Should the MBA be a creative program?

On Design Observer Bruce Nussbaum wants to fail Financial Times’ top 100 business schools.

Let’s Give an “F” to the FT List of Best Business Schools

OK, at least some of them. But it is hard to argue with their top 10 – Stanford has the d.school link, and Wharton is a top systems and organizational design school.   We would push U Toronto’s Rotman and Case Western well up the list (even though Rotman scores pretty well overall.)

Let’s first clarify the purpose of management education. Getting past the “cool idea” phase of enhancing business education by integrating creative design, what is it that is being enhanced?  The practice of management, finance, organizational leadership, or marketing? (It is marketing primarily, which has a long history with creative professionals in advertising, market  research, and product management.)

When we consider creativity, design freedom, and inspired ways of knowing, the business disciplines are not where we usually look first. I appreciate that design and arts should be influential in the transformation of other disciplines. But why focus on just business? Since people employed as designers typically work in business environments and are subject to the strategies and decisions made by MBAs, the relationship can seem a little one-sided. Design continue to do more of the contribution to an enterprise that is largely defined by the MBA. Should designers also influence strategic decision making?

Bruce cites Facebook and Twitter as kinds of new examples for creative business design.  And Groupon, which is 100% business model innovation and almost an anti-design service. But Twitter evolved from a technical RSS tool, and it still has  no business model. Facebook was from the Bill Gates Harvard dropout model. Good business is about capturing and sustaining value and being “just innovative enough.” Good design is more planning than play, it is more intentional than something like Twitter, which was not exactly planned that way.

Is the transformation of business education really that different than for other education? Why not also fail engineering schools and computer science programs? Isn’t this where the tech inventions come from?  Most successful startups and sustainable innovations were not started in the university setting. But why not encourage a startup model in non-business disciplines? Schools are testbeds and collaboratories.  They should be places where learners are free to try and fail.

Bruce cites Facebook and Twitter as kinds of new examples for creative business design.  And Groupon, which is 100% business model innovation and almost an anti-design service. But Twitter evolved from a technical RSS tool, and it still has  no business model. Facebook was from the Bill Gates Harvard dropout model. Good business is very often not innovative, but about capturing and sustaining value and being “just innovative enough.”

Let’s go on. Why not fail social sciences?  What contribution has it made to addressing or intervening in the underlying socially systemic problems creating turmoil in economies, governments, organizations, institution?  If we could reinvent university systems we might see more creative impacts in every field of discourse.  We don’t see much progress in institutional innovation and compared to the utopian 1960’s social sciences do not seem as invested in the Big Issues.

What do business graduates consider successful? Do people go to business school to become creative design-oriented leaders? Then why don’t we see former MBA’s in MDes programs then for a second Masters?  (OK, at OCADU MDes in Strategic Foresight and Innovation, we are seeing a few MBAs and we’re doing our best to un-brainwash them!)

Inventing what becomes valuable is elusive and not a direct product of the linear analysis that an MBA needs to run the shop. So rather than fuss over MBAs, who have a world of choice at their command, why not consider the role of innovative thinking in early education?  Andrea Kuszewski just wrote on this in the Scientific American blog You can increase your intelligence. Perhaps it makes sense to return the arts to underfunded elementary and secondary education, and to increase support for the arts, design, and liberal arts in a broadly-based transdisciplinary curriculum for younger learners. Then perhaps MBA students would already be creative upon entering their programs.

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