Business School

A Crisis Curriculum?

April 8, 2020  • Ideas Worth Teaching

How can educators help prepare leaders for challenges like the Covid-19 crisis? In business schools, extraordinary moments demand out-of-the-box teaching.

This month, we’re shaking up our Faculty Spotlight series in order to take a multi-part look at the effects of this crisis – featuring insights, reflection and expertise from leading faculty who have been recognized with the Aspen Institute Ideas Worth Teaching Award. Each installment collects the diverse responses to a single interview question. This week we ask:

While few predicted the situation that we find ourselves in today, what elements from your teaching do you hope best prepare students for the leadership necessary during such times of crisis?

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Regina Abrami

Regina Abrami | The Wharton School of Business

With rapid globalization, strategic management and international business syllabi emphasized lean manufacturing, networked platform businesses, strategic alliances and long supply chains. This push for cost optimization, however, appears to have come at the cost of deep resilience for both government and business. My IWT course on foresight strategy, in contrast, pushes for resilience by getting students to think divergently through training in the art of scenario planning, which itself is all about finding a way to identify and potentially hedge events that cannot be managed away at the firm level or priced away in the market.

Regina Abrami teaches Fault Lines & Foresight


Nicholas McGuigan and Alessandro Ghio

Nicholas McGuigan and Alessandro Ghio | Monash University

Leadership during this crisis is going to require humanistic responses and approaches. A more conscious form of leadership. A humanistic approach to governance requires integrated thinking, holistic management, and the conscious development of an ecological mindset to actively incorporate societal and environmental factors into corporate decision-making. We think this will require the adoption of a systems design approach to governance. Corporate governance can evolve consciously and continuously so that it can creatively design new systems and models that address the changing society and environment. This will mean a need to become comfortable with complexity, an ability to adapt to new situations and be agile enough to approach problems in new ways with an openness to perspectives different from our own.

To develop more conscious forms of leadership we draw on the humanities and the natural sciences in our business teaching. This assists us in developing more empathetic and humanistic abilities, to provoke and induce student imagination and to continuously challenge the role of business in society.

An example of this is our use of permaculture design principles to investigate a systems approach to business. Students have the opportunity to explore a permaculture garden, where they are introduced to the permaculture ethics and design principles. Students explore a natural ecosystem through a permaculture lens and subsequently contrast this against the human design system of accounting and its business context. In doing so, they start to see how such design principles could inform the organising of business and new forms of governance.

Further, we make use of art and artistic methodologies such as film, visual imagery, sculpture, and creative design pedagogies like futuring and unboxing videos, that allow students to express their learning in diverse and creative ways. This ensures our students are able to develop with creative, empathetic and integrated thinking capabilities so critical during such times of crisis.

Nicholas McGuigan and Alessandro Ghio teach Global Issues in Accounting


Melissa Bradley

Melissa Bradley | Georgetown University

For the past seven years I have been teaching graduate students in the area of social impact. My courses include social innovation, impact investing, social entrepreneurship and peer to peer economies. The conversations around innovation, globalization, privilege, equity and equality are more relevant now than ever. The need to understand systems versus demographics, along with the concept of “network effect,” are critical frames to assess how to move through our current crisis.  I am proud to say that my students have already written me to say they are rethinking how to help their consumers and constituencies via impact through business.

Melissa Bradley teaches Peer to Peer Economies


Robert Sroufe

Robert Sroufe | Duquesne University

A big part of what we do in class and within live projects with clients is to step back and look at the big picture before using a five-level framework to understand the system in which we operate, how we want to define success, strategic alignment, and prioritization of actions using a planning process.  The ability to take complex problems and systems, to break them down into manageable pieces, leverage decision analysis tools that take uncertainty into account to allocate scarce resources toward prioritized needs.  We try to build on small wins knowing a cumulative effect of effort, when integrated and scaled, will have big impacts aligned with a vision of what the future will look like.   Near the end of the program, we ask all students to complete vision and action plans regarding the role of business in the world for this millennium, and a personal action plan for commerce to foster a more sustainable world. 

Robert Sroufe teaches Sustainability Tools & Processes for New Initiatives


Jerry Davis

Jerry Davis | University of Michigan

The skills of social intrapreneurship are highly useful in allowing big corporations to be nimble in the face of big challenges. Grassroots innovators can sense the needs on the ground in a way that top executives cannot. Given the right toolkit, they can take crises to be opportunities for humane and democratic transitions to use corporate resources toward human ends. (For a quick primer, see

Jerry Davis teaches Intrapreneurship: Leading Social Innovation in Organizations


Jadranka Skorin-Kapov

Jadranka Skorin-Kapov | Stony Brook

In my teaching, I hope to stress the importance of ethical considerations related to professional and business leadership, especially pronounced in times of crisis and due to the far-reaching consequences resulting from globalization and from connectivity based on technological advances. The companies cannot look only at the bottom line profit – the sustainability, environmental protection, and social implications, have to be taken into account. The educational preparation of future professional and business leaders should balance professional skills development with nourishment of virtues and ethics, and this is what I will try to stress in my teaching.

Jadranka Skorin-Kapov teaches Business Ethics: Critical Thinking Through Film


Sarah Birrell Ivory

Sarah Birrell Ivory | University of Edinburgh Business School

I teach my students that there are rarely ‘right answers’. This is what makes critical thinking so important. Because if there is no ‘right’ answer, all we can do is develop a logically reasoned argument based on strong evidence. But in an emerging situation like this one, we may not have strong evidence, and so we have to base our argument on the available evidence. We have seen leaders, such as the chief medical scientists advising national governments, doing this. Their arguments have varied (between nations and over time within nations) between “we should reduce social contact” “we should shield the vulnerable” “we should stop all social contact” “we should close schools and non-essential shops” etc etc. All of these arguments are based on the best evidence they have at the time. Social media, news media, and other commentators question the arguments and question the evidence. But I rarely hear people say “We know you are using the available evidence to contribute to an argument about the current uncertain situation. Thank-you for using your critical thinking skills to guide us through this uncertain time in the best way possible.”

Sarah Birrell Ivory teaches Global Challenges for Business

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Check back next week for the next edition of this series, on predictions for the business education landscape.