In higher education, as in so many areas of public life these days, trust is in short supply. A recent Pew Research survey found that only half of Americans believe that higher ed has a positive impact on our country—and more than a third feel colleges and universities have negative effects. Even before the pandemic, the number of first-year college students in the U.S. had begun to plateau, and COVID accelerated that trend, with many choosing to forgo formal education and start their own companies as soon as possible. Many settle for the immediate gratification of rather mundane jobs over the delayed gratification and lifelong financial reward of a career that requires educational credentials.
As a lifetime educator, I have observed firsthand the refusal of administrators and professors to embrace change. This resistance to innovation, ironically enough, is especially true in business education. A recent survey of employers by the Association of MBAs found that nearly half of corporate recruiters cited “lack of creativity” in candidates, as well as resistance to novel thinking. Creativity, in this context, means the competence to seek out new information, reframe problems as stories, express solutions winsomely, and tolerate risk—capacities that do not always come easily to students who gravitate to the study of business or engineering. If you want to generate new products and ideas, you need people who conjure original concepts as naturally as breathing.
THE NEED FOR PEOPLE WHO CAN TELL A STORY
When an interviewer asked Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary (aka, “Mr. Wonderful”) what subject one should study in college to become an entrepreneur, he said that three years earlier, he might’ve said engineering. “But I’ve changed my mind,” he said. “Since the pandemic hit, the number one demand I have for my companies is for people who can take the concept of a business and tell a story, produce a video, do rich photography, build out short videos […].” He goes on to say that he’s now paying his writers, videographers, and photographers competitive six-figure salaries because they can solve business challenges with highly specialized tools and creative thinking.
I’ve seen this demand for imaginative solutions from business leaders for years now at our university’s in-house research studio, where clients bring real-world questions to our students: How can we reach Gen Z customers? How can we revive this product line? How do we tell our story to different demographics? How can we attract diverse new hires? This year alone, SCADpro clients comprise the automotive sector (Ford, Volvo, Lexus, Firestone), air travel (Delta, Gulfstream), tech (Google, HP), finance (Fidelity Investments, Capital One), hotels (Marriott, MGM Resorts), and a host of others: Deloitte, Allstate, CBS, Lowe’s, Chanel, 3M, Staples, Nike, CBS, eBay, and even World Wrestling Entertainment.
These clients seek out SCAD because they are passionate about differentiating their products and services to earn a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Call us an “art school” if you want. To these companies, we’re a school of invention. This fact about SCAD became so obvious a few years ago that we created a fund to launch alumni companies, investing $1.3 million to date in companies now valued at more than $123 million.
MARRYING CREATIVITY WITH FINANCIAL REPORTING AND MORE
All this invention and entrepreneurship has led to the next logical step: the launch of our own business school. You won’t find the word “administration” or “management” in its name. Those words are too passive for what our graduates do and what the world’s best companies need. We call it the De Sole School of Business Innovation at SCAD, named for Domenico De Sole, the legendary guru who transformed Gucci into a luxury powerhouse—and whose story is, in part, depicted in Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci.
We’ve channeled our many insights from thousands of partnerships with the world’s most admired companies into this new enterprise, where students marry creative talent with coursework in financial reporting, social analytics, branding strategy, and more.
You won’t find tomorrow’s business leaders in outmoded business schools. You’ll find them in places where innovators apply research and data analysis to imaginative thinking to address urgent business challenges in the post-pandemic economy. Global business has changed during the pandemic, but traditional business schools have not. Products, services, supply chains, and branding strategies need leadership with a creative edge. The De Sole School of Business Innovation at SCAD is doing just that.
Paula Wallace is founder and president of Savannah College of Art and Design