I’ve written before about Harvard’s Orwellian reaction to my book – threatening letters, demeaning remarks to other journalists, advising students and faculty not to read it etc. etc. – but I’m feeling less alone these days.
In an article in the June Harvard Business Review a former professor of mine, Joel Podolny, says he quibbles with some of my criticisms but shares my frustration with the MBA as it is today. Joel recently left his job as dean of Yale’s School of Management to join Apple, as the founding dean of Apple University. (He even writes that I was “one of the better students” he taught at HBS, which is a relief.)
Also, Tom Peters, the author of In Search of Excellence is a gleeful critic of MBAs, and the extraordinary knots they are tying themselves in at the moment. Peters is wonderfully scornful of Jack Welch, a man I always thought was sort of an ass, but at least a successful one. That changed when Welch came to talk at HBS, when I concluded he was actually an embarrassment. And yet still, he’s idolized and is setting up his own online MBA program. Run, don’t walk, from that one.
Robert Joss, the departing dean of Stanford’s business school acknowledges in a farewell letter that a “better balance is needed” at MBA programs. He notes that the latest graduating class “will experience a closing Synthesis Seminar developed by faculty experts in organizational behavior, trust, leadership, management, and finance. The purpose of this final seminar is to have students reflect on what they have learned and what values and goals they want to live by—so they are better prepared to deal with the many gray areas and difficult decisions they will face. My hope is that they will be leaders with confidence (not hubris) and compassion, mindful of the results of their decisions on the people whose trust they must earn: employees, customers, community members, and investors.”
It sounds good, but it’s the same problem. MBA programs and business leaders more broadly talk about good behavior as if it’s some kind of amazing discovery – see Corporate Social Responsibility – whereas everyone else regards it as simply to be expected. So they end up, quite rightly, as objects of ridicule.