The Bloggers Business School (XBS 1)

HbsAs readers of the blog know, I am keen to see the reinvention of the business school. 

I have several reasons, the chief of this is that many b-schools are, like the army, fighting yesterday’s battles. 

I saw someone arguing recently that the knowledge economy has been replaced by the creative economy.  (Come to think of it, it was BusinessWeek.  They were offering this as one of their take-aways for 2005.)

The Knowledge Economy is giving way to the Creative Economy. Information has become a commodity like coal or corn. People once thought that superiority in technology and information would ease the economic pain of outsourcing manufacturing to Asia. But it turns out that a good deal of knowhow–software writing, accounting, legal work, engineering–can be outsourced to places like India, China, and Eastern Europe, too. […]

 The solution: Focus on innovation and design as the new corporate core competencies. To prosper, companies have to constantly change the game in their industries by creating products and services that satisfy needs consumers don’t even know they have yet.  [BusinessWeek, below]

And I thought to myself, "oh, fine, b-schools are only now coming to come to terms with the knowledge economy.  God help them when it comes to the creative economy."

In point of fact, b-schools are bad at preparing people for dynamism inside the corporation and outside in the marketplace.  They are completely hopeless when it comes to teaching students about cultural literacy.  And without this knowledge, MBAs cannot hope to manage or respond to sudden changes in consumer taste aned preference.  Everything comes as a blind side hit. 

Sometimes I amuse myself by assembling a "dream team" faculty for the "Dynamism department" at a business school.  Several of the readers of this blog have a cherished place there, not to mention a named chair.  (Hey, as long as I am just making it up I can afford to be extravagant.)

But then I snap out of it and it occurs to me that the bricks and mortar model here is probably done for.  We must begin from the ground up.

Then I fell to thinking about a business school founded in blogging.

Here then are some rules for the blogger business school:

1. you must blog to be admitted

2. how well you blog will be used to determine whether you are admitted

3. most instruction will happen on line

3.1 there may be 1 week get-togethers in the summer, and the occasional weekend

4.  everyone will keep their "day job"

5.  instruction will consist in problem solving

6. using real time, real world problem sets

7. these problem sets will be created by shadowing real world problems. 

[We know for instance that over the last week or so Mitch Hurwitz is struggling to decide what to do now that Arrested Development has been cancelled by Fox.  (see my post on the topic).   Today, we learn that Hurwitz may do a deal with Showtime.  Because they are suberbly well informed, the class will have picked up Hurwitz’s problem early, come up with its own recommendations…and then rethought the whole thing as additional data about the Showtime deal becomes evident.]

8. classroom activities will take place for an hour at one’s desk, perhaps once a week per course.

9. students will do their own prep, drawing and posting useful information as they go.

10.  post hoc, there will be links for follow up.  For example:

10.1. each "problem post mortem" will be tagged: "this is an HR issue, with 3 options."  Each options will be laid out with key passages from the managerial literature with further links to the paradigms of key thinkers.  Collaborators may take issue with these assertions and correct them in the manner of a Wikipedia.  This may be the only body of work that is not disclosed to a general public.  This is the body of knowledge that belongs to each class. 

11.  problem solving will be collaborative, organized into teams, one team set against the other, teams will emerge spontaneously in the course of the debate, teams will not remain fixed in membership

12. all of this will happen under glass.  The b-school will be posted!  The difference between students and observers will be rights of participation as determined by program admission. 

13.  I haven’t quite figured out how grades are given, though this too may be an antique concept.  The question is whether you get the degree, and this decide when the faculty meet to look at a student’s contribution to a problem solving session of the student’s choice, of their choice, and one chosen at random. 

14.  No one fails.  They just don’t graduate.


Anonymous.  2005.  Best of 2005: Ideas: The Way to Succeed in The Creative Economy: Innovate.  BusinessWeek. here.

McCracken, Grant. 2005. The Arrested Development case study: Say you’re Mitchell Hurwitz, what would you do?  This Blog Sits At the… November 25, 2005. here

15 thoughts on “The Bloggers Business School (XBS 1)

  1. Jüri Saar

    I’m curious, what about the international dimension i.e. “students” from outside the US, who might bring an interesting viewpoint or approach to solving problems, but who might have difficulty with US culutural literacy on which most of the cases would probably be based? Would international students present a problem or would their exclusion be an acceptable trade-off?

  2. John Heffron

    Grades (or class rank) could just be determined by the teams. If teams don’t stay fixed people will gravitate towards teams which are doing the most interesting things. So, over the course of a student’s career the teams they found or co-found would have done poorly and lost others or done well and gained people. If someone is less assertive in forming teams yet is recruited consistently that will be reflected in their standing. These two things can and should be measured.

    Regarding international students, there will certainly be an increased difficulty. But if this is a business school based in America and hiring is happening by businesses looking to do work in America, this will be mimicked in the world outside of school. Or provided this model works, it would seem that other schools will spring up in different regions, and the cultural literacy will focus on local problems.

  3. Peter

    Twenty years ago, I helped establish the MBA programme at the University of Zimbabwe, which was then the first in black Southern Africa. Because the country needed (and still needs) competent managers we made the program only available part-time, with the idea that participants could keep working in the jobs they already held. This was great, and led to some wonderful class discussions like the ones you imagine, because the participants were players in the economy outside the classroom.

    The only difficulty I see with a problem-based approach is the same weakness that Harvard’s case-based approach has: Students are led to think that the business world consists of a sequence of discrete and solvable problems, and that good management consists of tackling first one, and then the next, and so on. In fact, real-world management (outside consultancy firms, that is) consists of dealing with lots of parallel problems, most of which are never “solved”, or even “resolved”, but just ameliorated or improved. Moreover, any action on one problem is likely to impact the others, as if all the case studies were inter-linked. Way, way messier than any B-school curriculum.

    I think the Japanese understand this better than do we Westerners, and maybe the reason is our B-school emphasis on case studies (no doubt, both cause and effect of our way of thinking). I think the Greek analogy of hedgehogs and foxes applies here.

  4. russell

    Brilliant idea. Absolutely. I’ve always thought I’d never hire another strategist who didn’t blog, and blog well. And this takes it a step further. I’ve been dabbling with a similar thing on my blog – young account planners from around the world are responding to assignments and I’ve been posting their work and my comments – and everyone involved seems to be getting something out of it. Especially me.

    And, I have to say, most of the best stuff is coming from beyond the UK and the US – there might be some language issues (unfortunately I have to make them do it in English) but the energy, imagination and insight is all there.

  5. Grant

    Juri, now that we are global villagers, this problem should have some work arounds, but you are right, there are moments when international students are left behind. This says that b-schools and other institutions should build “catch up” instructional systems…useful for everyone, in fact. Thanks, Grant

    John, nice one, I like the idea of grading by sorting, (students as aggregate!), and nice solution to the international problem, I would kill students to learn about the popular culture of Iceland, Tokyo, or South Africa. And then we have an exchange of information that creates something closer to symmetry. Thanks, Grant

    Peter, that’s exactly right, that problem solving can feel episodic, when it is in fact grappling with enduring issues. But I think on the job the student begins to see this, and to treat the case study resources as so many modules that exist to be pressed into service in rich, complicated sets to which one must return again and again. Maybe. That’s the hope. Boy, were those students lucky to have some body like you setting the program up! Thanks, Grant

    Russell, I am a big fan of your working, blogging and otherwise, and I love this take on the wisdom of crowds. Maybe its the wisdom of clouds, because your model brings together not masses of strangers in the manner of a decision market but something smaller, more focused and more mutual. It’s hives, clouds, networks, or something. And in a perfect world this business school would be tapped into, drawing from and giving to these networks all the time.

    It feels like this too is a middle ground that needs occuping. We have lots of people on line, and we have some aggregations on high, but do we have meetings grounds in which people can come together for mutual provocation and learning.

    Now, if there is someone who can extract content and value from these clouds on a systematic basis so that it pours into a business school curriculum, that would be the single best way to keep the curriculum current. The recriprocity would be to take the conceptual developments of the b-school and port those back into the clouds. I am just rambling. Thanks for dropping by. Grant

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  9. Richard

    Grant, I’d like in, but like most designers I think with my eyes. My concern about your school entrance requirements are that they ought to have a visual component not just a blogging component. Can we blog visually to get in? What is the blogging version of a portfolio?

    I understand that visual intellect is only one element of creativity, but you have to find a way to help those of us who put a face on creativity, and perhaps isn’t the gap between the visual and the cerebral what we’re talking about anyway?

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  11. Grant

    Richard, this is a business school that should tap all the founts of creativity, to be sure. Thanks, Grant

  12. Julian Irigoin

    I find your idea very interesting. In my case, in my blog, I usually post about Human Resources issues, but my posts are in spanish. If the idea grows, i’d like to join the spanish group of bloggers.

  13. fredrik sarnblad

    I love this idea. Aside from the potential it has to generally broadening minds and genuinely benefiting people by embracing creativity in business, it would also be a massive kick up the arse of many Ivy League b-school faculties. Now, I haven’t been to business school [perhaps this would be my chance], but if b-schools around the world are they way you describe them, this should be a wake-up call for them that they would also ultimately benefit from.

    I’m sure Seth Godin likes your idea as well as his take on business schools in ‘Small Is the New Big’ resonates well with your viewpoint.

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