Teaching managers how to think differently

What works in business today will likely be obsolete by tomorrow. And while it is the mandate of management education to prepare managers for this environment, very few effectively do so. Key to succeeding in business is original and creative thinking. RSM’s new executive education courses aim to do exactly this.

Story by Rebecca Morris

According to Professor Frank Hartmann, RSM’s dean of executive education, ‘Much executive training is still focused on teaching old school theoretical groundwork and traditional business models, which have been around for years. While this knowledge is important, we believe that other skills are proving more effective for success in the long run.’ Namely – the ability to think differently.

‘The business world is in a state of constant disruptive change,’ says Prof. Hartmann. ‘Successful managers will be those who are able to critically evaluate challenges and find new perspectives on a problem.’

Mature business thinkers

Three new courses developed for RSM’s executive education portfolio – Neuromarketing, Business Philosophy, and Sustainable Finance – aim to develop these skills in participants. The programmes differ significantly from traditional courses geared towards teaching participants “how to be a better manager”. Teaching is interactive, dynamic and reflective. Participants are encouraged to challenge orthodox concepts of business and its opportunities, and to think about management in new ways.

‘Our mission as an academically rooted educator is not to show participants how to imitate others, or master a set of tricks, but to train them fundamentally in how to think for themselves,’ says Prof. Hartmann. ‘Learning is rooted in practical challenges but the idea is to instil the skills of critical and creative thinking in participants.’

The approach is in line with traditional academic learning – which makes university-based business schools like RSM the ideal institutions to teach it. ‘Hands-on solutions remain highly relevant,’ says Prof. Hartmann. ‘But developing participants into mature business thinkers is the ultimate objective of executive education and the unique added value of our university.’

Challenging assumptions

An important goal of these new programmes is to teach participants to challenge assumptions. ‘Becoming aware of the assumptions we hold and how many are false makes us more open to new ideas,’ Prof. Hartmann says.

‘Managers who make a habit of regularly asking themselves important questions will greatly improve their performance,’ says Wiep van Bunge, professor of history of philosophy and head of the Dutch-taught Business Philosophy programme. The course uses in-class debate and interaction to encourage participants to ‘take a step back, broaden their perspective, question the evidence,’ says Prof. Van Bunge. ‘Just because you have always been doing something a certain way doesn’t mean you should continue to,’ he says. ‘Managers should constantly ask themselves: is there a better way of doing this? We also encourage participants to ask themselves what a fulfilled life looks like. Knowing what you want to achieve in life has a huge impact on our motivation.’

Alternative perspectives

‘Neuroscience methods have deepened our understanding of consumer behaviour,’ says Ale Smidts, professor of marketing and head of the Neuromarketing course. ‘These methods allow us to look inside the consumer mind and observe the mechanisms behind our behaviour, including how the brain evaluates choices and responds to marketing actions.’ The Neuromarketing programme demonstrates how new technology has brought entirely new perspectives to the world of marketing – and business research.

New perspectives on business are a key part of how participants learn to think differently. Sustainable Finance, for example, shows participants how to connect the dots between new models of finance and environmental and sustainability concerns. ‘This is about bringing a universal picture to participants that they haven’t seen before,’ says Dirk Schoenmaker, professor of banking and finance, and head of the Sustainable Finance programme. ‘It’s giving them an actionable repertoire that is broader than when they came in.’

New business practices

Many new business practices are not yet entirely understood by the business community – and these courses strive to fill the gaps. Neuromarketing companies, for example, have made consumer data from neuroscience methods commercially available, but few managers are in a position to make informed decisions about the validity of their claims.

‘The neuromarketing course aims to change that,’ says Prof. Smidts. ‘Participants will become informed consumers of these external services so that they know what value to expect from this data. They will see how the methods work in practice and the results they can yield.’

Sustainable business practice is another broad concept that is often not deeply understood on a practical level. ‘There is a lot of trial and error going on in this area,’ says Prof. Schoenmaker. ‘Many managers in financial institutions want to do sustainable lending or investing, but need a more systematic way of doing it in practice.’

A deeper level

Sustainable Finance gives participants a broad overview of what sustainability means before ‘drilling down to what these practices really entail,’ says Prof. Schoenmaker. ‘We give participants the systematic tools that will bring them a much greater impact from their sustainability focus.’

The enormous academic foundation of a university brings huge added value to RSM’s executive programmes, says Prof. Hartmann. ‘These courses go a level deeper than traditional approaches. These kinds of intellectual challenges are great confidence builders – and this is the unique value that a university can offer.’

More information

This article was first published in the winter 2018 edition of RSM Outlook – RSM’s alumni and corporate relations magazine. You can download RSM Outlook here.

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Marianne Schouten, communications manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at

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