A lot has been said about the impact of technological advancement on the world we live in. Digital revolution presents both opportunities for economic development, raising global income, improving the quality of life for people around the world, enhancing interconnectedness and access to global products and services, but may also disrupt labour markets through automation of work, exacerbate inequalities and lead to anxiety, isolation and social unrest.

“Digitalisation is a major disruptive force in the fourth industrial revolution,” said Eric Cornuel, EFMD’s CEO & Director General, opening up the annual EFMD Conference for Deans & Directors General“In its scale, complexity and speed, it’s like nothing we have seen before.”

What kind of education do we need to stay ahead of automation and technological disruption? How should we use digital tools to enhance the teaching and learning experience, and instil in students and future leaders the aptitude and skills that will help them thrive in this disruptive environment?

Those were just some of the questions we asked ourselves during the annual EFMD Deans meeting which took place on 25 and 26 January 2018 at the Technical University of Munich School of Management. A record number of 400 deans from 58 countries gathered for two days full of discussions and insights on how to lead in the digital world.

Claudia Peus, Senior Vice President for Talent Management and Diversity at TUM & the conference Chair, stressed that business schools should not only be at the vanguard of digital transformation, but ought to discuss about its implications for the society at large. As EFMD’s CEO said: “Digitalisation can’t be dissociated from the concepts of purpose and impact.”

In an inspiring talk, Frank Kohl-Boas, Head of People Partner North and Central Europe & EMEA at Google Germany, outlined the evolution of digitalisation from the Google’s search engine to the era of artificial intelligence and deep learning. The era where we have no longer time for prototyping but instead turn to experience-based learningdesign thinkingand co-creation. The era of ambidextrous leaders who don’t necessarily poses all the knowledge, but know how to ask the right questions and surround themselves with agile and curious talent.

Horst J. Kayser, Corporate Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at Siemens, presented Siemens’ view on digitalisation and analysed five megatrends which shape our world: demographic changeglobalisationclimate changeurbanisation, and an overlaying fifth trend, digital transformation. “Digital transformation of businesses enables exponential growth – with new opportunities, but also new risks,” he concluded.

In a panel discussion – Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou, the Dean of Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University; Gerry George, the Dean of Lee Kong Chian School of Business at Singapore Management University; and Peter Tufano, Peter Moores Dean of Saïd Business School at University of Oxford – had a passionate debate on how their institutions embrace digitalisations in their curricula and market-oriented projects.

Entrepreneurialmultidisciplinary and holistic approaches have emerged as the driving forces of digital transformation in business schools.

Gerry George outlined three important assumptions on innovation: that digital is a tool, that the language of change is always faster than the change itself, and that we are all already digital is varying levels. Innovation strategies comprise unbundling certifications (micro-certifications), unbundling capabilities and unbundling content.

Peter Tufano pointed out to somehow slow-paced adaptation process within higher education institutions and crippling bureaucratic mechanisms, which put business schools “on the back foot” of not only digital transformation but also student and corporate relevance, especially in terms of research.

In this context, Gerry George mentioned the Responsible Research in Business and Management vision, actively supported by EFMD, which is dedicated to inspiring, encouraging, and supporting credible and useful research in business and management.

“Who will fill the educational gap if business schools become irrelevant?” Peter Tufano asked provocatively.

In one of the last panels, industry representatives from Munich entrepreneurship and innovation incubators inspired everyone with their latest collaborative start-ups combining business and technical knowledge. It was easy to get carried away by those big ideas, but Helmut Schönenberger, CEO of Unternehmertum Venture Capital Partners GmbH, stressed the importance of staying down to earth while working of innovative ventures. “One may have a great idea, but this idea has no value unless you bring it to the market,” he said.

During the two days, we also discussed changing business models, ethical management challenges, new learning mechanisms in a digital context, emerging leadership models, curriculum design, faculty management, relationships with parent university and managing strategically the accreditation process.

Finally, Nick Lovegrove, Business Strategist, Writer and Executive Coach & Former Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company and the Brunswick Group, left us with some burning questions on the effective leadership and societal impact“Business will not be part of the solution if we have a very narrow conception of the business aim,” he proclaimed.

Given the challenges of globalisation, technology, sustainability and longevity, business schools need to set clear priorities for themselves and their students, which include mastering several disciplines (many schools already allow pairing a business degree with another degree), maximising collaboration, encounter and learning from cross-disciplinary perspectives, and finally, implementing six dimensions in the educational journey – a moral compass, an intellectual thread, transferrable skills, contextual intelligence, extended networks and a prepared mind. “We’ve come to a fixed rather than a growth mind-set,” he said. And this needs to change. We don’t have a choice but to “educate integrative problem solvers to solve today’s complex problems.” We need more breadth rather than depth.

Many of the concepts Nick Lovegrove talked about during his engaging speech, can be found in his latest book “Mosaic Principle,” which conference participants received as part of their conference material, and in the latest Global Focus magazine article.

Eric Cornuel, Director General & CEO of EFMD, commented: “Since we launched the EFMD Deans  and Directors General Conference in 1973, this premium event for business schools’ deans has fuelled insightful discussions, witnessed the initiation of long-standing relationships and the establishment of new partnerships between schools. It has seen the launch of many new projects and innovative services such as the EQUIS accreditation, whose 20th anniversary we were celebrating just last year. I am happy that in its over 40-year history, the conference has become the place to be for the heads of leading business schools worldwide.” 

Discover 40 years of innovation at EFMD in this short VIDEO.

Pencil the next dates in your calendar. On 21 – 23 January 2019 we meet at CEIBS in Shanghai.

The conference was sponsored by EFMD’s strategic partner Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

A throw back at the live reactions from the conference is available on our Twitter moments feed.