Agile Decision-Making: Preparing Students to Succeed in an Uncertain Future

Business educators share their thoughts on the need to increase agility and how we can teach students to think "on their feet," to prepare for a workforce that will require real-time decision making.


Javier Yáñez Arenas: [00:14] Uncertainty is certainly [laughs] the word of today. Things keep changing.

[00:21] The way I will say it is, "How do you learn to swim?" Well, you have to go to the swimming pool. You have to go into the water and keep training yourself so you master the way you swim and you become a good swimmer.

[00:38] If you want to make good decisions under uncertainty, somehow business schools have to throw their students into uncertainty environments, or environments of uncertainty. I strongly believe that the only way to really hone the students in that decision making under uncertainty is by changing things around. Not telling them every little thing, what's going to happen in the next year, the year to come, in the next week, or whatever, but changing on purpose.

[01:15] Not making a chaos out of those changes, but certainly pushing them to be flexible, to adapt themselves, to be ready to understand different cultures. The influence from one culture to another, the way they communicate, all those things come together and strengthen the uncertainty environment in which we are living.

Atish Chattopadhyay: [01:38] What the businesses will be like is very, very uncertain. The way we groom our students, the way education is imparted, needs to also undergo a change. If we look at our times, when we were students there were case studies. Case studies were about what had actually happened. We used to discuss, "OK, this was a situation. This is what could be the options."

[02:05] At the end of the class, maybe the faculty would say, "OK, in the company, this is what had happened. This is how it actually went on." Today, I think that process has to change. The same case can be put in a different manner. Which means that instead of looking at what has happened in the past, present the case which is about the present situation in the company.

[02:28] For the students, it becomes important to understand the situation and the possible options. You simulate what could with the possible situations. When you have to hone decision making skills, the important part is understanding situations, take positions and then look at how things can really evolve.

Geoff Perry: : [02:50] Leaders need to be able to frame problems, reframe problems to solve problems, to make mistakes, to learn from mistakes. They need to be creative. They need to be adaptive.

[03:03] They also need to have some area of expertise of reference [laughs] to the area they're going into. Also, an ability to work across areas where their expertise might not be so great. How can business schools facilitate that?

[03:19] It's important that in the learning of students, they provide them with ill defined problems, ambiguous, complex problems that students will have to work through. They should give them case studies and simulations where they're challenged, and have to find information, work through ambiguity and complexity and make decisions.

Howard Yu: [03:42] One thing that I find is most successful executives are always intensely curious about the world. It's almost having the aptitude of learning how to learn, regardless of what sector they're in, regardless of what organization they find themselves working within.

[03:58] They are so curious about, "How do other sectors, how do other companies try to innovate in their own way?" so that they don't no longer only benchmark with their peer group, but really picking out the best element from innovators out there and selectively incorporating some of the most useful element into the day to day operation.

[04:20] In that regard, because everything these days can be easily copied, it's critically important for executives to go beyond their own boundary, to really understanding, "What are the seismic shifts around the world?" How can they innovate, not just by copying others, but fundamentally reinvent the way they lead their own businesses?

[04:42] There really is no value proposition that can stay unique all the time. There's no IP protection or regulation regime that can render trade secrets can forever be proprietary.

[04:55] It is very important for a company to really, what I call, leap to the next knowledge frontier. The most successful one tended to be the one that leaped not occasionally, but repeatedly again and again and again.

[05:09] These days, whether you're a pharmaceutical company, you're automakers, or you're a bank, data analytics, for example, is a critical capability for a company to build, not just in house, but embrace for the core part of their operation.

[05:24] In many ways for educating manager executives and companies at large, it is critical for a business school educator to really illustrate how can a traditional company really transform the organization, building up capability. Not just a few futurist employees tinkering around on the edges, but the entire organization can accelerate towards this inevitable agenda.

Filmed April 2019 at AACSB's International Conference and Annual Meeting (ICAM) in Edinburgh, Scotland.