Do we teach B-school students how to think, asks Harvard prof

  • Ayesha Banerjee, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
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  • Updated: Jan 17, 2014 13:11 IST

Srikant M Datar, who is the Arthur Lowes Dickinson professor of accounting at Harvard University and co-author of Rethinking the MBA: Business Education at a Crossroads, says there is a need now to question the relevance of management education in today’s dynamically changing business environment.

Datar and his co-authors David A Garvin and Patrick G Cullen had predicted in the book in 2010 that B-schools were in real danger of losing the value-add they provided to the profession.

“From what we studied in the US we redid in India with help from the IIMs in Ahmedabad and Calcutta. We  found that unless we do not change what we are doing we will not able to change the trajectory in which management education is going,” says Datar.

On how that can be done, Datar refers to three critical game changers. These are Knowing, Doing and Learning. Knowing relates to knowlege. B-school students have to know about the Four Ps of marketing, comparative analysis done in strategy, net present value, etc, but they also have to be taught how they should think “if you  are going to be a successful business person then thinking skills are critical,” says Datar.

If required to make instant decisions, managers would like to be equipped with knowledge to make that decision. However, a gap exists between the knowlege managers have and the knowlege they require at a certain time to act on a particular decision.

So, “we argued in the book that the question we have to address in the B-schools is: can we train people to be comfortable living in that gap and how to bridge it by thinking critically, innovatively and integratively,” says Datar. That would help managers make good decisions in resource-constrained environments instead of force fitting theories into the particular application they are faced with.

The next gap exists between Knowing and Doing - or experiential learning. Unless students experience what they are learning their knowledge is theoretical, not applied. They may study marketing but unless they have sold anything to anyone at any time,  it would be very hard for them to appreciate what marketing actually is.  The third gap is in Being, or  developing the personalities and the leadership capabilities of students.

“Business is not an individual sport – you have to work with others, you have to inspire others, you have to motivate others. Unless you haven’t spent time building your self- awareness - the relationships that you have, the appreciation for differences among people, you can’t be an aware  individual. I wish B-schools would have their students live with workers for a few days just to see what life is like for them, to understand them,” says Datar.


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