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The State of Business Schools

Researching an article on the state of business education, we asked some Thinkers50 luminaries for their views.  Here are their insights:

Mark Esposito, Professor at Grenoble School of Management, Research Fellow at the Judge Business School, Cambridge, and Founding Director of the Lab-Center for Competitiveness:

“Business schools need to reframe the context of employability for business graduates, which is still anchored to metrics and expectations of the 90s.

While the assumption is that a business school degree is an inroad to a management position right upon graduation, b schools should shift from knowledge to experimentation, allowing the renowned acronym of VUCA to be experienced even during the curriculum. Pilots, field experiences, nonlinear models of analysis, complex adaptive systems and decision making should be the new tenets on which to build the foundations of the degree, to meet society’s evolution and expectations, in a non-linear manner.”

Navi Radjou, author of Frugal Innovation, fellow of Cambridge’s Judge Business School and Thinkers50 Innovation Award winner 2013.

“In the 20th century, business schools churned out self-centred smart leaders who applied their intelligence solely to maximize shareholder value. In coming decade, however, I see business schools training what I call wise leaders, purpose-driven individuals with a business mind and social heart who boldly tackle the world’s pressing socio-economic challenges and still generate profit and growth for their company. Wise leaders are liminal beings who can transcend public, private, and nonprofit boundaries and integrate conflicting viewpoints and unify disparate energies to serve a noble purpose. Unlike smart leaders, who compete for a tiny share of a small pie, wise leaders seek to co-create a much larger pie for everyone to share.”

Alf Rehn, chair of management and organization at Abo Akademi University, Finland and author of Dangerous Ideas:

“The business school today is beset by a multitude of ills. Whilst often critical of corporations for being resistant to change, lacking in diversity, and not having a clear strategic vision, this is more often than not the case for business schools as well. In a time of tremendous change, business schools often teach decades old material, have reacted slowly and in a fragmented fashion to megatrends such as globalization and digitalization, and often lack the diversity of cultures and backgrounds that could position it in today’s plural world.

The number one change that business schools need today is speed, speed, speed. Today, we react to changes in the business world with a lag of years, to the point that when we start teaching something it’s already become outdated. Digitalization truly caught us with our trousers down.

In addition, business schools need to get serious about diversity. Not just when it comes to gender, ethnicity, sexuality and culture – although these are hugely important as well – but also when it comes to backgrounds. We need fewer scholastics and protectors of dogma, and more philosophers, designers, anthropologists, artists, free thinkers and hybrid scholars. Tomorrow’s business school need to be as diverse as the world of business, where success can come from play and games, luxurious underwear, or out-of-this-world data science.

If there is one word that might capture both of the points, it is this: Imagination. Business schools are far too often po-faced, drab places, schools that are more worried about whether they look like a serious, grown-up institution than about whether they’re actually creating value. Business today is a creative, imaginative space – the business school needs to become one as well. Less economizing and Excel, more exploration and experimentation.”

David Burkus, author of Under New Management and professor of management at Oral Roberts University:

“At the risk of gross oversimplification, there are two types of MBA students. The first are looking to make a career or job change. They take two years off, do a high profile internship, and then find a new and better career path. The second are set on their career path and need additional knowledge. They study, either by pulling back and doing two years full-time, or joining a part-time or executive program.

For students in the first category, I see the traditional MBA suiting them for quite some time. For those in the second, there are newer and better programs popping up. From specialized master’s degrees to programs that blend in-house and university learning.

In terms of the MBA of the future, one thing that always amazes me is how little of our own advice we take. Strategy professors will tell you that differentiation is one of the core types of strategy. And yet, business schools compete for quality using largely the same tactics and largely the same metrics. There’s hope though. I’m encouraged by Babson College’s differentiated focus on entrepreneurship and, obviously, INSEAD’s long-standing differentiated focus on international management. I think more business schools will start to claim their niches (healthcare, energy, etc) less as courses offered and more as the sole purpose of choosing their program over others. Differentiate or die.”

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