Readiness Versus Skills

Harvard professors Srikant Datar and David Garvin talk with AACSB International's Dan LeClair about the readiness and skill sets of business school faculty to develop curriculum that appropriately prepares students for the realities of the business world.


November 2016

Dan LeClair: [00:02] Let me tell you that when I spend a lot of time with deans, often the deans will tell me that this is absolutely where we want to go. It's just the faculty that don't want to go there. When I'm with faculty, often what I hear is, "You know, this is absolutely where we want to go." It's just the deans that are the challenge.

[00:33] Both of you are faculty members, accomplished faculty members and respected, but tell me more about where faculty are in this space. Do you think five years ago when you were writing about this that faculty were prepared for the challenges, for the changes that you were recommending?

[00:55] Do you think they've made progress? Tell me a little bit about that.

David Garvin: [00:59] Let's break the problem into parts, because there's the issue of readiness and the issue of skill sets. I think they're a little bit different. Our sense was surprisingly, and this was the rising chorus of concerns that we heard.

[01:14] Faculty had a readiness and a need that they recognized to change. They couldn't fully articulate it, but deans as well as faculty had not had the joint conversation. Part of what rethinking the MBA did was put the two groups essentially in the same room, and said, "Here's what we're hearing from the deans. Here's what we are hearing from faculty. Oh, by the way, here's what we're hearing from executives in the marketplace." It's virtually identical.

[01:49] There is a commonality of perspective. That said, the readiness was there. The skill sets were to be developed.

[01:59] For example, much of what we've talked about requires field work, requires project management skills, requires doing these things, creative innovate thinking, presenting orally and in writing to perhaps resistant executives.

[02:16] We, as faculty, have not been trained with those skills. We needed to develop some mechanisms for training faculty, learning on the job, getting forerunners, people who would take the leading edge and lead their institutions.

[02:35] The readiness part was, in many ways, a lot easier, once you had people sharing their points of view. The skill sets took time and that's why the AACSP has been so active in showing examples of how these things are done in practice and actually teaching people how to do it better.

LeClair: [02:57] Great. Almost all of the case studies involve business schools, but there is one, in particular, the Center for Creative Leadership. It's not a business school, at least, by our definition. They don't offer degrees.

[03:09] You wrote a really interesting case about this, and the idea was that we can learn from this. Tell us more about that decision and about the types of things that you discovered in the process.

[03:20] I can tell you that since your book was published, and since you've communicated extensively about it, it's changed the conversation dramatically and elevated our game when it comes to curricula. We still have a long way to go, but definitely it's made a difference.

[03:37] Let me just ask you, is there a place, an area that you'd really like to see more progress in business schools? Maybe something that you've articulated in the book, but haven't seen as much progress on?

Garvin: [03:51] One of my colleagues is the head of our lead course, the head of the leadership course, and he makes it a practice of asking his returning students, his former students, come back five years out for the reunion, ten years out for the reunion, "What did we not teach you enough of?"

[04:11] He told me the other day, "I've always gotten exactly the same answer. Organizational politics, the realities of way decisions get made. Work gets done and people interrelate."

[04:30] Tough to do in a classroom. Tough to do without giving a little manipulative twinge, because politics has overtones of not quite playing straight. I'm not quite sure how to tackle the problem, but the whole notion of the realities of organizations, politics, and other activities. It's something I still don't think we've fully nailed.

Srikant Datar: [04:53] I have to agree with David on that. I think the one area where there's more faculty and, of course, we've done a lot of these wonderful seminars through the years will be at least the new skills that David was referring to once everyone's agreed that this is the direction that we want to go and have been developed.

[05:33] We're doing a lot of it now at the business school at Harvard, for instance, which is how do you connect more faculty members to practice? We have done a lot of that at Harvard, with the case method approach. Promotes that, supports that, helps that.

[05:35] We've taken that game to a different level as we've thought about what is called the field curriculum here at HBS. I think that's something that we have to both experience, practice, learn, and then share.

[05:49] Each of these requires, I think as David says, a different set of skills and a different way of thinking about it. I think also seeing if we can do more in terms of creating good networks, where we tend to share a lot of our research, but we tend to do a lot less in terms of sharing in other pedagogical approaches.

[06:13] How can we do much more in that direction? If you think about rethinking the MBA besides just the ideas that we talked about, we challenged quite heavily the pedagogies that people are using, and we said, "You know, it's not the case that all learning must occur in the classroom. Might learning occur outside the classroom?"

[06:35] It's not the case that when you're thinking about issues like self awareness and leadership development as we saw when we went to CCL, other ideas like leadership laboratories that we ought to be thinking about that are a different way in which learning would occur.

[06:52] We had challenged a number of the pedagogies too, and I think we ought to do much more. Both in aggregating and sharing those. I think that might be a good role for AACSP in that space as well, where we might do much more of that both continuing to learn and continuing to share.

Garvin: [07:12] There's a wonderful phrase from a book by Lee Shulman. Lee Shulman was head of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The book is entitled, "Teaching as Community Property." It very much is in the spirit of what Srikant described.

[07:28] Research, we treat as community property. Peer reviewed journals, widely shared results get vetted. What we've been arguing, as Srikant put so eloquently, the same should be true for pedagogies, for innovative approaches to teaching as well.

[07:45] It should be a property of the community, the larger group of business school faculty, not just an individual or a single institution.