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Fads and buisness schools

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Fads and buisness schools

In my many years of teaching at the Schulich School of Business I have seen a number of fads infiltrate the curricula. It seems that every seven to 10 years business schools need to reinvent themselves.

I have a very simplistic view of what we are supposed to in a business school: help our students become much better decision makers.

Every year I emphasize to my students that they will continually have to make decisions, and they will have to do so without all the data needed to use their models. The future is uncertain, and usually quite messy. The models which are taught in the separate areas of the program require data, and most often the data simply do not exist. Therefore, they will be required to make up the data needed to make their decisions. Because of the unavoidable uncertainties, they must be prepared to be wrong occasionally.

With this background, let me look at some of the past fads.

Globalization was an early one. We were supposed to throw globalization into every course, oftentimes for no other reason than to give the outside world the impressions that we were ahead of the curve. But what does globalization have to do with better decision making?

In my simplistic world, this meant that students had to become familiar with the laws, languages, cultures and history of many countries. If one is going to make up numbers about foreign opportunities, a good starting point is to know something about those foreign markets.

This implies that we should have created one or two courses reviewing the laws, cultures and history in other countries, and we should have required our students to develop a working ability in at least a second language. We did neither. Indeed, we do not even have a course reviewing the laws and regulations in Canada and the provinces. Nevertheless, we teach our students strategy and marketing, but we do not teach them what is legally permissible. How can anyone make good decisions without knowing the rules of the game?

Then came ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR). I am of the opinion that if the moral compasses of our students are not pointing in the “right” direction by the time they get into the MBA program, there is little we will be able to do to correct this “problem”. And are academics really the best qualified to teach about ethics and morality?

My take on CSR is straightforward. In making decisions, one always must consider the effects on all stakeholders, and the potential feedback effects. Treating employees callously might produce an artificial improvement in profits for a few quarters, but the negative impacts on employees will come back to haunt the company.

The latest fad appears to be multi-cultural critical thinking. I don’t think anyone knows what this really means; however, the concept is being incorporated rapidly into the curricula in business schools. Staunch supporters of this idea claim that students need to learn how to approach problems from many perspectives and to combine various approaches to find innovative solutions. Sounds a lot like teamwork and breaking down the silo walls between each of the specialized areas of teaching. Also sounds like globalization redux.

If this new fad means we must do a better job of training our students to figure out a problems before they tackle it, then I am supportive. If it also means that we need to train our students to anticipate problems, the sooner we start incorporating this into our courses the better.

But if we did the right job to begin with in helping our students better understand how to analyze problems and make decisions without having all the data they might want, then multi-critical thinking already would be deeply integrated into our curricula. The fact that this has become the latest fad indicates that we have failed in doing our jobs.

The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not reflect the views of either Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.

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