The current economic crisis has created unprecedented challenges to society at large. Economic historians resort to the accounts of more than seven decades ago to find a reference point for comparison. Indeed the scope, the depth, and the speed of the crisis have shaken the roots of the basic set of assumptions upon which institutions have been operating on for many years.
Thus, we are facing times of profound change. Business schools can provide two typical forms of response to the current turbulence. The first is to resort to the kind of analytical competence for which they have been deservedly praised. They can provide answers to the why and how this crisis took place. By studying the mistakes, identifying the decision points, analysing institutional dependence and disseminating such interpretations, business schools would be serving their basic academic mission. In this manner, knowledge will be advanced and society as a whole will be better prepared for the future by drawing on the learning to provide us with better foundations in the years to come. Institutions will be transformed accordingly and the world will become more complex but, at the same time, wiser. New or transformed institutions, better rules and regulations, new roles or organizations and better relations between different stakeholders will be the end result.
The second type of response is to focus on their role as educational institutions that will not remain the same following the crisis. Indeed, explicitly or not, at different times and through different stakeholders, society will be legitimately asking what role business schools have played in the latest events and, more importantly, what lessons have been learned by the most influential institutions in terms of educating our future leaders. Very legitimately, society will assess whether business schools are taking decisive action to prevent the dominance of the values that have fuelled the decisions that have threatened the growth and welfare of the global economy. In that respect, business schools can respond by stressing their developmental role. Our present and future wellbeing does not only rest on institutional and regulatory changes but also on professionals with solid foundations and values
Both responses will soon be noticed in business schools. There might be some debate on what prevalence should be given to each of them but sooner or later and in different degrees they will become more visible. Business schools will most probably underscore either the analytical dimension that encompasses both and that will have more long-term relevance. This dimension goes beyond accepting the goal of advancing knowledge or developing better managers with more solid values. It goes as far as revisiting the foundational goals of institutions such as business schools. There may be simple ones but they go beyond the communities of academics and students or customers and are explicitly linked to the betterment of society at large. Indeed, business schools are institutions that can not remain simply functional or responsive to crises. Both are important goals and they have to be addressed; nevertheless business schools must also have a transformational role. For better or for worse, the recent crisis has reminded us of the extent to which society depends on the role of business education. Therefore it is the responsibility of institutions devoted to that noble activity to help promote their role in society; to help frame debates and to accept their responsibility as central stakeholders. Knowledge advancement and individual development are legitimate goals but the privileged position business schools enjoy, their unique locus at the intersection of knowledge and action, places a larger responsibility on them that goes beyond doing their business right.
In the short run, business schools will have to search their DNA for the reasons to be present in the world of education. They have to accept their influential impact and consequent responsibility. The qualities that will thus be required from such institutions and their programmes will encompass the courage to transform; imagination to create new and better frameworks; a deep sense of commitment and service and the ability to partner with different stakeholders. Call this combination a drive towards innovation but, if so, that should be a driven kind of innovation, an innovation that wants to have a positive impact on society. This responsibility has to be accepted as a part of a business school's mission.