The Need for Empathy, Curiosity in a Complex Business World

Business leaders give current and prospective business students advice on the importance of asking questions, being open to the continuation of learning, and surrounding themselves with diverse communities to expand learning opportunities.


Ken Languedoc: [0:00] I have a pitch that's evolved over the years that I like to present to students. It has to do with the fact that we're looking for smart, creative people who are easily intellectually stimulated by the kind of activities and work that we have. Students need to be collaborative and supportive with their team members.

[0:31] That's a big part of our culture. It's really how we get a lot of things done. It's important to be ambitious but not necessarily self interested. Ambition is good but self interest doesn't really work at our company.

Kodjo Adovor: [0:45] It's become more and more important to be very global in your thinking. You have to learn as much about everything else as much as you can. In business school, it gets very hectic, especially the first year. It's important to be able to get out, go to other parts of the school and learn something from them.

[1:12] One of my favorite courses in business school was the future of global finance. It's the impact of China and the rise of India in the future of business. It becomes important if you're business leader anywhere, to know how that is going to affect you.

Russ Kliman: [1:30] The most successful skills set is always being inquisitive. To be successful in business, you always have to be asking questions and always being inquisitive and not thinking that once I've learned a core discipline then I'm there. It's a continuous and life long learning process. That, to me, is the most important element anytime anybody is coming in the business.

[1:49] Whether it's students coming out of an undergraduate program or graduate program from a business school, I think coming into the space and saying, "I'm here to learn and it's a journey, and it's a life long journey of learning and being inquisitive, and it doesn't stop when you graduate," is the most important success factor.

Irvin Ashford: [2:04] I would say seek diversity and seek circles that are outside of your normal, customary form of friendships. You learn far more from people that are different from you than people that are just like you. In my case, I learned far more from folks that didn't come from my background or didn't attend the type of schools I went to.

[2:26] They didn't have the same way of doing things that I have. I learned from them and I was able to incorporate their best practices into mine.

Kliman: [2:37] Design thinking is incredible critical to being successful, from a standpoint of business leadership. Design thinking really starts with this notion of empathy and really understanding the situations that you're in, and understanding the people in the human factors that are an important part of that success.

[2:52] Whether it comes to leadership, business design, problem solving, starting with that empathy component, I think is a critical component. That's what design thinking really fosters. It's really starting from that human centered approach.

Adovor: [3:04] I would have liked to interact more with other parts of the schools. I encourage every business school student, if you're in a school where there are other schools, there's a law school, there's a divinity school, there's a college, it's important to interact with them because ultimately, that's business.

[3:24] You have to interact with religious leaders, political leaders, other business leaders to be able to get things done.

Ashford: [3:33] My favorite course in college all revolved around religion. I loved all my religion courses because they taught me the non-logical parts of life. The mathematical classes were much more theoretical. They talked about, there's a finite answer and dealt with logic.

[3:56] In many cases, religion deals with emotion, how people feel. You have to have a belief in something. For me, knowing that emotion and belief outweigh logic and math every time, understanding the ways that people believe their thought processes, the impact on religion and culture, I thought that was a good way for me to be a businessperson to know why people do the things they do. Much of what we do in Western world revolves around religion.

Kliman: [4:32] One of the most important aspects that I took away from my own undergraduate college experience was this notion of continuously being inquisitive and always trying to learn and always ask why.

[4:45] Sometimes people can get annoyed with that [laughs] when I ask those questions. But I think always trying to understand what's happening, the background of it, and then figuring out how to apply your particular disciplines, whether they're technical or business disciplines, into that situation, is important.

[4:59] Until you're really ask and be inquisitive, and really try to understand and empathize with the business problems at hand, it's not always trying to find a solution but trying to understand what solutions are the right applications.

Filmed at AACSB Co-Lab: Connecting Industry With Business Schools, May 2019.