Developing Skills for the Global Environment of Business

Long S. Le

Today’s corporate officers in charge of learning management have been seeking a new, specialized set of skills that will enable their managers to integrate multiple geographies, cultures, nationalities, ages and styles in enterprises around the world.

Indeed, business leaders with such a potent combination of geographic, political, economic, governmental, legal, cultural, technological and environmental savvy would be informed when they formulate and execute their business strategy. The above search has led Chief Learning Officer, a leading integrated media publication on the management and workforce development industries, to derive practical implications from Five Minds for the Future authored by development psychologist Howard Gardner. Especially, as the context of leadership has significantly changed in recent decades, learning leaders could embrace Gardner’s five sets of cognitive capabilities so as to see beyond the boundaries of the organization, national culture, functional responsibilities and corporate gain.  Such capacity to engage in boundaryless and synthesizing cognitive process would lead to new opportunity and innovation in complexity.

5mindsAccording to Gardner, the kinds of minds that will be at the highest premium for leaders to have going forward include:

  1. the disciplined mind that thinks critically, analytically, historically, and artistically;
  2. the synthesizing mind that knits ideas from different disciplines into a coherent whole and to communicate that integration to oneself and to others;
  3. the creating mind that seeks new ideas and innovation of which have value and merits;
  4. the respectful mind that truthfully regards human beings and human groups;
  5. and the ethical mind that fulfills one’s responsibilities as a worker and as a citizen.

Writing as a policymaker, Gardner prescribes the five kinds of minds as most important in training and cultivating young people today and tomorrow, as well as in thinking about the professions and the workplace. However, Gardner also acknowledges that there are tensions among these five kinds of minds, such as the quiet tension between being disciplined (i.e., learn to do things in the proper way) and being creative (i.e., the need to overthrow things out and to be iconoclastic). To be sure, ethical tension can also arise in which one should be a whistle blower when one finds somebody doing something immoral versus being nice or relating to the situation of others while, all at once, deciding the risk of getting in trouble by telling the truth. Overall, Gardner argues that the ultimate act of synthesis for each person is how she or he puts these five minds together in an integrated whole.

Source: Report of The AACSB International Globalization of Management Education Task Force

Not unlike today’s chief learning or chief knowledge officers, international business educators also need central frameworks to prepare students to understand the relationships among the major environmental forces — macroeconomics variables, political variables, sociocultural variables, technological variables, and geographical variables. In so doing, students can examine the ways in which these environmental forces differ within and across nations as well as over time. Importantly, students would not only analyze how these environmental forces may impact corporate strategies, but also how multinational enterprises develop and utilize their resources and capabilities to create competitive advantage in such a globalized environment.

Perhaps the major challenge in international business education is that globalization’ of business has grown much faster than the ‘internationalization’ of business schools. Therefore, there is a growing gap between the international business skill set needed by multinational enterprises and traditional business education programs. In addition, while international business education is fundamentally interdisciplinary and of which cultural sensitivity and language skills are necessities for global business, the teaching of international business is often reflective of the disciplinary research interest of the instructor. For example, financial faculty teaches exchange markets and risk management, economists teach trade and comparative advantage, and political scientists teach the development and enforcement of the multinational trade regulation. Thus, developing a curriculum that integrates all these disciplines is at best challenging and a daunting aspiration for a business dean.

Pedagogical Challenges and Opportunities 

There are indeed studies that are more critical of international business education, as evidence suggests the likelihood of faculty being internationally trained in their graduate programs is minimal. The shortcomings of how best to provide knowledge and competences to enable business students to function in complex international scenarios have raised central questions. That is, what should be taught, how and by whom and what extent educational programs should be instructional or learning oriented?

Notwithstanding, there are resources and opportunities – at the university, community, and government levels – for business faculty to develop knowledge of countries, international organizations, economies, culture, interpersonal skills  in international settings, and foreign business practices. Perhaps a key word for faculty to develop such skills is collaboration – particularly if that collaboration is institutionalized (rather than individualized) within the college and cross-college, with other universities both domestic and foreign, and with businesses and organizations both domestic and foreign.

externalMap2Moreover, by some accounts, international business appears to lack central frameworks that are needed to unify the discipline. Therefore, a framework that can integrate international business as multi-disciplinary, multi-level, and multi-functional will help students to think more critically, analytically, historically, and artistically with regards to what determines the success and failure of firms around the globe. Like other professors, I have tried to design an introduction international business course that frames the relationships among the major environment factors and how they affect business strategy along with how the internalization process of firms can affect the where, when, and how they internationalize. Although ongoing changes in external and internal environmental forces will create a need to update the design of such a course, the underlying goal is to connect the macro-micro variables of the international business ecosystem; for instance, wide enough to include that global environmental sustainability is not achievable in the near to midterm future and deep enough to include the need to understand the logic of leadership in state-owned enterprises and faith-based finance.

Last but not least, and probably the hardest, is the ability of faculty to collaboratively develop creative modes of learning that provide real-world experience for students to engage in international business; in particular, experiential learning that embeds potential tension between being creative and being ethical, or being disciplined and being respectful. In general, given the scarce educational resources for student learning, it becomes incumbent for business schools to collaborate with various stakeholders in order to mainstream real-world international business experiences. These include business laboratories, role-play in simulation of business situations, and development of venture startups. Otherwise, as successful as these modes of learning are, they will be accessible only to relatively small number of students.

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