by Lucy Gill-Simmen and Laura Chamberlain
It is widely known that skills required by employers today are focused less on discipline specific skills and more on personal skills (also referred to as soft skills or human skills). For example, relatively recently, Tracy Brower in Forbes declared empathy to be the most important leadership skill. Other reports, such as those from the World Economic Forum and OECD, cite skills such as critical thinking, creativity, resilience, self-awareness and emotional intelligence among the top ten skills required in today’s workplace. In our changing world, with elevated awareness of issues such as climate change, sustainability, social justice and EDI, this tendency towards the personal skills should come as no surprise. This is because the skills required to address such issues are often human-centred. The gap between higher education and the workplace will only widen should we overlook our role as educators in developing these personal skills in students.
Drawing inspiration from the Dalai Lama who said ‘We are human beings not human doings’, educators need to find the right balance between the disciplinary content of a degree programme where students are ‘knowing and doing’ and the dimension of ‘being’. With a greater focus on ‘being’ which is linked to the development of personal skills, academics are required to embed areas of practice within their subject-specific classes to allow students to hone their skills. This is no easy feat since departure from a curriculum constituting the dissemination of knowledge and information causes consternation and demotivation amongst some academics who feel potentially deskilled. It isn’t far-fetched to imagine faculty declaring ‘we’re not here to teach them to be self-aware’.
There’s some merit in this way of thinking, since indeed we need to take care. Being human or at least openly demonstrating one’s human side in the workplace may come with its downsides too. There’s a viewed yet flawed tension between behaving in ways which show one’s human side and appearing unprofessional, particularly amongst women. The backlash against the Finnish Prime Minister, Sanna Marin who was recently filmed dancing with her friends suddenly brought her professionalism into question. Known for her empathic leadership, this act of having fun became something that went against her. This aligns with the thoughts of some academics who mull over whether sometimes having fun in the classroom just seems wrong.
However, if it is our role to effect change in human beings, we must look beyond disciplinary knowledge and indeed the mode of delivery of knowledge which Freire (1970) in Pedagogy of the Oppressed refers to as banking. We must ask ourselves how do we nurture student ‘being’? If we equate the development of personal skillswith being and becoming, we need to consider acts which shape and change the world. To do so we can consider the notion of praxis – action which embodies particular qualities.
Praxis is not a new phenomenon; Aristotle posited that praxis “was guided by a moral disposition to act truly and rightly; a concern to further human well-being and the good life”. If we adopt a praxis inquiry model, introducing context and ‘concrete structures’ into our management teaching as espoused by Freire (1972), we must equally consider how to foster the ‘being’ component of praxis. Traditionally, praxis pedagogies are found within disciplines such as nursing, teaching, and social work. We argue, however, that such pedagogies should not only be confined to the realms of human caring professions but should extend beyond and into other professions. Ironically, given the experience of Sanna Marin, even in politics we see the call for more empathic and emotionally aware leadership.
The discipline of business and management presents us with challenges. Given the sheer breadth of the discipline, we cannot always be sure of the contexts and influences that shape and provide sense-making in the world of work encountered by business and management graduates. This is also reflected in the dearth of signature pedagogies in business and management and the lack of definition when considering the ‘concrete structures’ we refer to earlier. Further challenges are presented in business and management, since how do we know what students will ‘be or become’ when they graduate? If a student studies dentistry, they are most likely to become a dentist, if a student studies law, there’s a good chance they’ll become a lawyer. However, graduates of business and management could become consultants, accountants, marketers or project managers to name but a few graduate destinations.
The knowledge that we need to provide to foster ‘being and becoming’ in business and management can appear rather elusive. Not only we, but other scholars too have asked the same question. For instance, Barnett (2009) asks: if a curriculum built on knowledge in higher education can be understood to be an educational vehicle to promote a student’s development, where are the links between knowledge and student ‘being and becoming’?
The meaning of praxis can be considered as ethical, self-aware, responsive, and accountable action and involving the reciprocal of knowing, doing and being (White, 2007). From our perspective, knowing and doing are taught and assessed through discipline-based teaching and learning activities but this raises the question of how we embed the ‘being’. How can we ensure that business and management students are equipped to ‘be’ competent practitioners?
Although normally firmly benched in human caring professions such as nursing and teaching, we argue that there is a place for praxis pedagogies in business and management. Subscribing to a Habermasian school of thought, praxis requires knowledge of how to be a particular kind of person. In business and management, the particular kind of person is particularly difficult to foresee. Thus, the contextual element is difficult. However, we propose that steps need to be taken in the direction of the ‘being’ element of praxis. One way to do so is by drawing upon creativity and creative pedagogies as a means to developing students’ ‘being-in-the-world’ and to honing the skills leading to creativity growth.
Passive teaching methods, such as rote-memorisation and large-format lectures still dominate academia, despite research calling for more appropriate ways of instruction. This is where current practices diverge from the common mission of developing twenty-first-century skills in students. If learning goals should match teaching and learning activities, it is important to place higher education faculty into the discussion of creativity (Robinson et al, 2018). This is due to the nature of creative pedagogy, which is where to find many components which align with twenty-first-century skills important to future workforce needs. These include critical thinking, problem solving and innovation.
Along with two other colleagues (Dr Artemis Panigyraki and Dr Jenny Lloyd) we recently facilitated a creativity workshop at Warwick Business School in association with the Academy of Marketing. Designed for PhD students and early career researchers, we showcased some examples of embedding creativity into the curriculum. The aim of the workshop was to introduce new academics to innovative ways of teaching and to demonstrate how, through the adoption of different creative pedagogies, students could potentially gain alternative perspectives and views of the world and discover an alternative way of ‘being’. So as not to deviate too far from the academic discipline, we embedded the learning tasks within the discipline of Marketing. In doing so, we demonstrated how one can bring creativity to the classroom whilst still meeting the subject-based learning outcomes.
In line with Daniel Pink’s (2006) work on developing the right side of the brain, or the creative side, the workshop was designed around four different creative areas: the arts, design thinking, play/imagination, and storytelling. For each theme, activities were designed to immerse participants in a creative activity and in so doing allowed them to experience ‘being’ in an alternative and/or imagined world. Examples of activities were to imagine the discipline of Marketing as a song, and to select such a song to add to a Spotify playlist. Some participants found this challenging, others knew immediately which song they would select, despite having never been asked to do this before. They were immediately required to ‘be’ in a different space. Participants were tasked with sketching a product concept for a doorknob using both user-centered design and design-driven innovation. This pushed many participants out of their comfort zone, some declaring they ‘didn’t know how to draw’. Other tasks involved writing captions for The New Yorker cartoons, a form of play which measures whole-minded abilities. Following this task, many participants declared it challenging, whilst a few declared it fun. Specifically, they said coming up with the required elements of a caption such as rhythm, brevity and surprise did not come naturally. Other tasks included building a free-standing tower out of dried spaghetti and writing a story capturing a plot with morals, characters, and conflict. Each task held values that allowed for different aspects of ‘being’.
The characteristics of creative pedagogies which marked the ‘being’ emerged over the course of the workshop. We observed ‘being’ as ‘thinking differently’, ‘being playful’, ‘struggling’, ‘being a child’, ‘being innovative’, promoting changes in behaviours manifesting as sparking the imagination, bringing out the competitive spirit and experiencing joy. Participants were experiencing ‘being’ within the experience of exploration of the unknown. The variety of activities throughout the workshop allowed participants to experience different ways of ‘being-in-the-world’ (Denmead, 2010). Through this process, participants saw themselves in a different way and in a way that signified a change in their receptivity.
Many participants found themselves reverting to being a younger version of themselves as they were asked to think about stories which they enjoyed as a child. This was expanded as they were asked to write a story; many noted they had not written a story since they were at school. They wrote stories of romance and demonstrated vivid imagination, which had perhaps long been hidden, thus they were ‘being’ in a space of former times, one where child-like imagination was revered. Spaces of struggle, of not knowing, uncertainty, open-endedness, frustration, of joy, and with a friendly, almost childlike competitive spirit were spaces beyond the norms of everyday behaviours and structures. The activities gave participants places in which to operate, to behave and to ‘be’. Participants were able to temporarily suspend ordinary conventions, the boundaries of structural obligation, functional pressures and engage in behaviours whose value was not immediately evident. They broke away from the normal constructed boundaries within which they are expected to exist and behave on a normal day and engaged in play. Many declared the activities as freeing and expressed their views of creativity as relating to freedom, noting they had a choice in how they executed the tasks and also in their outcome. Interestingly, there has been vast philosophical debate around freedom as constituting a significant part of ‘being’.
To develop the human skills sought after in the workplace, ‘being and becoming’ need to be central tenets of a higher education system. There is an inherent need for us to satisfy the third dimension of praxis, this is ‘being’. How do we do this? We do this through promoting different ways of ‘being- in-the-world’ and pushing the boundaries of the norms in higher education. Creativity and creative pedagogies are an effective way of doing this.
Dr Lucy Gill-Simmen is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing & Director of Education Strategy in the School of Business & Management, Royal Holloway, University of London. Follow Lucy via @lgsimmen on Twitter
Professor Laura Chamberlain is Professor of Marketing and Assistant Dean PGT at Warwick Business School, The University of Warwick. Follow Laura via @LMChamberlain on Twitter and @drlaurachamberlain on Instagram
Barnett, R (2009) ‘Knowing and becoming in the higher education curriculum’ Studies in Higher Education, 34(4): 429-440
Denmead, T (2011) ‘Being and becoming: Elements of pedagogies described by three East Anglian creative practitioners’ Thinking skills and Creativity, 6(1): 57-66
Freire, P (1970) Pedagogy of the oppressed Penguin Classics edition 2017
Freire, P (1972) Cultural action for freedom Ringwood: Penguin
Pink, DH (2006) A whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. Penguin
Robinson, D, Schaap, BM and Avoseh, M (2018) ‘Emerging themes in creative higher education pedagogy’ Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education
White, J (2007) ‘Knowing, doing and being in context: A praxis-oriented approach to child and youth care’ Child & Youth Care Forum 36(5): 225-244