Teaching business students a more holistic approach to management theory rather than focusing primarily on maximizing profits improves their critical thinking and lowers the likelihood of them being more materialistic and individualistic, according to a researcher in the Odette School of Business.
Using a ‘multi-stream’ approach to teaching which acknowledges that financial performance is important, but also accounts for the emotional, psychological, spiritual, ecological, and physical health of corporations, their employees, and other stakeholders has proven to lower scores on measures for materialism and individualism, said Kent Walker, an assistant professor in Odette’s strategy area.
“We found that within one class you could actually reduce materialism and individualism,” said Dr. Walker, who began his research while he was still working as a PhD student under the supervision of Bruno Dyck, a professor at the University of Manitoba.
The study, conducted in 2011, followed more than 230 students who were enrolled in a semester-long introductory management course. A control group, consisting of 123 students were taught a standard approach to management, while 108 students were taught a multi-stream approach.
That multi-stream approach included lessons about social entrepreneurship, and included case studies of people like professor Muhammad Yunus, whose research gave rise to the concept of micro-lending and helped launch the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, which gives loans to the impoverished without requiring collateral.
Students were surveyed using existing scales to measure for materialism and individualism at the beginning and end of the course. The results, which were published in an article in the journal Business and Society Review, showed that scores for both measures decreased for the majority of students.
A second study, which involved taking the same approach to teaching management theory but measured for critical thinking, demonstrated improvements in students’ ability to think more philosophically and consider a greater variety of perspectives. The results of that study were reported in an article published in the Journal of Education for Business.
The findings have significant policy implications for business schools, where concerns have been expressed about notable increases in individualism and materialism among students as they move through their programs, Walker said. But they also speak to the larger question of the real purpose of corporations, he added.
“Our biggest problems today don’t involve making more money,” Walker said. “We’re making more money than ever. Our biggest problems are climate change and social inequality, so if we can get students to be more aware of this and use their tremendous collective brain power towards solving what I feel are more important issues, then hopefully they can make a contribution to the community they’re a part of.”
Walker will appear today on Research Matters, a weekly talk show that showcases the work of University of Windsor researchers and airs every Thursday at 4:30 p.m. on CJAM 99.1 FM.