Friday, February 04, 2011

Teaching, Research, B-Schools

FT has a scathing op-ed by Freek Vermeulen of London Business School [hat tip:]:

Popular fads replace relevant teaching

But business education clearly also suffers [due to the divide between teaching and research]. What is being taught in management courses is usually not based on solid scientific evidence. Instead, it concerns the generalisation of individual business cases or the lessons from popular management books. Such books often are based on the appealing formula that they look at several successful companies, see what they have in common and conclude that other companies should strive to do the same thing.

But how do you know that the advice provided is reasonable, or if it comes from tomorrow’s Enrons, RBSs, Lehmans and WorldComs? How do you know that today’s advice and cases will not later be heralded as the epitome of mismanagement?

See also: Timothy Devinney's response.

Related link: Michael Skapinker on Why business still ignores business schools


  1. ahish said...

    'Timothy's response' link leads to this same page.

  2. Abi said...

    @ahish: Thanks for the alert. I have fixed the link.

  3. jbeck said...

    The author gets it right, mostly. What is researched and what is taught at a B-School are very different things. My question, what took you so long to find that out? The business school PhD and the MBA program differ in a way that would seem v.strange to Abi's engg, science and humanities colleagues.
    The MBA program is full of tools and techniques (formulas actually) to be applied to solve simple problems. Where any complicated formula with higher degree polynomials is required there's always analysis packages. The business PhD is nothing like that. The course work almost exclusively consists of depending upon the department of the B-school one of the following disciplines

    Finance/Accounting - Economics, Econometrics, Statistics, Data analysis methods

    Marketing/Strategic management - Economics, Econometrics, Statistics, and possibly field survey methods and/or applied psychology

    Organization Behavior - Social science course work, research methods, field survey methods etc

    Operations/Information Mgmt - Maths, Stats, Data structures/Algorithms and econometrics

    In some universities the qualifiers are administered by departments outside the B-School. PhD candidates are expected to study up the MBA texts in their spare time.

    B-Schools are exactly the opposite of engg and science departments. while the latter lead practice in industry, the former are always playing catch-up. And most of the time industry itself knows very little about why its big projects succeeded or failed!

    But for all the complaining, B-School profs themselves are an imprecise lot. There is very poor description or operational definition of the subject/topic of study. Look at the author's reference to a study on the implementation of IS-9000. First, ISO-9000 is a standard that qualifies quality management systems. It has nothing to do with innovation, which the authors have left v.loosely defined. There can be several stages of innovation. Is it new product development, the upgrade cycle, or spec revision or what is it? Research management is a hellish task because sometimes, companies are not sure what technological development to bet on and build new research directions. B-School profs, even ones who rightly conclude MBA coursework is BS - have no idea of how corporate innovation works.