"Education is a social process"
Generative AI has the potential to permanently change the way we deal with texts and images and videos. How do you cope with it at the IE?
We have pioneered many initiatives by bringing technology into the learning process, and since 2000 we have been running hybrid programs that combine both synchronous and asynchronous learning. And we use various apps to deliver content, for example our chats. We also use digital technologies to produce multimedia materials for the study materials, for example simulations, case studies or videos with protagonists from the business world.
We are convinced that technology improves learning. Especially because it allows us to personalize and individualize the learning process. For example, we can use learning analytics to assess participants' skills and learning progress. Lecturers can track whether participants in a particular class are taking part in discussions or not.
And does Generative AI add anything new to to your approach on this?
It does a lot because it provides a starting point for classroom discussion that is probably much richer than traditional content provided for session preparation and familiarization. That makes the whole learning process much richer. What we normally do is allow participants to use generative AI tools like ChatGPT or similar tools as far as they mention it. There are so many different sources on the Internet that provide updated information, which is very valid for the learning and the discussion in class.
It`s crucial that students and participants and executives search for information. You probably started your degrees by attending libraries and the search for information in very indirect ways sometimes provides opportunities for thinking laterally, for expanding your transversal knowledge and finding new ideas just by chance because you are in for a piece of information.
Will artificial intelligence soon replace libraries?
In no way! To think outside the box, to use different sources, not just those provided by the Internet it is indispensable to continue attending libraries and picking up a book and thinking about something that doesn't actually come with the flow of Generative AI. This is very important along with bringing the humanities into education. We are attending a phenomenon which is very undesirable: the elimination of the humanities from the curriculum. But the humanities provide the critical thinking skills. They offer a view of human history and literature that forms the basis for many different intellectual skills. We maintain the humanities curriculum for all different degrees despite and because of AI, because we are convinced that by cultivating humanities skills we are indeed building cosmopolitan citizens.
We are attending a phenomenon which is very undesirable: the elimination of the humanities from the curriculum.
We are experiencing technological progress that is radically changing our everyday and professional lives. How can education help us humans to continue to master technology?
Education is a social process aimed not only at imparting knowledge and at acquiring the basic tools or practicing a profession. The other main purpose of education is to equip participants with the necessary skills, virtues, habits and worldviews to become good global citizens and engaged citizens in their own societies. Therefore, we must not only pay attention to all the wonders that AI produces, such as infinite access to information. We also need to teach students all the skills that will make them more competent in using all these resources. So we put a lot of emphasis on preparing our students not only to deal with these apps and devices, but also to cultivate all these classic virtues that will make them critical citizens and people who can actually see things from a more mature perspective.
Education is a social process aimed not only at imparting knowledge and at acquiring the basic tools or practicing a profession. The other main purpose of education is to equip participants with the necessary skills, virtues, habits and worldviews to become good global citizens.
In my current book, I talk about Ludwig Wittgenstein. His philosophy began with the conviction that philosophy is the application of logic to language and that with a perfect system of logic you could actually provide answers to every important philosophical question. That`s the way we look at Generative AI. But language is always context-dependent. You notice this immediately when you try to translate a joke from one language into another using Google Translate: The result is usually not funny at all. Because AI doesn't understand the context of the joke. But you have to be contextual and the humanities are very contextual. A discussion about a specific management problem, for example, will not produce the desired result if we rely solely on AI, because then we would be talking completely detached from the context. Language processing tools are just not enough.
And when it comes to making decisions, there is no way around managers. The OpenAI Board certainly did not leave the decision to part ways with Sam Altmann to ChatGPT.
What management skills do we need in times of polycrisis? There is so much skepticism and resistance in the world towards the urgent transformation of companies and societies. How can we mitigate that skepticism?
I always recall a passage that Peter Drucker, the father of management, tells in his memoirs. He was attending a John Maynard Keynes seminar at Cambridge University and Peter Drucker comments, that the rest of his fellow students was interested in the behavior of commodities. Which of course is very common among economists nowadays as well. They just care about inflation and macro variables and so on. But while his fellow students were interested in the behavior of commodities, Drucker writes, he was interested in the behavior of people. Because management is about leading other people. Management is not about dominating a science or becoming a financial engineer but about understanding people.
Empathy instead of hard facts and figures?
Of course it is expectable that CEOs and management leaders will know about their industry, about balance sheets and financial concepts and marketing tools. But the most important thing for a successful manager is understanding people and leading other people and caring for the others. When you ask me about the most important thing for a manager to succeed it is actually understanding others.
Management is not about dominating a science or becoming a financial engineer but about understanding people.
This is why human resources and talent management have become the predominant area for CEOs. And this is why we now care for compassion. We care for a well-being. In my book on “Philosophy Inc.” I say that the best way to manage others is to know them in depth and to some extent to love them.
Ultimately, this is probably what makes the best possible leaders. Of course, it is also very important that they are competent in their profession, but what is crucial is that they have a broad view of the world, allow for tolerance and diversity, especially these days when we are seeing increasing polarization in most societies, both in Europe and everywhere.
How can I imagine you teaching compassion?
In all of our management programs, we offer courses that we call impact skills. These impact skills have to do with how to be a good manager. And compassion can be cultivated not only intellectually by reading or looking at case studies or by cultivating teamwork. At IE, we also put participants in situations where they really have to practice these leadership skills and are then evaluated and judged by their peers. This is very good preparation for becoming compassionate. But compassion is something you have to practice your whole professional life. I am talking about virtues in the classical sense that came to us from ancient Greece and Rome. We need to save these classical virtues that no one is born with. We acquire them by practicing them.
The picture you have just drawn does not correspond to the typical cliché of an MBA. Would you say that MBA programs around the world need to change to keep up with the challenges we face?
We need to reintroduce a number of requirements in education and we need to teach participants discipline. Also the habit of working hard. It's about a culture of effort. And above all, it's about respect for others and, of course, ethics.
I mention this above all because during the pandemic we naturally adapted very quickly to flexible programs and the young people had to relearn the basic and very demanding skills involved in attending classes. Especially with regard to controlling their habits when using technology. Many are too dependent on the tools.
Compassion is something you have to practice your whole professional life.
So all of these things have to do with the traditional approach to education, which is not only, as I said, imparting knowledge, but also practicing these classic, very basic skills that have to do with becoming good citizens.
The MBA is not just a program to provide basic or updated knowledge in strategy and marketing, it is about a transformative experience. That is quite a challenge in one or two years. But people are aware of the challenge and have eureka experiences while participating in the program.
They discover new things and also practice new habits, new virtues. In fact, MBAs have traditionally been criticized for focusing too much on instilling the wrong attitudes, arrogance, ambition in the wrong sense of the word. But in fact they can also instill good virtues in future managers. And of course that is exactly what we try to do at IE.
How much personal contact between students is necessary for this approach? How do you handle this at the IE?
Physical presence is necessary; after all, we are rational animals and as such need to use our senses. Ultimately, education is a social process. It's not just about interacting on the screen, it's also about physically meeting and exercising all the different senses.
The MBA is not just a program to provide basic or updated knowledge in strategy and marketing, it is about a transformative experience.
Our experience with our blended programs, where we actually excel according to rankings and our experience, is that the combination of the two formats offers the best of both worlds. For example, I only teach in these blended programs because I travel quite often and so do my students because they have to attend different events.
My experience is that the participants get to know each other much better in these mixed programs, that there is much more synergy between the participants in the group because, for example, those who are more introverted participate more often in chats and asynchronous forms of interaction. Introverts are usually more innovative, but they rarely get a chance to speak in face-to-face meetings because the extroverts dominate the discussion. This is just one example, but the participants get to know each other much better intellectually when they meet in person because we have these hybrid formats where we also bring them together on campus, at least a few times during the program. But they get to know each other much better virtually than they would if they only attended the face-to-face sessions, where the interaction is more superficial.
These blended formats have proven their worth because many students cannot fully develop many of their skills when they sit together in a room, as mentioned above. Nevertheless, physical meetings and face-to-face social interaction are necessary. That is clear.
About Santiago Iñiguez
Santiago Iñiguez is the President of IE University and a recognized influencer in global higher education. He is a regular speaker at international conferences and frequently contributes in different journals and media on higher education and executive development. He is a Global LinkedIn Influencer and has been recognized as the leading Spanish influencer in Management. Iñiguez is Professor of Strategic Management. He holds a Degree in Law, a Ph.D. in Moral Philosophy and Jurisprudence (Complutense University, Spain) and an MBA from IE Business School. He was a Recognized Student at the University of Oxford, UK.