Can Principles of Wise Power Be Taught in Business School?

 

"Experience, that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God, do you learn."  ~ CS Lewis

 

Creativity is a natural part of most educators’ lives. At the COB we adjust course material according to news: new findings and insights, the latest research, new contacts and business contexts, new cohorts of students.  

As the image above suggests, whatever rote knowledge we impart to students has its limits as experience kicks in through time. How to shape constant change, shifting paradigms, and the vagaries of chance occurrences, not only to our benefit, but to our betterment?   I feel as if I’ve worked on that very question most of my life. The question itself denotes empowerment, defined here as wise power built within the framework of life’s chaotic aspects, informed by the past but not bound to it.

In September, I spoke with Mitch Casselman about his advanced course on creativity. It's relevant to the Wise Power theme as discussed in the INSEAD article here, which I’ve summarized briefly, and mostly in author Le Menestral's own words, below.

Wise power:

  • represents (a grasp of) dualities that helps us meet the world halfway, between what we want and what is offered. it represents the ability to master deeper dynamics… [this power] is less likely to be blindsided by challenges and threats.
  • dispenses with the notion of full control;  Notes the author, “[Wise power] itself contains an element of surprise.”
  • encompasses the idea that “Leaders developing their wise power train their attention towards the underlying forces shaping their environment and themselves… their thinking is not beholden to entrenched prejudices and patterns of behavior [and they can thus] devise more effective and more meaningful solutions.”

The first step the author proposes in the direction of this consummate form of intelligence is to “loosen our mental emotional grip” on tools and strategies we’ve successfully used in the past. Though important, there are additional means by which to develop ourselves. As a friend of mine has long advised when facing a high-stakes problem or decision, “First, relax your grip on what you think is true.” Then:

  1. With this open mind (recall also Carol Dweck’s important research on Mindset) - we’ve freed up the internal bandwidth necessary to overcome the mind’s natural tendency to create an either/or mentality and fantasies of inflexible oppositions, thereby activating…
  2. Emotional maturity, enabling us to cope with “[what we don’t like] as well as [what] we naturally warm to …the tendency to shrink from things we dislike diminishes our sense of reality, and by extension, our cognitive ability.”  Emotional maturity enables us to create space for…
  3. A generosity of soul that’s nourished by dreams that inspire and motivate real, sustained, and sustainable action. This in itself is power, enabling us to avoid the all too human tendency to blindly react. It’s also where the element of surprise embedded in the conception of wise power enters, according to Le Menestral:  “[The loosening of] our grip on transitory goals reduces fear of failure and discomfort with the unknown. Instead of being prisoners of our goals, we dream beyond and learn to master the art of surprise that life can be.”

Enter A COB Course on Creativity and Innovation: Effective Change Agency by Design

The opposite of the either/or, inflexible thought process described in point #1 is creativity. Many books have been published of late urging those of us concentrated in the world of business management to develop ourselves creatively, and to teach creativity as a necessary navigational skill in business. Mitch Casselman shared some thoughts on the topic as he introduced me to his course offered to MBA students this semester. Even the syllabus is creatively designed.

“The course itself is co-created with the students,” says Mitch. “They go through the creative process of establishing a topical choice that meets learning goals, design thinking,  working with  different tools and approaches. They encounter risks, and sometimes need to redesign an element, or their entire approach.

“In our hands-on setting, students apply critical thinking as they learn the creative aspects of management. As they learn through the semester, they begin to frame things anew.”

Mitch also described a class atmosphere where engagement is powered by a sense of curiosity and wonder. We both relate to philosopher Alan Watts’ thoughts on the role of wonder in human development and creating possibility. After our meeting, I was inspired to review some of Watts’ ideas; here’s one relevant to the nurture of innate talent and creativity in the classroom generally: “You learn…by methods you…can’t describe…your brain is capable of absorbing all kinds of information that is much too subtle to be translated into words.” (Scientists in the College may prefer Michael Polanyi’s work on tacit dimensions of knowledge, which basically describes the same thing in scholarly terms.)

I was also inspired by academic research describing the nurture of wondering as addressed in business schools. Even Harvard weighs in, as in this 2018 article, “Why Curiosity Matters.”  One again, here at the College of Business, we are onto something important, as the Harvard article’s author makes the business case for curiosity:

 “The impulse to seek new information and experiences and explore novel possibilities is a basic human attribute… When our curiosity is triggered, we think more deeply and rationally about decisions and come up with more-creative solutions. In addition, curiosity allows leaders to gain more respect from their followers and inspires employees to develop more-trusting and more-collaborative relationships with colleagues.”
That's power we can all use in our lives.

At this point, I can only resort to a "further readings" section as I continue to study this topic myself. I want to thank Mitch, not only for his time, but for directing me along a path I find personally useful on projects I’m working on. 

From Stanford, on the need to create “whole managers.”

From Psychology Todayon the important relationship between creativity and culture (and I hear planning for a multicultural management course is on the COB agenda. If true, good for us). 

From Incwhy traditional business schools’ teaching needs to change, fast – and how to do it

From The Center for Development & Learningtwo dozen tips for teaching creativity

My favorite book so far on the topic of creativity and business is Creativity, Inc.  Engaging and inspiring, readers learn how to break through the cloud standing between them, and their best, most creative thinking. 

Now, I shall proceed to boldly work on other projects and plan my post-retirement project: The Wonder Club for Kids and Not-Kids. Because, why not?