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 15: From negotiation to consensus building
Negotiation class is one of the most popular electives for business students around the world. The class is often focused on maximizing your share of the pie, often at the expense of the other party. Many see it as how to win.
However, in today’s business environment, graduates need to understand a wide range of methods at their disposal, often more effective methods, for resolving disputes and moving business relationships forward between groups, whether that is another business partner or a local community. This includes but is not limited to consensus building, alternative dispute resolution, facilitation and mediation. This new course would cover negotiation as part of a range of approaches and techniques that a manager can use — how to get a win-win, and not just the win; how to identify when to use them and how to use them.
Day 16: The Interdisciplinary MBA
Sustainability is an interdisciplinary topic. As such, managers need to have a wider understanding of the systems that affect us and that we affect, whether that be business, social or environmental.
The Future MBA could be a fully interdisciplinary program which not only exposes students to a range of business and non-business topics, but teaches students how to move between them and how to connect them.
This new program would have students taking the majority of their classes from across a whole university, from social sciences to engineering, fashion and design or natural sciences to provide a wide range of perspectives. In this program, a student interested in working in business in the medical industry could take classes offered in the medical school and have the opportunity to shadow medical students in a hospital to get a better understanding of the industry and those working in that industry.
Students also would be tasked with assignments that would help to connect the silos, explore opportunities to collaborate across them and explore interdisciplinary sustainability solutions.
Day 17: Reinvent the textbook
We live in a world of information that is available when we want it, where we want it and in whatever shape or form we want it. Studying for an MBA trains students to become the leaders of today and tomorrow — but by using the textbooks of yesterday. At the same time, the Internet is so full of information that there is an increasing need to filter it in a way that is usable for the classroom.
The textbook for the Future MBA will provide the base information about a particular topic and then give links to expand that learning. These links could include different perspectives on a particular issue, allowing students to develop a well-rounded view of the topic. It also would include a range of examples of current applications to see how this information is used in practice. Once students get through the "required" portion of the reading, there would be several opportunities to follow a series of pre-filtered links that may bring them in a different direction of their choosing, so that they do not just learn the lesson but become immersed in it and find an aspect of that learning that means something to them. A student that chooses to continue further may be linked to possible internships, project opportunities, conferences or even alumni working in that specific topic. Students themselves can rate links, suggest new links and comment throughout. In this way, the textbook becomes a live document — something more real, more useful and more personal.
Day 18: Any course, anywhere
MBA programs around the world offer so many really interesting courses. Many passionate faculty have developed innovative courses exploring a range of sustainability topics. The catch is that they aren’t necessarily all offered by the MBA program that you have decided to attend.
The Future MBA will enable students to take any course from any school around the world. This could include all courses or just electives. Students would have the opportunity to either attend the class in person or online with real time translation. Some would be open to all; others may have limited spaces allocated based on application. Faculty with popular courses may have the opportunity to go on a "course tour" where they give their class to students in different schools throughout the school year or partner with other faculty to deliver it. In this way, students have access to the best classes on offer on a particular topic, and aren’t limited to just the courses on offer at their chosen school.
Day 19: Closed loop campus
In the future, businesses will be closed loop. This means that they manage the entire life cycle of their products in a sustainable way, from the design to manufacturing to its end of life. At this stage, all waste is either recaptured and reused or recycled endlessly into new products, or biodegrades. Could the business schools of the future also operate as a closed loop?
The Future MBA will operate on a campus that will generate no waste. Beyond extensive efforts to minimize waste in the first place, all waste relating to operations will be designed to be recaptured and then reused or composted. Systems will be put in place to sell certain waste streams to other organizations or to be able to trade, swap, barter, lend, gift or share items with others on campus or part of the school community. Students will be actively engaged in exploring opportunities to further develop or improve on these systems.
Day 20: Turning off in the classroom
It is amazing how many things you can do at once in a classroom. You can follow a lecture, write notes, check the Internet for information relating to the class — or to where you will go out for dinner tonight. You can chat with your friends in the classroom or on the other side of the planet, start doing homework for another class, play games — you can do a lot of things that have nothing to do with the class at all. As we are increasingly addicted to being connected 24/7, will future students need to learn how to just turn off and listen?
In the future, students will be asked to leave their cell phones, computers and all other devices at the door for courses where they are not necessary. Without the distraction of computers, and everyone else on their computers, student will become more present, contribute more and reflect more.
The computer — and more specifically, the Internet — is an incredible tool, but also an incredibly distracting one. We need a generation of leaders who are better listeners and observers, who are focused and participate fully, and their MBA experience will be richer because of it.
Day 21: Virtual and instant
In a world increasingly connected, graduates in the future will need to understand how to use and identify opportunities through these new technologies. The Future MBA will have a Technology Center, working in collaboration with many leading edge technological firms of the time. It will be open to students from a range of other, non business disciplines to facilitate collaboration on projects.
This space will go beyond providing computers with the latest software. 3D printers will give students the opportunity to create prototypes and test them. Students will have access to virtual worlds that they can create or join to test out new business models, products, campaigns or solutions in real time based on up-to-date global statistical information. Students will be able to tap into a network of alumni, business partners and other students around the world instantly to give or provide feedback, collaborate, learn and share. Intelligent computer programs will give students one-on-one tutoring and testing around anything from financial concepts to interview preparation or learning a new language. Students will become teachers by giving lessons in real time over the web to other students around the world. The possibilities will be endless.