A recent article in Forbes magazine provides yet another attack on Business Schools as they are today: “…the case studies at the heart of much business school education are cartoonishly simple and provide no grounds for scientifically respectable generalizations.” In this extract from our recent business novel, The Human Constraint, we take a look at what is wrong with the way Business Schools teach.
It was a pleasant walk from Sam’s apartment to the members’ club where they would meet Professor Renfrew, an academic and one of May’s new contacts. They climbed the steps into a neat, symmetrical building and entered into what appeared to be a time warp. The entrance hall was flanked by a telephone room, the like of which they had only seen in old movies. The interior was richly carpeted throughout, chandeliers hung from the high ceilings, and an enormous reading room was furnished Edwardian style with green leather sofas and giant picture windows looking onto the harbor. Members sat in chairs reading papers or chatting quietly.
As they stood in the entrance hall, a tall man in a suit and tie approached them with a warm smile and his hand outstretched. “You must be May. Welcome. I’m very pleased to meet you.”
They shook hands and May introduced Sam to the Professor who guided them to an upstairs meeting room. The Professor invited them to help themselves to coffee and cookies from a silver tray.
“I know this setting may seem a little incongruous, but May has been informing me that you have some very different concepts concerning business schools. I’ve been reading about your work with the Institute here with great interest. We’re in the process of creating a new university further up the island and I’d like to hear your ideas.”
Sam had only just met the man, but something in his demeanor and openness made him feel at ease in speaking his mind.
“There is a definite need for innovation there. Business schools have been teaching the same subjects for decades, but the world is changing. I’m not saying that the subject matter themselves are not useful. People need to learn about accounting, marketing and the other traditional subjects.”
“So what should be done differently, in your opinion?”
Sam sat forward on the edge of his chair. “The problem is, the subject matters get taught in silos, and that in itself reflects a paradigm of organization that needs to change. You can’t teach students as if marketing were a separate subject from strategy, or that production is disconnected from sales. Everything is interconnected, interdependent. So is the way you measure things. You need managers who understand that and know how to operate in an interdependent context. On top of that, universities themselves are organized hierarchically and in silos, so even if they wanted to be more systemic in their approach, that can’t happen on a practical basis because of all the organizational barriers. It’s not about adding on another course about sustainability or systems thinking. That’s just another silo. Everything is more complex now, but most business schools are not teaching how to manage complexity. Students are taught by academics who don’t go beyond their own areas of expertise, and a lot of that teaching is based on case studies. So what students are picking up is information, but not the ability to think critically and systemically, or solve the kinds of problems they’ll inevitably encounter in a company. They can pick up information on the internet. Why go to a school and pay thousands of dollars for it?”
“Tell me, Dr. Deluca…”
“Please, call me Sam.”
“If you had to design a course for people wanting to go into business, what would it look like?”
Sam exchanged glances with May, then settled back in his chair and gave the Professor a broad smile. “How much time do we have?”
See also our post An MBA for Complexity: What Managers Really Need to Know to Do Their Job
About the Author
Angela Montgomery Ph.D. is Partner and Co-founder of Intelligent Management, founded by Dr. Domenico Lepore. Angela has contributed to the development and dissemination of the Decalogue methodology since its inception. She is author of a new business novel+ website that covers aspects of Deming and the Theory of Constraints, The Human Constraint .