Akin to the distinction between merely hearing and actively listening, the faculty of speech and the ability to give voice to one’s considered and eloquently conveyed opinions should not be confused. The very essence of business schools is to teach students to think deeply, formulate views and opinions and then, with courage, conviction and compassion, give voice to those opinions.

What is the role of a business school when it comes to initiating or participating in public debate and dialogue about the pressing issues that challenge our young society? Should the business schools themselves take a stand on key issues? Or should they only offer a platform on which students and guests can debate such things?

I believe not only should business schools help people think divergently and see multiple, complex perspectives, but we should also encourage them to think convergently, to develop interpretations and clear insights based on quality analysis and rich systemic “sense-making”. But we should go further. We should also lead them in the imperfect and sometimes scary art of taking a position and having a point of view. Which, when expressed and shared publically, becomes an opinion.

Opinions have value. I would argue they are a high end-point of debate and learning, leading to action, or to avoiding knee-jerk reactions. Opinions are hard. They expose one to public scrutiny and challenge, be it well-informed and well-intentioned or prejudiced and self-interested. After all we don’t know if our opinions are true or false. We believe they are, as I believe my opinion here is. The art of advocacy is that of both expressing our opinions and of revealing the reasoning by which we reached them, so that others may understand and if necessary challenge us, to enrich our learning. Reaching an opinion requires a sense of timing, neither prematurely ill-considered nor too late, or leading to analysis paralysis. Opinions pin one’s colours to the mast. They can move people from monkish, cerebral detachment to the imperfect, messy world of management and action; the world where positive differences are made to real people’s lives in real time.

Daily Maverick Opinionista • Jon Foster-Pedley • 3 March 2011 Henley Business School Opinionista Jon Foster Pedley Africa Dean on Daily Maverick