Practicing What We Preach

Professors are great diagnosticians.  Our job involves observing the world around us and developing conceptual and empirical models that explain what we see.  In my case, I was trained as an economist and business strategist and thus have a toolkit at my disposal to identify the forces at work that are transforming our global economy and the implications these changes are likely to have on business strategies and performance.

My faculty colleagues in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business are equipped with similar toolkits.  So, we understand how advances in information technology have fundamentally reshaped industries as diverse as banking, media, entertainment, telecommunications and retail.  We understand how globalization has driven fundamental changes in industry value chains, shifting manufacturing and technical support functions to hubs in China, Southeast Asia, India, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.  We understand how disruptive innovation forces have transformed the computer, brokerage and steel industries.

Of course, the higher education industry is not immune to these information technology, globalization and disruptive innovation forces that are reshaping industry after industry.  It is clear that information technology advances enable whole new models to access the knowledge that was traditionally transmitted through faculty experts in university classrooms.  It is clear that American business schools no longer dominate the graduate business education market and that faculty and students “shop” globally for the best universities.  It is clear that while online degree programs were once inferior to campus-based alternatives, this generation of online programs meets the needs of larger and larger segments of business students.

At least these trends are clear to me.  As Dean, it is my job to diagnose, anticipate and drive change in business education.  My faculty colleagues, on the other hand, spend their time (as they should) studying other industries and enterprises.  They teach business, after all, not education.

As part of our ongoing strategic planning process, I have asked my faculty colleagues to apply their considerable industry and enterprise analysis skills to better understand how higher education is likely to change and what we should do about it.  In essence, I’m asking us to practice what we preach every day in our classrooms.  I’m asking us to apply disruptive innovation theory to our industry and determine what it means for the business education industry and the D’Amore-McKim School.  I’m asking us to use lessons from technology-enabled change in other knowledge-based industries to predict the future of our industry and the likely winners and losers.  I’m asking us to better diagnose our own strengths and weaknesses.  And I’m asking us to reconsider all aspects of our business model and organizational culture so that we might become a much more nimble organization that is resilient and positioned for success no matter what the uncertain future holds.

This isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, easy work.   After all, as academics we are natural diagnosticians and preachers (teachers) rather than change agents.  It may be hard to practice the strategic planning and change management concepts that we preach, but it is essential that we do so. The changes we are observing in the higher education industry today are unprecedented and it behooves us to tap into the very best in academic research and thought when defining our own path forward.

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