Thursday, June 14, 2007

What they don't teach at B School

I have a two word answer to this question. Street smartness. That’s what they don’t teach in business school.

Business school taught me how to read balance sheets. But didn’t tell me how to motivate people to give off their best. Business school taught me how to structure the organization for maximum productivity. But not how to deal with a person who thinks her boss is a creep. Business school taught me how to create a good marketing strategy. But not how to sell it to a client who is insecure about his job.

Business schools tend to be very left brained. Very analytical. Very quantitative. Very structured. Which is a good thing because the Indian education system is not very good at teaching us to be analytical, quantitative or structured. The school system basically teaches us to learn by rote. The best business schools force you to unlearn that.

In the process, they tend to put the quantitative approach to a problem on a pedestal. Ignoring the qualitative and feel aspects of managing people. If management is both a science and an art, then business schools teach the science but ignore the art.

Life, unfortunately, is all about art. Success comes to those who learn to deal with people best. Those who learn to understand the fears and motivations that people have. Understand their joys & sorrows. The job of a leader is to inspire, provide direction and keep people motivated. Other professional skills are taken for granted.

One can argue that nobody can teach the art. That may be true, but where the business schools tend to make a mistake is to leave their students with a feeling that the art doesn’t really matter.

I had to wait until my hair turned grey before I understood that the art does matter. Maybe I am just a slow learner.

This article was published in the Strategist supplement of Business Standard on June 12, 2007


narendra shenoy said...

Well written, sir. And insightful, as always.

Basically, the manager has to be a lazy bastard who hates to do any work, gets others to do it for him by convincing them that he's doing them a favor LETTING them do it, can smile sweetly when his bosses give him a raise and no one else, and still have the bunch of his subordinates think he's their friend.

No, they dont teach this in B-School-:)

harshalg said...

B-School are turning out very bright minds - but the question might well be, are they curious minds? I'm not certain if management in that sense is really a hard science - empirical, objective & self correcting. In more ways that one, as you've suggested it's really about understanding people - the whole bit about empathy.

Experience on the other hand, is desirable. And perhaps actually lends that empathy. One isn't in too much of a rush, and one can see patterns emerging. There's really just more time to enjoy the view (wishful thinking!) and a healthy skepticism for the immediate.

B-School have been desireable for a long time now, in part because there I suspect at the time, there weren't too many alternatives in private industry (textiles, for instance). Over the years, there is a greater demand for seats, leading to an expansion of B-school capacity. Lots of business school advertising out there!

Coincidentally, am in the process of helping a young friend with their US MBA admission; essays, forms and the usual bit. My first question was really to understand the motive - why would an engineer want to pursue B-school?

Are we as a nation or culture - am interchanging the words loosely here, incapable of valuing specialist knowledge & skills? Or is it the "mainu bhi manager bann na hai" phenomena at work. Might be a bit of a imperialist hangover there.

@ Narendra; Cheatam's Amendment to Conway's Law suggests that "If a group of N persons implements a COBOL compiler, there will be N-1 passes. Someone in the group as to be the manager"

Read the original paper here - it's a rather nice intuitive thought - for instance, a work of art naturally reflects the context + the artiste's mind state.

narendra shenoy said...

Every time I read your blog, I am motivated to write an erudite and well articulated comment. In this regard, I am somewhat impeded by the unavailability of sufficient numbers of grey cells, but I shall plug on, nevertheless. So here goes.

I cannot but compare our fascination for B-school pedigree to eugenics. Eugenics is the "science" of breeding human beings selectively to ensure that "undesirable traits" (black skin, for instance) are eliminated from a population.

One central tenet of eugenics is that selective breeding can result in smarter children. And the one central tenet of B-school hiring is that anyone who graduates from a good B-school is ipso facto great managerial talent. A view that is known, in Latin, as "excretum de taurus"

Your article rightly points out that a B-school rarely teaches things that are valuable in the real world - street smartness, for one, people skills for another - yet we keep hiring them for salaries that exceed the gross domestic product of several African countries.

The existence of Shenoys paradox is an interesting question, too. Never heard of it? Neither had I, till I had that last beer. It says "Only rich companies can hire smart MBAs. Only poor companies need their talent" So MBAs in rich companies will vegetate and try to reduce their golf handicap while the poor companies where they could have worked wonders file for bankruptcy.

Would it make sense for large recruiters to select smart young people for themselves BEFORE they get into a B-school and train them to be great managers? A closet B-school in fact, minus the excretum de taurus? Tempting thought

Manasi Trivedi said...

I think though that things have changed now. They don't teach mutually exclusive art and science in their courses. They are molded together. Students who are graduating from these schools are heading out with more perspective than ever. I know a couple who have started NGOs and others who are interior decorators and some into advertising.
Interesting article though.

Aanchal said...

I agree with your thought completely. It's alright to quote Kotler at the drop of the hat but ultimately one has to "do in Rome as the Romans do". Theoretical and Practical Knowledge going hand-in-hand is surely a win-win situation.