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Alberta Venture’s Guide to Business Education

The what, when, why and how of getting the most from your people

May 1, 2014

When Facebook announced earlier this year that it was shelling out US $19 billion to buy WhatsApp, a cross-platform messaging service that was created in 2009, you could almost hear the collective groan. And, upon hearing the news, millions of people shared variations (some seasoned with a liberal serving of expletives) of the exact same thought: I should have learned how to code.

A leader is somebody who “takes the ingredients of the present and articulates a poetic future,” says author Alexander Manu. He wants “more Shakespeare.”

Cubicle jockeys aren’t alone in wishing they had the ability to better predict which skills will be in demand in the future and which ones won’t. Companies that are looking at how best to educate their people – that is to say, virtually all of them – would also benefit from having that particular talent. The last thing you want is an entire management team with the educational equivalent of a Betamax player in their heads.

What do those skills look like, then? They might not have as much to do with specific technical or practical competencies as one might expect. According to Alexander Manu, an author and thinker who teaches a course called Innovation, Foresight and Business Design at the Rotman School of Management, an emphasis on managerial competency may come at the cost of cultivating the kinds of leadership skills that are ­always in demand. His latest book, Behavior Space, looks at the payoff associated with play and says it might be more important than the process-based learning that’s de rigueur today. “Leadership is somebody who takes the ingredients of the present and articulates a poetic future,” he says. “And that poetic future is called strategy.”

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Manu’s formulation – one that he describes as “more Shakespeare and more philosophy” – might seem strange to some, and it still stands out in most executive education programs. But Jane Moran, the co-founder of Noesis, a Calgary firm that applies research on the brain to the study of leadership, says business leaders need to be willing to experiment. After all, she says, what we do today isn’t what we’ll be doing tomorrow. “The future belongs to leaders with quite different brains than those sitting in the C-suite today,” she says. Those brains will value social cohesion and harmony, and avoid creating situations in which people feel panicked or unduly pressured. “We need to feel socially safe and supported and to be experiencing positive relationships in order to do our best work.”

Controversial stuff? Perhaps. Offbeat? A little. But trying new things, exploring ideas and experimenting with new approaches is what education is about, after all. The business schools themselves are getting into the act, too, whether that’s by creating ­cus­tom programming for students and the companies that employ them or partnering up with government to help solve the productivity puzzle. And as we discuss in this, our 2014 Guide to Business Education, there are some enduring skills that are becoming more relevant – and less common – in our technologically charged times. Newspapers might be struggling, but writing, one expert tells us, is more important than ever. And ethics, which date back to the earliest stirrings of literate society, are gaining renewed attention at some schools.

So, what does it all mean for you? Study up and find out.


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