Sunday, May 31, 2015

Five Reasons Tai Chi Should be Taught in Top Business Schools

                                               ....for a generation of future-proof executives....

This post draws on my 10+ year experience as an innovation professional and Tai Chi [1] instructor to explain why business schools around the globe should seriously consider the inclusion of Tai Chi in their curricula as an invaluable tool for facing some of the major strategic challenges of the decades to come.

We are living in a time in which the combined effect of a number of technical, political, environmental and socioeconomic trends are exerting significant changes to life as we have known it so far. Some prominent long term effects of such trends are briefly summarized below: 
  • The pace of change has moved from linear to exponential and this has radical consequences. To exemplify, the average lifespan of a company listed in the S&P 500 index of leading US companies has decreased by more than 50 years in the last century, from 67 years in the 1920s to just 15 years today [2].
  • The world is experiencing higher levels of interconnection and interdependence. This is true at international level - due to the globalization of economic processes - but also at a local scale where more and more companies blur their organizational boundaries to tap into collective intelligence through open innovation practices.
  • The reduction in communication and transaction costs brought by a wide diffusion of information and communication technologies coupled with a need for more flexible and agile organizations is generating an increase of network structures. Such shift requires interactions to be based on a connection and collaboration paradigm rather than the command and control logic typical of hierarchies [3].
  • The aging of population and workforce is putting a significant pressure on welfare systems, and at the same time is reducing the ability of organizations and society at large to adapt to frequent, significant and abrupt changes.  
  • The notion of performance is moving from purely financial metrics to include social and environmental ones, gradually evolving towards a triple bottom line framework [4]. A complex challenge requiring leaders to widen their mind-set and embrace the notion of circular economy.
In such scenario, business schools should carefully ponder how to revisit their curricula in order to offer tools and skills necessary for the creation of a new breed of executives capable of understanding, managing and successfully overcoming the challenges posed by modern times. At the same time, the increasing rates of obsolescence make it hard to identify the proper knowledge to offer and the risk of irrelevance is very concrete. For this very reason, it is paramount to go at the roots of wisdom to guarantee enduring usefulness.

Going back to the title of this post, what role may Tai Chi play in the situation depicted above? And, above all, what value may it offer to present and future generations of executives to address the above-mentioned challenges? Below I attempted to articulate a compelling, yet non-exhaustive, answer in five brief points:
  1. Tai Chi is based on a number of simple yet very profound philosophical principles (e.g.: yin/yang, wu wei, eight directions, five elements) that go back to the essence of life and survived the test of time. A theoretical - yet practical - framework that promotes a circular approach to life and allows to gain an enhanced clarity of vision in the assessment of key long term aspects.
  2. Tai Chi promotes a systemic style of leadership based on roundness and gentleness (not to be mistaken for weakness), capable of letting go of control and engaging people across boundaries by appreciating similarities before acknowledging differences. In other words, by considering boundaries as points of contact rather than points of separation.
  3. Tai Chi is the art of flexibility and adaptation in the constant flow of change life is made of. But flexibility is a property that emerges from a regular training of both mind and body (as a stiff body results in a rigid mind-set and vice versa). Thus a mere theoretical study of resilience and change management is not enough to deeply modify a person’s attitude and to counterbalance the gradual rigidity that comes with age.  
  4. Tai Chi is also known as the boxing of supreme polarity as it is about finding a dynamic balance between opposite yet complementary aspects. Therefore, its practice allows to move out of a mono-directional view of the world (i.e., more is always better) thus embracing the notion of decreasing marginal returns. In other words, it increases the ability to balance a plurality of personal and organizational constraints (e.g., self-assertion and integration, strategy and operations, social impact and profit) contributing to generate open, ambidextrous, socially responsible and sustainable business ventures.
  5. Tai Chi helps focusing on the positive aspects of life and on the causes of problems rather than on the effects (as we often complain about effects but we nurture causes) thus contributing to significantly increase people’s wellbeing and effectiveness.
The above arguments are just a small appetizer of the depth and wealth that the practice of Tai Chi may offer. Nevertheless I do hope they are compelling enough to entice the reader into further exploring the social and individual benefits that can be drawn from a wider diffusion of such discipline. To conclude, Tai Chi may be considered an activity generating significant economies of scope at both professional and personal level, therefore it represents an effective way for executives to allocate their precious time (being it a scarce and non-renewable resource). 

Enrico Ferro


REFERENCES:
[1] Tai Chi definition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tai_chi
[2] Foster R. & Kaplan S. “Creative Distruction: Why Companies That Are Built to Last Underperform the Market--And How to Successfully Transform Them” Doubleday, N.Y., USA, 2001.
[3] Friedman T., “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-fist Century” , Picador USA ,2005
[4] Savitz, A.W. and Weber, K., “The Triple Bottom Line: How Today's Best-Run Companies Are Achieving Economic, Social and Environmental Success—and How You Can Too”, Jossey-Bass, 2006

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