The Future MBA, week 12: Think outside the box with the IKEA test

Future MBA

The Future MBA, week 12: Think outside the box with the IKEA test

Building furniture.

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 78: Something Different

Business school students often come from business, study business and then go back into business. How do we expose our future business leaders to a wider range of ideas? How do we create better, more well-rounded and balanced managers?

In the Future MBA there will be a class called Something Different. Students will need to focus on something completely unrelated to the business degree. This could be a passion such as baking or surfing, learning about indigenous medicines or archaeology or exploring salsa clubs or literature. Students will be asked to immerse themselves into that topic for the duration of the class based on the goal they have set themselves — to learn ballroom dancing and compete in a ballroom dancing competition by the end of the class, or to write an adventure novel. The students then need to present what they have done and learned and also get other students engaged and excited about their topic of interest.

Day 79: Create your own adventure

The MBA, traditionally and in the future, will continue to be a degree you enter after several years of work experience. It is a degree to help you prepare and plan for the next core phase of your career. In the Future MBA, students will build their own program from scratch and present their plan for their proposed MBA to the business school of their choice for approval. They can choose where they do it, which courses they take and where they take them, which assignments they complete and how they complete them. They can build new courses from scratch, focus on a particular topic of interest and change and adapt parts of their program as they go. They also can propose how long they have to complete the degree and whether they will do it part or full time. At the end of their program they will bring together the work they have done in front of a panel of peers, faculty and perhaps business partners to present their progress over the degree to determine whether they graduate.


Day 80: Grades

The way to tell whether a student successfully has completed a required course is traditionally through the final grade, be that an A, B, C, D with an added plus or minus sign attached, or a fail. But does this grade really say anything about what the student learned, how they learned it or their ability to use that information post graduation?

Although students will have to successfully complete all degree requirements to graduate, they can choose early on how this will be presented to potential recruiters. A student going into a career where she does not need high marks in finance can opt for a pass/fail. She can choose to do additional work in her finance courses for a special, expanded grade to show her interest and knowledge in that topic. Students also can choose to not be marked on specific classes at all but on a final project that they could do only if they successfully completed all required material, such as a research project or starting a new business. This will allow students to focus on topics of interest to them while still being able to show they have the basics.

Day 81: Plus 1

We often hear that we need graduates who can think outside the box, who can take a 360-degree view of a challenge and offer and analyze a range of possible solutions. However, many assignments reward the first, most obvious answers without pushing students to explore the topic further. Many lessons relating to social and environment issues never are raised because they don’t make it into the first, most obvious answer.

In the Future MBA classes will be taught in ways that encourage students to think more broadly about challenges and solutions. One tool would be called Plus 1. For every answer or solution offered in an assignment, project or class discussion, students will need to offer a second alternative. This will be done even when the question has a "clear" right or wrong answer to encourage students to question long-standing assumptions. This will push students to question their answers, to dive deeper into the topics, to not necessarily settle on the obvious answer and to explore more than one possible scenario.

Day 82: The furniture test

The key to creating a strong class for a program is ensuring that students have the ability to complete the program and the potential to be excellent leaders and managers. This ability doesn’t just relate to academic abilities such as quantitative and reasoning skills. It also relates to how they work in groups and how they approach new challenges.

With this in mind, the Future MBA admissions process will include an "IKEA" test. First as individuals and then in groups, students will be asked to put together a piece of IKEA furniture (without instructions). The goal is not how fast the task is completed or even whether they are able to complete it. The purpose is to observe how the students go about the task, how they work together, if they sit back and watch or get impatient. The test could use any activity new to the students, such as bringing the students surfing or teaching them a new dance.

Day 83: City campus

Is the classroom the best place for students to learn about business? How can lessons be made more relevant and brought to life so that students get a better understanding of the topics and issues surrounding them?

In the Future MBA, classes will not happen in a traditional classroom. A course on social entrepreneurship would take place at a social entrepreneurship hub in the city where entrepreneurs share office space and collaborate. A lecture on integrated reporting would happen in the offices of an organization working on these topics. A class focused on responsible advertising in the food industry would take place in supermarket aisles or at a leading company's headquarters. This would give students the chance to get out of the classroom and strengthen lessons by putting them into a living context that the students can experience and explore in real time.

Day 84: Making classes more relevant

A current core MBA class typically runs for several months. Students of all levels of knowledge are mixed together, including students who have little interest in the topic and others hoping to become experts. This provides many opportunities to learn from peers but also results in students spending many hours in classes of little relevance to them.

Most MBA program officers already note that the MBA curriculum is full and that it is difficult to add anything new into the program. Instead in the future, MBAs may look at changing the way courses are taught to ensure that every moment that a student is in the classroom is beneficial and therefore teaching them a skill that they can take with them moving forward.

One solution to this is to change the structure of the core MBA courses. Rather than one long course that everyone sits through, the core course would be divided into three parts. Take finance. The first part of the course brings all the students together for an introduction and overview. For the second part the group is divided into two; one group would be for those interested in finance careers or experienced students who want to go in depth in this topic. All students will come back together to explore the topic as it relates to the business community moving forward.

Top image by Dirk Ott via Shutterstock.