At the University of Notre Dame, a new course offered by the Mendoza College of Business asks students to take all they know about business and apply that knowledge to something essentially unknowable: the future.
Foresight in Business and Society, a required course for juniors starting in fall 2009, focuses on the major trends expected to shape the world, and provides students with a framework for how to think critically about change and plan for it.
Given the dramatic shifts in society and business, particularly in the past decade, foresight skills should be considered fundamental for business leadership, said Carolyn Y. Woo, Martin J. Gillen Dean of the Mendoza College.
“You cannot lead if you don’t know what is coming at you, and where the opportunities for growth are,” said Woo. “Foresight in Business and Society exposes students to trends and helps them develop critical assessment skills, so they can understand the actions necessary for solving the big-picture issues.”
Much of the curriculum examines societal problems that have no quick or easy solutions, such as poverty, health care and energy concerns. The coursework objectives include first developing an awareness of these issues affecting the human community and secondly, analyzing the roles played by various organizations in dealing with them. A third objective is to expose students to quantitative and qualitative methodologies used by futurists to identify the trends, consider the implications of change, to plan for alternative futures and to suggest solutions leading to preferred futures.
A major emphasis of the Foresight in Business and Society is the development of students’ critical thinking skills, which includes evidence evaluation, systems thinking and visioning. The course has a major research focus, with students working in groups of four to explore a specific topic area of their choice. Past research topics have ranged from workplace wellness promotion, to the global water crisis, to the standardization of world accounting standards.
The Foresight in Business and Society Course is but one example of the leading-edge curriculum at the Mendoza College of Business, which has as its central mission to examine ways that business can be used as a force for good in solving some of the world’s most intractable problems.