January 31, 2011 Leave a comment
Bill Gates said once, “If you have enough information to make a decision, you’re too late.”
In an article in today’s Economist, writer Philip Delves Broughton makes a similar point about the current state of education, particularly business education. Broughton, a Harvard MBA, proposes a radical way to succeed: work. But not just plain ‘ol work work — it’s a kind of work that networks, innovates and thinks beyond the narrow confines of the status quo. He says it’s no longer enough to get a degree to succeed, even an MBA. There’s another key to success.
Broughton quotes the new dean of Harvard’s MBA program who, when asked about the Goldman Sachs testimony before Congress, said: “The events in the financial sector are something that we have watched closely at Harvard Business School. We teach by the case method, and one of the things we’ll do through this experience is study these cases deeply as information is revealed over time so we can understand what happened at all these financial firms. I’m sure that at some point we’ll write cases about Goldman Sachs because that’s how we learn.”
While case studies and after-the-fact analysis has an important academic function, such an approach in singularity won’t cut it in today’s marketplace. While you’re looking in the rear view mirror, you’re liable to get smacked with a Mack truck — or at least a new technology. The problem with the approach is that by the time the Harvardites figure out just what Goldman Sachs did and plot a learned assessment and strategy, the problem will have morphed. Effective learning also requires an additional pants-on-fire mentality.
Most sectors of our economy are changing rapidly. A whole lot of change is technology driven, a lot is driven by market forces, and whole lot is driven by the complexity of problems we face. Whatever the need, the motivation, or the cause, however, the need is clear: the workplace likes creative, innovative and confident thinkers who know how to communicate. One young JMU alum I know is regularly dismayed by colleagues from other schools (including Ivies) who know how to theorize but who don’t know how to jump in and problem solve, who have basic knowledge but lack the confidence and wherewithal to think beyond he parameters of established processes. They don’t know how to think around the corner — or talk about it.
JMU, however, is honing these skills in students every day and turning out graduates ready to work, to network, to think and to look ahead. The advent of the College of Intergrated Science and Technology (now almost 20 years old) and the graduates it has produced is one measurable result. Another is the College of Business whose graduates come out ready to work, not only ready to theorize. Every week, it seems, we hear about another JMU grad who has established a new business, a new technology, or found an innovative way to solve a problem.
In COB, they call it the Madison Quotient — that hard-to-quantify-yet-critical-for-success quality of knowing how to succeed. Other colleges have other approaches, but it permeates JMU. No field — not even such venerable disciplines as history or antropology — can afford the luxury of heaping a stationary body of knowledge into one’s brain and relying solely on it. Information, discovery, opportunity and innovation are moving too fast and thinking flexibly and creatively is more than a luxury today; it’s a necessity. JMU has known and practiced this for a long time. Right now, they’re figuring out what’s next.
To read more about Madison Quotient and JMU’s College of Business, go to their website: http://www.jmu.edu/cob/
And if you’d like to read the full text of Philip Delves Broughton’s essay, here’s the link: http://www.economist.com/whichmba/think-twice