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Thursday, November 29, 2007

3 things B-schools don't teach

I had the best time of my life at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. It is a great institution and the overall ambience is highly conducive to intellectual pursuit.

The campus, designed by Louis Kahn, is inspiring to say the least. First-time visitors to the campus are likely to think that this is where great businesses of the future will be conceived. I wish it were true.

My experience in life has taught me that while a business school is a great stepping-stone into the corporate world, it is not necessarily the best guide to navigate successfully through it. B-schools exist as a part of our formal education system and serve a purpose: to provide two years of immersed study into various aspects of the science of management. No more, no less.

However, the MBA lore, culture and mystique has got so much media attention over the past decade that star business schools have acquired a larger-than-life image. Do we expect business schools to provide us the DNA for success? It would be a very tall order.

There is a lot that B-schools do very well. For instance, it was at B-school that I got my first lessons in deconstructing problems, logically structuring an argument, learning how to communicate effectively, and so on.

It is also a great place to network with people from across the country, understand different mindsets, aspirations and lifestyles. But there are huge gaps between critical factors for business success and what they do not teach you.

So, what do they not teach you at B-school? A lot really, and it is easy to sermonise about this. But if the purpose of a B-school is to produce wealth and value creators, then the people who run B-schools need to take a hard look at real life and model the curriculum based on how value gets created. So, here is my prescription of creating a cutting-edge curriculum

1. Life-skills: It is well known that the information and knowledge component of what we learn will soon be forgotten or become irrelevant, so focus on life-skills in the affective domain - that is, communication, creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Measure how many new ideas each student comes up with. Don't make this a course, make this a part of every course. You have 24 months to change the thinking paradigm of each student, make full use of it.

2. Higher-order thinking: The ratio of theory to real-world learning should be 70:30. The real world is all about higher-order thinking; therefore, the ability to develop higher-order thinking skills such as application, design and evaluation should be valued more than knowledge and comprehension, and the evaluation and grading system of B-schools must reflect this.

3. Exposure and global outreach: When you start working, by definition your mental landscape becomes myopic and focused on work life.

B-schools should seize the opportunity to expose the student to things that he will find impossible to do on his own - take him to places like China and Brazil, let him hear from a business leader, thinkers and institution-builder each evening. Let him experience and learn to think multidimensionally.

How about a course on art history and seven days in an Indian village? You will trigger a thought process or open new doors in his life and help him redefine his life goals; thanks to this new and real perspective.

Above all, business schools have to reinvent themselves each year and hopefully, every B-school dean is awake at night thinking precisely this: what do I not teach at my school that I should?

Shantanu Prakash graduated from IIM, Ahmedabad in 1988.

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