Is the pace of business changing more rapidly than it has in the past?
It is; all data shows that it is. The absolute number of new product introductions and the obsolescence of new platforms has been accelerating over the last 20-25 years relative to the prior 100 years. The internet opened up greater access to knowledge, leading to more talent and more capital — new starts are happening faster, failures are happening faster, and you’re seeing a higher churn rate.
Innovation affects every sector. If it isn’t affecting your sector, then you are approaching irrelevance. For an organization to persist it must reinvent itself perpetually. That’s the same for the Red Cross, higher education, or Intel.
What does that mean exactly for our students?
The keywords, I think, are ‘adaptable’ and ‘resilient.’ A downside of the increasing rate of technological change is flameout. So, the calm in the storm of technological change is a talent that is cultivated through experience — it’s not actually something that students can read about or learn about.
They have to live in it, and get into the mess of it, and figure out order from that chaos and drive forward.
How are you innovating — or adapting or reinventing— at the college to keep pace?
There are three key distinctions of our business school. The strengths and differential emphasis in these three areas are what keeps our students and us relevant.
One is entrepreneurship and innovation: It is quite unusual that we have a required course in entrepreneurship for all majors. It’s not that we think everyone will start his or her own business. But we know that in today’s economy and with the rate of change that we face, the ability to think “entrepreneurial” — which means adaptive, resourceful, persistent in the face of failures and setbacks and constant change — are critical strengths.
This is the day and age of big data ... At the College of Business, it is a strength across all disciplines, from accounting to supply chain to marketing.
A second differentiating factor is our strength in analytics: This is the day and age of big data. In that reality we are, in fact, a university that has strengths in analytics across multiple colleges. At the College of Business, it is a strength across all disciplines, from accounting to supply chain to marketing. We’ve added analytics courses to our core, and options in analytics in all of our functional areas, more so than any other business school.
The third thing that is a radically distinctive aspect is the fact that we have design embedded in the College of Business. The only other program that I am aware of in the country that has something similar is Stanford.
Design thinking is critical. Putting the customer at the center of decisions, for example regarding usability or user interface, or simply the technology-user relationship, is incredibly important to business. It all about being human-centered. When you think about today’s most successful big businesses — Apple or Google or others in the Fortune 500, they all have user-centered approach, execution on design thinking — that is underneath it all.
Is there anything else unique about the college that is special to the school’s heritage or history in Oregon?
Oregon itself has as a major resource in its strength in family business. The state is built on family businesses with upwards of 80 percent of businesses being family-owned. The challenges facing these enterprises are unique because of the need for succession from generation to generation if they are going to thrive and persist. We have tremendous experience there; the College of Business has its own unique strength in family business with the Austin Family Business Program that provides education, outreach and research to support family businesses.
OSU is also known as a technology, science and engineering school — what people refer to as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). The rate and pace of change across all STEM sectors, which is largely driven by technology, is not slowing down. There’s value in the fact that we are a technologically-sophisticated university, which does lead to a different kind of student — especially in business.Technological progress creates economic growth, and that potential can only be realized with strong business leaders who can leverage the innovation within the organization and management. Our graduates have to be well-versed in advancing technology so that they can make sound business decisions in any industry.
In 2012, 7.4 million workers were in STEM fields in the U.S. and by 2018 their ranks are expected to grow to 8.65 million. Business schools need to be part of the STEM conversation. It’s critical that our students learn early how to work with their peers in STEM fields, and vice versa.
Business school graduates need to understand the importance of combining business knowledge with STEM and our programs have to prepare students to solve problems that lead technological innovation in science- or engineering-based business organizations.That’s why we’ve embedded entrepreneurship into our core curriculum for every major. You can have the most innovative company in the world, but if you are lacking a workforce with a necessary business acumen to successfully navigate those opportunities, work across disciplinary chasms and tackle difficult problems, you’ll be left behind.
How does this impact the learning environment at the College of Business?
We’ve revamped our first-year experience by introducing Innovation Nation, a living-learning community where business and design students live with each other and participate in common classes, activities and events with their peers, faculty and alumni. It blurs the lines between campus and community — and it is mandatory for freshmen.
Research shows that students in living-learning communities are more academically successful in college, engaged in the campus community, and profession-ready.
We first tested the Innovation Nation concept with a pilot program and a select group of student participants. We found that our pilot program participants returned to OSU for a second year to continue their degree pursuit at much higher rates than College of Business students overall (97 percent versus 81 percent).
Known as a college’s retention rate, this percentage is a strong predictor of degree completion. Research shows that students in living-learning communities are more academically successful in college, engaged in the campus community, and profession-ready. (*)
* Link to the Purdue University-Gallop study.
Seems like being an OSU business student is a 24/7 experience.
Exactly! But it does not end in the first year. Though we’re committed to engaging with our students and embedding them in business from day one, we have co-curricular threads that run throughout the entire four-year experience of a business student at OSU. Our framework for our students is built around three pillars — personal, professional and leadership-skill development.
How is this different from what b-schools did 25 years ago?
Typically, hands-on business courses might not begin until the third year, and traditionally, b-schools that haven’t evolved with the times tend to be a little more theoretical and divorced from the practical.
Most business schools currently use case studies. But case studies aren’t enough. Sure, students can read about a realistic situation that a company faced, which is better than a made-up story found in a textbook. But what is even better is for students to work in a team where they can experience things like conflict with teammates, delegating roles, and making decisions — and guess what … that’s what happens when you join the workforce. It’s the difference between being purely theoretical and being experiential.
For a professional school, it is going back to our roots. We have an obligation to embed practice as part of our educational process.
Practical learning is everything from obvious things such as internships, to the non-obvious things such as applied projects. A student works on a project inside a firm through an internship. Or we work with industry partners to help them define a big challenge they are facing in their business, and we pose the challenge to a group of students and faculty for them to solve. Students get the benefit of working with executives on a project that is reflective of that company’s true day-to-day challenges, and the company has the benefit of getting a fresh and innovative perspective from an interdisciplinary team of business students.
We are deeply committed to engaging with our students as the business school and engaging them in business — their chosen major — from day one. We want our students to be thinking, working, learning about business from day one — and developing connections that support student development.
So considering the pace of change, is the classroom the best place to make these experiences happen?
We’re taking the idea that education is just an accumulation of credit that you earn in the classroom and flipping it on its head.
The terrific thing for us is that we are not doing this alone in a classroom with a few great ideas. We have an entire network of industry professionals from around the region...
The terrific thing for us is that we are not doing this alone in a classroom with a few great ideas. We have an entire network of industry professionals from around the region visiting campus and speaking to students as part of our Fridays in Austin professional development programming, or offering internships and jobs.
We have alumni who are acting as mentors or running professional skills workshops or inviting a group to visit their company. We have partners from around campus that have a stake in improving the economy of the state, and the region as a whole.
Every opportunity we have falls back onto the notion that ‘we’re not done yet.’ The pursuit of excellence is never-ending. It isn’t a stable bar; it constantly moves, and we have to stay at that edge.
The challenges people will face — the velocity of change, the emergence of entirely new industries and technologies, the changing nature of work as we know it — are inevitable, and more is coming. I find it all very exciting. What we’re working to do is very actively and persistently expose students to that kind of challenge by embedding it into our curriculum and requirements as much as possible. Our students will have the technical capability and personal resilience to deal with what’s next.
That’s what makes us different. Plenty of schools are going down the route of making things easier, making the business degree an easy out, staying insular and not integrating other disciplines. We work with our colleagues in engineering, design, the health sciences, agriculture sciences, the liberal arts and so on. It’s not easy— and it’s not supposed to be. Future business leaders need to be highly competent, well trained, disciplined, integrative systems thinkers — and we aim to produce those leaders here at OSU.
Portions of this interview first appeared in the Oregon Stater, Spring 2017 edition.