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Cultivating Systemic Thinking in Next Generation of Business Leaders Analysis

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Systemic Thinking in Business and Management Education

In the article "Cultivating Systematic Thinking in the Next Generation of Business Leaders", Atwater, Kannan, and Stephens present the argument that managers are not adequately prepared to handle the complexities of the "real world" and the daily challenges of being a manager in business. They theorize the root of this issue is the lack of education in business and management educational programs in the area of systemic thinking. To present this argument, Atwater et al. define the concept of systemic thinking, explain the importance for managers to be able to think systemically, survey the current state of systemic thinking education, and advocate improving systemic thinking education in business and management programs.

To assess teaching of systemic thinking in graduate business programs and to determine state of systemic thinking education in business schools, Atwater et al. solicited a survey to faculty at leading graduate business schools in the United States. The goal of the survey was to determine if the faculty members understand what systemic thinking is, are able to define systemic thinking, believe it is taught in their business programs, and believe if it is important concept that should be taught in their programs. The initial results showed that a large percentage (54.6%) of faculty did not comprehensively understand the dimensions of systemic thinking and a small percent (5.7%) disclosed they've never heard of it. Follow up questions yielded that the majority of respondents (74%) agreed or strongly agreed systemic thinking is an essential part of a graduate management education. Of this 74%, half were unsure if it systemic thinking was being covered or felt it was not being covered. Of all the respondents, 31% stated they teach systemic thinking. Additionally, there was at least one respondent from each functional business area that teach systemic thinking and at least 35 business schools have at least one faculty member that teach systemic thinking. Finally, of the 31% of faculty that indicated they do teach systematic thinking, only 45% selected a definition which incorporated the multiple dimensions of systemic thinking.

The results of the survey provided insight into the thesis that although U.S. business schools teach systems and integrating systems, they do not fully develop students to think systemically. Atwater et al. concluded a majority of faculty in business schools do not fully understand what systemic thinking is or are unable to define it. They also concluded that the majority of business programs understand the importance of teaching systemic thinking or teach systemic thinking in some form or fashion. However, of this majority, several faculty members were unsure if their curriculum sufficiently covered systemic thinking or even covered it at all. The final conclusion made was there may be the cases where business programs believe they are sufficiently teaching systemic thinking but may not be addressing all of the dimensions.

Atwater et al. present a legitimate and supported argument that business and management education programs are not keeping up with an exponentially growing business world in terms of technology, innovation, and global presence. The survey they conducted was a small sample size of business faculty; however, the samples were drawn from top business and management schools within the United States. The results regarding the awareness, teaching, and philosophy of systemic thinking speak for themselves and they are consistent with the high turnover rates of CEOs and executives within the top businesses in the country. Systemic thinking, as defined in the article, is the ability to understand how different parts of an organization interact, react over time, and send feedback to affect performance. Most managers today are only capable to think synthetically. In other words, they are very keen to the role and purpose



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