Can business schools find a breadth of fresh air?

July 09, 2012 2 min read

David Teece’s latest FT article (http://on.ft.com/LZ8zFw) makes the important point that B-schools cannot continue to get more and more and more specialized and narrow. But, there is one small problem with implementing his recommendation: everyone involved in academia likes to be narrow. Most faculty members want to teach and research in a well-practiced rut. Academic publishing requires deep specialization. And in the classroom, teaching the same materials for ten years means you can be witty and wise: you’ve heard all the questions and given all the possible answers many times over.

Schools, like any other organizations, are partial to predictable paths as well. The more you can buffer the university from the problems of messy reality, the better. If there is no prescribed “right” answer, how do you grade people? If there are no clearly specified skills, how can you test? If your faculty members are too diverse, how do you control them?

And, many students prefer to be comfortably coddled in narrowness as well: “What exactly do I have to do to pass this course?” “But that’s not what Apple did, it can not be a good strategy!” “Why are we studying a case about Indonesia? What will I ever need to know about Indonesia?”

Teece’s recommendation for overcoming this problem is for business schools to stop being so narrow. That is an obvious, but really important first move. Like any twelve-stepper, one must recognize there is an addiction before being able to affect a change. If Teece’s message gets through to even one business school, it was well worth the ink.

Nonetheless, not a single business school has found the solution to making business education more relevant. None! I have looked for that Holy Grail around the world since I was a graduate student—and it does not yet exist.

However, I still have hope.

I am working at an institution now that I believe has the best chance—the best I have ever seen—to crack the code for Business Education for the 21st Century. Even so, it will not be easy; there are natural bureaucratic pressures. Still, as a relatively young and growing school with a different business model, Hult may just be able to say no to narrowness and say yes to “cracking that code” … to being the first to give graduates a life-altering experience that also prepares them for today’s wide world of business.