With great anticipation I awaited the lecture on social entrepreneurship. Believing that business should ultimately serve society and the planet, I could not believe my ears when the lecturer repeatedly described businesses with social welfare agendas as ‘paradoxical in nature’ and ‘contradicting by default’. To wrap up the class he asked the crowd: ‘Would you rather work for EY (Ernst & Young), have a starting salary of £32,000 and travel the world, or work for a social enterprise where you might work on interesting projects, but there is not even any published data on entry-level salaries?’ When he ended his lecture with this question, I was not only disappointed but mad.
As university students and business students specifically, we are expected to be shaped into these ideal graduates, who can slap an elaborated CV on the table that showcases profound academic knowledge and excellent professional experience. Sadly, business students seem to be short-sighted and only focused on landing a graduate job with a big-name company once they graduate. They tend to not question the world order or assess current pressing issues that challenge our society and planet. But why?
Business degrees are centred around teaching hard business facts rather than developing soft skills. How to maximise profits, how to reduce taxable income, how to sell, market or commercialise a product or service are all at the top of the list. During a recent in-class digital brainstorming session the teacher asked what skills we wish we had and that we think are crucial to succeed in our personal lives and careers. Shockingly, words like passion, motivation and drive became bolder and bolder in the word cloud. Things you could never possibly teach.
The apparent lack of passion and ability to pick up on social cues also shines through during networking events, where individuals seem to be unable to have engaging conversations with professionals but try to sell themselves in two-minute long monologues. Power struggles in group work settings and cliquey behaviour in general lead to an increasingly hostile and competitive environment in the business school, where social values and human interaction fall short. But how could this be addressed?
A shift in thinking is absolutely crucial. Business is a social science and deals with humans, so why is the fundamentally social concept of management taught as if it was a mechanical or robotic task? It takes social intelligence, gut instinct and a deep insight into human nature to be a motivational leader and clear communicator. The business school should focus on pushing ambitious and passionate individuals out into the world who want to do good, instead of forming the next generation of corporate machines. As John Templeton beautifully put it ‘being important is nice, but being nice is important’.