How to get fit for the tech future
High tech, foodtech, biotech, fintech, cleantech, proptech: technology industries are booming – there’s tech in virtually everything. Experts around the world predict that a sizeable chunk of new business will be generated at the interface of technology and economy in the future. But what does that mean for companies, and how can managers get ready? Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy, and Thomas Funke, tech expert and co-founder of Tomorrow’s Education, have identified five key skills executives will need in the future in order to gain a solid and holistic understanding of technologies and of how they will impact their respective businesses.
A Bloomberg Businessweek article published in April 2021 titled that “‘Technology’ Is the Most Useless Word in the English Language” as virtually every company somehow deals with technology today, albeit with a very wide range of implications and orientations. Nevertheless, the article makes one thing clear: there is no escaping technology. No industry or sector can afford to disregard technological developments: “Regardless of the industry, business is all about digitalization, big data, and innovative technologies,” Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy, says. “And this is why managers and founders need well-founded expertise in topics related to both technology and economics – and that’s true for every business in every sector.”
“The key topics of the 21st century are, firstly, sustainability, which goes hand in hand with, secondly, responsible entrepreneurship in both thought and action, and, thirdly, a sound grasp of technology at the interface of human and machine,” says Thomas Funke, a tech expert and one of the founders of Tomorrow’s Education, adding: “That is, incidentally, also the reason why we developed the new online Professional Master Sustainability, Entrepreneurship & Technology, which focuses on these very three key fields in a collaboration with the WU Executive Academy.”
So what are these five key skills at the interface of technology and business that managers won’t be able to do without?
Technologies impact society in complex ways, but entrepreneurial decisions are often still made with a focus on growing profits, entering new markets, and disrupting existing business models with the help of technological innovations. “In this process, it is often overlooked that artificial intelligence is programmed by human beings, which means it is rife with society’s biases and prejudices,” Thomas Funke explains. A new technology’s original intention is often not its final one. Sometimes it is hard to foresee the (occasionally life-threatening) consequences of technological developments. “The GPS system was originally developed by the US military to locate the position of battleships and weapon systems,” Thomas Funke adds. Today, a GPS system is found in most cars. Managers are increasingly called upon to consider and reflect on potential implications and outcomes of new technologies for people, businesses, and society.
While questions related to digital ethics in the use of technologies are becoming ever more relevant, they still play only a minor role in business planning. This urgently needs to change.
Experts in IT departments and their colleagues in marketing or general management often seem to speak completely different languages. For cross-functional teams and interdisciplinary projects, it is getting increasingly important to be able to think and speak like the professionals from other spheres. This requires an understanding of specialized knowledge related to digitalization and IT as well as marketing and management. “Executives need to be able to understand what goes on in professional realities outside of their own bubble. This is the only way to successfully manage complexity. It is their job to foster a common language and shared understanding of key terms across the various teams,” Barbara Stöttinger explains. Sustainability and technology criteria are influencing management decisions to an ever-larger degree, and it is no longer an option to disregard these aspects. This also means allowing for, accommodating, and actively considering the whole gamut of different opinions and standpoints in decision-making processes.
A growing number of companies is relying on the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs; examples include no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, etc.) to adapt their business models and strategies. “At the same time, many enterprises forget that they have to equip their employees with the respective skill- and mindsets in order to achieve these goals,” Barbara Stöttinger holds. “Technologies can provide an added value to society if they are used in the right way,” Thomas Funke adds. Also with regard to this aspect, both corporations and start-ups still have room to grow: while zebra companies place their bets on sustainable growth and value creation, budding unicorn companies are eager for explosive growth and exits.
“Both managers and employees need to be able to think and act like entrepreneurs in order for their organization to thrive, regardless of whether it is a corporation or a start-up,” Funke says.
Simply adding one start-up after the other to their portfolio – a policy many companies are pursuing at the moment – is often not enough because integrating start-up culture into an existing organization’s corporate culture can be quite a challenge. Entrepreneurial thinking will thus not only be important for managers themselves, they will also have to foster this mindset among their team members.
Many indicators show that we are in the middle of an entirely new era in which expansion is happening at an ever-increasing pace and our old understanding of what it means to be human is fundamentally challenged. We are living in an exponentially growing, socio-economic, urbanized world. The pace at which this transformation is taking place is so breathtaking that experts can make only tentative, cautious forecasts of what tomorrow could look like. “Resilience, mental balance, and emotional intelligence will count among the most valuable assets in the future. Particularly the skill to keep learning throughout your life will be crucial in the 21st century: this will, first and foremost, require curiosity, motivation, self-efficacy, and a dynamic self-image, which all make for a growth mindset, i.e., a mindset that is not focused on preventing mistakes but on recognizing and making good use of individual strengths and learning opportunities,” Funke sums up.
The 12-month Professional Master Sustainability, Entrepreneurship & Technology (SET) is structured in modules, in which expertise in the core areas of technology entrepreneurship, machine learning, and data products is conveyed through competence-oriented teaching.
This online Professional Master was jointly developed by WU and Tomorrow’s Education and targets high-potentials who have founded a business or plan to do so and are looking to deepen their knowledge, fully develop their potential in both the business and technology sectors, and contribute to tackling society’s most pressing current issues. Topics covered include start-up financing, sales and negotiations, developing a company, AI ethics, data solutions, and data-driven modelling.
The first round of the program kicked off with an interactive online curriculum based on a smartphone app in the summer semester of 2021.
For more information about the Professional Master Sustainability, Entrepreneurship & Technology, please click here.