"Science" magazine (2 January 2015, page 22-25) recently asked young, “millennial scientists” what was missing in their curriculum. The students submitted titles and descriptions of courses they would like to have to make them better scientists. But many of the 23 responses struck me as widely applicable. These were courses that business students, as well as businesspeople, might find useful. Here are five that grabbed me. I’ve included the quirky course names, along with a short synopsis of what the course would teach.
1. Fake it to make it: Cultivating hearty confidence and…stern resilience under repeated failure (Anna Beiler, Arizona State University).
2. Don’t talk nerdy to me: Communicating with the public: Conveying the right message at the right time through the right channel (Kun-Hsing Yu, Stanford University).
3. How to design catchy posters and write engaging articles: Writing, designing and presenting so that no one ever falls asleep when confronted with your data (Ilona Kotlewska, Polish Academy of Science).
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4. How to question: Preparing how to ask the questions nobody has asked before (Rolando Manuel Caraballo, University of Buenos Aires).
5. Scientific skeptical thinking: Learning to debunk false claims in a concise and meaningful way (Keah Schuenemann, Metropolitan State University of Denver).
Each of these possible courses sounds like something we could readily adapt for business students, but also for business leaders. When people ask how to boost creativity, the first course comes to mind, especially the ability to build “stern resilience under repeated failure.” Offering up new ideas is hard work, but it’s debilitating when the idea is squashed, and more so if it happens repeatedly. But we need people who are relentless in trying new ways of doing things, even when they fail. So let’s teach them resilience.
Numbers 2 and 3 focus on avoiding jargon and finding ways to translate industry information into a piece of writing or presentation that tells a story, explains, or motivates people. Who doesn’t need to be able to do that one?
These courses remind me of one of my professors who frequently unnerved me with a single statement: “In one sentence, tell me precisely about your idea.” One sentence. Her point was that if we can’t explain something concisely and precisely, do we really understand what it means?
The last two courses zero in on something that we sorely lack in business, in education, and in politics. That is the ability to ask questions that nobody has asked before and to find ways to debunk false claims in a meaningful way. This means that we need to learn to question without intimidating, to debunk without destroying a person, and to raise points in ways that are building rather than tearing down.
Bravo to the young scientists for identifying courses and topics they already know they will need.
Now, what would be on your “missing list” for business skills and knowledge?