Students To IBM: Think Local, Act Global
On the topic of globalization…last week, IBM released results of a first-of-a-kind survey that I’ve been wanting to blog about and share (but am just now getting the bandwidth to get around to).
The survey was part of the IBM 2010 Global CEO Study, but this particular component I want to tell you about was getting into the heads of university students around the globe.
Think about some of the key current topics: BP oil spill, increased focus and investment in green energy, challenges of a global workforce, physical infrastructure challenges in a time of increased budget deficits, and so on.
Then think about the university students’ reactions and results from the study: They are extremely concerned with issues around globalization and sustainability.
However, only four out of 10 believe that their education had prepared them to address these issues.
Creativity Is Key
It also revealed that both students and CEOs believe that creativity is the most important emerging competency of future leaders. It also revealed clear confidence about the ability of information technologies to address looming issues in business or society.
I’m certainly seeing that here while in Bangalore, the IT hub of India.
The study also revealed a decidedly optimistic new ethos, one based on an integrated view of globalization, sustainability, and belief in technology as a path towards solutions for both emerging and existing problems.
Almost 50 percent of students indicated that organizations should optimize their operations by globalizing, rather than localizing, to meet their strategic objectives.
Generation Gap, Data Driven
However, they also described a gap in this generation’s training to cope with issues that will arise in an increasingly interconnected and complex world – which is where their strong belief in IT as a gap bridger came into play.
Students surveyed indicated that they will lean more heavily on data analysis — over gut instinct or existing "best practices" — to reach their strategic and operational goals as business leaders in their own right.
And as fact-based decisions begin to prevail, they may need to pioneer an entirely new management style — one that continually enriches personal experience and education with new sources of insight based on a new ability deal with the explosion of real-time information.
The study also revealed broad-based confidence that increased access to information, analysis, and the resulting insight can reduce uncertainty about the future.
Clearly, the students’ experience regarding globalization is different.
Growing up more connected globally, students see the shocks and threats, but are more prone to view globalization as an opportunity to solve increasingly global problems.
They are strongly committed to a global view of shared responsibility for both environmental issues and societal prosperity.
Students, for the most part, shared their views, and even agreed on very specific courses of action: embodying creative leadership, reinventing customer relationships and building more dexterous operating models.
Nevertheless, for all the areas of agreement between students and CEOs, twice as many students selected globalization and environmental issues as one of the top three factors to impact organizations and expected major consequences to business and society from a scarcity of resources.
Bold positions like these came about because students clearly saw that globalization provides an opportunity for organizations to create new value.
Compared to all other regions, the views of students and CEOs on sustainability diverged most sharply in North America.
Students there were almost three times as likely as CEOs to expect scarcity of natural resources to have a significant impact. They were more than twice as likely to select environmental issues as a top external force.
And 60 percent more students than CEOs in this region anticipated that customer expectations for social responsibility will increase significantly.
The Digital Deluge
Given that today’s students grew up in a digital age, intuitively understanding that economies, societies, governments and organizations are made up of interconnecting networks, it may not be surprising that seven in 10 students experienced the new economic environment as significantly more complex today, compared to six in 10 CEOs.
But they saw far less volatility and uncertainty, in part because they were confident that access to more information could be put to better use, analyzed for patterns and predictive insights to solve the hardest problems in business or society.
Students who saw significantly more complexity, or interconnectedness in the environment, were 50 percent more likely to expect significant impact from the information explosion and 22 percent more likely to believe that a focus on analyzing information for insight would be key to organizations’ success in the future.
Views about the impact of the information explosion were fairly uniform across regions, except in China where students were 67 percent more likely to see a large impact than CEOs in China. Students in China were also far more likely to approach decision-making analytically, relying on facts more than instinct, or even experience.
Global Thinking, Local Views
Students’ attitudes toward globalization were reflected in their expectations of leadership as well.
Like CEOs, students selected creativity as the top emerging leadership quality for the successful enterprise of the future. But among the nine leadership traits CEOs and students were asked to select, students placed a higher emphasis on only two qualities -– global thinking and a focus on sustainability.
In China, 76 percent of students value global thinking as a top leadership quality, more than students anywhere else. Yet, only 38 percent of students in China believe their education has prepared them for global citizenship, which is lower than students in any other region.
Only 17 percent of students in Japan, less than any other region, believe their education has prepared them well to benefit from the growth of emerging markets.
Understanding these and other sharp differences emerging by geography is increasingly important as economies and societies become more closely linked.
Students will confront these differences as they increasingly become the future leaders of business and organizations.
It’s a set of results both heartening and yet eye-opening.
If you’d like to read the full results and learn more, visit the IBM Future Leaders site.