A New Business Model

In a most interesting article on the Web from the British publication “The Economist” the author advocates the adoption of a new paradigm for business schools offering an MBA. The author is convinced that the time has come for a broader, more enveloping degree that goes beyond the narrow business model to help students gain a wider perspective. Presumably this will allow the graduates to understand the interrelatedness of business with the rest of the world. The author also hopes a new approach will help graduates adopt a more “humble” approach to business — in place of the “know-it-all” approach he insists is common today. We are told that

In this humility-driven vision of leadership, business schools need to shift their centre of gravity away from economics, finance and dreams of individual fortune. We need to teach future leaders to reflect and critique—that there are alternatives to theories that they accept, without question, because they speak to their self-interest.

To do this, business schools need to challenge their own orthodoxy—a crude Darwinian view of business and society rooted in the survival of the fittest. They need to focus on the social consequences of their actions and accept responsibility for the business excesses of recent years.  What is required is a narrative of common interest to combat the mantra of selfishness; one that appeals to the sense that leadership is for all not for the few.

I found this article most interesting especially since I recently wrote that those advocating a narrow career choice for college undergraduates were mistaken and that what our young people need is a broader and more inclusive education that will allow them to adapt to a changing world. As Robert Hutchins once said: the only thing we know for certain is that everything will change. The article in “The Economist” seems to agree; it promotes the outrageous idea that “business schools might recruit graduates from other disciplines such as the arts [and] humanities…”

Good grief! Are we finally hearing from within the bosom of business a cry for a more humane, more reflective and inclusive, and even more “humble,” approach to learning business skills, one that involves critical thinking and a concern for the moral implications of actions that are never taken in a vacuum? In a word, are we hearing a plea for a liberal education from people who have come to realize what Socrates knew thousands of years ago — that the unexamined life is not worth living? It seems hardly possible.

But if we listen very carefully we do hear every now and again from corporate moguls that the people they are hiring can’t comprehend what they read, write a coherent memo, speak intelligently in groups, or imagine the consequences of the actions they propose. It is a faint voice because for the most part corporations really want people who will do what they are told to do and a person who goes into business after an undergraduate preparation in the “arts and humanities,” is likely to question whether the end really does justify the means and the bosses don’t want that.

But the appeal to business schools to infuse a more “humble” approach to business so their graduates won’t march forth into the real word convinced they have all the answers and know everything that needs to be known, that they consider “alternatives to the theories they accept,” is not only refreshing, it is downright sensible. The question is whether anyone will listen.

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8 thoughts on “A New Business Model

  1. This is a grand idea and long overdue, but I’m not holding my breath awaiting a significant change. The role model remains the Wall Street lion who is in it for himself, where greed is not only good, its great, and where the greediest, dirtiest, most underhanded traders are rewarded the most. And the nastiest of the nasty become CEO’s.

  2. Hugh, great post. If I end up with two comments, please forgive. My system hiccuped and the first one was lost. As a business person, there is a dearth of analytical and communicative capabilities. Data abounds, but there are few who can interpret what things mean. Plus, it would be value added, if they could understand the social or business context of the data or analysis. Communicating in a written fashion is a declining art, as well. Well done Professor. BTG

      • My first comment that is now lost in cyberspace concluded with having a philosophy or business ethics class. I thought you would appreciate that.

      • I have taught business ethics at the undergraduate and the graduate level. It may help some, but if the man or woman doesn’t have sound character taking one college course will not make them a good person!

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