Tales from the Lockdown #5: a conversation with Ivan Bofarull, ESADE

11 May 2020

In this series of conversations, our guests talk to Senior Consultant Claudia Monteiro about what they're learning during the pandemic and what future they're imagining.


Ivan Bofarull is Chief Innovation Officer at ESADE 

What aren’t we talking enough about during this crisis?

There is a blind spot in the conversation right now, and it’s to do with the fundamentals of what we do as business schools. The magnitude of events in this pandemic have seen us going online overnight and there is a risk we might get caught up in the short-term solution and not look at what’s most relevant. There is a thrilling response to the current moment: maybe you’ve nailed the technology, maybe you’re falling in love with a new collaborative tool. We’re all reading those ‘7 tips to survive in an online environment’.

But I feel this crisis is an opportunity to take a step back and really understand, at its very core, the foundations of what we do. Let’s ask ourselves questions like ‘what should we teach?’, ‘how can students learn better?’ and ‘how can we validate what good knowledge is?’

These questions are key to reshape what we’re creating for our classrooms. The real value comes from going back to those basics, before we even talk technology. Otherwise we will have gone through this incredible and exhausting time without real growth.

Tell us a tale of one of your local heroes, a person or a group within your university or school community who have pulled out all the stops at this time of crisis.

I’d like to celebrate the work from everybody involved in the operations of our core business at ESADE. Our undergraduate, postgraduate and MBA programme teams moved to online platforms quickly so our students could carry on. Thank you to all faculty, staff and executives who have made sure ESADE can continue to operate.

Name one change that you or your organisation has been forced to take that you’d like to carry into the future?

The most important change – and we’re all feeling it, not just ESADE – is that we’re accelerating to a new hybrid mode of learning that’s going to rely on technology. Business schools suffer from organisational inertia and this pandemic has accelerated the pace of change simply because there was no choice.

At ESADE I hope we recall this pandemic as a time of positive disruption, a period in history that brought real value to what we do.

The other change that’s here to stay it’s to acknowledge that innovation these days will be bottom-up led rather than top-down led. It's all about faculty and students trying new tools, learning-by-doing and then for the management team to evaluate what can be scaled up for everyone else’s benefit.

And I would say that it will be impossible for any top business school to stay relevant without developing its digital twin.

Can you reflect on one area that you might let go of, going forward?

I believe we might get rid of the temptation of going into areas that new business education players are in a better shape to offer. For business schools this is a great time to go back to basics, to what’s essential in teaching and learning, to own what we’re great at. To use an analogy that plays into digital, business schools are good at offering the operating system.

By that I mean we’re good at offering the foundations of management – we can make sense of the whole, do metacognition and offer a deep dive into a variety of subjects. The new players are good at doing the equivalent of an app – they are much better at the latest shiny new trend, coming up with one of the latest platforms. Business schools should stick to what they’re good at and partner with new players for ‘those apps’.

What have you learnt about yourself?

I often thought I didn’t have time to do this or couldn’t possibly get to that. These days, like everyone else, I’m having to allocate my time completely differently. It’s exhausting for those of us with kids at home, it’s like a master's course on how to be productive and focus on what matters. But rather than feeling crushed by it, I feel this new freedom within.

I now know that there’s enough in the ‘cake of daily time’ to get stuff done, provided I choose what’s relevant and that’s made me feel really empowered. From now on I’ll be asking myself weekly ‘what is the most significant productivity hack that will have a lasting impact on my work?’

And I invite everyone to ponder on this: what do you now believe to be true that you would have had a hard time accepting before this crisis?

This crisis has brought on more of who we are into the workplace – the daily clutter of our home life is lurking in. How are you experiencing that?

I think a lot of us have been asking the question ‘what’s the most relevant thing in my life that haven’t been paying attention to?’

It comes back to that question of what’s essential and how do we focus on what’s relevant. These days mornings are about helping my 8-year-old with remote schooling and homework. We’re all unlearning the way we work and understanding what’s important about our home life and our work life. I feel that’s a positive and I hope there is lasting impact to this experience. 

Photo: Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels 


Read more Tales of the Lockdown with

Kai Peters, Coventry University, UK

Molly Ihlbrock, ESMT Berlin, Germany

Dil Sidhu, Coursera, USA

Sarah Lethbridge, Cardiff Business School, UK

Rob Angell, University of Southampton Business School, UK

Antonio Batista, Fundação Dom Cabral, Brazil 

Yusra Mouzughi, Muscat University, Oman

Kate Kearins, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand 

Daniel Traça, Nova School of Business and Economics (Nova SBE), Portugal



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