What do the next 100 years hold for businesses — and for business schools?
As we reflect on a century of the School of Management, we asked two big thinkers in business — Richard Gold, adjunct professor and recently retired president and chief operating officer of M&T Bank; and Ananth Iyer, dean and professor — for their thoughts on what lies ahead.
Richard Gold: One of the biggest areas that will require a lot of focus will be to prepare leaders to operate in an arena where their influence over behaviors and outcomes will be of paramount importance.
Things are changing so quickly that we need leaders who can ensure that people are operating in a way that gets the right results the right way, because the right way is going to be everything in a world with artificial intelligence where a lot of the mechanics of business will happen much easier than ever before. Managers will need to coach their people to operate ethically, with great morals and with great concern for each other, because it’s going to be extraordinarily difficult to lead organizations and individuals in that sort of arena.
Ananth Iyer: Recently I was asked, “Will we even need managers in the future? And what will their role be if it’s all about technology?” My answer to that is that managers help make choices that mediate the use of technology for the benefit of their consumers, employees and stakeholders. Technology has all this capability, but to leverage it and use it to provide value and get the right metrics — that still needs a manager. Leadership isn’t being the loudest voice in the room, it’s about being the listener who helps everybody benefit. It’s our job to help build the next generation of leaders through high-quality business school education.
Gold: More than ever the leader is playing a particular role, but not in the hierarchical sense that we’ve sort of grown up thinking about managers. Now, they have to be enablers. They have to create an environment where people can operate creatively, ethically and effectively in what are going to be much flatter organizations where the best leaders will be far removed from the technical capability of the people they seek to influence.
And as long as behavior is at the root of our challenges, there will always be a need for effective leaders — and there will be a need to teach those people how to bring out the best in the people they’re responsible for.
Iyer: When people think of management, they tend to think about areas like accounting, finance or operations that have a lot of rules. But those rules are incomplete. They give you room to improvise and adapt — the jazz around the symphony, if you will. And it’s in this improvisation and adaptation where the creative and ethical challenges come in.
Gold: AI will make a lot of the technical things traditionally absorbed by business leaders a lot easier, but what won’t come easily is individual judgment. Not everyone can take inputs, create a judgment based on those inputs, and make a decision that gets the machinery moving.
Iyer: Leaders need to frame their thinking around learning the capability of their people. And then, within that capability, dream up all the things you could possibly do, and from all those things, choose to do a particular thing. The future requires the intervention of leaders to change the trajectory.
Gold: People have really been hamstrung about what comes next based on what’s happened prior. The leap we’re being forced to make because of how fast things are moving in areas like space tourism, climate change and AI. If you don't think ahead of that wave as to what capabilities we want to create, hone or develop, you’re going to be one step behind. It’s going to be the challenge of education and business to teach people how to condition themselves to leapfrog beyond the wave to understand what’s possible based on all the change around us.
Iyer: The future is what you can imagine. It’s in your mind’s eye, and then you work toward making it happen. Historically, the word imagination has not been associated with business. But I wish it were, because businesses help get us products we didn’t have five or 10 years ago. As long as we can tap into the human imagination, the passion for your job, there’s a very different outcome that can happen.
And a hundred years from now, we’ll be talking about the same thing but in a different context. Maybe we’ll have flying cars then, but we’ll still be trying to tap into the enthusiasm and passion of all the people working in organizations.
Gold: And then, if we do this the right way, when we’re flying around in cars, someone is thinking about the next set of capabilities that are just within reach.