Bruno Dyck is a Professor of Business at the Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba.

I am thankful to the authors of “Reimagining Business Education as Formation” for their thoughtful and thought-provoking paper, and grateful for this opportunity to comment on it and draw out implications based on the “lenses” through which I read it. It is my hope that describing some of the insights I gleaned from the paper may also help other readers to grow in their own understandings of its richness. My comments are divided into three parts. First I will use a “Knowing-Doing-Being” conceptual framework to interpret the author’s main arguments. Second I will describe an illustrative classroom experience to highlight the merits of a character-formation mode of business education. Finally, I will offer some implications for business education as formation.

Knowing, Doing, Being: Worldview, Workplace Liturgies, and Character

In recent years I have been using a “Knowing-Doing-Being” lens to shape my classroom pedagogical approach, and I found the interplay between this lens and the article both enriching and refreshing. Let me start by briefly introducing the Knowing-Doing-Being framework as I use it in my teaching at the University of Manitoba.1

In the first class of each semester I explain to my students how the course has been designed to enhance their Knowing (related to what the authors call “worldviews”). For example, when I teach an introduction to management course, I teach students two approaches to Knowing management.2 The first is via a conventional (or Mainstream) worldview based on a consequentialist-utilitarian moral-point-of-view, where the emphasis is on maximizing organizational profitability in order to serve the financial self-interests of the owners. The second is via a sustainable (or Multistream) worldview based on virtue ethics, which emphasizes balancing multiple forms of well-being (financial, social, ecological, physical, spiritual, aesthetic) among multiple stakeholders (owners, employees, customers, suppliers, competitors, neighbors, future generations). I explain that I teach two worldviews in order to compel students to consider how their personal moral-point-of-view will inform how they manage. Research shows that teaching two worldviews side by side enhances students’ critical thinking, and that it makes them less materialistic and less individualistic.3

Then I explain that, in addition to Knowing, the course is also designed to promote and reward “Doing” (related to what the authors call “workplace liturgies”). This is evident in group-based assignments and doing written analyses of “live” cases (that is, case studies of real-world organizations in the local community, where managers from the organizations come to class to hear and respond to students’ analyses). “Doing” might also involve interviewing managers, analyzing organizations, or even making a video relevant to course material.

A highlight for my students (and for me) in my “Corporate Social and Environmental Society” class is the “Doing” assignment called “Experiments with Sustainability.” In this assignment students think of an activity they will do for at least one week to live more sustainably. For some students that means cycling or walking everywhere, for others it means going vegetarian, and for some it means not changing their clothes for a week (except underwear). In their reports students reflect on their expectations and experiences during the experiment. This assignment is a great bridge-builder to go from Knowing-that-humankind-is-living-beyond-the-carrying-capacity-of-the-planet, toward Doing-something-about-it. We spend a considerable amount of time discussing the difficulty (even) for well-educated university students to translate what they Know-about-sustainable-living into what they Do. Many students talk about how the experiment has influenced what they Do (and thereby who they Become) long after the assignment is completed.

The third component of my course designs focuses on “Being.” This typically involves a “Self-Reflection Report” that students submit at the end of the term. They are asked to reflect upon and describe what insights they learned about themselves, about others, and about management more generally. What were “aha” experiences related to the course? They also submit at least four “journal” entries that they have completed during the term. Occasionally I provide students with ten minutes of class time to work on a journal entry. Students have often remarked how special those “ten minutes” are; a chance in a busy schedule to reflect about who they are and who they want to become.

Within this Knowing-Doing-Being framework, the authors suggest that:

  1. a conventional business education focuses on
  2. teaching business knowledge from a conventional management worldview (“Knowing”), which leads to and informs
  3. an emphasis on conventional management practices (“Doing”), which in turn leads to and informs
  4. a lack of emphasis on “Being” (that is, even on those rare occasions where virtue is discussed, such discussions are often compartmentalized at a personal level, and any implications for organizational Doing and Knowing remain undeveloped; sometimes business education unintentionally results in a “malfunction of character”).

According to the authors, a “business education as formation” approach essentially turns this four-step process on its head, where:

  1. a focus on character and virtue (Being) leads to and informs
  2. practices based on “workplace liturgies” (Doing), which in turn leads to and informs
  3. an alternative worldview of business (Knowing), which is promoted in
  4. business education that emphasis formation.

This inversion is certainly a refreshing “turn” (repentance?) and offers welcome opportunities to reconsider both business education specifically, and business more generally.4 What would happen if the focus of business education was to build character (Being) rather than, say, to maximize profits for owners? What would such a business education look like? What if the overarching purpose of business was to facilitate what Aristotle called happiness (eudaimonia) – and what others might call shalom, or the kingdom of God – by practicing virtue in community?

A Classroom Example

The authors make a compelling argument that the primary focus of business education should be on Being, rather than allowing this to become a compartmentalized after-thought. The authors gave me new insight on past lectures where I have asked students about “greed,” and whether it is “good” or “bad.” The definition for greed I provide students is the “excessive desire to acquire or possess more (especially more material wealth) than one needs or deserves.”5

During some semesters, prior to asking students whether greed is good, I show them several “Knowing” and “Doing” video clips that suggest that greed is good. One clip features Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman (Knowing), who says, “The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interest. The great achievements of civilization [are based on this] … There is no alternative way so far discovered [that works as well].”6 The other is the (in)famous clip from the movie “Wall Street” where Gordon Gekko testifies about the importance of greed in practical terms (Doing):

Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind.7

After being exposed to this two-clip “Knowing/Doing” context, when I ask my students whether “greed is good,” most say “yes” (54%), and 73% believe greed is “definitely” (32%) or “probably” (41%) necessary for the economy to function properly. In this context greed seems to be considered a virtue, or students have learned that, although greed may not be a virtue in their (compartmentalized) personal life, greed is necessary for their professional public life.

In contrast, in other semesters, when I do not “prime” students with the video clips, but instead start with a more “Being” kind of question by providing the definition and then asking whether greed is good, the numbers are reversed: 72% of students say that greed is not good, and “only” 42% indicate that greed is “definitely” (13%) or probably (29%) necessary for the economy to function optimally.

For me these responses provide helpful anecdotal support for the authors’ argument. Rather than starting with (conventional) Knowing and Doing to create a context that requires students to explain and defend why Being greedy is good for the economy, starting off with a question about Being (is greed good?) creates a situation where Being generous provides the context for thinking about what Doing and Knowing should look like. This can lead to a discussion of imagining an economy that starts with people “Being” generous, where generosity is defined as “excessive desire to donate or give away more (especially more material wealth) to people who cannot meet their needs.” In such an economy people would be motivated to work hard and to innovate, not in order to out-compete others, but rather in order to give to the needy and to provide opportunities to the marginalized. Such an economy is closer to that described by the likes of Aristotle and Jesus and others.

Implications of “Business Education as Formation”

What would it look like “on-the-ground” if the authors were taken seriously in business schools that aspire to foster Christian formation? Many helpful implications are already described in the article itself, but allow me to add several more.

Implications for Being

Both the ancient wisdom literature on character formation and contemporary research point to the merit in placing greater emphasis on developing “spiritual disciplines” among business students. For example, a recent review of the empirical research suggests that managers who practice spiritual disciplines (such as prayer, mindfulness, meditation) have a less materialistic-individualistic approach to managing.8

Business schools in the Christian tradition might place special emphasis on the four “corporate” spiritual disciplines, as described by Richard Foster: confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.9 How these might be operationalized in business settings has been described elsewhere,10 but allow me to summarize. Confession calls us to confess our own shortcomings in community, which in turn prevents us from looking down on others’ failures, and thereby serves to foster virtuous organizations. Worship calls us to wait for God’s voice and to look for the Go(o)d in others including, for example, seeing the grocery store cashier as a person rather than as an automaton. Guidance calls us to discern in community, and thus counters Western ideas about individualism. Celebration describes a corporate response to positive social change, such as when the poor receive good news and the oppressed are liberated.

Implications for Doing

Courses can be developed where students are exposed to, and have opportunities to put into practice, expressions of “Doing” business functions – such as marketing, strategy, human resource management, finance, and accounting – as informed by “Being” that is based on spiritual disciplines and biblical virtues. This can take several forms. First, invite and write about businesspeople who practice spiritual disciplines, who are nominated for integrating their faith in the workplace, and whose “Being” exudes the character traits desired by students. Ask such businesspeople to describe how they “Do” business functions like marketing, finance, and accounting. While it might be particularly interesting to invite business leaders for their reflections on these topics, I would also encourage inviting employees from all levels of the organizational hierarchy. The resulting diversity of views can be inspiring and insightful, and provide a holistic context. Second, develop courses where students are required to design and possibly to start up a sustainable organization. By “sustainable” I mean an enterprise that improves opportunities for the marginalized (for example, hires ex-convicts) and improves care for creation (such as by reducing pollution). Have students experience – vicariously and first-hand – the joys and challenges of acting in ways that are consistent with their character.

Third, ask students to help design and complete “Experiments with Virtue” assignments. For example, building on the classroom example described above, this may be to act more generously every day for a week (or month, or semester), and to reflect on their experiences.

Implications for Knowing

There are many opportunities for business scholars to develop and teach theory and practice associated with non-conventional worldviews, perhaps especially theory associated with a formational approach to business education. It is not enough to simply encourage students to develop a character of generosity (Being), and to challenge them to put this into practice (Doing). It is also important to equip them with concepts and theory associated with this alternative worldview (Knowing).

Implications for Business Schools

The implications for business schools are also significant, but may be considerably more difficult to achieve. For example, rather than relying on large financial gifts and high tuition, what if faith-based liberal arts colleges were funded entirely and directly by churches? The kind of “ecclesial” approach envisioned by the authors may encourage going back to earlier times when a community of churches provided the funding for “their” school, and recalls the example followed by the Early Church as described in Acts.

Also, extending upon similar programs that already exist, what if we had “floating” business schools that “move” from one location to the next? Perhaps one year the school is located in an inner-city warehouse, another year in a low-income country, and a third year in a forest or on some farmland. The virtual and high-tech gadgets of the modern classroom would be intentionally replaced by social and ecological realities. The goal would be to reduce the cost of education, increase its relevance, and allow Being to flourish in all sorts of inherently meaningful settings.

In conclusion, the benefits and challenges of placing greater emphasis on “Being” and “business education as formation” are relevant for all schools, whether Christian or public or other. And there are many ways such a shift can be facilitated, ranging from changing the institutional arrangements that characterize a business school, to changing the in-class pedagogical techniques used by specific instructors. Of course, many of the ideas for changing business education cannot be implemented overnight, but perhaps they can inspire “Experiments with business education as formation.” Who knows what might happen? Again, thanks to the authors for their courage and vision in providing space to begin such experiments.

Cite this article
Bruno Dyck, “A Response to “Reimagining Business Education as Character Formation””, Christian Scholar’s Review, 45:1 , 41-48

Footnotes

  1. My approach was inspired by hearing about pedagogical ideas being promoted and adopted by leading business schools like Harvard. Scott Snook, Nitin Nohria, and Rakesh Khurana, eds., The Handbook for Teaching Leadership: Knowing, Doing, and Being (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2011).
  2. Readers interested in learning more about these two approaches may want to see Mitchell Neubert and Bruno Dyck, Organizational Behavior (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2014); and Bruno Dyck and Mitchell Neubert, Management: Current Practices and New Directions (Boston, MA: Cengage/Houghton Mifflin, 2010).
  3. Bruno Dyck, Kent Walker, Fred Starke, and Krista Uggerslev, “Enhancing Critical Thinking by Teaching Two Distinct Approaches to Management,” Journal of Education for Business 87.6 (2012): 343-357; and Bruno Dyck, Kent Walker, Fred Starke, and Krista Uggerslev, “Addressing Concerns Raised by Critics of Business Schools by Teaching Multiple Approaches to Management,” Business and Society Review 116.1 (2011): 1-27.
  4. While this one-directional Being→Doing→Knowing→Structures-and-systems-associated-with-business-education process helps to focus attention to the primacy of “Being,” the authors also point to reciprocal relationships (for example, “we are both shaped by culture and are culture-making beings”). The resulting four-phase bi-directional process model is strikingly similar to one embedded in the Gospel of Luke. See Bruno Dyck, Management and the Gospel: Luke’s Radical Message for the First and Twenty-First Centuries (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2013), 123-156.
  5. See wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn.
  6. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWsx1X8PV_A.
  7. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7upG01-XWbY.
  8. Bruno Dyck, “God on Management: The World’s Largest Religions, the ‘Theological Turn’, and Organizational and Management Theory and Practice,” in Research in the Sociology of Organizations: Religion and Organization Theory vol. 41, eds. Paul Tracey, Nelson Phillips and Michael Lounsbury (Bradford, UK: Emerald Publishing Group, 2014), 23-62.
  9. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1978).
  10. See Bruno Dyck and Kenman Wong, “Corporate Spiritual Disciplines and the Quest for Organizational Virtue,” Journal of Management, Spirituality and Religion 7.1 (2010): 7-29.

Bruno Dyck

University of Manitoba
Bruce Dyck is Professor of Business at the Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba.