Friday, July 29, 2011

A Team of Catchers

Last time, I wrote: 

Some of us live for the opportunity to conduct research; some of us live for teaching; some of us live for the interaction with the community. I believe it is good that we are not all driven by the same motivations.

I mentioned in that post that research and teaching seem almost antithetical at times, but I believe there is a benefit in viewing research, teaching, and outreach as a system of scholarship activities.

Let me focus on just research and teaching. How, then, can we get our “great researchers” to better appreciate the teaching role and our “great teachers” to better appreciate the research role? (Of course, this is not a universal problem, but where it exists it needs to be addressed.)

When these questions come up, I like to point out that as important as a catcher is to a baseball team, it is very unlikely that the best baseball team would be constructed by putting the nine best catchers on the field as a team. Imagine grouping the eleven best quarterbacks together to form a football team or the five best centers together to form a basketball team!

No, the best teams have a diversity of great players filling many different roles. In fact, I think the players on great teams have high expectations of the each other and they work together to ensure that each player has the best opportunity to excel. Notably, the players on the great teams often assist each other when mistakes do occur. In other words, they are “in it together.”

I encourage our “great researchers” to remember that in the greater public’s mind, universities exist to educate students. Our researchers often focus on working with doctoral students, but that group is typically too small to justify the great researcher’s working life. The great researcher must make an effort to ensure the new knowledge being created is described in a manner that lends itself to communication to persons outside of the research community. The great researcher does not fulfill all of her obligation to scholarship when she fails to effectively communicate her discoveries.

I encourage our “great teachers” to remember that in today’s business world, the organizations that recruit our students expect those students to bring new ideas into the organization. It is not enough to teach the same material that covered the topic last year in the same way. The great teacher must also make an effort to ensure the new knowledge being created is getting into the classroom. The great teacher does not fulfill his entire obligation to scholarship when he is not current in the research in his field and thus cannot effectively understand the latest discoveries in the discipline.

We need great researchers and great teachers – and they need to work as a team to produce great graduates.

A team of catchers simply won’t do.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Research, Teaching, Outreach Circle

The work of business faculty members generally gets categorized into one of five categories: research, teaching, outreach, service, or administration.  Admittedly, the categories are not always mutually exclusive. Administration and service often overlap as do service and outreach. But, allow me in this post to speak as though the categories are distinct and to focus on only the research, teaching, and outreach categories.

Research and teaching are often discussed as though they are somehow antithetical. We may hear our colleagues described as “a great researcher” or “a great teacher,” but we rarely hear one described as great in both areas. (Would this be “a great scholar”?) At the large, land grant institutions, the outreach component is often embedded in a distinct unit: the “extension service.”

Let’s look at each piece:

We conduct research to create new knowledge. We have been trained to do that and it is our job to do it.

We teach in order to communicate knowledge to students. We do it because students expect to be taught and parents expect their children to be taught.

When we reach out to the business community (e.g., when we serve on corporate boards, consult in our areas of expertise, provide expert testimony, conduct corporate training, and perform a number of other professional activities) we communicate knowledge to those stakeholders as well.

Some of us live for the opportunity to conduct research; some of us live for teaching; some of us live for the interaction with the community. I believe it is good that we are not all driven by the same motivations.

I believe it benefits a business school to adopt a philosophy that recognizes the inter-relationships of research, teaching, and outreach activities – or at least the potential synergy that I believe can be gained by recognizing a system of research, teaching, and outreach as fundamental to business scholarship.

Here’s how I conceive it:

We have a circular relationship which I see as progressing from research to teaching to outreach back to research.

We conduct research to create new knowledge. We teach established and new knowledge to produce graduates who add value to the organizations that hire them. That knowledge-based value is the basis for a relationship that leads to outreach activities which provide additional value to the community. Once the relationship is established, doors are opened to faculty to conduct research in organizations. This research leads to more new knowledge.

I start the discussion with research, but since the relationship is circular, start where you feel most comfortable.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Leaders Make the Future

The Institute for the Future ( published a book a couple of years ago with this title: Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills in an Uncertain World ( The author of the book, Bob Johansen, makes the argument that the world is becoming ever more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. The book examines leadership skills that are believed to be necessary for effective leaders in this environment.

I can’t do justice to the skills described in the book in a blog post, but the following very brief description of each skill by Alain Burrese can help:
  1. Maker Instinct focuses on how leaders need to draw out their maker instinct and apply it to their leadership. Johansen states that future leaders will need both a can-do and a can-make spirit.
  2. Clarity is a must in confusing times and a leader must be able to create and communicate with clarity without being simplistic.
  3. Dilemma Flipping is being able to succeed with challenges that cannot be solved and won't go away.
  4. Immersive Learning Ability focuses on immersing yourself in new physical and virtual worlds that may be uncomfortable to increase your learning.
  5. Bio-Empathy is being able to learn from nature and use that wisdom to inform your decisions.
  6. Constructive Depolarizing focuses on how a leader can constructively depolarize conflict to both calm and improve the situation.
  7. Quiet Transparency is a skill by which a leader is open but not self-promoting.
  8. Rapid Prototyping deals with working through many scenarios during the process of development.
  9. Smart Mob Organizing is a leadership skill of organizing people using a range of media.
  10. Commons Creating is creating areas within which both cooperation and competition may occur.

I highly recommend this book for business students.

Burrese, Alain.  Article Source:

Johansen, Bob (2009). “Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills in an Uncertain World.” Berrett-Koehler Publishers. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

A New Business Minor

I’ll begin with a sweeping statement: All students eventually go to work somewhere. Thus, it makes sense for all students to get some business education, if possible.

Some students will agree with this statement and will pursue a minor in business administration. The typical minor in business administration looks a lot like the typical business core curriculum. I’ve written several blog entries on different ways to re-conceptualize the business core. In this post, I’d like to (re)consider the business administration minor.

The relevant question is, I suppose, “What does a non-business major need to know about business?” The traditional answer has been “a little accounting, a little marketing, a little economics” and so forth. Odds are the typical business minor student comes out of this experience with just enough knowledge to be dangerous to her and few practical skills that may actually help her when she is employed by someone or tries to begin a business.

Here’s my minor in business administration:

Financial accounting. Accounting is the language of business. Students who can “read” a set of financial statements and understand the basic concepts (receivables, payables, revenues, expenses, profit, and so on) can understand why managers make some of the decisions they make. I believe as employees they will make better decisions, too, as they will have some idea of what the “bottom line” is and why management focuses on it. Of course, there are many other important factors related to “the bottom line,” but understanding the financial side is a good place to start.

Business law. The law of business is vast and can be very complicated. Non-business majors need to understand that employers, employees, and consumers all have rights and responsibilities. They all have limitations on their actions, too. An employee’s actions often have consequences and sometimes those consequences are very costly. A general knowledge of the laws of commerce would benefit everyone.

Business process modeling. This would be a course that teaches fundamental methods for modeling business processes. It could be a modified course in systems analysis. We know that when people build models of situations, their decision making improves.

Customer relationship management (CRM). This would be a course that surveys several topics. I would include the data management aspects of CRM, some basic consumer behavior, and perhaps some topics focused on what distinguishes pleasurable events from non-pleasurable ones, among others.

Business plan development. Learning the basics of business plan development exposes a student to the many facets of successful businesses (and business launches). Many students underestimate, due to inexperience, the many factors that contribute to successful business concerns.

These are my thoughts. You may think of some other courses that would be better.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Assessment of Learning, Capstone Courses, and Simulations

If you are familiar with AACSB Assessment of Learning, you know that there is movement toward programmatic assessment. In other words, there is movement toward assessing the business knowledge of business students, rather than the accounting knowledge of accounting majors, the marketing knowledge of marketing majors, and so forth.

I expect to see a growing number of business schools leverage their “capstone” course in business strategy to meet this assessment goal. I see several potential problems with this approach.

First, this approach implicitly confounds the results of the assessment by mixing an educational learning experience with the assessment. While it is true that students may learn something when they take a test (I had a statistics professor wanted this to happen), the primary goal of an assessment is to assess, not to educate. When using he capstone course for assessment, what is really being assessed, the business curriculum or the performance in this class?

Second, some programs will require students to participate in a complex business simulation “game” in the capstone course. This confuses the issue further if the students have no prior experience with the simulation. I ask again, what is being assessed? Is it the student’s business knowledge or the student’s ability to learn the simulation?

Third, in large business schools, the students will probably be formed into teams. Now we have the added issue of whether we are assessing individual knowledge or an ability to work well in groups.

I think integrating a business simulation into a business curriculum is a great idea. But we have learned in management information systems curricula that it is difficult to integrate complex software programs into a course. For example, when students learn database design, the best approaches I have seen have placed learning the use of the database software in a separate course, or at least a separate lab experience. In the best circumstances, the theory and concepts of database design are in separated from where students learn the software.

If performance on a simulation is the basis for assessment of business learning, then I think the ideal situation is for the business students to participate in a business simulation in a manner external to the curriculum, i.e., as an extra-curricular activity. Perhaps it could be done on one Saturday as a graduation requirement. Maybe it is a one-hour course requirement that is done in the final semester. Unfortunately, most business schools will probably find the logistics of implementing this ideal to be difficult.

If the capstone business strategy course is going to contain a simulation that will be used for assessment of learning, I feel the students should be introduced to the simulation in a required course that occurs before the capstone course. (Maybe this is a one-hour course.) At least then, the students have more opportunity to focus on the objective of the strategy course rather than on the problem of learning the simulation’s representation of the objective in the strategy course.

In this case, I’m still not sure the assessment is on the curriculum, however. The assessment remains too confounded by the new content knowledge in strategy for my liking.