Teaching purposeful business in UK business schools

Purpose and problem solving should be at the heart of business teaching, a new report by the British Academy finds

Julian Birkinshaw 1140x346

Business and management schools should put purpose and problem-solving at the heart of their teaching so that future business leaders take a key role in tackling societal challenges, a new report published on 7 November 2022 by the British Academy argues. The Teaching Purposeful Business in UK Business Schools report was co-authored by London Business School Vice Dean Professor Julian Birkinshaw and Colin Mayer CBE, Emeritus Professor at Saïd Business School in Oxford.

In the report, Professors Birkinshaw and Mayer consider how business schools can contribute to the debate about business policy and practice changes that might be required in response to the opportunities and challenges facing society in the coming decades. It is part of the British Academy’s four-year Future of the Corporation programme exploring the role of business in society; the report applies key ideas, research and evidence from this long-running research and policy programme to the theory and practice of business teaching.

Vice Dean Birkinshaw, who is also Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship and Academic Director of the Institute of Entrepreneurship and Private Capital, feels that:

“Today’s business leaders are confronting far-reaching challenges on multiple fronts, including climate change, war, inflation, digital disruption and the aftershocks of a global pandemic. Far from shying away from these challenges, young people – the business leaders of the future – aspire to play a role in solving them. Business schools can fuel those aspirations by equipping young people with the leadership tools, the confidence and ethos to enable business to solve the problems of people and planet.”

The report, therefore, recommends that:

  • Business and management schools put purpose and problem-solving at the heart of their teaching, from the curriculum, prevailing theories and core skills to teaching approaches and institutional arrangements
  • Courses should start from the question ‘what is the purpose of business?’ and use the Future of the Corporation Principles for Purposeful Business or similar frameworks as a basis for exploring the fundamentals of business practice
  • Each business school takes steps to define its purpose, and adjust its governance, measurement, performance and funding arrangements to create accountability for that purpose.

As part of efforts to move the ideas in the report forward, Professor Birkinshaw will be joining a newly established Purposeful Business Teaching Innovation Group, which will discuss and highlight best practice in teaching purposeful business. The Academy will help to catalyse this effort by hosting this Group’s inaugural set of meetings as part of its SHAPE Observatory.

“The report also highlights the growing importance of ethical business practice, equality, diversity and inclusion, all values that sit squarely with the ethos of LBS and its purpose to have a profound impact on the way the world does business and the way business impacts the world”, concludes Professor Birkinshaw.