Thoughts on Business Education

Recently, an HBR blog post (based on Carnegie Foundation BELL project) observed that undergrad business students need a greater sense of professionalism and a better appreciation of the role of business in society – they need to be practitioners (non technicians) with nimble minds that can understand the context in which business operates.  Below are my comments on this (in collaboration with Liz Burow).

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Here are 3 ideas to move business education forward (drawn from recent experiences teaching at a hybrid business/design/liberal arts BBA program and consulting with a variety of institutions about their space and strategy):

1. Introduce design into the curriculum, not as tool for styling, but as a way of thinking. A design education enables students to see and create relationships, to explore ideas in an iterative way when there is no clear answer, and to creatively communicate their ideas.

2. Engage students in real world problems that matter. This enables “learning to be” a practitioner rather than “learning about” a subject” (see John Seely Brown on this). It also creates a platform for business students to collaborate with students/faculty in other disciplines since they’ll have something tangible to work on together.

3. See business as an interface with the world, a means not an end in itself. Every business student should be double-majoring in something else, something he or she cares about deeply. If this were the case, this other interest would be the context to which the lessons and tools of business could be applied, guided by values and ethics.

How might these 3 themes come together? Imagine a business student double majoring in sustainable development, working with others in engineering, planning, law, and communications to get an idea for bike sharing system off the ground in a developing country… With meaningful, tangible projects like this it’s easy to see how students would be well-positioned to lead on the problems of the day and understand their role in defining and solving them.