OFMOS: Why It Matters
Note: The following post is an extended version of the section "Why It Matters" from the 2018 crowdfunding campaign for the game OFMOS.
SOCIETAL PROBLEMS AND...
“In a time of rapid change and unprecedented complexity, only the nimble survive! In 1935, the life expectancy of an S&P 500 company was 90 years. By 2010, it was 14 years and studies show that it’s getting even shorter. No wonder more and more companies, who are tired of change fatigue and endless restructuring, are looking at how they can become a more agile organization and retain their competitive advantage.”
"Disengagement in the workplace, with only 33% of US employees feeling engaged
A mistrust of business, reported by 42% of Americans
Inequality between winners and losers, and the political and economic repercussions of that, as the top 1% of the population in the US takes home more than 20% of the income"
Well, the world around us is a system with many interconnected parts. And if things look dire, when we are using companies as the unit of analysis, signs of trouble tend to also show up at the more granular level of the individual as well as the aggregated level of the economy.
Consistent with that picture, then, at the individual level, the World Economic Forum has identified a rapid shift in the type jobs taking place right now. It is a trend that has been confirmed by other reports, including McKinsey & Company's Future of Organizations & Work.
Similarly, many reports show that the situation is not that great at the economy level either. The World Inequality Report 2018 found that "income inequality in the United States is among the highest of all rich countries". And, based on that same initiative's 40 years of data, an article published by Harvard Business Review debunks three myths about globalization:
"Globalization has led to a rise in global income inequality, not a reduction
Income doesn’t trickle down
Policy – not trade or technology – is most responsible for inequality"
On top of that, and likely an effect of the rising inequality, democracy around the world is in decline. A Washington Post article on the latest edition of The Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index reveals that:
"In 89 countries, democratic norms look worse than they did last year, the report's authors write. Just 4.5 percent of the world's residents live in fully functioning democracies, down from 8.9 percent in 2015. That precipitous drop is thanks, primarily, to the United States. In 2016, the Economist demoted the country from a 'full' to 'flawed' democracy, citing a 'serious decline' in public trust in U.S. institutions. In 2017, the United States didn't fare any better, retaining its same rank and score."
Nevertheless, most of these numbers and trends are just symptoms. What causes them is the way we do things, which is based on our general understanding of how humans, businesses, and economies work. And, given the results of our actions over the last several decades, it seems like that knowledge is fairly limited.
In other words, yes, we do have a problem, which is currently manifested at many levels of our society. But at its core, the problem is pretty straight forward: it is our limited capacity to understand, cocooned inside an ineffective mechanism for distributing whatever that knowledge is to as many people as possible.
Now, in spite of its importance for the society at large, this is a particular pain point for those who are close to or currently involved in the process of business learning: 1) those in corporate training and executive coaching, 2) those in school or other types of formal business education, and 3) those at home, who are engaged in a more informal type of learning. By putting solid numbers on just a portion of this large pool of individuals, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows that business remains the most popular bachelor's degree in the United States (in the academic year 2015-2016 the number has increased further to 371,694 degrees):
Since the process of knowledge dissemination is dependent and constrained by the nature of the knowledge that has to be disseminated, the problem with the business body of knowledge and education can be further narrowed down to the fact that it lacks a "business big picture" theory that can explain most phenomena in business. It is an issue that is only getting worse, as things seem to be driven by the search for relevance in the opposite direction, away from an integrative approach and toward specialization.
In his 2004 book Managers Not MBAs, McGill University professor and management researcher Henry Mintzberg wrote about the discipline of strategy in the 1980s, “With this shift from policy to strategy, and from concern for synthesis to focus on analysis, the one field in the business school that was supposed to be about general management itself became narrowly specialized.”
In 2013, in an interview with strategy+business, Harvard Business School professor and management researcher Cynthia Montgomery stated that, “Today, Harvard doesn’t even have a course called General Management. Nor do most other business schools. Many students have come to view entrepreneurial management courses as the capstone experience of the MBA curriculum, where you learn about defining businesses, moving them through growth, changing course, and doing it again. But entrepreneurship courses don’t teach people how to run a large company; they teach them how to create and finance a startup.”
To sum up these systemic problems, which I articulated in the essays The State of Business Education (Part I) and The State of Business Education (Part II), we could say then that, without a “big picture” theory, students and practitioners alike are left with the burden of making sense of the numerous pieces of narrow knowledge that are being served to them through a multitude of disparate channels. And that naturally leads to a focus on narrower perspectives and shorter time horizons, which was the cause of the broader, systemic problems in the first place. A vicious cycle.
...THE SIMPLER WORLD
For most people, however, the problems that plague the business body of knowledge and the education system that comes with it seem rather distant. What matters to them is the ability to function on a daily basis in an increasingly fluid environment. Developing one’s critical thinking and problem solving skills are the more urgent needs, and the World Economic Forum (see chart below) supports that priority. Yet, these are not separate issues.
The abstract skills are simply the foundation or the gateway for a deeper understanding. Think of a person’s ability to understand his/her business and economic environment as a continuum that starts with critical thinking and ends with a holistic view of the world. You start with the abstract skills then you gradually move to the right on that continuum. The further to the right you go, the more you understand how the world works. And the furthest you can possibly go is as far as our current science or general knowledge can take you.
The fact that our society is missing a “business big picture” theory is not noticed by many. But most people are directly impacted by its effects: 1) lack of a meaningful way to assemble the knowledge that they receive, and 2) reduced accessibility of the knowledge.
Now, given that we are flooded with online content, the second issue might seem counterintuitive. And that’s because it refers to both availability and difficulty, which are actually connected. The simpler a subject matter, the more ways to package it, and the broader the audience. Even though Business is the most popular bachelor’s degree in the United States, those graduates represent only a small fraction of the entire population.
Because of these limitations, most people don't go far beyond the basics, a long way from the highest levels of understanding that would be possible even with the current business and economic insights. However, with the employment and the education environment becoming less reliable, more and more people will have to push past these barriers on their own to develop the knowledge that will allow them to succeed in the brave new world.
And why not doing so while having some fun? :)