Prof. Dr. Werner G. Faix explains why education is particularly important in times of globalization, and outlines his views on the mutual relationship between digital technology development and globalization.
Professor Faix, you came to Steinbeis in 1995 from a management position in human resources at an international company. Since then, factors such as globalization and internationality have dictated not only the focus of your Steinbeis Enterprise but also the services it provides. Which developments in these areas do you consider the biggest challenges for you and your transfer enterprises?
Globalization is resulting in certain changes in the world in that it’s becoming a smaller place, more networked – events on the other side of the world really do have an impact on us; the famous flapping of a butterfly’s wings in China has an influence on our weather here. This butterfly effect can create a storm, but the winds it sets in motion can also drive away storm clouds. Sticking with this image of winds of change, I’d like to quote Confucius: “When the wind of change blows, some build walls while others build windmills.” We shouldn’t see globalization as a threat that we need to protect ourselves from. We should actually see globalization as an opportunity for us to grasp. Change creates uncertainty, especially if it’s radical like the sweeping change caused by globalization, and this creates fear because it puts a question mark over what existed until now. Sometimes these were things we loved and cherished. These are feelings that are not just sensed by individuals, but also by organizations and companies, and even entire societies sometimes feel this way when faced by globalization. These feelings are understandable, but it’s also clear that in themselves they’re not exactly a solution. The only thing that really helps us in such a situation is the ability to – the volition to – actively shape change. In my opinion, one of the best ways to do this is to come up with innovations, so to a certain extent, you meet change with change. That’s because yesterday’s solutions are rarely suitable, if at all, to solve pressing issues and problems of today – let alone tomorrow. But how can we get individuals, organizations, and entire societies to develop this ability and volition to see globalization and sweeping change in the world as an opportunity? My answer to that is: education, education, education! That being said, education must not be reduced to knowledge acquisition through reading or by attending lectures. Just so we’re clear about this: Naturally, knowledge also lays the foundation for education, but over and above that it requires an education that moves people – deep down inside, in terms of personality – not just for these times of change, but actually because we’re in times of change. That’s because we need people who, for example, know what globalization actually is. It takes people who have the ability and the volition to positively shape globalization. This has always been the challenge taken on by the School of International Business and Entrepreneurship (SIBE) – offering an education that puts people in a position to be innovative, to turn knowledge into a value-adding reality.
Skills training is now central to your work. Is there such a thing as a required globalization competence, and if there is, how can companies train people to have this and promote it? Alternatively, if it doesn’t exist, why not?
For me, competence is the ability to act with a specific objective in mind in the face of the unknown – so for me it’s intrinsically linked to action. This is why all of the degree programs at SIBE are strictly based on the principle of project skills; that is, every degree at SIBE revolves around a specific project at a company or organization and it gets students doing things that mean they have to translate their knowledge into a reality. It’s only when this active transfer of knowledge into practice takes place that knowledge becomes a skill – a competence. To develop competences, the right things have to be in place for people not just to passively take on knowledge but instead to actively apply that knowledge in order to solve a problem. In other words, to develop a competence, you need both things in place: a solid foundation of knowledge but also the possibility to translate this acquired knowledge into action. As far as globalization competence is concerned, I believe that people can actually be trained to do this by showing them how to prepare themselves with the necessary knowledge and by giving them ways to translate knowledge into action as part of a project – based on this knowledge, and using this knowledge, they can then actually shape something. A key factor in developing globalization competence is that the topic of the project has something to do with globalization, for example a project on the internationalization of business operations, purchasing or selling, or the like. In the same way that you acquire the ability to ride a bike by actually riding a bike, you develop globalization competence by being actively involved in the issue of globalization or by actually doing something. SIBE has already worked successfully with a number of companies in this area, for example with Lidl, who was looking to expand its business operations in Eastern Europe. As for whether there is a specific thing called globalization competence, I don’t think there is. I believe such a competence is a mixture of things, transcending other competences like a willingness to learn, an openness to change, the ability to come up with ideas, the ability to get things done, adaptability, flexibility, and more.
Do you thing digital development – or digitalization – accelerates globalization? And if you do, what opportunities does this create?
As I said before, globalization means that the world’s becoming a smaller place, it’s pulling together and becoming more networked. Digitalization accelerates and facilitates this pulling together and networking. Globally integrated companies would be inconceivable without the widespread introduction of computers, the Internet, email, instant messaging, and ERP systems. International work sharing takes on a whole new meaning with digital solutions. I see a major opportunity that comes hand in hand with digitalization, because we can delegate increasingly complicated tasks to technology and algorithms. One major threat I see lies in blindly believing in technology; this results in delegating all complex problems to technology and algorithms.
Your work at the university means that you’re closely involved in management education. What particular challenges do managers have to face with respect to internationality – today and tomorrow – and where do you think the emphasis should be placed in education?
The conditions in which people have to manage have changed dramatically since the beginning of the 20th century. The new normal is that change is more the rule than the exception. Managers surveyed as part of IBM’s global CEO studies keep saying that the world overall and business in particular have become alarmingly fast-moving, and more so – more uncertain, more complex, and different in structural terms. Exaggerating to make a point, for many managers this means there’s not a single day they can go to work and know what will happen that day. The reasons for this are things like the megatrends of globalization and digitalization I mentioned before. Also, managers face new attitudes from co-workers when it comes to expectations, and these are expressed quite openly, especially when it comes to younger people in business. People want to be more closely involved, they ask to do work that they enjoy and has meaning. The perceived acceleration in life overall – and as part of this the acceleration in business – places greater pressure on managers to make decisions. And finally, if it hasn’t happened already, since the year of crisis in 2008, managers are also finding themselves more and more the subject of media attention. Given all these things, to lead competently managers need the ability to involve others, to empower them, to network them. Also, more than ever in the past they need to see themselves from a creative standpoint. The future of a company depends on people being able to recognize their own abilities and the potential to get things done, people who unleash this potential and apply it effectively, as part of entrepreneurial undertaking. So for developments in business to leap ahead, managers are needed who are able to pinpoint solutions creatively and independently and implement them. To put this another way: for the challenges of today, tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, managers are needed who have – or are – a “creative personality.”
Prof. Dr. Werner G. Faix is the founder and Managing Director of the School of International Business and Entrepreneurship (SIBE) at Steinbeis University Berlin. SIBE stands for successful knowledge transfer and systematic skills development between science and academia on the one hand, and trade and industry on the other. Its focus lies in companies, organizations, and public administration, as well as competent and entrepreneurial “global thinkers and doers” with high potential.
Professor Dr. Werner G. Faix
School of International Business and Entrepreneurship (SIBE) der Steinbeis-
Hochschule Berlin (SHB) (Herrenberg)