For anyone interested in progressive management education at the highest professional standard there is a must-read article in the Economist (December 3rd 2011 p.75) entitled “Field of dreams – Harvard Business School reinvents its MBA course”. It features the next stage in the strategy of its new Dean, Nitin Nohria, to achieve the same level of professional kudos for management as that already enjoyed by medicine and law.
In one sense it heralds a complete break with HBS’s convention of classroom-based, case study teaching by injecting the principle of “Learning by doing” into the curriculum. This is only an experiment at this stage under the acronym FIELD (Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development) because the academics have not welcomed this development with open arms but the aim is simple – to help MBA students “with the practical application of management studies”.
Any manager turned teacher (like yours truly) will wonder why it has taken HBS so long to wake up to the notion that management can only be a practical subject – it does not exist in a text book and case studies always come with several Catch-22 provisos – they are out of context, come with a ‘not-invented-here’ tag and any competitive advantage they might have offered has already been exploited. It is for these reasons that I can only applaud Dean Nohria’s efforts to fundamentally change the curriculum – but he needs to go much, much further.
Apparently “what happens in the second year of the new course is still being worked out” but the first year already includes –
- team-building exercises
- a week’s work experience
- seed money of $3000 to launch a small company
So far nothing new – even though it adds “10-15%” to the already very high costs – but if Dean Nohria is looking for ideas for the second year here are a few suggestions –
- A special addition to the programme – Evidence Based Management – starting by asking whether the team-building exercises actually worked?
- A course in humility to run alongside the “Leadership Development” element – pointing out the mistakes made by previous Harvard alumni as well as their successes
- An extra week’s work experience focusing specifically on ‘human being’ management – working alongside ordinary people and listening to their perspective
- A refresher course in the latest thinking in behavioural economics, particularly the management issues around irrational behaviour (watch the video to see how irrational even the Economist is)
- A week’s work experience for the teaching staff to remind them what it is like in the real world
Of course one key stipulation is that all of these suggestions have to be checked for practical application by the students, with honest feedback given on the results achieved. By doing so I am absolutely confident that all of these would help HBS to restore its reputation and improve the professional image of management enormously. I will be closely watching this experiment for, as the article concludes “.. where Harvard leads other universities may follow”.