Stuart Hart

Putting the Horse Back in Front of the Cart: The dominant model of business education is broken

It has been 30 years since I completed my Ph.D. degree.

Over that time, I’ve served on the faculties at three different “top 20” business schools: The University Michigan (Ross), the University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler) and Cornell University (Johnson). I also have started centers focused on sustainable enterprise and inclusive business at all three. I’ve watched the “American” business school model – with its emphasis on scholarly publishing and functional core courses in the MBA program – spread across the world. And as I start on my fourth decade of professional life, I have come to a conclusion: The dominant model of business education and entrepreneurial development is broken.

Tragically, we have put the proverbial cart before the horse: When the primary criterion for faculty promotion and advancement is publication in a select few scholarly journals, it should come as no great surprise that most of this research effort is directed at questions for which data are readily available, providing little insight into what my colleague C.K. Prahalad called “next practice.” With such intense pressure to publish, department-based faculty seek to minimize their “new preps” in teaching, making predictable loads in MBA core courses – finance, accounting, operations, marketing, strategy, organizational behavior – highly sought after.

The result: Rigidly defined and carefully guarded functional “turf” and a resistance to change that would shame most self-respecting government bureaucrats! For most business school students, the MBA program experience has become synonymous with the first year core courses – a rite-of-passage not unlike military indoctrination. By the time MBA students complete the core, they are so preoccupied with job search to repay the massive debt they have accumulated, that there is little time for elective courses that might broaden their bandwidth or allow for critical self-reflection.

The time has come to put the horse back in front of the cart. We desperately need new models of business education and entrepreneurial development appropriate to the challenges we face in the 21st century, which include epidemic inequality, ecosystem degradation, and a looming climate crisis. We need transformative change and revolutionary new business models, not just adjustment around the edges. We need a focus on the skills required to imagine, co-create, launch and scale game-changing new ventures that simultaneously lift the poor and leapfrog to new environmentally sustainable ways of living.

It is for this reason that I have become closely involved in the founding of the new Emergent Institute (originally the Indian Institute for Sustainable Enterprise), based in Bangalore, India. The fundamental premise driving this new endeavor is that the world is on an unsustainable path and that management education, as currently conceived, is unprepared to address this. India, for many reasons, represents the opportunity and challenge we face in the coming decades. Our hope is that a brand-new, independent, globally-oriented institution with deep ties in India can create a model for the disruptive changes necessary for a more sustainable world.

The Next Emergent Flagship Program in Sustainable Enterprise starts August 12, 2013. For more information click here.

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Education, Environment
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