Ever wondered what it’s like inside an MBA classroom? What kinds of questions do students ask? What kinds of answers do faculty members give?
Every month, we’ll share insights from top GLOBIS faculty to give you a peek behind the classroom doors of Japan’s No. 1 business school.
December 2020 Questions & Answers
Q: I’m not creative. How can I innovate?
A: One common theme throughout the courses I teach is creativity and innovation, and there are a surprising number of students who say, “I’m not creative.” There’s often a sense that creativity is something inherent, that it’s something special, and only some people have it.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone is creative, though we might lack confidence in expressing it. Creativity is a process, and as a process it is something that can be learned and practiced. I like to ask students to think of creativity as a muscle, and like any muscle, it needs to be exercised to build up its strength. The course work we do helps draw out students’ natural creativity and gives opportunities to practice it, strengthening those creative muscles.
Q: What can I do in the Technovate era if I’m not an engineer and don’t have digital knowledge?
A: You don’t need to be an engineer or a digital expert to be successful in the digital future. All you need is a vision and a purpose. With those, you can lead the experts to pursue business objectives.
To think of it another way, I drive a car, but I have no idea how the car works. I don’t know anything about mechanical or electrical engineering, and I definitely don’t know about any of the computing that will go into smart electric vehicles. All I need to know is where I want to go. If that’s too far for my car, I can take an airplane, but still I don’t need to know about aeronautics.
All that leaders, managers, or entrepreneurs need to know is the possibilities. Then they can think about how technology can help them achieve their goals. In fact, many non-digital experts will continue to be needed in the Technovate age, such as psychologists, anthropologists, linguists, philosophers . . .
Leadership is a choice, not a technical field. It’s about having a vision and bringing people together to achieve a common goal with available resources. Steve Jobs didn’t know anything about computer technology, but he had a strong idea about how a personal computer or smart device should satisfy customer needs. He led his engineers beyond what they considered possible, and that’s why we have smartphones today.
Q1: Do marketing frameworks actually apply in the real world?
A: During a discussion on product life cycle, one student asked how Coca-Cola can survive and remain relevant despite a global shift to health consciousness. Shouldn’t the sugary fizzy drink be on the decline? Is it just lots of marketing that keeps sales going?
The answer is that sweet cola is on a decline, but the company, Coca-Cola, is much more than a single-product cola company. Coca-Cola has 500 brands. In addition to sparkling soft drinks (which make up about 50% of revenue), the company has four other product categories. Cola is only one product. But the student was right: if that were Coca-Cola’s only product, they’d be in trouble.
Marketing can’t overcome the overwhelming momentum health consciousness has established in consumers’ minds. Coca-Cola survives by expanding its portfolio of drink categories, and it keeps its sparkling soft drink category relevant with low- and non-sugar, healthier varieties, as well as smaller packaging for its traditional sugary cola product. That positions it as a small indulgence.
Coca-Cola also maintains relevance for its cola product with a marketing mix that taps into current consumer trends, but understands it is a product in decline. The lesson from Coca-Cola is that companies must find new ways to grow while also employing strategies, when relevant, to halt or slow the death of declining core products.
Q: Can social businesses make money?
A: I often hear, “I’d like to have a career that addresses social problems and contributes to society. But my friends say that won’t make any money.” Can you make money if your business is about healthcare for the poor or providing resources for the underserved?
The answer is YES, social businesses can make money! However, making money is not the purpose of social businesses. Rather, money is just a means—a powerful means—to solve social issues. Social entrepreneurs must be able to make money, or at least achieve financial stability.
And actually, there are plenty of examples of successful social businesses that generate profits. Aravind Eye Hospital, an Indian hospital known for its operational excellence and substantial profits, provides high-quality eye care for low-income rural communities in a mission to “eliminate needless blindness.” Grameenphone provides telecom services to rural villages in Bangladesh while making a profit of over 250M USD (as of 2016), all thanks to its effective resource strategy. In Japan, NPO Florence has profited from competent business models and reinvested that profit into solving children’s social issues, all while still providing decent remuneration to its staff.
We can learn a lot from the social businesses that are already out there: business models, plausible theories of change, resource strategies, and pitfalls. These pioneers have so much knowledge and wisdom about how to make a living while initiating social action.