By guest author Jeff Saperstein
Sramana has launched a most useful discussion about whether MBA programs are failing entrepreneurs. As a fifteen-year adjunct lecturer at San Francisco State University’s Graduate School of Business and a ten-year visiting professor at ESCP–Paris Graduate Business Program, I have taught thousands of MBA students. Research we conducted for “Bust the Silos: Opening Your Organization for Growth (December 2009) can also shed some light on the efficacy of MBA programs to better prepare participants to be successful innovators and entrepreneurs during their careers.
First, it may be useful to broaden the discussion from entrepreneurial-centered MBA programs to include both traditional MBA programs and executive MBA (EMBA) programs that offer accelerated degrees for part-time working executives. These three categories encompass most of the global MBA programs in business schools.
Business schools are most useful to teach broader multi-discipline critical thinking (good case study work provides the opportunity), collaborative and leadership skills, and a lifelong professional network with some of the fellow students in the cohort. The business models and information content in the courses may be less useful since they are frequently outdated or too theoretical.
Some MBA entrepreneurship programs may put too much focus on the fund-raising part of start-ups. However, creating an effective organization is equally important to the successful scaling of the enterprise. These management skills can be studied and enhanced in an accredited MBA program.
MBA programs can also be valuable in helping participants think through problems with a broader perspective than they would have with their co-workers.
As Alina Diznik, a freelance journalist writing for the Wall Street Journal, notes, “Bob Cancalosi, the chief learning officer at GE Healthcare, a unit of General Electric Company, says he urges some top execs to attend an executive MBA program because he believes the programs will help them learn to understand the balance “between right-brain and left-brain thinking” and quickly come away with new ideas. “It allows us to not always be drinking our own bath water,” adds Mr. Cancalosi. (1)
In addition to expanding their thinking, MBA students can acquire necessary communications soft skills: team building, problem-solving, and collaboration. These skills are necessary for success in an innovation-based workplace.
Value networks are replacing hierarchical work structures in many of the leading global multinational corporations that start-ups will be working with. Value networks define work in roles, not job descriptions, in multi-functional teams rather than departmental functions, and open organizations rather than vertical company silos. (For more information see valuenetworks.com.)
MBA programs are generally far behind in effectively teaching workplace structural innovation because many of the professors have not experienced it themselves in their own work. Unfortunately, most business schools are hindered by the same antiquated work structures that have hindered conventional businesses from taking full advantage of the Internet-enhanced work environment.
Anyone thinking about business school to accelerate his or her career should evaluate the MBA offering on leadership development, communications skills sets, and workplace structure innovation in addition to the quality of the cohort they will be learning with. As Curt Carlson, CEO of SRI, has so aptly stated, “The most important innovation is in the way we work.”
1. “MBA Programs: Are They Worth It?” Alina Dizik, Wall Street Journal, September 30, 2008.