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The Weekender: Why Today's Business Schools Teach Yesterday's Expertise (Forbes)

The Weekender features a longer form publication or multimedia production from a reputable source. We select articles or things to watch or listen to that discuss issues and opportunities we deem just off the radar for many business people, students, and faculty. We aim to expand the mind, broaden the heart, and sharpen the analysis. Have a great Sunday.

This week....

Our Chief Sustainability Officer shared this article with me from Forbes. It challenges some of the very foundations on which higher education, and business schools in particular, are built on. Some may find it controversial or even heretical. My belief is that contrarians can often identify weaknesses and what I would call the "reasonable disagreeable" are worth listening to. This well-reasoned and well-documented piece from Steve Denning certainly fits the bill. I am reminded of Sargent Shriver's sign over his office when he was starting the Peace Corps: "Bring me bad news, good news weakens me." He knew that the natural tendency in most organizations is for favor-seeking good news to travel up--and bad decisions to travel down. So there certainly is some "bad news" that business schools must face as they reinvent themselves and remain relevant in a wired and fragile world.

Why Today's Business Schools Teach Yesterday's Expertise (Steve Denning, Forbes, May 2018)

"As the world undergoes a Fourth Industrial Revolution that is 'fundamentally altering the way the way we live, work, and relate to one another—in its scale, scope, and complexity, a transformation … unlike anything humankind has experienced before'—one might imagine that business schools would be hotbeds of innovation and rethinking, with every professor keen to help understand and master this emerging new world.

Paradoxically, it’s the opposite. For the most part, today’s business schools are busy teaching and researching 20th century management principles and, in effect, leading the parade towards yesterday.

Take for instance this first-hand account just published in The New Republic by John Benjamin, an MBA student and Dean’s Fellow at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management.

'MBA programs are not the open forums advertised in admissions brochures… Business school instruction is routinely blinkered… An MBA class will consider a business issue… in isolation. Its challenges are delineated; its society-level implications are waved away. The principals’ overriding goal—profit maximization—is assumed. With mechanical efficiency, students then answer the question of how to move forward. Individual choices are abstracted into numbers or modeled as graphs…'”

All this is happening while educational choices are leaning towards more modularized offerings. I found the graphic below interesting.

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