Business prof shares big ideas at Aspen Institute's Ideas Festival

Dr. Natalie Slawinski

Dr. Natalie Slawinski

July 23, 2014

A Memorial business professor has recently returned from the Aspen Institute’s annual Ideas Festival in Aspen, CO.

Dr. Natalie Slawinski, assistant professor of strategy at the Faculty of Business Administration, was invited to participate in a panel focused on business schools and ways in which they are educating today’s business leaders.

“The whole point of the session was to say, OK, businesses face large challenges such as climate change and resource scarcity in the 21st century. Are we educating our students to navigate these challenges?” she says. “My input was that we need to teach students how to think about and manage complexity.”

The Ideas Festival, which marked its 10th anniversary this year, is an annual event that brings together influential thinkers and leaders from around the world to discuss their ideas and learn about some of the most pressing issues facing society. It’s hosted by the Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC.

Dr. Slawinski was invited by the institute’s Business and Society Program to present her research on corporate short-termism during the New Voices Workshop in New York City, NY in March. From there, she was asked to participate in the Ideas Festival.

”Presenters at the Ideas Festival come from a wide variety of sectors: government, academia, business, media,” says Dr. Slawinski. “The purpose is to get together and share novel ideas on how to approach critical societal challenges.”

Dr. Slawinski shared her teaching techniques in a panel discussion called “Seeking Business Leaders for the 21st Century: A Conversation with Leading Business Faculty” on July 3. Other panelists included Judith Samuelson and Miguel Padro of the institute’s Business and Society Program, Prof. David Besanko of the Kellogg School of Management, Prof. Christopher Bruner of Washington and Lee Law School and Dr. Lynn Wooten of the University of Michigan.

Dr. Slawinski argues that some of the current teaching models used in business schools need to be updated to accommodate a rapidly changing business world.

“Students need to be taught approaches and models that allow them to think creatively about business problems,” she says.

She incorporates a technique called design thinking in her classrooms that encourages students to use both analytical and creative thinking “so they can understand more deeply what the problem is before jumping to a solution.”

Dr. Slawinski says participating in the Ideas Festival helped grow her network of professionals from whom she can draw inspiration and ideas for teaching and future research projects.

“It’s great to get into the world of ideas, and to talk to people from different sectors,” she says. “It feels like I can have an impact, beyond the usual academic channels of publishing and teaching.

“The world is changing at a faster pace than we realize. When you go to an event like this, you realize how many people are working on the big problems facing our society, such as income inequality and climate change, which gives you hope. At the end of the day, I would say that this event gave me hope that we can begin finding solutions to these problems.”

Susan White-MacPherson