Upon graduating from college in Japan in 2007, I landed a marketing job at Sony. I was excited to work for one of the leading consumer electronics companies, but soon after I started, I began to notice a sense of stagnation and frustration in the workplace.
At the time, Sony, like most manufacturing companies in Japan, was in the midst of adapting to the fast-changing global economy and the subsequent uncertainties arising from changes in technologies and consumer preferences. Organizations were shifting the traditional manufacturers’ engineering-focused business model to one that promoted innovative ideas that catered to evolving market needs.
At the same time, a nationwide survey showed that almost one third of the companies in Japan believed young graduates had inferior abilities, such as problem-solving skills, compared to graduates ten years earlier. I questioned whether this was in fact true, or whether workplace expectations had actually become more demanding or both.
I came to realize that this issue was more deeply rooted in Japan’s social system — a gap had emerged between the outcomes of the current education system and the needs of the modern workforce.
Through my time working in Sony’s educational business arm, I learned that the Japanese government enacted several initiatives to change education policy. However, most focused largely on the K-12 populations and while the system has been moving towards nurturing self-directed learners and helping them excel in real world environments — the higher education system has largely been unaddressed.
Despite the new innovations in primary education, other research shows that Japan has the lowest percentage of adults who return to school among OECD countries. Even though the world at large is changing at rapid pace, it appears the majority of adults in Japan do not actively seek learning opportunities and, instead, rely on their existing knowledge, abilities, and skills to advance their careers. The concern with this method is that it may be contributing to the widening gap between workforce needs and actual abilities.
But how can we create value in an increasingly complex and globalized society when our education has been based on outdated assumptions? How can we promote and provide continued, lifelong learning opportunities to meet those needs? At Minerva, I focused my studies to answer these questions.
I found out about Minerva’s Master of Science in Decision Analysis (MDA) program through my own research; I was interested in innovative approaches that could nurture independent thinkers and inform them how to apply their knowledge to real world situations. Upon learning about the program, I was confident Minerva could provide professionals, like me, with necessary tools we need in this unpredictable world and empower those of us willing to take further steps toward their personal development.
Throughout the program, my classmates and I have learned concepts, skills, and “habits of mind” that taught us how to make strategic and effective decisions amidst the uncertainty in our organizations and our personal lives. The Cornerstone courses are equally focused on developing critical and creative thinking skills, understanding complex systems, and utilizing effective research methods. We are continually challenged to re-apply these skills across different contexts — a process crucial for creating value in society. Instead of exams or simply memorizing content , the majority of our classes are spent in discussions of the key points of our readings through an active learning style, such as debates and breakout groups.
This past year went by quickly for me. Every day I was challenged both before and during class. Unlike a traditional Masters in Business Administration program, the MDA curriculum is interdisciplinary by design. We covered topics and real problems in fields ranging from data science, economics, psychology, business, natural and social sciences, and more. I admit, I was overwhelmed during the first few weeks by how different Minerva’s classes are from any other educational program that I had experienced. But I also realized how little those previous experiences had taught me in regards to how to deeply think through things and to problem solve effectively.
It was especially mind-blowing for me to be reminded what critical thinking actually means in the real world. For example, we have learned how to identify logical fallacies, protect against (or even utilize) human biases, consider ethical frameworks in decision making, and assess the reliability of information — even from “experts.” Relatedly, we have also realized that creative thinking is not merely coming up with new ideas, but also re-evaluating old ones and making associations or analogies to concepts and ideas from other disciplines to derive innovative and effective opportunities.
A noteworthy element of the MDA program is that my classmates and I are actually scattered around the world, yet we feel closely connected. From our time together, I know they are bright and curious thinkers who have their own fascinating opinions, insights, and perspectives. We are a very intimate community that debates (respectfully!) and discusses many topics from the casual, such as where to go on a self-organized trip after graduation, to the formal, such as economic sanctions. We are a group that can exchange ideas on challenges that don’t have definitive “right” answers. During class, we think about how to approach difficult trade-offs in topics across disciplines, discussing what to prioritize and considering ethical perspectives.
Being intellectually challenged and constantly stepping outside my comfort zone with the MDA program has been one of the most valuable experiences of my adult life. While I still carry some of my mindset from my formal education and inherently fear making mistakes and voicing my opinions when grappling difficult and uncertain problems, working with my classmates has helped me to mitigate that fear. Their intellectual courage and positive attitudes when thinking through tough problems has influenced me to continue to grow, challenge, and discover, as well.
This past December marked the end of our foundational courses and the beginning of our individual thesis projects. I plan to focus my thesis project on understanding how age stereotypes in the workplace contribute to a lack of recognition and reward for older workers’ performances. Ultimately, I hope my thesis will yield suggestions for how organizations can provide effective incentives to build and sustain a highly capable, creative, and productive team of all ages. I believe creating age-inclusive environments will be increasingly important in many countries as their workforces become more and more multigenerational.
Now, I am confident that I have obtained important tools to understand the complexity of problems and the ability to consider a broader range of perspectives — skills I did not have before I enrolled at Minerva. Because Japan’s value of hard-working culture is so deeply entrenched in society and within organizations, I will need to understand the multiple causes, conflicting assumptions, and possible effective interventions in order to help create solutions.
Whether I will ultimately work within an organization or establish my own program to help address the related issues of a gap in employee abilities and age stereotypes, I will be able to dive headfirst into the uncertainty that defines the modern workforce. From my continuing studies, I am prepared to make important decisions and consider trade-offs and risks. I am now also more hopeful than ever before, because I know I have the tools and the courage to tackle challenges like this.
If you were inspired by Tomoe and are interested in pursuing a graduate degree that will enable you to make strategic decisions in your career, apply for Minerva’s Master of Science in Decision Analysis program: http://bit.ly/2HXIZWl