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The Decade Ahead Part 2: Insights into the future of work, leadership, and executive education

By David Deegan
“The pandemic proved that you don’t have to be in an office to be effective, and that people can be trusted to work outside of that environment. What are the other assumptions we make about the way we work and learn that we think are concrete absolutes, but might not be in the decade ahead?”


In Part 2 of our series on 'The Decade Ahead' we talked to David Deegan, Director of Practice Development at Cranfield Executive Development, about his insights into what the next decade might bring.


At Cranfield Executive Development, we talk about preparing individuals and organisations for the decade ahead. As Director of Practice Development, I look at every aspect of what we do and how we do it – not just in terms of quality assurance that we’re doing things well, but also at how we could be doing things better and pushing ourselves further forwards so we keep in line with, if not ahead of, our competitors.

In many ways, my role is already very future-focused, and the challenge for me in the coming years is the same as it’s always been – to determine the priorities we should focus on that will keep us ahead of our competitors.


Taking calculated risks

The world is changing so fast, it’s impossible to predict what things are going to be like in 12 months’ time, let alone in 10 years. What’s the thing that we can do differently now that will move us ahead of our competitors in the years to come? I don’t know, and even if I come up with ideas about what it might be, it’s always going to be a gamble. 

One thing we can do is look at the trends. What’s up for discussion? What’s not a certainty anymore? The pandemic proved to us that learning in a classroom is not a given anymore; people are prepared to learn online. At Cranfield, we’ve been saying for a long time that we do digital learning and blended learning, but the pandemic has brought that to a wider audience and proved to everyone that you don’t have to be in an office to be effective, and that people can be trusted to work outside of it. So, for me, ‘the decade ahead’ is: what are the other assumptions that we make about the way that we work and learn that we think are concrete absolutes, but might not be? 

One thing I do know is that we’ll move faster. The pandemic propelled everybody forwards, and it showed us that we can move a lot quicker. If something doesn’t work, we’ll fail fast too, learn from it, and move on to something else.


Tackling the big challenges 

What’s wonderful about working at Cranfield is that it feels like we’re at the forefront of everything that’s to come. We have experts in the environment, manufacturing, aerospace, defence and security, the supply chain – the list goes on. 

We have people working on ways to produce cheap, green hydrogen as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels and petrochemicals, and on how humans and robots will interact in the workplace. We’re interested in the electrification of flight, and where unmanned aerial vehicles can take our society. We are working with business and governments to secure our food supply in the face of climate change and political upheaval. 

The world is facing big issues and challenges, and at Cranfield we have people actively working on potential solutions. I feel like we have more to offer right now than we ever have done before, and that’s exciting.


Developing the leaders of tomorrow 

In the School of Management, our challenge is to help leaders and managers to make sense of everything, especially now when the traditional theories about how you manage or about how people behave when managed have all been thrown up in the air. How do you surface people’s values and motivation for being at work, and incorporate that into how you manage them? How do you deal with ambiguity in your business? How can you be resilient in the face of difficult and changing times?


The business school of the future 

Just as the pandemic challenged preconceived notions about how and where people work, it has inevitably also changed how they want to learn – and this heralds new challenges and opportunities for business schools in the way they offer executive education. 

The stereotypical image of a business school where you go to a campus for a long period of time, learn something face-to-face and then go back and apply it to your business has gone forever, and it’s left some established schools questioning their identity. We are seeing that people: 

  • Are now much more ready to question the value of learning, and will gravitate towards those organisations that are more practical and pragmatic;
  • Want choice, and flexibility – in what they learn and how they learn it;
  • Want digital capability, and yet still value face-to-face interaction;
  • Want to choose the content that works for them and learn it at their own pace. 

Fortunately, at Cranfield, we’ve always been incredibly client focused. We’re not about taking something down off a shelf and delivering it to different businesses; we want to get under the skin of each one of those organisations and create something that’s relevant to them and provides a solution that speaks to their unique context and needs. We also firmly believe in turning knowledge into action. Even on our longer programmes, we focus on how participants can immediately implement their learning back in the workplace.


The decade ahead

Where would I like to see Cranfield in 10 years’ time? I hope and believe the university will still be recognised, at the end of the decade ahead, as a thought leader that has been instrumental in helping leaders solve some of the really big world problems. 

I’d like to see us harness the potential in combining the expertise of our technical schools with our business and management education offering. I see the combination of amazing technical solutions and strong leadership that can implement those solutions as something phenomenally powerful that we’ve got to offer the world, and I’d like to see us deliver more joined up solutions to organisations. 

I don’t think that’s too ambitious.


To find out more about Cranfield Executive Development and how we help organisations, SME's and individuals visit The Decade Ahead   



David Deegan is Director of Practice Development at Cranfield Executive Development


Tags: executive development, article

Cranfield Executive Development


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