Professor Jerry Wind and David Heckman explain the importance of peer group learning experiences as part of the life-long learning even senior executives need.
Jerry Yoram Wind is the Lauder Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and David Heckman is Practice Leader, Senior Management Programs at Wharton Executive Education.
Professor Jerry (Yoram) Wind has published over 250 papers and articles and over 20 books. His current research focuses on the Network Challenge; reinventing advertising; creativity and innovation; and challenging one’s mental models.
David Heckman partners with Wharton faculty on the design, development, implementation and evaluation of the Wharton Fellows Program, the Advanced Management Program, (AMP) and other Senior Management Programs.
“One of the biggest challenges Jerry and I have is to get executives to keep-up and deal with change” says David Heckman, the Wharton Fellows Program Director. But as Marcus Thompson, Managing Director at HSBC Private Equity notes this is something they do well “The programs help participants get beneath the skin of those issues which you read about in the newspapers.”
The Wharton Fellows program has been running since 2000 and is aimed at senior executives who faced with the increased uncertainty in the world are aware that they need to expose themselves to the changes affecting their organisations from technology, globalisation, empowered consumers and other dynamically shifting factors. Of course many exec-ed programs try to do this, but where the Wharton Fellows differs from the usual model is that it is not a one-off program, but a network of diverse professionals that commit to this lifelong learning opportunity, and gain not just from the Master Classes the program delivers through the year and access to the Wharton faculty but also the peer network that the Fellows constitute themselves for each other.
Some exec-ed programs differentiate themselves by their content, some by the lead faculty, others by the program design and andragogy – to an extent Wharton Fellows does all this, but its real differentiator is the commitment of the participants, the Fellows, to engage with experiential lifelong learning. The connecting factor between Fellows is not just the desire for greater understanding of the complex systems that affect today’s business environment, but also the seniority and experience that members have acquired. Not anyone can join! The rule of thumb is that Fellows must be CEOs or within two levels of the CEO position, with the recommendation of their CEO, though this can be extended in large organisations where large responsibilities can be held at other positions.
If decision-making is a process of judgement and risk, then it is necessary to understand the systems and processes that affect change as comprehensively as possible to assess the risks of taking, or not taking, action. The challenge for senior executives faced with large strategic decisions is not just to synthesize the available information, but often to absorb and comprehend the key factors shaping tomorrow’s marketplace in the first place – hence David Heckman’s statement at the beginning of this piece.
The Wharton Fellows program has been designed to enable these executives to acquire, absorb and discuss the key information around a range of transformational business environment issues. “Many of the Fellows are very social learners,” Heckman continued “and we invest heavily in creating a peer-network and a community on-line platform that enable the Fellows to learn from one another.
Prof Jerry Wind, the Wharton Fellows Faculty Director and Lauder Professor of Marketing stresses that “the program provides Fellows time for reflection. The Master Classes are very experiential – with improvisation sessions in theatre, dance, or music , while the ‘on location’ ones involve company visits and thought-leader discussions. Our forthcoming session in India will include meditation and yoga sessions. But at the end of every day we clear time to reflect on the key learnings and to develop an action plan that they can take back to their workplace.”
“We draw heavily from the arts and sciences; business people are good at communicating the ‘what’ but not the ‘how’ – and this is where the arts can help. Since Steve Jobs introduced the idea of ‘design thinking’ business people have been increasingly trying to win new customers through design and cool customer experiences. These are areas that senior executives rarely get to discuss in an open, engaged and safe way with external experts – and something the Fellows program can offer.”
As Prof Wind explains in his 2006 book, co-authored with Colin Cook, The Power of Impossible Thinking, what you see in any situation depends in very large part upon what you bring to the table – and so it is critically important to expand ones horizons as widely as possible. “One of the founding principles of the Fellows program is to challenge participants existing mental models.”
The next Fellows Master Class runs in Philadelphia in October, ‘Innovative Growth Strategies’ focuses on best practices of fuelling organic growth that gratifies both customers and shareholders alike. It will include an "Innovation Tournament" to discover how the most successful innovative organizations filter the possibilities of their next big idea and how to generate enough word of mouth advertising to take it viral. This is followed in March 2013 by a Master Class in New Delhi and Gurgaon, India – where experiential visits to the fast growing technology companies of Gurgaon will be interspersed with exposure to the workings of the Indian government machine in Delhi – and where Indian Wharton Fellows will act as mentors to the 50 Master Class participants to help them formulate their strategy for the Indian market. This experiential approach to learning brings together the visual and ambient awareness of participants that enables quick and deep learning, in a way that traditional verbal/logical methods fail to achieve in similar time periods. The post-activity reflections and expertly facilitated discussions are the acknowledged ‘best practice’ for then embedding the understanding. It is likely that such models for executive learning will become much more prevalent in coming years.
Learn more at the Wharton Fellows website.
- The Innovative Growth Strategies Master Class run in Philadelphia, USA on October 14-17, 2012
- The India Dynamic: Market, Resource and Global Competitor master Class runs in New Delhi, India on March 3-6, 2013
View the Wharton Executive Education profile on IEDP