October 26, 2009

From V-Schools to B-Schools : A Research Agenda

With an obsession with placements, Business schools in India -- IIMs not excluded -- have degenerated into thinly disguised placement agencies or at best glorified vocational schools. The compartmentalisation of B-school curriculum into the four principal management functions, namely Finance, Marketing, Human Resources and Systems and Operations reflects this mindset. These are the four principal kinds of tasks that a manager is expected to perform and B-schools pat themselves on the back if they can teach these four skills to the satisfaction of the recruiting companies. [ Though in reality, companies that hire from B-Schools do not seem to care for even this skill ...] Unfortunately, this puts B-schools in the category of vocational schools or V-schools

If we draw an analogy with engineering schools, this approach would mean that students are taught workshop practice -- chipping, fitting, foundry, welding -- assembling circuit boards or laying out wires for electrical circuits ! But an engineering school teaches much more ! From mechanics, through thermodynamics, control systems, logic gates all the way up to engineering mathematics and algorithms. This is the kind of knowledge that separates an engineer from a technician and by extension the kind of approach that separates an IIT from an ITI !!

So if we wish to move from an ITI to an IIT, a V-School to a B-School, what is it that that should be on the curriculum ? One approach would be replace the current four areas with four other more fundamental ones : Leadership, Mathematics, Psychology and Technology.

But before we adopt this approach we need to understand how these four things map into and support the more traditional areas. To do so, let us dig deeper into what is meant by these four areas.

Leadership in the context of B-schools consists of Entrepreneurship -- which could be traditional entrepreneurship as in setting up new businesses but should also extend to entrepreneurship within a firm, or intrapreneurship, where each business unit operates on its own risk-reward model. However this entrepreneurship should be tempered with Ethical behaviour and a strong focus on Equity -- that ensures that the rights of all stakeholders are adequately protected. So Leadership can be defined in terms of Ethics, Equity and Entrepreneurship.

Managing a business calls for both analytical -- or left brain, and emotional -- or right brain, skills. That is why managers are expected to have both IQ as well as EQ. Mathematics in general, represents the core analytical ability and in a B-school context can be translated into modelling techniques that apply to financial models, optimisation models that lead to operational efficiency and models that apply to marketing and sales. On the right brain side, where one has to deal with human beings, the core skill is Psychology that can be used to understand Consumer Behaviour, Organisational ( and employee ) Behaviour and of helps us to understand the laws that lead to the resolution of disputes.

But in today's business environment, the biggest driver is the development and deployment of new technology. What are the key technologies that a B-school should focus on ? Ever since the discovery of fire, Energy is recognised as the key to growth. Food security and health issues force us to focus on the Life Sciences in general and Bio science and bio engineering in particular and Habitat requirements lead us to seek breakthroughs in Materials and Manufacturing. The last, but not the least, that ties all this together is Communication and Collaboration technology that has traditionally been referred to as Information Systems.

This sixteen areas (a) Leadership, Ethics, Equity, Entrepreneurship (b) Mathematical Modelling, Financial Models, Operational and Optimisation Models, Marketing Models (c) Psychology, Consumer Behaviour, Organisational Behaviour, Dispute Resolution and (d) Communication and Collaboration, Life Sciences, Materials & Manufacturing and Energy could represent the core set of knowledge that any Manager ( as opposed to a supervisor ) should possess or build upon. With this model, it is not at all difficult to accommodate all the four traditional disciplines, namely Finance, Marketing, HR and Operations, quite easily within one or more of these sixteen areas.

Interestingly enough, these 16 areas can be grouped into a traditional Magic Quadrant where the left half represents left brain activities and right half represents right brain activities and as we move from bottom to top we move from specific topics to more general ones.

A typical B-School curriculum consists of 32 courses spread across 4 semesters. 16 of these courses could come from these areas while the other 16 could be distributed across specific electives that delve deeper into one or more of these areas.

In an era when a B-school is judged on the basis of its Industry interface and in its ability to turn our "industry ready" managers, this model may be questioned and criticised on being too theoretical and divorced from what the industry needs. However let us understand that just as industry needs both engineers and technicians for engineering functions, it also need supervisors and managers for business functions. IITs provide engineers, ITIs provide technicians. Similarly high end B-schools should build Managers who can provide leadership in thought and action -- not supervisors who know how to calculate loan EMIs.


Unknown said...

Sounds like a new idea worth looking into. However, it assumes that what the E-schools are doing is correct. That is debatable too!

Ashutosh said...

A beautiful balancing act. Being from a business family and a failed entrepreneur, I do see lot of merit in your approach. Why not VGSOM build upon the idea and offer a unique but most sensible B-program.

Ashutosh Sarkar

JAS said...

Thanx for presenting so well a thought-through concept on b-school curriculum.

To add my two paisa, I think the Indian b-school syllabus should be customised to build on our country's strengths. Abundance of cheap labour, successful gigantic labour contractors (IT,ITES. construction,textiles, jewellery ), microfinance & bottom-of-the-pyramid marketing techniques being some of them. Large scale mass (with its own sub-segments) management rather than man-management is increasingly becoming relevant & courses like "social psychology" , "datacenter computing & Management", "microenterprises" may prove to be useful in modernising the course structure.