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Big Interview: Find Out The Skills MBAs Will Need In The Future

If you don't learn how to work alongside machines, you'll be left behind, says futurist Alexandra Levit

Thu Aug 15 2019

BusinessBecause
The BusinessBecause Big Interview series showcases the thoughts and lives of some of the world’s leading business figures


Not everyone will be taken into the future. This was the title of an art exhibition late last year at the Tate Modern in London, UK, and is a warning that could be equally issued to the business world. 

Workplace expert and futurist, Alexandra Levit, says that to succeed, businesses and business leaders must remain relevant in the face of technological advances.

Chicago-based Alexandra helps organizations and their employees prepare to be competitive and marketable in the future business world.

Skills and attitudes to learning need to change, she says, and MBA students will be affected more than most as the business world is being revolutionized by technology.

“I’m not worried about human unemployment, but I am concerned that some people will not be able to adjust to what’s rather a new form of employment. 

“Most people will have access to work, but those who are unwilling to learn the skills necessary to work alongside machines will be left behind.”



In a Harvard Business Review article written by H. James Wilson and Paul R. Daugherty of Accenture—co-authors of Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI—they lay out why companies should combine humans and machines. 

They state that of the many companies who have used AI to automate processes, those who do it to displace employees will only see short-term productivity gains. 

Of the 1,500 companies they researched, they discovered that the most significant improvements to performance occurred when humans and machines worked together.

Where AI offers speed, scalability, and significant quantitative capabilities, humans bring value in the form of leadership, teamwork, creativity, and social skills, they argue. 


The most important skills that millennial and Generation Z MBAs will therefore need to take into the future are interpersonal sensitivity and interpersonal communication, says Alexandra. She believes that empathy is what will ultimately set humans apart from machines.

“Being able to make other people want to work with you […] that’s what will cause machines to have a limited role. People only want to work with machines so much, as we are social creatures by nature."

Creativity and innovation are also vital skills employees of the future will need, regardless of your role. Alexandra is often told only artists need to be creative—not true, she says.

Which is why MBAs will be affected. Like the interpersonal skills and learning agility that are mandatory in the business world, she says, creativity must be added to that list. 

So too, learning agility, trying new opportunities in your current employment, taking on volunteer opportunities, and developing cross-functional expertise: all are traits of a successful MBA who will be taken into the future.

“Command and control no longer works. You need to be far more transformational, receptive to new ideas and different approaches, and not get stuck on doing things the way they’ve always been done," she says.

So being at ease with ambiguity, uncertainty, and change are absolute necessities for 21st century leaders.

While the C-Suite may have a proclivity towards automation, Alexandra says that leaving humans out of the loop will lead to reputational and bottom line damage.

Her favourite example is 2017’s United Airlines debacle, where a man was forcibly removed from an oversubscribed flight in order to accommodate cabin staff who had been covering another, understaffed flight.

“They did that because the algorithm told them that these flight attendants had to get to their destination or else,” Alexandra explains. “People just blindly obeyed the algorithm.

“Blindly trusting machines, that’s dangerous. We’re going to have a lot more of these scenarios popping up, and this is what we need to be prepared for.”


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Despite the need for these skills, in a 2018 study by Deloitte both millennials and those from Generation Z highlighted interpersonal skills alongside innovation and creativity as critical gaps in their development. 

“Look at what you need to learn and what’s the best way to learn it,” Alexandra advises. That could be an MBA with a keen focus on creativity and soft skill development. 

The Friday Forum on The Lisbon MBA pushes students out of their comfort zone. In groups they take to the stage to experiment with acting and leading within theatre—previous years have put on Shakespeare performances for their peers. 

On the Copenhagen Business School MBA, students undertake a top-secret trip into the Swedish wilderness, to test their collaboration and leadership abilities. 

At the University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business, students on the MBA travel to the THNK School of Creative Leadership, in Amsterdam, for a module on design thinking, innovation strategy, and entrepreneurship. 

Students could study online microcredentials, online degrees, tap into the world of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), or simply read.


The importance of learning from failure

Alexandra has developed a successful career in predicting future work trends and says the seeds were sown early. She grew up just outside of Washington, DC, and developed a love of science fiction. She toured the World Future Society (WFS) with her father when she was 12, and was left entranced. 

“I knew I wanted to be involved in it in some capacity,” she recalls. 

Whatever their career paths, Alexandra advises MBAs to learn from their mistakes—something which has had a big influence on her own career as well.

Alexandra admits she “failed miserably” in her first few jobs in PR. It took three years for her first promotion. She remembers her bosses taking pity on her and sending her on a professional development course. “That’s the kiss of death when you’re 24,” she says. 

The course taught her everything she needed to succeed in business: diplomacy, problem solving, cooperation, and encouraging people to like you.

While she was making her early mistakes in the business world, she also tried to be a fiction writer, which she came very close to achieving.

“If there’s a clear sign you’re terrible at something I think it’s easier to move on,” she explains, “but when you get a lot of positive feedback and it doesn’t happen, the inconsistency is distressing psychologically.”

From that failure though, came her first non-fiction book—They Don’t Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something’s Guide to the Business World—and everything fell into place.

“The first book is almost single-handedly responsible for where I am today. The biggest influences were my early career failures that led me to want to write non-fiction.”

Alexandra has since published in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and last year published her latest book, Humanity Works, which focuses on what leaders and companies need to do to reach their potential and work with machines efficiently and effectively.

Student Reviews

Copenhagen Business School (CBS)

Student

Verified

29/09/2019

CBS: efficient international network

CBS has always been ranked among the best universities in Europe and this means that it has become a sign of professionalism and success. The academic level is great thanks to the good teachers and the atmosphere is proactive and challenging. Lots of events are planned every week and this helps you to find your own way. CBS is not only a business school, it is a great and efficient international network.

Stella

Verified

24/04/2019

Good academic career

I did my Bachelors at CBS and their academic excellence and career opportunities led me to pursue my Masters in Accounting, Strategy and Control. I was very lucky to go on an exchange in Singapore for one semester it boosted me to get a career in a global firm. I like that it is super modern and has all the facilities for the business student in 2019. Especially, I liked the library and Bitlab where I spent most of my time studying. However, note that it is very demanding and studying here is no joke. Everything is very competitive and you are among the most excellent business students in the country. The interaction with international students helped me to see different perspectives in business and culturally and I was lucky to make friends from any part of the world. CBS is like a brand in Denmark. Every serious business company prioritizes us over any other Danish university and also it is free for European citizens. Overall, I have a very satisfying experience at CBS and I'm looking to continue my academical career even further.

Student

Verified

13/04/2019

CBS is one of the best!

All I have to say regarding my experience at CBS is that it is AMAZING. Having been tutored by world-class academic staff, I can definitely support that I am receiving the best of quality regarding my studies in Digital Marketing. Staff is very friendly and easy to approach. In addition, the facilities we enjoy are top class and meet any demands. Keep in mind that, EU citizens do not pay any fees. Student life might be non-existent here, but the location of the University in The very center of Copenhagen has a huge variety of choices to offer to students regarding their entertainment. Accommodation might be a problem, but early research of the market can be very useful. In addition, the University promotes diversity. In CBS University you can meet people from the whole world which is quite interesting. I definitely suggest CBS for any student who he's interested in pursuing a career in marketing or business.

Stefani

Verified

12/04/2019

The ideal business school

I have been enrolled in this university for 2 semesters. What I took from this experience is that there is nothing better out there for those looking for professional growth while being guided by some of the top-notch professors in Scandinavia. They have a really strong focus in technology and digital transformation and they are up to date to guarantee you land a job in the modern fast-evolving world. They also embrace diversity which means many students come from any part of the world and it takes the entire learning experience to another level. You simply learn from every other student cause everyone has different experiences and background which makes you open your mind and see the world from a different angle. In Denmark, even businesses prioritize people who graduate from CBS as it's commonly perceived as the most prestigious university for business graduates.

José Pedro

Verified

22/09/2019

A Place of Personal Growth

In CBS you can expect an environment of proactive thinking and growth. The university staff is always open to help and to debate. The teaching methods balance theoretical knowledge and practical skills enabling the student with capacity and confidence to enter the job market successfully. The existence of students from all over the world stimulates discussion and promotion of different cultures, ideas and perspectives. I highly recommend this university for students in business-related areas.

Cathy

Verified

5/02/2019

Environment

The environment here is really great. Despite the well organized buildings and libraries, there are also places for students to just stay and relax also even study in the corners of each campus. The professors are mostly really nice and try to interact with students a lot. So, to sum up, the environment is really nice for studying here.

Philip

Verified

15/04/2018

Quality education

Quality education where it emphazises the importance of academic. No finger to put on this aspect of the school. However, sometimes the administration and IT can be lacking a bit, but in general a really good choice for education!

Student

Verified

27/09/2017

Best Time!

Classes are challenging and conducted in a professional manner. CBS offers a wide range of possibilities to develop outside of the classes! Libraries and other facilities on the campus are very well adjusted to the student needs.

Student

Verified

22/09/2017

A heavily theory-based curriculum combined with an ever-stimulating environment

I am currently a Master student at CBS, but I have also completed a Bachelor's Degree in this university. I am quite satisfied with my studies and the teaching level. However, when compared to other business schools, it becomes apparent that most courses at CBS strive to find a good balance between theoretical insight and real-life examples. Compared to my exchange university, the projects that I have found myself writing at CBS have a far less practical application and also leave little room for creativity. If the teaching is heavily theoretical, on the bright side, the university arranges a number of events throughout the year to encourage students to apply their knowledge, in the form of career fairs, case competitions, and other events organized by student associations. In my experience, teachers are very easily approachable and happy to answer your questions. A foreign student like me will find a more international environment at Master level, since the number of international (or at least non-Scandinavian) students enrolled in the Bachelor programs is quite low. However, all communication (both oral and written) from teachers and the university offices is always in English. Administrative offices, student guidance services, the career center, and the international office are definitely worth a mention. All of the requests that I have had throughout the years have always been met with kindness, promptness and efficiency.

Student

Verified

29/09/2019

CBS: efficient international network

CBS has always been ranked among the best universities in Europe and this means that it has become a sign of professionalism and success. The academic level is great thanks to the good teachers and the atmosphere is proactive and challenging. Lots of events are planned every week and this helps you to find your own way. CBS is not only a business school, it is a great and efficient international network.

Stella

Verified

24/04/2019

Good academic career

I did my Bachelors at CBS and their academic excellence and career opportunities led me to pursue my Masters in Accounting, Strategy and Control. I was very lucky to go on an exchange in Singapore for one semester it boosted me to get a career in a global firm. I like that it is super modern and has all the facilities for the business student in 2019. Especially, I liked the library and Bitlab where I spent most of my time studying. However, note that it is very demanding and studying here is no joke. Everything is very competitive and you are among the most excellent business students in the country. The interaction with international students helped me to see different perspectives in business and culturally and I was lucky to make friends from any part of the world. CBS is like a brand in Denmark. Every serious business company prioritizes us over any other Danish university and also it is free for European citizens. Overall, I have a very satisfying experience at CBS and I'm looking to continue my academical career even further.

Student

Verified

13/04/2019

CBS is one of the best!

All I have to say regarding my experience at CBS is that it is AMAZING. Having been tutored by world-class academic staff, I can definitely support that I am receiving the best of quality regarding my studies in Digital Marketing. Staff is very friendly and easy to approach. In addition, the facilities we enjoy are top class and meet any demands. Keep in mind that, EU citizens do not pay any fees. Student life might be non-existent here, but the location of the University in The very center of Copenhagen has a huge variety of choices to offer to students regarding their entertainment. Accommodation might be a problem, but early research of the market can be very useful. In addition, the University promotes diversity. In CBS University you can meet people from the whole world which is quite interesting. I definitely suggest CBS for any student who he's interested in pursuing a career in marketing or business.

Stefani

Verified

12/04/2019

The ideal business school

I have been enrolled in this university for 2 semesters. What I took from this experience is that there is nothing better out there for those looking for professional growth while being guided by some of the top-notch professors in Scandinavia. They have a really strong focus in technology and digital transformation and they are up to date to guarantee you land a job in the modern fast-evolving world. They also embrace diversity which means many students come from any part of the world and it takes the entire learning experience to another level. You simply learn from every other student cause everyone has different experiences and background which makes you open your mind and see the world from a different angle. In Denmark, even businesses prioritize people who graduate from CBS as it's commonly perceived as the most prestigious university for business graduates.

José Pedro

Verified

22/09/2019

A Place of Personal Growth

In CBS you can expect an environment of proactive thinking and growth. The university staff is always open to help and to debate. The teaching methods balance theoretical knowledge and practical skills enabling the student with capacity and confidence to enter the job market successfully. The existence of students from all over the world stimulates discussion and promotion of different cultures, ideas and perspectives. I highly recommend this university for students in business-related areas.

Cathy

Verified

5/02/2019

Environment

The environment here is really great. Despite the well organized buildings and libraries, there are also places for students to just stay and relax also even study in the corners of each campus. The professors are mostly really nice and try to interact with students a lot. So, to sum up, the environment is really nice for studying here.

Philip

Verified

15/04/2018

Quality education

Quality education where it emphazises the importance of academic. No finger to put on this aspect of the school. However, sometimes the administration and IT can be lacking a bit, but in general a really good choice for education!

Student

Verified

27/09/2017

Best Time!

Classes are challenging and conducted in a professional manner. CBS offers a wide range of possibilities to develop outside of the classes! Libraries and other facilities on the campus are very well adjusted to the student needs.

Student

Verified

22/09/2017

A heavily theory-based curriculum combined with an ever-stimulating environment

I am currently a Master student at CBS, but I have also completed a Bachelor's Degree in this university. I am quite satisfied with my studies and the teaching level. However, when compared to other business schools, it becomes apparent that most courses at CBS strive to find a good balance between theoretical insight and real-life examples. Compared to my exchange university, the projects that I have found myself writing at CBS have a far less practical application and also leave little room for creativity. If the teaching is heavily theoretical, on the bright side, the university arranges a number of events throughout the year to encourage students to apply their knowledge, in the form of career fairs, case competitions, and other events organized by student associations. In my experience, teachers are very easily approachable and happy to answer your questions. A foreign student like me will find a more international environment at Master level, since the number of international (or at least non-Scandinavian) students enrolled in the Bachelor programs is quite low. However, all communication (both oral and written) from teachers and the university offices is always in English. Administrative offices, student guidance services, the career center, and the international office are definitely worth a mention. All of the requests that I have had throughout the years have always been met with kindness, promptness and efficiency.

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