For 100 days I am posting 100 ways that we could rethink and reimagine the MBA, to transform it into a tool for creating the sustainable leaders that our organizations and the planet need.
I’ll explore all aspects of the MBA, ranging from curriculum and research to partnerships and campus activities. Some ideas could be put into practice tomorrow while others would require a complete rethinking of the way we view the MBA.
This brainstorming of ideas is meant to encourage discussion, so please share your thoughts and comments and elaborate on the ideas you find the most interesting.
Day 1: Here and now
A large percentage of teaching hours of an MBA are focused on teaching students what happened in the past. By the time a lesson makes it into a textbook or is written up into a case study, many years have passed. While there are, of course, many lessons to be learnt from the past, students and graduates need to be able to deal with what is happening now. Business Schools are educating managers for a future business reality that we know little or nothing about, but one that students will need to be able to respond and react to.
The Future MBA will have a class called Today. This short class takes place every morning before core courses start. The class looks at current events as they happen and explores what they mean for business, how business should/could respond, exploring potential opportunities and/or risks.
For example, an NGO releases a report which negatively affects Company X. In Today’s class, students will look at this report and explore how they think Company X should respond to this news and track what the company actually does over the upcoming days. In the upcoming week, a representative of Company X will be invited to class to discuss its approach.
The class would be interdisciplinary, mixing students from different degree programs, and faculty would be encouraged to attend. The room would be set up with students sitting in small groups around tables, each discussing the same or different topics.
Day 2: The lifelong MBA
The MBA is a moment in time. After graduation, alumni go through various subsequent phases in their career, phases where they once again could use the lessons and support that an MBA provides.
The Future MBA will be a three- to four-year program spread out over a lifetime. It begins sometime in your 20s, most often after you have some work experience. Students would spend the first year or two on campus completing a range of core courses and electives similar to the current MBA.
The remaining years would be used throughout the student’s lifetime. A special six-month course would be available for students who are considering retirement or have just retired to assist them in planning out their next steps. Another course would be available to parents thinking of going back to work either part or full time. Another section would be open to alumni thinking of starting a business or working independently as sole proprietors or independent consultants. Then, of course, there’d be a range of courses of interest to individuals at different points of their career — managers, CEOs, board members, as well as on specific topics of interest and relevance to the business world today. Not only would this provide a more structured lifelong learning experience but also the opportunity to connect and learn from individuals of all ages and at different stages of their life and career on campus and in the classroom.
Day 3: MBA pop up
MBA programs often operate within a bubble within a community but not often interacting or engaging with that community. How can business schools encourage that interaction in meaningful and innovative ways?
Communities are filled with empty retail spaces. The pop up retail movement invites individuals and brands, both well known and yet to be discovered, to use these spaces briefly to test out new ideas, sell their products and share their message. They also inject energy into a community.
The Future MBA will have its own pop up business space, either in a building managed by the school or in a range of spaces in the community that the school would have access to. These spaces would be open to MBA-related pop ups, used from an hour to several days by faculty, staff, students and alumni to test out new ideas, give a short course, sell new products or share insights on topics of interest. Most important, it will give students and staff an opportunity to interact with their local community in a tangible way.
Day 4: Checking your progress
The main reason for pursuing the Future MBA will be for education and personal development, and as such students will want to have a better understanding of where they stand when they start the program and how they progress throughout it.
Students will have access to a tool, updated in real time, that gives them insight as to where they are doing well and where they need to develop more. At the beginning of the program, the tool is populated with information related to the careers they are interested in, their strengths and weaknesses, the opinions of their referees and past bosses. During the year, professors and fellow students will provide inputs. Students would use the tool to review their progress regularly, to help them choose electives and activities to help strengthen areas they are weak in or might need for their desired post-graduation job. The tool also would connect students with other students, faculty and even alumni with similar strengths or weaknesses to collaborate with and learn from.
Day 5: Crowdsourcing executive programs
Businesses are constantly changing and adapting, or even being created in order to take advantage of new opportunities, risks and technologies. How can business schools also take advantage and respond quickly to new opportunities as they arise with a range of innovative and flexible programs that serve the needs of the business community?
The Future MBA’s Executive programs content and topics would be crowdsourced by executives, alumni and business partners and developed in real time in order to ensure that they cover the training needs of the business community as they arise. New programs would be developed based on interest expressed by the network. These same business partners would be involved in the design process in real time and encouraged to provide feedback as the program is created via online and in-person opportunities. Once the community feels the course is ready, the course would be scheduled and the business community would sign their teams up to attend.
Day 6: Expanding admissions
For most potential students, the MBA is a degree that takes a couple of years to plan. Potential students often spend years thinking about the decision, doing research and then applying. With so many schools available, how can a student find the school that is perfect for them?
In the Future MBA, potential students will have access to an online platform similar to LinkedIn. Individuals in any stage of the application process, from just thinking about doing an MBA to waiting for their acceptance letters, can register. They can post their CV and other relevant information, which can be updated regularly. Students also can post a range of general essays applicable to any MBA application as well as a series of password-protected essays for specific schools.
The platform would have a section where potential students can advertise their status: “interested in MBAs”; “looking at different programs”; “writing the GMAT”; “in the process of applying”; “waiting for offers or making final decision.”
With this system, not only would the schools get up-to-date information relating to applicants' CV, but this data also would be available to other schools from around the world. If schools find an applicant that fits their profile perfectly, they can send an invitation to apply, or even a firm offer. This way, students can get offers, perhaps scholarships from schools that may have the program or opportunities they sought but didn’t know existed.
Furthermore, this platform would allow students at different stages to interact with each other throughout the application process.
Day 7: For a day…
Many students that do MBAs are career changers. They have worked in a particular field or industry for several years and are doing the MBA to change into a different field or to pursue different opportunities. Often these are in companies or areas that they have never worked in before.
Students in the Future MBA can take part in a program called “For a Day” through career services. Students interested in working in a particular company or industry will be given the opportunity to spend one day in a company that interests them, rubbing shoulders with experts in that industry, alumni working in the company etc. to gain a bit of an understanding of what it is like to work in that industry and to confirm whether this would be of interest to them.