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Message from Morsing System-thinking. The new normal in management schools?
01 September, 2020 New York, United States

System-thinking. The new normal in management schools?

The pandemic has surfaced vocabulary that in many management school contexts sounded solemn and somewhat ‘altmodisch’ only a few months ago: system-thinking, solidarity, humanity, inequality and empathy. Today, these words are regarded relevant, urgent and necessary to discuss in those (virtual) classrooms filled with future leaders. As a reflection of this new turn, ‘system-thinking’ was one of the most frequently used words at the sessions I joined at the recent virtual Academy of Management 2020 Conference. System thinking is basically an appreciation of how one part of a system is interdependent on all parts of the system. And that changing one part of a system may affect other parts or the system as a whole in ways that are sometimes predictable and sometimes not. Fundamentally, system-thinking in the context of business and management education, is a way of appreciating that business is one among many parts that depend on each other and that together form larger systems on which they depend, and which depend on them. While this may seem pretty basic as a principle, it brings a high degree of complexity in practice, and it is not always an easily conveyed message in a classroom with a focus on toolkits and frameworks in siloed disciplines.

But the pandemic is showing the necessity of system-thinking in practical reality and bringing the need to understand how business is an integrated part of society in complex systems, where business inextricably depends on society and society on business. The pandemic has shown the need to set aside disciplinary differences and the upside of global agreements on how to best navigate our societies together through the crisis. Our business school students are witnessing how free-market actors are now asking governments for economic support, and how political leaders are being applauded for asking business to help society in new ways, including calling on industry to transform production in support of overcoming the crisis. They are witnessing how old political decisions to commercialize public health are now putting health at risk for entire populations. The global crisis demonstrates that by coordinating our efforts across regional, disciplinary and many other boarders, we will enhance the likelihood of overcoming it faster. Our students have over the past six months very concretely witnessed how solidarity and empathy at work is not ‘cheap talk’ but for many individuals and families the very reason they are still alive. They have experienced system-thinking in practice where the individual parts of the global society are interdependent and that by helping and protecting each other, all parts of society are more likely to prosper. This includes business. After all, we are in this together.

Some management schools have integrated system-thinking in the educational programs and in the way examinations, project work, and, for example, capstone assignments are designed. Here students are asked to explore how business and society may serve each other in the long-term. It is a big and exciting challenge how management schools will make system-thinking ‘the new normal’ in business programs, in a way that reaches even outside the traditional management disciplines and integrates knowledge from the natural and technical sciences and humanities.

Warm regards,

Mette Morsing

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