Grand challenges and business education: Dealing with barriers to learning and uncomfortable knowledge

Marian Konstantin Gatzweiler, Corinna Frey-Heger, Matteo Ronzani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this essay, we explore some of the barriers that prevent learning about grand challenges. By grand challenges, we refer to transformational social and environmental issues and the critical barriers towards addressing them. Despite a range of recent research contributions, initiatives, and calls for action to focus on such concerns, relatively little is known about the different barriers that hinder learning about grand challenges. To explore these issues, we draw from Rayner’s (2012) concept of uncomfortable knowledge, defined as knowledge that is disagreeable to organizations because it may challenge their value base, self-perception, organizing principles, or sources of legitimacy. We argue that the way in which organizations deal with uncomfortable knowledge is a key factor shaping their ability to learn about grand challenges. Focusing on the example of recent programmatic attempts to advance ‘responsible education’ in Business schools, we identify three barriers to learning about grand challenges: Cognitive overload, emotional detachment, and organizational obliviousness. We conclude by outlining several implications on how to overcome these barriers. Our discussion on barriers to learning on grand challenges adds to recent academic and policy debates on how to make business school education more attuned to the transformational and social challenges of our time.
Original languageEnglish
JournalResearch in the Sociology of Organizations
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 27 Apr 2021


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