Graduate Management News

Challenging Our Imagination: Seeing the Future Through New Eyes

Irvin, founder of Future Focus 2020 at the Babcock Graduate School, Wake Forest University, is committed to bringing futurist ideas to the forefront of consideration. As Executive Professor of Future Studies and Assistant Dean of MBA Student Development, Irvin is also quite familiar with the challenges and rewards of working in graduate management education.

"I think we have an opportunity in our institutions to transform the next 25 to 30 years, but we’ve got to think differently," said Irvin. Over the course of 55 minutes, accompanied by an inspiring score, Irvin engaged attendees with interactive exercises to stimulate creative thought about the social, political, economic, and technological trends expected over the next 25 years.

Attendees predicted life expectancy, plans for retirement, and headlines for the year 2025, which included announcement of the first black female president, dramatic changes in Asia, and full environmental recovery from global warming. The goal of these exercises, brought to light by statistics on the changing global demographics, was to illuminate the changes that will make operating under the current assumptions ineffective in the coming years.

"This whole [Cutting to the Core] theme is about discovery, seeing things with new eyes," said Irvin, who believes people see the future based on their individual mental maps, or set of ideas of how the future will unfold. These maps lead to decisions. “But if you get your facts wrong, then you’re going to get your map wrong. And if you get your map wrong, you’re likely to do the wrong thing,” warned Irvin.

For business schools, Irvin is particularly mindful of the idea of competitive advantage. He emphasizes that in a world that is quickly changing, business schools and professionals need to recognize that those who adapt most quickly will have the advantage. Part of that flexibility is in adapting to the changing demographics, which are quickly becoming more complex. “Managing differences early has become one of the greatest challenges to multicultural countries…and the work of managing differences calls for a new educational agenda,” said Irvin.

Irvin closed the session by sharing inspirational stories of students who’ve overcome tremendous adversity and by challenging attendees to think of their programs in terms of students they know who’ve overcome similar challenges and what those individuals plan to do with their MBA education. “Remember, our work is not just about creating profits, it is about changing people and changing the world one person at a time.”


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