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Executive Education

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Photo of a man smiling

Interview with Sameer Hasija

Sameer Hasija

Dean of Executive Education, Dean of the Asia Campus

As the nature of your business and value creation evolves, so too do the skills that you need to bring to the table as a leader. Both need to be in perfect alignment. If not, you and your organisation are at risk of becoming redundant. 

How to stay relevant in a future powered by evolving technologies?


Digitisation, automation, the unstoppable march of Generative AI: how hard it is for leaders and organisations to stay ahead of change in today’s environment?

AI is evolving at a pace that is enormously fast and that has to be top of mind for businesses and business leaders. First, you have to be cognizant of what innovation in AI means for your organisation in terms of value creation: how this will impact your ability to interact with clients, customers and partners; and how it may reshape your value proposition in the market. To unpack all of this, you need a strong, conceptual understanding of how these evolving technologies can empower your business to do things better—or to do completely new things. Then, there’s the question of skills; the imperative in front of leaders and decision-makers to ensure that their skills and competencies remain relevant and fit for purpose in a shifting environment. And these two things are absolutely intertwined. As the nature of your business and value creation evolves, so too do the skills that you need to bring to the table as a leader. Both need to be in perfect alignment. If not, you and your organisation are at risk of becoming redundant.

How can leaders and organisations hedge against this kind of risk?

To support this kind of leadership development, it is absolutely critical that you have a learning partner that is at the cutting edge of research. 

Technologies are so fast evolving that the thinking around value creation and leadership is also constantly evolving. Staying ahead of this kind of curve not only means learning and upskilling, but doing this continuously: creating a continuum of learning and upskilling that happens both inside and outside classrooms, workshops and amphitheatres. It’s about learning and learning how to learn. And to do this, it is critical you have a learning partner that brings evidence-based rigour to conversation on future needs and capabilities—you need a partner that is expert both in knowledge creation as well as knowledge dissemination. Knowledge creation is about constantly evolving in terms of your thinking. And I think this is what really sets business schools like INSEAD apart as learning partners for organisations. As researchers, our primary focus is on the future. In other words, we’re less concerned with delivering updates on the latest developments (which become obsolete fast in today’s context) than determining what might happen next; we are looking ahead for the different possibilities, outcomes, opportunities and risks. 

So you’re saying that a knowledge creation orientation is key to navigating the future?

I think of it like this: a newspaper article will tell you what has happened and why, whereas an INSEAD professor tells you what can happen, and why it can happen. 

There’s a difference between looking backwards and understanding the environment through the rearview mirror and looking ahead to make out the bends in the road. Research is about looking backward, but it’s also about assembling the mechanisms to understand what this might mean for the future. And at INSEAD, our pedagogy is very much built around research. When we work with executives and organisations to determine the outline of future skills, competencies and needs, we use the techniques of research. We look at the causal mechanisms that are at play in the challenges we face— we look at why what happens happens—to extrapolate into the future: to build the mindset, the cognitive capabilities and the agility to adapt to the changing realities of the future. 

The INSEAD experience is really about learning to learn. When you come into an INSEAD classroom, you are challenged to think about what learning actually means. You might start by looking at a business story or case, and then you are challenged to take the discussion to a more conceptual level: how can you extract a conceptual idea from this case or story and extrapolate it to a different context; what will that look like; where might it succeed or fail, and why? It’s about making that shift in thinking from the trees to the forest, and developing frameworks of understanding that can be applied to all kinds of scenarios or problems. In this sense, the INSEAD learning experience is a mirror of what we do as researchers. It mirrors the way that we create knowledge, and helps develop the learning muscle. 

And you do this with organisations as well as individuals? Develop a learning muscle?

I think it’s really critical to stress that with organisations, learning happens in partnership. So we don’t prescribe or go in with a catalogue of programmes; instead we collaborate on a deep analysis to determine needs, context and where a business is today versus where it wants to be tomorrow. We design deeply thoughtful content to meet the realities of the organisations we work with: the skills that an organisation needs—and the skills its people need in order to take control of their own continuous upskilling. 

In our custom programmes as well as our open programmes for individuals, we want learners to take charge of their own skills evolution—how they move up the skills ladder as they progress through their own skills paths. 

You mention “skills paths.” Is this something different to career paths?

I think skills and careers are mapped, actually. I don’t see a semantic shift from one to the other, I think it’s the same conversation. What happens is that that mapping can change with time as skills needs evolve. 

You’ve talked about learning to learn and the need for continuous upskilling. Beyond the classroom, how do you encourage the practice of learning?

Anyone coming into the fabric of INSEAD will interact with us in multi-modal touch points. So beyond the classroom, our learners are connected to us through our learning hub, our faculty webinars, masterclasses and our thought leadership platform, INSEAD Knowledge—we provide easy access to learning and to the latest thinking.

Lifelong learning is more prevalent today than it has been in the past but it’s still not as prevalent as it should be. And this isn’t down to a lack of desire I think so much as lack of bandwidth. So we try to make learning as easy and unburdensome as possible by offering multiple points of access and to keep people engaged and returning to the conversation. Because the need for learning—for lifelong learning—is only set to increase in the age of AI.

This conversation began around the changes driven by AI innovation. Do you see technology having more of a role to play in learning and education?

Education and learning are also constantly evolving. At INSEAD, we are constantly reviewing things like our suite of on-demand programmes that offer flexible access to more time-constricted learners. The real challenge here is to ensure that the learning impact matches the time invested and drives the self motivation because on-demand programmes are like going to the gym—you have to really commit to the experience. As we develop our suite of programmes, we have to ensure that what we offer remains rigorous, carefully thought out and uncompromised in terms of engagement and impact, so that means baby steps and constant evaluation.

At the same time, we’re experimenting and trialling new approaches, some of which deploy Generative AI technologies. We’re looking at new ways of using technology to enhance the role of faculty and build greater interaction. In one of our programmes, we use an AI bot to look at value chain analysis and it’s generating fascinating insights. 

But at the end of the day, it’s a fine line and one that is predicated on understanding AI as a tool to enhance impact—and never to replace critical or conceptual thinking. My view is that these are technologies that should be exclusively focused on removing some of the drudgery in the processes, in order to make learning more scalable and effective.