Professor Paul Bracken has spent a lifetime studying the complex systems that constitute the fabric of modern life—particularly international business, technology, and the military. A pioneer of scenario planning, he looks at how organizations really work and how they both drive and are shaped by major trends in order to predict possible futures. In a conversation with Yale Insights, he suggested that in the years to come, China could be run by business rather than the Communist Party, populism could degrade the operations of major multinationals, and high-flying tech companies could lose their luster.
Curiosity about how big, complex systems work, both in the worlds of defense and international business, has shaped my career.
Over the last few years, it struck me that in both business and war, technology was looming larger and larger, measured by how much money is spent on it, the consequences if you get it wrong, and the effort required to understand it. Where a few decades ago you might’ve left technology out of an operations study, that would be inconceivable today, either in defense or a multinational. We think of Walmart as a big box retailer, but it’s also a technology organization; they’re trying to bash in Amazon’s head online.
I think technology leadership is a big gap in MBA programs. If you went back to 1965 and looked at how finance was taught, it was not very sophisticated; it got much better because of research by economists and business school professors. Today, there’s a need for more sophisticated technology management and leadership. There’s demand for people to develop and implement new technologies not just for the sake of innovation but with a deep understanding of strategic need and an ability to focus on developing technologies and combinations of technologies that deliver on that need.