Ed Lee of the Barkley Forum leads UBSLC students in group discussions on innovation

Attendees of this year’s Undergraduate Business School Leadership Conference explored the concept of innovation during networking opportunities, team building activities and thought-provoking talks with Goizueta professors.

UBSLC is a student-run international conference held annually at Goizueta. The conference, which took place Feb. 15-16 this year, provides a forum for top undergraduate business students to meet with leading business executives, cultivate meaningful connections and unify under a common theme designed to help them become more effective leaders and professionals.

Attendees also heard from Tapestry, Inc., CEO Victor Luis during a fireside chat.

Innovation in society 

On Thursday, Wesley Longhofer, assistant professor of organization and management at Goizueta, spoke to UBSLC students on how innovation can address society’s biggest problems — and how business schools fit into the equation.

“What’s missing from business today?” Longhofer asked the students.

“A triple bottom line,” “civility,” “a sense of community in the workplace,” “humanity,” were some of the responses.

Longhofer then asked the students to consider the purpose of a business school. “The business school is the context in which our ideas generate, our ideas forge, and that context also shapes our ideas. If you want to ask how you innovate in a business school, you have to understand what a business school is. You have to understand that institutional context that I teach in and you’ll take classes in,” he said.

Part of that context, according to Longhofer, is understanding poverty and inequality in today’s society.

Longhofer offered key ideas on how business schools might address society’s biggest problems, starting with incorporating the impact businesses have on society in discussions and classes beyond special programs for social enterprise. Longhofer also questioned why business professionals don’t have free clinics, pro bono programs or codes of ethics like other professions. Finally, Longhofer spoke on the importance of finding blind spots and filling them in, pointing out the lack of venture capital given to African Americans, Latinos and women in comparison to other groups.

Longhofer advised students not to become discouraged if they join a company whose values don’t match their own: “You can take whatever issue you care about, and you can push a company from within to make sure that their values align with your values. It’s not that easy, but you can change the company.”

Innovation within institutions

“How do you make sure everything that you create [while in school] doesn’t die when you leave?” John Kim 05MBA, lecturer in organization and management at Goizueta, asked UBSLC students during a workshop on Friday.

Before joining the Goizueta faculty, Kim worked in consulting and strategy for more than 20 years, and continues to write a consulting blog.

With this unique combination of professional and academic experience, Kim was able to share valuable insight with UBSLC students as they prepare to graduate from business school and join the workforce.

When asked who among the group planned to go into professional services of some kind, all the students raised their hands. “The reason I bring that up is that your business is taking very complex, confusing, somewhat ambiguous ideas, structuring them into buckets, and then persuading people to take action,” Kim said. “We’re in the persuasion business.”

During the workshop, Kim focused on the frameworks of innovation: What are the obstacles and enablers of innovation within institutions? The students were asked to reflect on the question in the context of student-run clubs and organizations.

Kim concluded the workshop with words of advice for the students. Kim said, as young people, the students would not have a lot of “positional power” when entering the workforce, so focus instead on building “expertise power.”

“I’m a big fan of the expression, ‘strong opinions, loosely held,’” Kim said. “Stand your ground because you did the research and you’re confident in your competence. Do the work to prove you have a seat at the table—but don’t be a hard head either. Especially when the evidence shows that it’s probably worth you changing your opinion.”

Conversations about innovation

During an activity session with Ed Lee, senior director of the Alben W. Barkley Forum for Debate, Deliberation and Dialogue, UBSLC students discussed the following questions in small groups:

  1. Why do we need to innovate?
  2. What are the barriers to innovation?
  3. What are the ways in which educators could better prepare us to be innovators?

Lee provided scratch paper and markers to facilitate creative ideas and help students sketch out thoughts and ideas. “When we look at the paper afterwards, we will see the various ways in which we have come together to think about innovation,” Lee said.