Considering Business in a High-Tech World

February 8, 2011

In a world dominated by rapidly advancing technology, it can be said that we are truly living in an Information Age, benefitting from a wealth of knowledge easily accessible by the click of a mouse. Although advances in communication bring progress, the world of business finds itself struggling with a few resulting challenges — ones that Patricia Breman addressed at Mary Baldwin University Monday night during the 2010–11 Smyth Business Lecture, Power Tools for a VUCA World.

Breman, a writer, analyst, and researcher, drew a crowd of students to Miller Chapel, where she discussed the concept of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). With a resume that includes work with Bank of America and General Mills, the senior consultant for VALS (Values, Attitudes, and Lifestyles segmentation used to predict consumer behavior), Breman outlined the struggles businesses face today. Many, she said, are impacted by insecure financial markets, food shortages, and an increase in crime rates. Which such ambiguity, there are no easy answers, but, according to Breman, there are solutions. Reading, researching, and communicating, for example, are three critical skills for surviving in a VUCA world.

“Gather information constantly,” Breman said, as her onscreen PowerPoint displayed images of media outlets such as The New Yorker,
Vogue, and PBS. “Ask questions about methodology, question design, and explore the relationship between causation and correlation. Interact with people who know more than you do, trust a good editor, and think visually.”

A panelist at Sunday night’s Super Bowl of Advertising — Mary Baldwin’s yearly analysis of commercials during one of the most-watched events on television — Breman advised her audience to stay in tune with pop culture, the arts, and movies to see how values are changing.

“Practice critical thinking and how it connects to the information you already know,” she said.

Breman also encouraged the audience to keep up with evolving technology, outlined the importance of being a translator, and emphasized using language that is easily understood. After a brief question-and-answer session, Breman told the crowd, “commit to lifelong learning, and you’ll never be bored, or boring.”

The lecture series is made possible by the Smyth Foundation, established by Mary Baldwin former trustee H. Gordon Smyth and his wife Mary Beth Smyth ’47.