B schools need new narrative

Written by Garima Pant | Updated: Nov 23 2009, 03:13am hrs
Business as usual does not work any more after the global economic crisis. Naturally, business school as usual will not work anymore and will need a new narrative.

The old story was about impressive buildings, rigid functional focus, and high quality analytical minds pressed into the service of crafting a pipeline of case studies from the prolific business case production factories in North American schools. Much of that has to change now. The centre of gravity of business is now shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific. So there is likely to be a reverse flow of knowledge from the emergent economic crucibles like China and India into the classrooms of North American and European schools. Most B schools in Asia have tended to invest a lot more money in real estate rather than in real hands on research agenda. They now have to move from just building to institution building. This can happen through focussed and context-specific research.

In order to remain relevant Asian B-schools will have to move from cosmetic modification of curriculum created in North America to a cultural transformation. It is like moving beyond just shifting the furniture in the classroom to creating a radically different kind of classroom. In this, business schools will have to help local businesses and civil society solve real and contextual problems of the region.

Take the typical problems of a low-cost and high-quality human resources economy such as India with respect to health, housing and clean water. How a business school approaches a solution to the problem of 800 million Indians need for inexpensive, clean drinking water or affordable medication for viral fever would go a long way in making the school relevant and contemporary. Effective solutions to the above problems can also be replicable for three billion of the worlds population living below the poverty line in emerging economies. The issue is about the business schools need for creating the intellectual architecture that makes sense of real and context-sensitive solution to problems that are often far from the concerns of the Wall Street. North American and West European schools will in turn have to look towards co-creation and co-production of knowledge with their Asian counterparts to remain globally relevant. Solutions based on logical-rational analysis, a gift of Western thought, will have to co-mingle with the intuitive, imaginative and storytelling mode of processing reality that is the legacy of Asian culture.

Business school students will have to contend increasingly with issues of ethics and sustainability. Instead of myopic quarter-to-quarter thinking they have to ask: what does a successful business look like five years from now What is that sustainable change process that will take me there The businesses of the future will be certified more by the community and less by Wall Street or Dalal Street. Finally, the world will see the emergence of movements such as conscious capitalism and managing through trusteeship led by organisations like Whole Foods in the US and the House of Tatas in India. Business schools of the future will have to rally behind the emerging need for a more inclusive and humane process of globalisation. In this the very ethos of a B school will need a serious makeover. In curriculum design, faculty development and in defining the very purpose of a business school we have to abandon much of the narrow functional focus that we have been used to for decades. Instead we have to ponder over how all functional disciplines can come together in sustaining this fragile planetary system. In this business schools of the future will have to view business success in the context of its larger ecosystem. They have to look beyond the blinkers set by exclusive stakeholder need for profiteering and crass opportunism.

As told to Garima Pant