Bridging the Knowing-Doing Gap at Harvard Business School

Nitin Nohria, the Dean of Harvard Business School writing in the latest HBR. (Cant’ find the link online)

Harvard Business School has long used case studies–a method it adapted from Harvard Law School and introduced to business education–to project students into the role of managers solving business problems. Analyzing 400 cases in two years gives our MBA students a lot of practice at this. Case studies are a very effective tool, but they’re also limited: Business students can only imagine how they’d tackle a managerial problem, whereas medical residents are facing real-life health concerns.
To give MBA students a dose of real-world experience, HBS is introducing its biggest curriculum change in nearly 90 years. Students in our Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development program will engage in practice-oriented activities throughout the year. This work has begun on campus, where students have been taking product development workshops and crafting investment pitches. But the program’s most ambitious aspect starts in January 2012, when HBS will send the entire first-year class–more than 900 students–abroad to developing markets, where they will work in teams of six with a multinational or a local company to develop a new product or service offering.
In Istanbul, Cape Town, São Paulo, Mumbai, Shanghai, and elsewhere, the students might be interviewing customers, meeting people in the supply chain, or visiting competitors. At the end of each day, much like hospital residents after rounds, they will gather with faculty members to discuss what they are learning. (It is this daily faculty interaction that greatly distinguishes the experience from a summer internship.) They’ll gain contextual humility, realizing that the plans they conceived back on campus will meet unanticipated obstacles in the field.

This is quite a big change for HBS and a much needed one. The value of a MBA is what the student can deliver in real world. And a 2 year course coupled with real work will create opportunities to learn better. UniSA in Adelaide is particularly bad at this. Not understanding that MBA is for using knowledge at work, for finding a better job and for contributing to a better business in the profit, government and not for profit sector.


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