Design school: the school for the managers of tomorrow

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In 1994, professors from HEC published a book entitled, “SCHOOL FOR THE MANAGERS OF TOMORROW.” Its focus was on pondering the changes in teachings, methods of learning, frameworks, and more generally, how the changes in the environment and with regard to responsibility would take precedence over the growing number of management and business schools as the means to propelling students into the highest ranks of the corporate ladder. While schools took to finding the right balance between career paths and further academic research in order to satisfy international college rankings, the authors highlighted the qualities or “soft skills” needed by those who would become the managers of tomorrow, among which included flexibility, imagination, creativity, mobility and global tolerance.

In 1994, few Design schools in France sought to become more closely connected with businesses. At best, they sought to avoid them. Combining design and the corporate world was, in their eyes, a disaster waiting to happen. It meant jeopardizing the very principles on which they were built, not to mention compromising creativity as soon as the notion of the economy or money generation came into the picture. When it came to gauging the quality of teaching, there was no need to look any further than the plethora of Final Year degree projects. Designers fresh out of college would discover for themselves what the real world really entailed once out in the field. What about management or marketing courses? Practically nowhere to be seen in any kind of training program, it was as if the mere thought of designing a product for the purposes of making money were comparable to selling one’s soul to the devil. The designer was entrusted with making beautiful things; others needed to sell theirs. The reality of industrial production and that of markets proved to be a rude wake-up call for many-a-talented student. Raymond Loewy once said, “The most beautiful curve is a rising sales graph”, a viewpoint backed by few in academia. Few companies in France made room for design within the workplace. When they did, it was, at the most, in trace amounts or in very limited business sectors.

So, what has happened since 1994 to the point that design has made its way into corporate speak, both as strategy and management, in addition to all fields that once kept it at bay? Globalization has turned models upside-down. Western economies are suffering. Over 95% of transactions are virtual, and are no longer based on any one, real economy. Underlying added-value generation, wealth and progress are ever-developing markets and limitless consumption, which are now being overshadowed by a growing environmental consciousness and staunch efforts to save an increasingly fragile planet.

On a broader level, this great technical and scientific economic order, better known as capitalism, can’t help but rub its hands together knowing, ultimately, that the number of rich will continue to rise and get richer and the poor even poorer.

Founded on a scientific approach of financial organization, task management and human resources, industrial paradigms have done their time. While Western industries and the post-Taylor period focused on continual improvement using what we already knew how to do, the arrival of new producers from emerging countries who work for ridiculously low sums of keep has turned this into an entirely new ballgame. What good is it for a Western company to continue to crank out process models for the purposes of infinitesimal profitability if, ultimately, it has no chance of competing with companies whose labor costs are two to three times less? Perhaps for the purposes of calling it quits, once and for all…

“Being ready and able to do something else with what we already possess” is the new industrial paradigm, and science no longer has any more pull than that from intuition and entrepreneurial spirit. It is no longer about getting individuals trained to become managers, but rather entrepreneurs. Manager training is but one link in the chain of something more pivotal and ambitious: entrepreneur training. A member of the Fondation HEC at the time, Henri Proglio found it pathetic that, in 1994, too few student-managers were entrepreneurs.

Science-driven management is a safe bet. It is taught at top management schools and now online through MOOCs. But to get away from, if not do away with, these scientific models, a completely new approach to teaching and learning must assert itself, and it starts with the “soft skills” that HEC professors brought to our attention earlier: flexibility, imagination, creativity, mobility and global tolerance.

The changing economic climate, the emergence of new economies from other cultures, other legislations and other opportunities, and the eco-powered conscience that forces us to rethink our production and consumption models puts all the scientific models we’ve acquired up to now and responsible for having shaped structural management back in the starting blocks. Design has become both strategic and management-oriented, just as innovation has become indispensable for any organization looking to secure a sustainable future. Design galvanizes industrial, technical, scientific and human landscapes with an insatiable thirst to rescind old and obsolete models, and rouse new meaning and ambition. The designer alone has the gift of representing, making tangible, objectifying and showing. While marketers continue to target markets, designers portray the uses of tomorrow that, at present, are market-less. It, therefore, does not take long to realize how vital uses are, not to mention their impetus, in relationship to markets.

Strategic in nature, design is also about management. Changes in models, or lack thereof, raise question marks or cause reason for concern. This is where objective demos of future user scenarios help grapple with unknowns and enable a more progressive vision. From the moment speculation about the future comes into contact with a concrete and tangible realm, it then becomes an extraordinary catalyst for team-building. Design drives management and leadership.

Strategy and Management in Curricula

Since 1994, Design schools have taken on a more professional allure. They have incorporated the corporate element into their subject matters and curricula. Fast forward 50 years: We’re not talking about finally taking ownership of company “case studies” and economic “spoon-feeding” that served as the basis for manager training and revolutionized the professional approach to teaching. We’re talking about real cases with real bosses in real companies with their respective corporate framework, hierarchy and staff. At the heart of all of this realness is innovation, and it is only natural that students view this as an opportunity to clear out the cobwebs before digging into a terrain that breeds myriad possibilities and whose projects and ideas are just waiting to flourish. Design schools are uprooting the notion of financial and human management within a company, and proving just how far these concepts are from being an exact science.

And it is there within, and like nowhere else, where creation, imagination and audacity pave the way for the next phase wherein design, testing, reformulation, error and doubt patiently await their turn before unveiling a tangible and concrete offering that portrays, conveys and depicts both the creative mind behind it and his quest for objectivity, understanding and relevance. These phases target not only the user and consumer, but also the company whose task it will be to produce and sell.

A designer’s skill sets and competencies reflect labor of both cerebral and manual dimensions, entrusting him with an even greater sense of humanity. His experiences bring him face-to-face with instances of flexibility, mobility, creativity, imagination and global tolerance. He is among the “Managers of tomorrow.” He has exactly what it takes to balance science with intuition, endowing him with an “intuitific” capacity that will set him apart from all others.

Business and its drawbacks are no strangers to Design school offerings. These struggles double as invaluable opportunities for creation, for solutions are needed to advance and bring ideas to life.

The relationship between companies and Design schools has led to an ongoing form and forum of theoretical and physical exchange, as recommended by HEC students in the same work published in 1994.

What is taught at Design schools fosters sharing and collaborating between society, businesses, engineers, marketers, financeers, philosophers, sociologists, city planners, politicians, and the list goes on and on, comprising all those capable of enriching the thought process and cultivating the project so as to give rise to the uses of tomorrow. Cohesion and cooperation are required to tackle economic and social matters of contention of extremely complex proportions although, historically, French higher education has not particularly been known for its academic mixity and impartiality, but rather for a somewhat sectional and “separatist” attitude.

Partnerships have continued materialize between Design schools and a multitude of others, including engineering, business and human sciences, in an effort to bridge the gap between these seemingly different fields. Design schools have become schools of complex project management with the ability to shift their focus, given their close-knit tie to businesses, from creation to innovation and from made-up scenarios to real-time, economic and social ones, all the while maintaining what they do best, which is conceptualizing the world of tomorrow and working toward making it reality. What makes these schools so special is the emphasis they place on their students and the talent each brings with him to the knowledge acquisition process and not the degrees held by the faculty members or the works published by the researchers there within.

The Restoration of Teacher-Student Relationships

Teaching design as management hints at what schools and organizations will resemble down the road.

With guidance from their professors, students share, test, prove and reformulate. They become the teachers because they are entrusted with the task of being creative and innovative. Their professors are there to channel the creativity without ever forcing it. They are also there to encourage, welcome new ideas, correct, be supportive in moments of doubt—unavoidable whenever taking the road less traveled—reassure when things fall apart, and lend a hand to get students back on their feet. It is much easier to teach science and “what is”—so simple, in fact, that it can be taught professor-free via MOOCs. When it comes to creativity and responsibility, the task is much more complex, and places the student at the heart of the academic process. The subject isn’t what matters; the student is, for it is on his shoulders that we expect great things in terms of innovation and the means to follow it through.

Could this directive-driven, Teacher-Student relationship, which is gradually letting go of the reins, be on its way toward more participatory management models praised by modern theories of management? Hierarchies would be leveled to make room for ownership, accountability and self-fulfillment. Creation would arise but from the acceptance of one’s frequent mistakes. Few businesses put their employees’ mistakes to use as a vector of good management. Food for thought…

Design School: School for the Managers of Tomorrow

Design students are now acquiring skills in management, marketing and economic science because they have grasped the power they possess to not only be present in the world, but impact it, too, and undertake the issues facing humanity. It isn’t enough anymore to create, have ideas and be innovative. We need to step things up a notch by walking the talk and becoming project entrepreneurs. It is on the economic and social ground that a project takes form. Managing doesn’t cut it. It is time to take matters into our own hands and go head-to-head with problems from an entrepreneurial stance.

“Too many managers, too few entrepreneurs”, says Henri Proglio. And yet, we need the latter in all economic and social fields. We need entrepreneurs capable of taking an objective look at tomorrow and impelling it with meaning. We need entrepreneurs capable of fusing the various subject matters in order to address the increasingly complex issues puzzling companies today. Entrepreneurs are the managers of tomorrow. Stakes are high and opportunities abound for Design schools to become “schools for the managers of tomorrow”, incubating those individuals able to balance both financial and human resources, as well as reconsider what progress actually means in a less methodical, people-, not purse string-driven society.

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