Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Is the MBA dead?

Is the MBA is dead in the water, as we know it?

Perhaps. But like any successful organism, the MBA is under pressure to evolve to something new, to meet the emerging needs of organizations, and probably will survive in a new form.

I earned my MBA 15 years ago. What I learned is still useful, but many of the central concepts about running a business or organization have been transformed by the changing times.

MBAs fill many management roles, including expert capabilities delivered into an organization;  functions such as change management, innovation, marketing and HR. But many of these roles are being shed and replaced by front line staff, not necessarily in supervisory roles, distributed throughout the organization who have a broad expertise in strategy, improvement, innovation, facilitation/leadership capacities, supported by new kinds of tools in which specialist knowledge is embedded, expert systems, group decision tools, simulators and calculators.

As society makes the shift from the current Knowledge Age paradigm to the emerging Wisdom Age world, the dominant work of the previous period is becoming automated by the newly emergent tools/technologies. The expert procedures/methods that are the jobs of knowledge workers, mostly people with degrees, are becoming embedded in the new tools, e.g. on-line learning (teaching), on-line conveyancing (legal), tools for dealing successfully with conflict (legal/judicial), on-line preventive health (medical) and financial management programs (accounting and share trading) so anyone can do the work, just by using the tool.

At the start of this new economic order, the Wisdom Economy, we are having to change the way we speak about everything we do.

The very name "administration" implies the need for organizations to be rule-based systems,  that are relatively unchanging. The situation for so called Masters of Business "Administration"  is thus complicated by the accelerating rate of change who find themselves operating in increasingly more complex, ambiguous and uncertain environments, where the rules must keep changing. So perhaps the course needs a new name, which  reflects its' future adaptive nature.

Perhaps we could keep the acronym, MBA, which might stand for the superlative, Magnificence of Business Agility, to celebrate our role as a player of infinite games, that we are in awe of the amazing possibilities ahead of us, and we are not the masters in the field, but excited learners, willing to wisely explore future kinds of agility, whatever may emerge.

Some organizations, at the leading edge now realize they ARE complex adaptive systems, to which traditional linear/serial tools derived from algorithmic and serial theories/models do not necessarily apply any more.

The methods that we will find in this new MBA course are being supplemented by (and in some cases displaced) by models/theories outside the world of business, as diverse as ethics, collective play, anthropology, neuroscience, complexity theory, fractal theory, biology, relativity theory, quantum dynamics, the creative arts etc. Although a Master in Fine Arts is now regarded by some as the new MBA, the theoretical repertoire required by a leader in business is more like the range of approaches available on TED and Poptech.

The new Wisdom Economy tools have "the wise application of knowledge inside", like "Intel inside" (decision support/rules systems, expert systems, simulators/simulations, calculators, calculators), and so perform many of the roles of a leader/manager/coordinator/expert. It's a kind of "transcend and include" thing.

Such products are likely to have automatic disposal/recycling of a worn-out/spent./outmoded "thingy" at the end of its' life, or the outputs from the use of the product/service are predesigned inputs to other services so they operate collectively as a sustainable system.

Tools such as the Zing complex adaptive learning go even further and incorporate "people skills" such as high-level thinking and relating skills, an etiquette to provide the norms for a group to quickly form as a team and reliably work together, the question sequences that guide the conversation to a successful conclusion, and the sense making step which results in the group creating new knowledge without having to be guided via the leadership/relating skills of a manager.

But there also seems to be a demand for MBA Lite, a kind of "quick and dirty" introduction to the principles and practice of business administration for those who are not from the world of business, such as managers and supervisors in community services, health and local government, to round out their skills. Think books like MBA in a Day from Professor Steven Stralser of Thunderbird Graduate School in Phoenix. Which bears out the "transcend and include" rule.

Here's a workshop to explore these ideas:

1. Brainstorm a new name for the Master of Business Administration course to reflect the need for the course to be a complex adaptive system in its' own right.
2. Give an example of a Wisdom Economy product or service that has "wise application of knowledge" inside and explain what it does and the value it delivers.
3. What might "wise application of knowledge" mean for organizations? What are some of the essential principles or "initial conditions" that "wise application of knowledge" organizations might adopt in terms of for product and services design, organization structures, relations with stakeholders, etc.?
4. If high-level strategy, planning, change, innovation and other capacities become more distributed how will organizations achieve a common sense of purpose?
5. What are some "transcend and include" strategies you might apply to business methods and processes, so that old "tried and true" methods become reinvented and incorporated in the new complex adaptive learning methods, wherever appropriate.
6. Go to TED, take a look at any video, make some notes about the theory, model, rules or concepts that the speaker describes.
7. Using the notes you have generated in 6, craft a set of rich questions that would allow a group to have a conversation about the consequences for an organization of the theory/concepts presented by the "thought leader".
8. Make a list of some of the critical people skills/principles required for organization success. Now develop an idea for a new product that has these skills or principles in the product.
9. Design a course for the Magnificence of Business agility.

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