A tribune by Pascal Brouaye, Director General of Pôle Léonard de Vinci, originally published in French in Grandes Ecoles et Universités Magazine Special CEO. Great leaders are often given the first quality to have a medium and long-term vision and therefore to be able to indicate the direction to be taken. This is true at the level of a country, a company and any organization developing in a changing world. To say of a leader that he is a visionary is often considered as one of the most beautiful compliments.
A vision of the future is always based on foresight. “Foresight aims to illuminate the action in the light of possible futures,” says Michel Godet. Indeed, we must have explored the future to identify the desired paths and strengthen the confidence to borrow them. Foresight, the strategic approach and the definition of action plans are closely linked. And the question arises for training and education institutions: how to prepare future leaders for this prospective work? How to train and develop this skill?
The future is not in the air
In today’s world, shaken by more and more frequent crises and in the face of profound transitions that often frighten us like the ecological transition, it is not so easy to think serenely of the future as we did for example in the years 60-70 imagining the year 2000 full of promises with flying cars and plans to explore the planets of the solar system.
The generalized instantaneity sanctifies the present with its lot of permanent information and, for the young, the boredom that generates the reverie that itself develops the imagination is no longer relevant.
We are no longer talking about progress, but rather about innovations for now. Thus, it seems that today’s students are less naturally looking to the future. Training them in prospective is, therefore, an important issue.
Science and technology represent a very powerful “driver”
When it comes to thinking about the future, it is essential to know how to identify the big trends. And often these are related to technological development. How many advances and transformations of the world have been made possible by scientific discoveries and technological developments? On the flip side, how many business leaders have underestimated the impact of IT development – even before the Internet revolution – on the economy, organizations, and businesses?
What a failure to think of computing as a vulgar tool of productivity when it was a vector of profound transformation of organizations, working methods and all the processes of companies.
It is, therefore, a question of developing in future leaders a certain level of scientific and technical skills and especially the curiosity that goes with it. Of course, it is not a question of asking them to be accomplished scientists or engineers, but of being familiar with science and technology and therefore of being interested in it. This culture must, in my opinion, be further developed in management schools and in social science training.
But you have to think about them with a holistic vision
But it is by crossing the hard sciences and technologies with the human and social sciences that one can really perform a work of foresight. Demographics, geography, politics and even religions are often significant dimensions when it comes to imagining the future.
It calls for future leaders to acquire extensive and multidisciplinary knowledge and skills. We are talking more and more about hybridization of skills, as it is true that it is often at the crossroads of disciplines or in multidisciplinary approaches that the most fruitful scenarios develop.
And here also scientists and engineers must deploy an open mind to these so-called soft sciences that allow apprehending the human dimension that weighs heavily in the evolution of societies and organizations but also in the acceptance or not of technologies. On this last point, it is true that with the booming techniques, called Big Data, we have more and more ways to deal with masses of information that informs about the behavior of individuals.
The potential and the limits of Big Data
The management of huge amounts of data, made possible by digitization and the development of computing power, makes “Big Data” a predictive tool that is increasingly used in all fields: medicine, finance, insurance, tourism, marketing, etc. Future leaders must, of course, be very familiar with the potential of Big Data, which is constantly being reinforced by the development of artificial intelligence techniques such as “deep learning”.
Nevertheless, it is also necessary to be aware of the limits of this type of approach, which, if they make it possible to develop predictive approaches, do not provide a model to explain these predictions. As the great mathematician, René Thom said, “To predict is not to explain”.
Training in foresight, a beautiful field for educational innovation
It follows from what has been said above that perspective work must also be a team effort.
Training for foresight, therefore, offers a lot of educational innovations that should be implemented by “consortiums” of teaching programs in order to gather around student case studies, for example, teams of students from various disciplines. These innovations must be equipped with technological tools as well as data in order to work on full scale.
All this can naturally be done remotely and thus give rise to the creation of MOOC or other SPOC to work for multidisciplinary teams. A great challenge to overcome the decompartmentalization of education.