Systems Problem vs. Inefficient Metrics

The University of Washington’s College of Built Environments, led by Dean Friedman, is a place where holistic, integrative thinking is encouraged. In my time here in the CBE—in architecture and now real estate—I feel well equipped to approach challenging issues from a multi-disciplinary perspective. I have to use the word ‘feel’, until I have a way of quantifying whether my study here has been worth the money and time, and I may never be able to substantiate my own hunch, as we are short on metrics for analysis of this subject.

 

This unsubstantiated hunch is a microcosm of the challenge to unify the global community toward a solution to climate change. This is expressed further between two recent writings: My analysis of the article, Multicultural Critical Theory. At B-School? (Wallace) is itself reinforced by the difficulties presented in chapter 1 of The Carbon Efficient City (Hurd + Hurd).

 

To explain, The Carbon Efficient City presented the need for “global measurement standards and accounting practices,” as the first step in bringing about solutions to climate change. Chapter 1 begins with a quote from Peter Drucker, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”(13)

 

Multicultural Critical Theory discusses changing curricula at business schools in the US and Canada, specifically the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, which has allegedly led the charge for business schools to “approach problems from many perspectives and to combine various approaches to find innovative solutions.” (1)

 

What I found interesting about this article is that Wallace contends that business schools need to be teaching and fostering this new approach; a remarkable shift from the traditional business school model, but does not give much in the way of measurement…why choose the Rotman approach over the traditional curriculum? And why would a business school take such a risk?

 

For analysis, here are the ‘credibility points’ of the merits of adopting the integrative Rotman approach to business school (all italics mine):

 

“the principal thrived by thinking through clashing priorities and potential options, rather than hewing to any preplanned strategy—the same approach taken by the managing partner of a successful international law firm in town.” (1)

 

I think there’s a feeling that people need to sharpen their thinking skills…” (1)

 

“…business executives…were beginning to realize the value of managers who could think more nimbly…The financial crisis underscored those concerns…” (2)

 

“…a number of business schools have re-evaluated, and in some cases, redesigned their M.B.A. programs in the last few years.” (3)

 

“Professor Garvin of Harvard agrees, saying that there is “an imperative for change.” “At this point, the forces for change are real, and the need for change is real, and the blueprints are already in progress.” (3)

 

“Since 1999, Rotman has doubled its enrollment and faculty—changes (Martin) he attributes to what he calls the school’s growing reputation as a place of innovative thought.” (3)

 

“But does Rotman’s curriculum really create a fundamentally different M.B.A. graduate? At least some people think so.” (3)

 

“Steve McConnel…noticed a distinctly different approach in the Rotman students he hired…””Naturally free of the bias or predisposition that so many of us seem to carry into any situation…one Rotman graduate…saved the client a significant sum”” (3)

 

The faculty realized that in contemporary management practice, there’s no such thing as just a ‘marketing problem’.” (4)

 

“There’s a great deal to learn from Bismarck, Kissinger, F.D.R. and J.F.K. about problem framing…” (5)

 

“Leadership is increasingly being treated at a skills level…” (5)

 

“And if you give (students) ways of thinking that help them with these complicated dilemmas, they’ll make choices that are in some sense more worthy and have a higher moral quality.” (6)

 

While the scope of this article has its limitations, we note that there is very little quantification to these assertions of credibility. A lot of hunches are left unsubstantiated, and as a result, some business schools have fully bought in to the new curriculum (Rotman), some partially (Harvard), and some not at all (Booth), even though all are aware of the integrative approach. Is the lack of quantification the reason why some schools are less enthusiastic about these changes than others?

 

If a solution to climate change can be achieved, it will likely be addressed through integrative, collaborative approaches. However, as seen in the Wallace article, even the adoption of “Multicultural Critical” theory in business schools has been a challenge. Climate change faces an uphill battle if we cannot even agree on what tools to use to find solutions.

 

It is in this struggle that we see the need for global metrics. If Rotman, as the leader of integrative business curricula, cannot communicate the benefits of their approach, then its effectiveness can be challenged.

 

By this comparison we see the need for global metrics to substantiate the need for the tool of integrative problem solving, and to define the scope of the problem of climate change. Both sets of metrics are needed to enable a solution.

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About M J Kaiser

From Vancouver, now in Seattle. Exploring the ability of architecture and design to solve complex urban issues. Graduating Spring 2013 with Master of Architecture and Master of Science in Real Estate.

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