Choosing The Right MBA Program

Business Education & The Smart Machine Age

Machine learning and automation are quickly re-shaping a number of industries.

Since the 1990’s, industrial robots have been implemented into many local labor markets. According to estimates provided by The Atlantic, there are now more than 1.5 million automated machines operating in the U.S. and Europe industrial markets. That number is expected to exceed 4 million in less than a decade.

Ed Hess is a professor of business administration and Batten executive-in-residence at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. In a recent Financial Times article, Hess discussed how machines and automation will inevitably affect the business world and how business education should adapt in the new age. He calls it the Smart Machine Age (SMA).

“Technology led by artificial intelligence, smart robots, nanotechnology, the internet of things, increased global connectivity and computing power, biotechnology and genetic engineering, will redefine work and transform how businesses are staffed, operated, and managed,” Hess says.

Smart tech is moving beyond manufacturing & into service industries

Industries such as medicine, finance, accounting, management consulting, and law are already being influenced by smart technology. As smart technology increasingly influences these professions, Hess says humans will only be needed for jobs that require innately-human skills such as “higher order critical, creative, and innovative thinking and/or emotional and social intelligence.”

Business students will need to learn how to un-learn & re-learn

How will the SMA affect business education? Hess says students will need to redefine what “smart” means. Rather than be defined by the quantity of what they know, students will need to be measured by the quality of their skills. Hess calls it the “new smart.”

“Smart can no longer be defined by how much one knows, because machines will always be able to know more,” Hess says. “Probably the most important skill students need to develop is how to learn iteratively: that is to un-learn and re-learn. As technology continues to advance, students will need to quickly adapt in order to define and solve problems, and learn through trial and error.” And that means skills like “learning, thinking, listening, emotional engagement and collaboration” will be highly valued.

Learning through trial & error

Trial and error learning, Hess says, will be important for students to adapt in the SMA. Curiosity and open-mindedness will be essential for success. But how will business schools set students up to learn through trial and error?

Darden’s Ed Hess

“Experiential learning — or learning by doing — is the most effective way: putting students in real-life, challenging situations that are designed to build learning mindsets and enhance cognitive and emotional skills,” Hess says. “These projects or experiences — different from the usual classroom-based case studies — take students out of their comfort zones and put them in situations designed for them to learn from failure and build resilience.”

Claus Benkert, former lead of McKinsey’s Munich office, and Nick van Dam, Global Chief Learning Officer at McKinsey, say experiential learning is the most effective means to acquire skills.

“It is an essential component in the functioning of society and in economic well-being — as the ubiquity of internships, apprenticeship programs, and on-the-job training shows, they say. “When it comes to the systematic acquisition of the knowledge and skills needed to support business transformations, success depends on a combination of intellectual comprehension and hands-on experience.”

Overcoming the fear of failure

Experiential learning requires trial and error and Hess says business students will need to embrace humility in order to do the following:

  • Manage their fears and emotional defensiveness
  • Overcome their reflexive ways of thinking
  • Reflectively listen
  • Connect, relate and emotionally engage with others
  • Learn from failure
  • Work effectively in diverse teams and in environments characterized by volatility, complexity and uncertainty

For business students, taking courses across a variety of studies will be beneficial. Hess suggests students to consider areas such as “psychology, philosophy, creative arts, systems engineering, design thinking, data science.”

In addition, Hess says, business schools will need to expand their course selection to include more courses in areas like design thinking and data science.

“The business school of the future will need to excel at customized individual development,” he says.

Emotional and social intelligence will be highly valued in the SMA, Hess says. When they complete their business education, business students will need to have the “new smart,” but also the capacity to expand on emotional and social intelligence.

“They ought to have emotional and social intelligence; the ability to collaborate and to know how to learn and develop their cognitive and emotional capabilities,” Hess says.

Sources: Financial Times, The Atlantic, McKinsey