge content to strengthen decisions that align with societal well-being. They equip students with new definitions of value, metrics for measuring societal impacts, and tools to build and argue a point of view contrary to old thinking about business.
  • Acknowledge public distrust of institutions. Instead of enacting a market-solves-all mindset, these courses are infused with a new sense of humility. While “restoring trust in business” is a time-worn sentiment, these courses require students to grapple with a deeper question: how might business be worthy of the public’s trust?
  • Recognize the limits of financial models and management ideas, to move beyond them. These courses ask students to build off quantitative and technical skills to develop the social cognition needed to make values-based decisions and lead in a complex, multi-layered world.
  • Embrace big ideas, such as justice, fairness, individual liberty, and power—and require students to grapple with uncomfortable questions about the tensions between these ideals and business practices.
  • Tap into the humanity and reality of business practice. Many of these courses are experiential—designed to embrace the lived experience of the students—and their own interactions with capitalism—and the experiences of other citizens, employees, and elected officials.
  • Question assumptions that are deeply rooted in business disciplines. By incorporating a cross-disciplinary view into the curriculum, students examine the very purpose of key business functions and learn how to find new solutions to complex problems.

It has been 60 years since Ford and Carnegie released their influential reports on management education. While the ensuing changes ushered more “rigor” into the curriculum, they inadvertently primed management education for its shareholder-centric era. This made sense, especially considering Cold War aspirations to uphold capitalism and democracy. But what should management educators do when faced with today’s social and political realities? We believe these ten courses offer important answers to that question.

For more information about the Aspen Institute’s 2019 Ideas Worth Teaching Award Winners, including an in-depth look at each course and syllabus, please visit ideasworthteachingawards.org.


Claire Preisser, Advisor, Aspen Institute Business & Society ProgramClaire Preisser is advisor to the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program.

Jaime Bettcher, Program Manager, Aspen Institute Business & Society Program Jaime Bettcher is program manager at the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program.