Wednesday, April 26, 2006

April 25 – “The Power to Know” – And the Courage to Act

The "big" speaker today at the AACSB International conference here in Paris was Jim Goodnight, the CEO of SAS Institute, a $1.6 billion global software company that is headquartered in North Carolina. Its products allow its customers to gather and analyze information technology-based transaction data of all sorts. Every time a business executes a process such as buying, hiring, selling, or making, some SAS activity-based management software can model, analyze and graph these data to improve management decision making. SAS sells web analytics, risk management, customer relationship management, warranty analysis and many other types of business solutions software to 96 of the Fortune 100 companies and to major universities, too. SAS employs mathematicians, IT professionals, actuaries and consultants.

I was expecting to hear about the importance of teaching business students data-driven decision making and teaching such skills as data mining. I was not disappointed and I was impressed by the ways that SAS products assist in pouring through massive amounts of data in drug discovery and marketing research, for example.

But Goodnight spoke about this as the necessary basics of business, not the end point. He described other levels of understanding such as integration of data across spheres of knowledge seeking insights, using insight to predict, and even more importantly to innovate. But there is an even higher and more important level, according to Goodnight, and that is to combine knowing (the SAS tagline is "The Power to Know") with the courage – yes, courage -- to act on that knowledge.

Goodnight, who was Ernst & Young’s 2005 “Entrepreneur of the Year” in the technology category, argued for education that combines science and experience in the world. "All science and no art is dangerous," he said. I thought of Kurt Vonnegut's book, “Player Piano,” where the world was efficient but without soul. Goodnight believes that we must teach our students imagination and conviction and the courage to act on that conviction. I am actually feeling pretty good because the UC Davis Graduate School of Management is already doing this. We offer rigorous technical training and multiple opportunities for engaging students in the community and the world. Our students have many opportunities to develop their humanity as well as to practice their skills.

Goodnight took questions and he really lit up when speaking of how he did this personally. In 1996, he and his wife co-founded a high-tech private day school, called the Cary Academy, in the belief that current education practices for elementary and high school students are rooted in the industrial era. Students drop out because they are bored, he said citing statistics. They go home and play online games with kids around the world, are stimulated and interactive, and then we put them in teacher centered classroom, and give them pencils. The Cary Academy has more computers than students.


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