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How can Business Schools continue to make people dream?

Prepared for the 20th Anniversary of INSEAD PhD Program

Money as a primary goal of business organizations falls short of liberating the full potential of business executives and business students. Business leaders dream of a more inclusive business life where the values of the company they work for would be more aligned with their personal values and the values of stakeholders. Accompanying the changing role of business, business schools can contribute to the rising consciousness that money is a fantastic means to achieve the world we dream of, but can be a poor end in itself.

I like money. You probably like money too. Overall, most people like money. However, for me, and I guess for most of you, money would not be the main goal of your career. Empirically, it appears that for most people, money is not an end in itself but a means to achieve our goals and satisfy our needs. Few of us would organize our life in order to make as much money as possible, without consideration of what you can do with it, how you earn it and so forth. For most of us, we wouldn’t like to waste our life earning it.

For business organizations, things are different and money takes a very predominant role. The institutional context, the social culture, the legal framework, the ideological discourses, the theoretical models, the practical teaching of business school, etc. seem to reflect the idea that the role of business organizations is to maximize the creation of economic value.

Why would business organization make money an end in itself if individuals do not share that hierarchy of values? Why business organizations could not have an end beyond money, attempting to achieve some super-ordinate goal for which money would be a means?

To avoid misunderstanding, let me share that I believe that the primacy of money in the structuring of business organizations is not without reasons: for instance, money is the most powerful invented concept of mankind that allows us to share the valuation of things and exchange them in a manner that reflect our mutual interest. It is not without ethics too. With its universal character, money is somehow neutral. To some extent, having business organizations endorsing another end than money would mean to promote a politically-valued goal. And business organizations, which are not democratic, do not naturally have the legitimacy for this. Hence, there is an ethical risk in attributing a role beyond money to business organizations.

Alas, we need to be realist. My experience is that business leaders, senior executives, middle managers or talented business students dream of something else in their business life.

In the past 12 months, I have had the chance to animate “dreaming sessions” with students or executives and listen to hundreds of stories about what would enthusiasm business individuals. We use “dreaming techniques” in order to go beyond the cognitive levels and, while also drawing from our emotional intelligence, clarify our deepest source of motivations. Don’t make me wrong: I didn’t switch from being a decision scientist to a sort of pseudo-guru offering a nice massage to the brain of my students. No, the idea is to better integrate the unexpected in our decision-making. The combination of a thorough analytical approach to our most important decisions with a deep anchorage in the values that would make our life, or our organization, a success and a true accomplishment, helps to manage the grey zone of the ethical relation between business and society and strive on the stormy waters of a hardly predictable business environment. In my experience, no senior executives attending my sessions has ever alluded to a money dream. To the contrary, most dreams are simple, and call for more alignment of business values with personal values.

For senior executives, they would love if business organization could be like they are: a project at the service of values for which money would be a powerful, efficient and demanding engine.

Also, through the Foundation for a New Ethical Business, I set up a website, called wedreambusiness.org, that is a gallery of existing companies that make people students dream. In this website, you can find many companies that reinvent business and shaken our paradigm of business organization as sole profit maximizers. All these companies share the common trait that they are at the service of human values, social justice or environmental sustainability.

This is not just the “experimenter effect”, where they try to please me by acting in a conformist way. I believe it is also the reflect of a profound transformation of the business world that business school could accompany and even lead. Business has gained much power in this world. For the best and for the worse. There is a demand from our public to go beyond the view that the role of business organizations is to maximize economic value.

If business schools want to keep making people dreams, they could embrace this transformation by developing a thorough reflection at the theoretical, methodological and practical level. This could be done in a scientific spirit, which in social sciences mean taking distances with ideologies, whatever they are, and also a bit of skepticism, if not humor, towards established dominant power.

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