Bloomberg B School?

In recent news, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave $350 million to John Hopkins for a “Transformative Initiative”.  The news coverage is mainly focused on his total lifetime contributions to John Hopkins of over $1 billion.  Buried in the story is how he wants the bulk of his new contribution spent.  Mayor Bloomberg wants most of the $350 million to go toward interdisciplinary research to solve global problems.

Interesting. Maybe he is on to something.

Contrast his contribution earmarks to the NY Time’s article, “Multicultural Critical Theory, At B-School?” (January 10, 2010).  In this article, Mr. Wallace, argues we need to develop better problem solvers, who use design thinking to find creative solutions.  Mr. Wallace’s article explores ways to improve critical thinking at our top business schools.

I’ve been mulling over Mr. Wallace’s article for a couple of weeks now.  After hearing about the Bloomberg endowment this morning, I realized what the article seems may be missing. The whole premise of teaching MBAs to be better at problem solving seems to be more person-centric, not team-centric.  The article seems to suggest a cutting edge MBA program should produce problem solvers who have the expertise and experience needed to generate amazing ideas. Sure, we need more critical thinkers, but do we expect MBAs will have enough subject matter experience to solve challenging global problems by themselves?  Where do the other disciplines fit in? What other degrees and work experience will they need? Who should they rely on to gain technical understanding of the problems we are trying to solve?

In defense of the article, pulling in expertise and a variety of cross-disciplinary viewpoints would be a natural part of any good problem solving done by a graduate of the next version of B school.  However, there seemed to be much more of a focus on individual MBAs saving the day through critical thinking, and less talk about the importance of pulling in expertise from different disciplines.

Going back to the news this morning, it is interesting that Mayor Bloomberg, with his lengthy experience tackling problems, is putting his money into interdisciplinary research.  Maybe he has been frustrated in the past about silos within his departments? Or maybe he feels different experts need to collaborate together in order to solve our looming global problems? I do know he made a practice of rotating his department heads so they gained experience in different departments. Seem Mayor Bloomberg is willing to put some serious cash toward supporting cross-disciplinary teams working together to solve global problems. Perhaps the next iteration of business school curriculum should be a focus on reaching out to other disciplines and creating teams with a broader depth of experience?  Mayor Bloomberg, at least, is putting money toward this approach.

Jeff B.

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