The Future MBA, week 7: Monitor student mood and campus food

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 43: Questioning Assumptions

The business world is full of assumptions about the way that we do things, that the way we always have done something is the best way to do it. But what if it weren’t, and what if a new way would not only be better for business but for the planet and society as well?

The Future MBA would have a class called Questioning Assumptions. This class would identify and explore a series of widely held assumptions in the world of business, both small ones we make on a day-to-day basis as well as large industry-held assumptions that guide product development or the way business is run. During this class, students will explore these assumptions in order to better understand where they come from and then proceed to take them apart and provide alternative viewpoints that could be used to build up new, more effective models.

Day 44: Retired MBA

At about age 60, many individuals retire. These individuals are extremely knowledgeable, have an incredible skill set, a lot of experience as well as a calmness and maturity that often comes from having seen a lot of things and knowing which battles to fight and what is really important. But once they retire, more often than not that knowledge and those skills are lost. We do not put enough value on the more experienced members of our society even though they really are a key to moving sustainability forward today.

The Future MBA would include a short program specifically aimed at individuals who are thinking of retirement, or already have retired. Students would have access to a set of courses specifically focused on the questions and concerns that this group of students has, but they also would have access to everything else happening on campus, campus events, clubs and electives. In this way, in addition to preparing themselves for this new phase of their life, they also would be actively contributing to the education and knowledge sharing happening on campus with the other students, faculty, staff and community.

Note: I’ve been talking about this MBA since before my father retired many years ago. Anyone can take this idea as long as they offer him a full scholarship.

Day 45: In the mood for learning

Most students already carry some sort of smart technology around with them on campus. In the future, these phones or other smart devices will collect constant information about these individuals' moods, whether they are stressed or relaxed, overwhelmed or engaged. Other students and teachers will have access to this information and will be able to gauge the state of their team members or the student body as a whole and adapt messages, support and experiences accordingly. Faculty in the classroom would be able to adapt their lessons and messages based on real-time feedback about the level of engagement or interest from a particular class. Educational content itself could become reactive to the students' moods or states of mind and automatically could change or adapt.

Day 46: Flagship store

More businesses are opening flagship stores where they invite the public to be part of their brand and to interact with it. Business schools, on the other hand, are often locked buildings only accessible to students, staff and future business leaders. How do we facilitate interaction between the business school and the community?

In the future, business schools will have a storefront on campus or elsewhere in the city, and even in other cities around the world, where the school can interact with the community. This center, staffed by students, staff, faculty, researchers, alumni and even business partners, would be a space for the public, local businesses, community groups and individuals to interact with the school and vice versa.

The "store" could have a variety of elements including interactive information on programs the school offers. It would have presentation of past, current and future research topics, in a format and language easily accessible to the general public. An area similar to the well-known “genius bar” at Apple stores would be a space to sign up for one-on-one sessions with experts to discuss topics of their choosing (see Day 41). Advisory services on sustainability topics would be available. Even admission interviews could be given in these spaces.

Day 47: Making sure everyone is fed — well

There are a lot of ways that universities are bringing more sustainable and more local food onto campus. Farmers markets are increasingly popular, as are fair trade and organic offerings. In an earlier idea (Day 33) I presented having a campus harvest. But how could you take it a step further to ensure that students and staff have healthy, good quality and sustainable food on campus while still supporting the local business community?

In the Future MBA, food on campus would be provided by a series of short-term pop-up caterers or businesses. These businesses would provide everything from coffee to catering for meetings to lunch service for a short duration. These could be established businesses or chefs and individuals just starting new food-based businesses. The focus would be on local and sustainable cuisine. Groups selected would have a chance to test new ideas as well as get feedback from the student body. In return, the student body gets access to high-quality, diverse and constantly changing sustainable food offerings.

Day 48: An MBA tax

On Day 34 I introduced the idea of making business school more accessible by lowering the cost. The thinking behind this was that if the MBA of the future is not just training more sustainable and responsible leaders, but that these leaders through their time at school are having a positive impact on the business sector as a whole through their activities, then if you add to that research and other contributions of business education, business schools play a crucial role in a sustainable future for us all. If this is the case, perhaps society, or more specifically the business sector, should cover some if not all costs of this education?

The Future MBA program fees could be paid for using money collected through a range of taxes collected from companies aimed at strengthening the sustainability environment moving forward for companies as well as through charges given to companies who have not complied with sustainability laws and regulations.

Day 49: The bigger picture

The number of concepts and tools that schools need to teach business students within a one- or two-year program is increasing. Program officers and faculty work to try to fit it all in, but is all of it really needed? How do we ensure that what students are taught is useful and relevant, but also encourages them to think about business in different ways instead of just teaching new generations to do things the same way they always have been done? How do we teach them to look at the bigger picture?

The Future MBA will have a space both online and offline to question the concepts brought up in different courses, in particular core courses. These could be theories, frameworks, rules or established practices taught to MBAs year after year without any thought as to whether they are still useful, relevant or even right.

Students would have the opportunity during their programs and after they graduate to comment on specific tools and their validity and usefulness. Inputs by students could be in the form of comments, a score out of 10 or a general feel of usefulness indicator which may change over time. The platform then would provide a measure of the general mood around a particular tool — if it is fundamental, if it was inspiring for students but not so useful after, etc. The platform would encourage students to question these concepts and comment on whether they helped clarify their thinking or complicated it further.

This information would allow lecturers and program offices to be able to refine what is being taught in the classroom to ensure that time is allocated to those skills that students want now and need later at all stages of their careers. The platform also could provide a fascinating insight into widely held management beliefs and whether they are as useful and relevant as they are widespread. It also will enable students and faculty to see trends around the new kinds of skills and knowledge that students increasingly need and tailor programs to include these.

Top illustration by Ellen Beijers via Shutterstock.