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Respect for a diversity of perspectives has never been more important

To prepare our students for today’s business environment, we encourage them to think critically and to expose themselves to diversity of thought.

The retirement of baby boomers from management and executive positions will create leadership needs in Minnesota businesses.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

As a business professor, it is important for me to remember that while my primary audience is my students, owners and managers of Minnesota businesses are key stakeholders I should keep in mind when providing a business education. And while business leaders are certainly looking for candidates who look good on paper, what they ultimately need are future leaders whose skills might be less tangible. While business students in universities strive to learn new sets of specialized skills in accounting, project management, or data analytics, the development of a critical mind that can holistically analyze and understand complex issues is still the foundational deliverable we strive to foster.

Businesses are juggling the demands of a global economy and the consequences of increasing populist political movements. To prepare students for this environment, we encourage students to think critically and to expose themselves to diversity of thought, and show them the value of working with those who think differently from the way they do. I am fortunate as a teacher; I work with doctoral students from throughout Minnesota and the world, many of whom are first-generation students or direct immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Our Twin Cities campus is located in the Phillips Neighborhood, a neighborhood that has seen its share of challenges (drug activity, violence, underemployment) as well as renewal spurred by neighborhood improvement and community-building initiatives. It is within this unique cultural tapestry that graduate students exchange ideas, challenge strategy, and form networks that will serve them well in Minnesota’s business community and elsewhere.

Different lenses, ‘good thinking’ from all

This importance of respecting a diversity of ideas is not new, nor does it exist exclusively within the realm of a far-left academe. For my part, I am a business faculty member and an advocate of free trade, who made my “business bones” serving as a corporate trainer for a largely pharmaceutical, automotive, and military clientele. During a short course I was teaching at a Marine Corps base in North Carolina, an attentive gunnery sergeant offered the following advice to my class as the students worked with a complex set of analytical tasks: “Black or white, male or female, rich or poor, whatever lenses you bring here are part of the class, but most importantly what I need from all of you is good thinking.”

Good thinking, yes, I can definitely say I support this. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is predicting shortages in business analytic professionals, and well as a shortage of business faculty. The retirement of baby boomers from management and executive positions will also create leadership needs in Minnesota businesses. All of these factors are contributing to the need for a workforce skilled in critical and holistic thinking.

Matthew Nowakowski
Matthew Nowakowski

How can we best support “good thinking” in our business classrooms? In the era of Brexit and increasingly populist political movements across the globe, there has never been a time when respect for a diversity of perspectives was more important. Zanny Minton Beddoes, first female editor-in-chief of The Economist, suggested, “Technology is forging global connections, whatever the backlash against migration or trade. Students study at foreign universities via online courses; small businesses export via online markets; people chat and share news on global social-media platforms.”

Drivers of economic change

In other words, although we may venture into periods of national isolationism or introversion, ultimately the globalization of business relationships and the interdependence of economies will help to normalize and support business growth. Beddoes will discuss the interplay of democracy, demography, technology, energy, and government policies as the ultimate drivers of economic change as part of the Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota 10th annual Hendrickson Forum on Tuesday, April 25, at 11:30 a.m.

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In commenting on Jacksonian Populism, visiting 19th-century French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville noted, “I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all.” Let us hope that in our efforts in Minnesota’s business community, and in our role as educators, we offer respect for a diversity of ideas that support economic growth and embrace innovation and advancement with courage.

Matthew Nowakowski, who holds a doctorate in business administration, is an associate professor of business at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.

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