The Education of Practicing Managers

“Management” education takes place in MBA programs, which are remarkably standardized in content —across schools and around the world. Yet the MBA is more B than A, more about the functions of business than the practice of managing. In the name of developing general managers, therefore, it tends to train staff specialists. No wonder so many MBAs have for many years gone into consulting and investment banking — often more than 60% from the most prestigious American schools.

Education at every level divides subject matter into sharp categories — defined by how the knowledge has been created, not how it is used —as specialists in each field promote their own views of the world. In MBA programs, for instance, students get the word on shareholder value in finance, on empowerment in organizational behavior, on customer service in marketing. Somehow they are supposed to put this all together. They never do.

That is because management is neither a science nor a profession, neither a function nor a combination of functions. Management is a practice — it has to be appreciated through experience, in context. Management may use science, but it is an art that is combined with science through craft. In other words, managers have to face issues in the full complexity of living, not as compartmentalized packages. Knowledge may be important, but wisdom — the capacity to combine knowledge from different sources and use it judiciously — is key.

This is not to deny the role of formal education in management development. Business schools have important things to teach about managing. But by teaching it in the ways they generally do, they miss great opportunities for creative learning suited to practicing managers. It is therefore time to reconsider the very idea of management education, specifically the design of degree programs for practicing managers. Business schools may pride themselves on teaching new product development and strategy, but their MBA programs have not been seriously re-evaluated since the 1950s.

In an attempt to develop a new perspective on management education combined with management development, we have in recent years worked with colleagues from the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, INSEAD in France, Lancaster University in England, and McGill University in Canada; with faculty in Japan from Hitotsubashi University, Kobe University and the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology; and with colleagues at the Korean Development Institute.

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