Given the uncertainty and turbulence swirling around the U.S. and across the globe, I’m reminded on a daily basis of the essential value of higher education as a beacon of positivity and forward thinking. But our vital role as a world-shaping institution raises the question: What should Wharton stand for, going forward?
This is not to suggest turning away from the School’s extraordinary history and heritage. Rather, my goal is to leverage these incredible assets to write the next, even more illustrious chapter in our history. Wharton’s strategic objectives align well with the priorities laid out in President Amy Gutmann’s Penn Compact 2020 and its three I’s—innovation, inclusion, and impact. Beyond the catchy alliteration, we need to imbue each word with actionable meaning.
One definition of innovation is like a riddle: “You know it when you see it, you didn’t know you needed it, and now you can’t imagine living without it.” But that is innovation as outcome. I think the process is at least as important. So how about this: Innovation is the process of incubating good ideas and then turning them into outcomes that make the world a better place.
The core value proposition of Wharton is our unique ability to turn ideas into outcomes that matter—from the focus of Wharton Entrepreneurship on student startups to the Mack Institute’s mission of stimulating innovation in large, mature organizations, from our increasing focus on alternative investments that promise better returns than managing stocks and bond portfolios to the ever greater relevance of using data-mining analytics to generate better strategic insights.
Inclusion is a word, like innovation, that often focuses on outcomes: diversity on corporate boards and among the students in our classrooms. But again, the process of making inclusion work is at least as important: First, we must attract the most talented faculty, staff, and students to Wharton. Second, we must champion a School-wide campus culture based on respect, trust, equality, and justice for everyone. Finally, we must leverage our diversity to make Wharton a stronger place.
While the first two steps are essential for all organizations, the last one suggests a distinctive role for business education. We know from research (including by Wharton faculty) that diverse organizations can perform better, but only if leaders effectively harness the potential power of diversity. It is not enough to create environments that increase the diversity of perspectives. Better performance only comes when these perspectives are really embraced. The more people really feel their viewpoints are heard in the process of decision-making, the more likely they are to help with implementing decisions once they’re made. “Leading diversity” should become a core competence of every Wharton graduate.
If we get innovation and inclusion right, I think the third “I,” impact, will take care of itself. I don’t mean to downplay the importance of impact—it is the ultimate proof point for Wharton. But if we get the process (innovation and inclusion) right, I am confident our already great impact will only continue to grow.
Geoffrey Garrett is Dean and Reliance Professor of Management and Private Enterprise at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Published as “Guiding Principles for Greatest Impact’” in the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Wharton Magazine.