Published: Dec. 7, 2016
Mark Meaney, Center for Education on Social Responsibility, CESR

By Mark Meaney, Executive Director of the Center for Education on Social Responsibility

The pace of change is accelerating at an exponential rate. So concludes Tom Freidman in his latest book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. Likewise, in survey after survey, leading CEOs express their growing concern about the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the global business environment. Friedman argues that we have in fact entered an “age of accelerations” that will transform almost every aspect of our lives.

He identifies simultaneous exponential changes in globalization, technology and climate change to explain why so many things appear to be spinning out of control. CEOs too identify volatility as their number one concern, a consequence of the acceleration of globalization. Most worrisome for CEOs, their employees are ill-equipped to cope with accelerating complexity. Teams within teams of different nationalities with different cultural values are spread across the globe. They must work together to adjust their strategies and tactics on the fly to events happening in remote parts of the world. All of this even before they address the complexity of the project at hand!

Interestingly enough, Friedman and leading CEOs also agree on the remedy: ethics, markets, and social responsibility. They agree on the kinds of characteristics individuals must acquire to adapt to the “age of accelerations”: self-awareness, integrity, cross-cultural competence, critical thinking, network thinking, comfort with ambiguity and uncertainty, communication, and creativity.

The question lies before us as educators, how can we inspire our students to develop these characteristics? At Leeds, we have embarked on a grand experiment in ‘business civics’. A collaboration among CESR, Finance and Management intends to ready students for the “age of accelerations.” The experiment challenges students to discover the ethical underpinnings of the free market in appreciating business as a ‘calling’. To this end, we match two styles of learning with three different kinds of pedagogy.

In the freshmen World of Business (WOB) course, we have joined ‘participant-centered learning’ with ‘participatory-centered learning’. For ‘participant-centered learning’, we use the more traditional case-based method. Students make explicit fundamental value commitments as future business leaders and then test those values in issues-oriented, decision-making. For example, case studies challenge students to grapple with ethical issues concerning the impact of globalization on emerging markets. Here, students come to appreciate the importance of ‘social capital’, or trusting relationships, in the formalization of informal economies. Naturally, this method enhances self-awareness, integrity, critical thinking skills, and encourages self-management.

The ‘participatory-centered learning’ is the most innovative part of WOB. Here, we use ‘gamification’. In gamification, we apply state of the art game mechanics and game design techniques to engage and motivate students to work together in developing their perspective and conviction as ethical business persons. This method also fosters the development of self-awareness and integrity, but focuses on the characteristics of cross-cultural competence, network thinking, comfort with ambiguity and uncertainty, communication, and creativity.

In the sophomore year ‘Ethics and Social Responsibility’ honors module, we add to the case-based method a third kind of pedagogy for ‘participatory-centered learning’, Human-Centered Design (HCD). HCD is a creative approach to problem solving. Students work together on teams within communities to deeply understand the needs of the people who might use their products or services. They dream up scores of ideas and create innovative new solutions rooted in people’s actual needs. HCD gets students out of the classroom, off the campus, and into the Denver/Boulder community to interact directly with community members, potential consumers, corporate executives, and experts in, for example, the circular economy.

In the “age of accelerations,” educators from diverse disciplines must collaborate to prepare students to be able make ethical decisions within a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous global business environment. Leeds is leading the way in experimenting with curricula to inspire students to develop the characteristics that will enable them to adapt to simultaneous exponential changes in globalization, technology and climate change.