The business school as an exponential organisation, or what....?

20 December 2022

Ian Hawkings takes a trip to Fuerteventura to see the future and what an exponential business school might mean.


It took me three flights in a single day to get to this year’s edition of the African Association of Business Schools Deans and Directors conference. Not because it was in Botswana, or Congo.....but because I live in Cornwall and apparently there were no direct flights from London to Fuerteventura once I had made the journey from Newquay Airport to Gatwick.

Canary Islands, I hear you ask, isn’t that Spain? Well, yes it is – but they are close to Africa, and more importantly, this year’s conference hosts – Canary Islands Business School – have recently become members of the AABS.

But, you might reasonably query, isn’t AABS a network and accreditation body for African business schools.....? I’ll let Nacho Zabaleta, Director of CIBS, field that one: “By joining the African Association of Business Schools, Canary Islands Business School hopes to use its strategic position as a European business school geographically located in Africa to create a bridge between European and African business schools that will increase the exchange of knowledge as well as the co-creation of research projects.”

So there you are.

As conferences go, it was intimate – about 40 delegates in total – but all the better for it. The sessions were lively, and served well to illustrate that the challenges facing Africa’s business schools are largely the same as any elsewhere.

One session in particular stood out. Kevin Allen, from a company called Openexo talked to us about how business schools could become ‘exponential organisations’. For the uninitiated, the theory of exponential technology is that there is a certain inflection point where tech that has been improving slowly for a long period suddenly explodes and becomes ten times more useful/powerful in a very short space of time. Kevin gave the example of 3D printing – something that was first developed in the 80’s, but has only recently become useful.

His argument was that we are at a critical inflection point for numerous technologies right now – noted futurist Ray Kurzweil has said that ‘We are about to experience 20,000 years of technological progress in just 100 years’ - and that organisations can either recognise and take advantage of this, or ignore it and flounder. Kodak is the classic example of a company that chose not to become ‘exponential’.

So what does this mean for business schools?

Simply, it means letting go of the past and looking at what is staring us in the face. MOOCS happened a decade ago, education is being democratised, the pandemic has accelerated technological change, learners are more open to remote learning and alternative providers, and demographic shifts mean we are working longer and having to learn again, and again.

Companies realise this and are moving fast – EdTech is a $400bn industry. Professional services firms now offer their own MBAs, their own ExecEd. Many business schools are reacting, Neoma in France are on version 2.0 of their own fully-immersive metaversity campus already. But many are struggling to adapt.

Kevin says this is the moment to choose – is your business school going to be exponential, or extinct?

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