The Future MBA, week 2: Create a sustainability test lab

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 8: Risk

For most of us, there isn’t a lot of space for risk taking in our professional lives. Risk is seen as something bad, something to identify and mitigate against, something to avoid.

But great things often come from taking risks: new ideas, new opportunities, new learnings and insights. Both individuals and a businesses can benefit from not only creating an environment where individuals can make mistakes and learn from them, but also one that encourages and develops that process. Businesses increasingly need graduates who aren’t afraid of questioning assumptions or testing new ideas, graduates that can help create a culture and environment in businesses that supports this in a constructive way.

The Future MBA will have a class called Risk Taking. This course will be all about smart risk taking in both the student’s personal and professional lives. It will look at what is risk and why it is good/bad, how we can benefit from smart risk taking, how to learn from and move forward after "failures" or mistakes and how to create an environment that encourages smart risk taking. The course also will look at how other organizations, businesses and individuals approach risk in the workplace and the benefits/disadvantages to different approaches.

The class will include a range of practical activities that would enable students to explore taking risks in a relatively safe classroom environment, in their personal lives and on a special project with a local organization.

Day 9: Soft skills become hard skills

The MBA is very much based around the so-called "hard skill" courses. Courses in accounting, finance, strategy and marketing dominate the majority of course hours, with the "soft skills" courses of leadership and change management allocated to just a few electives. Although the hard skills are important, the soft skills will help graduates to succeed in their careers moving forward and will be increasingly important in the business environment of the future.

The Future MBA would flip the curriculum, putting the soft skill courses in the core, pushing many hard skill courses into the electives. All graduates still would graduate with the basic "hard" knowledge that they need in the business community but the emphasis would be on creating better managers and leaders with interdisciplinary knowledge, the ability to work with others across borders and how to understand and put sustainability practices into place.

Day 10: Mentors

Mentors are an increasingly important tool for future leaders of all ages, both to have a mentor of your own and to be one. The Future MBA will provide a structured space focused on mentorship. Students will be paired with one or more mentors who will be with them not only throughout their MBA but also in their future career. These mentors could be leaders they look up to, others who have taken a similar path to them, other students and/or mentors working in a completely different field who can provide different perspectives. Students also will have the chance to be a mentor themselves during the program to a current student or fellow alumni. The program will help students to better understand how to mentor and be mentored and how to benefit from these types of relationships throughout their careers.

Day 11: Creating a sustainability test lab

Many businesses have internal departments that focus solely on testing out new sustainability ideas. Ideas that work then get embedded across other parts of the business. Ideas that don’t work become opportunities to learn something new that can be applied to future projects. Many innovative products and services have come from such departments.

MBA programs are in an ideal position to implement similar Test Labs that bring together expert faculty, international multi-disciplinary students and alumni and representatives from the community to explore sustainability challenges and test out new ideas in a safe and creative environment.

The Test Lab of the Future MBA would not only explore sustainability challenges faced by the local and international community and business community, but also sustainability challenges on campus. It would be a space to explore the development of new courses, revisit existing courses or to start new campus greening projects.

Successes and lessons learned here could be applied and shared across the school and the community.

Day 12: Rethinking the classroom

The typical MBA classroom is an amphitheater. Students sit in rows, facing forward, focused on the important person at front and center.

Learning, however, is an interactive process. Many MBAs proudly advertise the diversity of their student body as an opportunity to network and more important, learn from each other. The goal of the classroom setup should be to facilitate this kind of learning, meeting and collaborating.

The Future MBA classrooms will not be amphitheaters but more collaborative spaces that encourage discussion and learning, made up of a series of small tables. The seating chart will change constantly to encourage students to meet and learn from different sets of peers. The walls will be lined with giant whiteboards to provide the option for groups to brainstorm and explore topics more visually.

Day 13: Engaging students in centers

Business Schools have a range of research centers doing cutting edge research, often funded in part by business partners. There are Centers for Women in Business, Centers for Ethics and Society, Centers for Entrepreneurship, to name but a few. Although these centers do some groundbreaking and innovative work, many times they are not connected to the students and vice versa. How can we connect the work of the centers with the student learning experiences?

In the future MBA students not only will be accepted into their MBA program but will also have the opportunity to apply to one or more specific centers on campus depending on their interest. During their MBA, they will get special access to the work happening in that center, to be involved in research projects being undertaken by the center. They also will be responsible for being the connection between the center and the student body to share lessons and opportunities.

Day 14: Engaging alumni

MBA programs typically accept the brightest minds into their programs. These alumni go on to create and work at some of the leading businesses around the world. How can a business school better capitalize on that energy and expertise to strengthen its own operations?

In the Future MBA the business school will engage alumni in a range of online platforms where they will crowdsource ideas for projects relating to the operations of the business school. This could be a new course that is being developed, new way of setting up the cafeteria on campus or even the search for a new building to buy to expand the campus. Alumni can get engaged in these different discussions, offer constructive points of view and eventually potential connection or even funding sources for projects. In this way the business school engages its community more fully in its day-to-day decisions, creating stronger connections and a stronger business school in the process.

Read the full Future MBA series here. Top image by llaszlo via Shutterstock.