The Slovenia Times

Management Education and The Dark Side of Efficiency



You said: "Management education is focused on the wrong things and that has resulted in a decrease in the confidence of students and employers on the value of management education." What is the role of management education today and what shift needs to happen to address the challenges properly?

Business schools have failed on two fronts. Firstly, many years ago, business education decided to split business into individual disciplines (marketing, accounting, finance...) and teach each of these disciplines without regard to any other discipline, giving the impression that you can solve problems by using a single narrow discipline, but there are no accounting or marketing problems: there are just business problems! The second problem is that business schools teach business in a highly analytical way. It starts from the assumption that you can analyze the past to decide what to do in the future. But the big problem with that approach is that the future is often very different from the past and analysis will convince you that the future will be like the past. Thus, rather than depending on analysis of the past, students should be taught that their job is to imagine possibilities and choose the one for which the most compelling argument can be made! A job is not to study the past to determine the cause of the effects that we see, but to be the cause of the new effect! Business schools inadvertently teach students methodologies that ensure they are not future oriented.

How would you update the curriculums?

Teaching students to be able to think across models and not to choose one model or another, but to integrate multiple models to get a better solution. The second thing is design thinking. It is difficult, because it goes against every organizing principle of business education. It was painfully difficult to implement at the Rotman School of Management where I was Dean, but every school needs to do it because it is arguably the most successful new form of business education in the world. 

You published a book 'Creating Great Choices' written with Jennifer Riel (Harvard Business Review Press, 2017). It says that when it comes to our hardest choices; 'integrative thinking' is the model that helps to create a new and superior answer. Can you explain this on a practical level?

It is about business and public leaders, when confronted by opposing options, resolving the tension between them to identify an optimal solution. The Lego CEO had a difficult choice to make when he was presented with two options for The Lego Movie. The first option was for Lego to insist on having final editorial control over the movie. Prior experience suggested this was problematic in that when Lego personnel were in charge, the product tended to be too corporate feeling and not a success with viewing audiences. The second option was give final editorial control to Hollywood. However without control, there could be a negative impact on the Lego brand. So, the CEO was faced with two models and using an integrative thinking approach there was a third option. The decision was to go with giving the Hollywood team final editorial rights but to require them to spend a certain amount of time with Lego users to understand their love for the brand and what the company stood for in their minds. The view was that if they really understood Lego users, there was no way that this option would be bad for the brand because they would see why people love Lego. The movie was a commercial success and built not damaged the Lego brand!

As an adviser to Lego, how would you explain the Lego phenomenon that captures the imagination of children and adults and never goes out of fashion? 

Besides being great owners and business people, their success is also in their integrative and design thinking, which is "we can create the future, we do not analyse the past" and they just do it repeatedly. If you visibly imagine the future and you have a brand and you have productive capacities and infrastructure globally and you keep reinventing, how can you be stopped...


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