The Future of the MBA: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: July 3rd, 2011 by bobmorris

The Future of the MBA: Designing the Thinker of the Future
Mihnea C. Moldoveanu and Roger L. Martin
Oxford University Press (2008)

Note: I recently re-read several books that were published a while ago. For example, here is one that addresses many issues that continue to be in hot dispute.

During an interview of Roger Martin, I asked him about the title of this book, co-authored with Mihnea C. Moldoveanu. “We envision a world in which there will be a greater focus in business education on developing the thinking styles and capacities of MBAs rather than filling their heads with analytical tools. We see teaching them to think and act responsibly and responsively in the face of multiple, incommensurable and possibly conflicting models of oneself, the world and others. This in turn requires development of their thinking capacity along three dimensions.

First is nimble-mindedness, which we see as the ability to understand apparently conflicting models, walk around them and internalize rather than reject the tensions among them. Second is big-mindedness, which we see as the ability to contain and behold the conflicting models while, in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ‘retaining the ability to function.’” Third is tough-mindedness, which we see as the capacity to utilize the tension among the existing models to forge a new model. This in turn requires the rigorous testing and discarding of potential solutions rather than fixating on the first one and hoping it is sound.”

In this volume, Moldoveanu and Martin respond to several critiques of the MBA as a program during discussions of “The Future of the MBA” during a conference co-hosted by the co-authors at the Rotman School of Management in 2006. They assert that many of the critiques do not recognize the selection value of the MBA. For example, the failure to appreciate the value of the selection value of the MBA. That is, “its value as a selection mechanism or filter that picks out individuals with high potential for management positions based on relatively powerful predictors of performance, such as general intelligence and conscientiousness.”

They insist that, on the contrary, it does have “a significant, demonstrable, and robust value to prospective employers.” They share their vision of the high-value decision maker of the future whom they call an “integrator,” one who solves a problem through effective action what the narrow specialist can often not solve even in theory. Having shared their profile of the integrator, Moldoveanu and Martin argue that the selection metric of MBA programs be expanded and refined to include “measures of openness in combination with an executive function that allows the integrator to manage his or her affective and cognitive processes.”

That is, to develop what Moldoveanu and Martin refer to as an “opposable” mind that, as Martin suggests in his response to the interview question, is “nimble,” “big,” and “tough.” Especially in today’s business world, executives must be able to function effectively, under control, despite what Moldoveanu and Martin describe as “an inherent and inherently irresolvable state of practical ambiguity.” The tools they require include generative reasoning capacity, assertive inquiry, and causal modeling.

They then pose this rhetorical question: “Can business academia deliver a development program more likely to cultivate the high-value decision maker of the future than is currently the case?” Of course it can. Moldoveanu and Martin suggest that, “although the value of the know-what imparted by business school may be in many cases low, the value of the know-how that business school academics can provide is undervalued and can be significantly increased by recognizing and amplifying powerful trends that have emerged in the field over the past 20 years.” I agree that relevant, valuable know-how can be successfully transferred through discursive interaction and mimetic imprinting; moreover, when redesigning the training experience of the MBA focused on the performative dimension of knowledge, it is highly desirable – as Moldoveanu and Martin recommend – to “bring the [real-world] and ontological dimensions of training together in the same elements of a training program.”



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