The Differentiated MBA |

The Differentiated MBA

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Next month, business schools around the world will graduate another crop of freshly minted MBAs, ready and eager to enter the business world and shape the future of management. In this rapidly changing business world, one has to wonder... has traditional business education been able to keep up? And have today's MBA graduates been prepared to lead in tomorrow's open world?

I received my MBA in 2002 in an effort to supplement my undergraduate English degree, as well as to enable the transition from a career in management consulting to one in marketing and, more specifically, brand management. Overall, I had a very positive experience and certainly credit this experience for laying the foundation for the career I have been able to build since. I learned the ins and outs of finance, accounting, operations, marketing, and management, and I learned them well. But as I reflect back on my MBA education I find myself thinking more not about what I learned, but what I didn't.

The world has changed dramatically, even since 2002. More specifically, the very definitions of leadership and management have had to adapt to the advances in technology and the social and economical impact that have resulted. Hyperconnectivity, unprecedented access to information, increased transparency, mass collaboration, the power of design and creativity, global competition... how do (or will? or should?) these business megatrends shape the MBA curriculum of the 21st century? And will the MBA graduate that more fully understands how to lead and manage under these conditions be advantaged over her peers?

I've been extremely interested in reading about some of the new approaches to business education that could better differentiate its graduates in today's competitive world.

Would you ever consider applying to a design school for your business degree? Though not (yet) offering an MBA program, the Parsons School of Design in New York City is one of the few design schools currently offering its students a series of business degree options. Check out how a recent article describes the school's approach to designing its own form of business education:

With traditional undergrad and graduate business education melting down these days, [there is] a huge opportunity to blue sky a new, more human-centered, creativity-focused kind of education.

The article goes on to describe in more detail the Design & Management program, which resides within Parsons' School of Design Strategies. The program is sizable–currently 600 students and growing fast. Though it started as a way to enable its graduates to be more competitive in understanding the business side of the fashion industry, it aspires to be much more. It hopes to place its graduates and their unique skill set and problem-solving approach in “all spheres of society, from business and medical services to social innovation.”

I really appreciated the author's take on this program:

For me, this is a great chance to structure what I think ALL education needs to be today—a learning experience that enables students to navigate a changing, uncertain world using the tools and methods of Design. I believe that we need to shift from a Consuming to a Making society and from a Choosing to a Creating culture.

Human-centered, iterative, collaborative, prototyping, generative approaches to problem-solving need to replace our old educational models, from liberal arts to business programs.

Collaboration and teamwork are the new core competencies of work and life but few schools actually show you how to maximize the experience. For students who have grown up networking on Facebook, actual human contact and collaboration can be shocking.

Now I know what you might be thinking–surely it's easier for a new program (like Parsons') to design a new program that reflects today's needs than it is for a larger, more established university to radically change its curriculum. You'd probably be right to a degree, but check out what is happening at Stanford University.

The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University (more commonly known as the offers its students a graduate degree in Design Thinking. (Unfamiliar with Design Thinking? Here is a great place to start, and here's a great resource for more information.) From the's website:

We want the to be a place for Stanford students and faculty in engineering, medicine, business, the humanities, and education to learn design thinking and work together to solve big problems in a human centered way.

We want it to be a place where people from big companies, start-ups, schools, nonprofits, government, and anyone else who realizes the power of design thinking, can join our multidisciplinary teaching, prototyping, and research.

Take a look at the school's manifesto. It's written on a cocktail napkin.

Though technically still a design school and not a school of management, I am impressed by the skills they are teaching: Radical collaboration. Multidisciplinary innovation. Design thinking. A more human approach to problem-solving.

So, who will be better equipped to be an effective leader in tomorrow's organization–the MBA graduate or the graduate? Or (more provocatively) one that is comfortable at a place where the two intersect? I'm looking forward to the day when Stanford offers a combined or dual-degree between the and its more traditional Graduate School of Business.

It might even be enough to convince me to go back to school. (Again.)

Are you a recent (or soon-to-be) MBA school graduate? Do you feel that the curriculum that you were taught was current enough to enable you to be effective in today's open world? How should business schools' curriculums change to meet the evolving needs of today's business world? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

About the author

John Adams - As Red Hat's resident Brand Manager, John Adams strives to both protect and advance the Red Hat brand every day.