An MBA can strengthen your knowledge during the era of digital innovation and transformation

  • February 6, 2023
  • By WashU Olin Business School
  • 4 minute read

Any leader has overcome a lot to be where they are today. They have learned many things the hard way—from hiring to economics to coping with personal burnout. But today’s leaders need more than grit, determination and even expertise to survive and succeed in our rapidly evolving digital world. The incredible pace of digital innovation today means leaders must constantly work to understand the ever-changing landscape of technologies that surround them.

In previous generations, it was acceptable to be a leader who couldn’t use a cellphone. Now, being technologically distant is not an option. What’s more, today’s leaders can’t just be technology enthusiasts themselves; they need to bring their whole team to the front line with them and cultivate an attitude of lifelong learning. In many cases, that means leading by example and going back to school—even as a seasoned professional—to get an MBA.

What is the value of an MBA degree in the technological future?

To make the most of on-the-job experience, a leader must become a student again. An MBA program gives you the frameworks and tools to quickly understand the world you operate in. It also gives you the practice using those tools to prepare you for the crucial decisions you’ll make in this disruptive new world and for the (sometimes heavy) responsibilities that accompany the era of digital transformation.

Facing the revolution

Part of being a leader is realizing that you have little control over the way the world shifts around you. There will always be another crisis you’ll need to respond to and another industry development that takes over the established methods in your business. The value of an MBA degree is that it teaches you how to handle the unexpected, no matter what the context is.

Managing your own growth

It’s one thing to learn how to manage a team, but in the rapidly changing business world, it’s equally important to manage your team’s learning and development. Understanding how you and others learn will be a key factor in making new technologies work for you. That could mean empowering yourself or someone on your team to learn Python, A/B testing, or techniques for data visualization, for example, to extract insights from the mounting volumes of data now available for managers. It could mean setting stretch goals that you never thought of before, goals that induce the growth your team needs to excel.

Acquiring confidence using new technologies

Thriving in this era will require confidence, not just competence. The value of an MBA degree is that it can show leaders that technologies aren’t as scary or challenging as they seem on the news. Although technology definitely changes how business gets done, it doesn’t change the core principles that make a business successful—delighted customers, operational efficiency and prudent financing. Seeing these core principles in action across multiple companies, industries and generations of technologies in their MBA coursework gives leaders the confidence to remain undaunted in the face of the opportunities and challenges that current era’s technologies bring.

Making failure part of the process

Learning how to manage and accept failure is part of every leader’s journey. The sooner and more willingly they learn, the sooner they’ll be able to take on new technologies and master them as part of their business plan. A positive relationship with failure breeds resilience and agility. An MBA classroom discussion led by an insightful instructor and filled with bright students is a perfect place for leaders to test ideas and deepen their understanding.

What does it mean to embrace innovative leadership?

Patrick Moreton
Patrick Moreton

Consider the example of Patrick Moreton, a professor of practice in strategy and management. He came into the workforce in 1984, at around the same time that the PC did. Then, everyone had an inkling that this technology would be very important to the future of their business, but many people were still tentative to learn about it. He got hired as a management consultant because none of the senior partners had typing skills. They didn’t want to deal with this new language, and he did.

Today’s leaders need to cultivate their own digital knowledge and expertise while they investigate how digital transformation can impact their organization in the near future. First, this means being a high-potential leader. A can-do attitude goes a long way; if you’re the kind of leader that values continuous learning then you can adapt to new and complex technologies.

Secondly, it’s about acknowledging experience as the source of learning and development. A leader needs to get in the weeds of technology and learn to trust their own experience. From the devices themselves to the software that runs on them, leaders need to collect real-world experience with tools and how they work.

From here, they can start understanding analytics, which will be key to making smarter managerial decisions and sifting through the massive amounts of data every business now owns to find productive truths. The business of the past was run on a handed-down, instinctive knowledge. The business of the future will be led by data-powered decisions.

About the Author

Washington University in Saint Louis

WashU Olin Business School

Firmly established at the Gateway to the West, Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis stands as the gateway to something far grander in scale. The education we deliver prepares our students to thoughtfully make difficult decisions—the kind that can change the world.

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