For any business leader in a time of constant disruption, the ability to cope with change is de rigueur. But how can individuals prepare themselves to ride the wave of change? Says Vincenzo Esposito Vinzi, dean and president of Ecole Superieure des Sciences Economiques et Commerciales (ESSEC) Business School, which is famed for its masters programmes in management and finance: “We need to push students to think out of the box, and challenge their imagination and creativity. It’s important to promote this idea of adaptability, to come up with answers that are not specific recipes to known situations.”
For the 47-year-old dean, helping students to think laterally involves tweaking the curriculum to depart from the typical business-school fare of corporate case studies. Take for example the school’s annual iMagination Week. Now into its seventh year, the week-long event sees experts from fields as diverse as art and gastronomy sharing their insights and personal journeys.
Veteran architect Liu Thai Ker, celebrated chef Andre Chiang and thespian Hossan Leong might appear to be unlikely guest lecturers at the 111-year-old educational institution known for turning out business leaders steering Fortune 500 companies, but they’re part of the roster of speakers helping students to consider situations from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Instead of crunching numbers, students were tasked with responding to the theme of this year’s conference (“How far can progress lead us?”) by generating ideas to help advance mankind.
Learning to make sense of abstract realities is not a one-off exercise, but an ethos ESSEC encourages. “When you look at the rhythm of today’s professional life, leaders might be tempted to always be in the action. But being able to sit back a little bit and have time to reflect is important. They should be pioneers who influence change, not people who respond to change,” says Esposito Vinzi.