With all due respect, why don’t we get rid of business schools?


The Chronicle has a challenging proposition: Business Schools Have No Business in the University. The author makes a good case, and I agree with him. Business schools are incoherent, have no consistent curriculum, and I suspect that even most of their graduates would agree that the skills to succeed in business are ones you learn in real world practice. The sole reasons they exist are to give rich people a certificate of intellectual accomplishment — a kind of Wizard of Oz game — and to give them a place to send their kids that aren’t too challenging and give them the pretense that they’re fit to step into Mom or Dad’s shoes. There’s no better example of this function than our president.

Unable to truly create a profession of business, business schools more often function as finishing schools for the new junior executive. The finishing-school role that business schools have always played can be summarized this way: Donald J. Trump went to Wharton.

Depending on your point of view you are either nodding your head in affirmation or crying out “cheap shot!” So let me hasten to say that it is entirely unfair to blame Wharton for Trump’s pathological narcissism or his gargantuan vulgarity. After all, Newt Gingrich received a Ph.D. in history, and I don’t want the historical profession to be blamed for him.

And yet Trump exemplifies exactly the kind of man for whom business school was invented. Deeply and transparently insecure, Trump has reminded his supporters over and over that he went to Wharton and that that means he’s really, bigly smart. Trump sees his Wharton education as giving him social status and intellectual credibility. At the turn of the 20th century, one function of the new business schools was to give the sons of the new industrial titans a respectable patina, to launder the wealth they had received from their fathers by scrubbing it with a college degree. And so it is for Trump.

But there are reasons to keep them around.

  • Money. Money money money money money. Money money.

    The business school at the University of Chicago became the Booth Chicago School of Business after David Booth dropped a whopping $300 million to have his name emblazoned on the building, and that was in 2008, while the rest of the country was reeling.

  • To be fair, I think vocational programs should get more respect, and business school really is a kind of vocational certification program. I think the students would be of greater use to society if they learned welding, but we have to give them choices. It can’t hurt if a young man or woman graduates with some evidence that they’ve learned some of the skills needed to be a middle manager.

  • Capitalism must have its own metrics to institutionalize their practices, and maybe business schools, if they had the competence to do so, could act as bottleneck to regulate the proliferation of pointless management personnel. It would also be so sweet if they actually forced their graduates to learn some ethics. But now I’m wandering off into fantasy land.

Most of those reasons are hypothetical, though. As the article concludes, business schools are failures.

It is hard to shake the conclusion that business schools have largely failed — even on their own terms, much less on other, broader social ones. For all their bold talk about training tomorrow’s business leaders, as institutions they have largely been followers. “In reviewing the course of American business education over the past fifty years,” wrote one observer, “one is struck by its almost fad-like quality.” That was in 1957. Despite their repeated emphasis on innovation and “outside the box thinking” business schools exhibit a remarkable conformity and sameness. Don’t take my word for it. That Porter and McKibbin study from 1988 found “a distressing tendency for schools to avoid the risk of being different … A ‘cookie cutter mentality’ does not seem to be too strong a term to describe the situation we encountered in a number of schools.” Finally, while honest people can disagree over whether American business is better off for having business schools, they have provided scant evidence that they have done much to transform business into something more noble than mere money-making. Indeed, by the late 20th century, they stopped pretending they could.

Well, failures except for the money part. Let’s get more rich business people to dump big wads of cash on universities. It’s just too bad they too often earmark the money for useless business schools.

Comments

  1. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Well, there’s that joke about the shortest books in the world:

    Business Ethics
    Republican Wit and Wisdom
    Great Italian War Victories (or, alternatively, Great American War Victories of the Latter 20th Century)

    Etc.

  2. says

    Is anything a business school teaches (especially management “science”) evidence based? Corporations engage in so much “just-so” bullshit and personality test woo, it’s got to be coming from somewhere.

  3. numerobis says

    Some is definitely evidence-based.

    But most of the value is in meeting your self-selected cohort.

  4. rjw1 says

    So business schools are receiving big donations while science and the humanities aren’t. Do I detect some envy here? Or perhaps a hint of intellectual snobbery?
    Of course Trump is a dickhead, so what? Who, as a patient, hasn’t encountered an incompetent graduate from a prestigious medical school.
    I’m a business school graduate (accounting and not in the US) the skills I learned were very useful in business. It’s hard to believe that the curriculum in the US doesn’t include, statistics, economics, bookkeeping and management. It’s not all “management” There seems to be some confusion as to the problems of inadequate regulation and the lack of ethical standards.
    Would any taxpayer feel confident if his tax accountant learned his trade entirely on the job?

  5. numerobis says

    Having the idea that you should approach problems systematically is quite powerful. The various management techniques that get taught are implementations of that idea.

    Some people come out with an understanding that being systematic and measuring outcomes is the important bit, and have learned some examples of that.

    Others come out with the idea that this particular method they were taught is the one true way and must be followed religiously.

  6. says

    After hearing so many people argue that a degree that isn’t specifically centered around getting you a good high-paying job is worthless, it’s nice to hear this side of the argument for a change.

  7. crebit says

    The CHE article relies mostly on business school Deans and professors complaining about how their curricula are flawed, their students are weak and unchallenged, the research is misguided or corrupted by incentives….all points I have seen made by insiders in every field, including biology, medicine, philosophy, history, literature, and so on. Sure, we have our challenges in b-schools, but so does everyone else in academia. These are useful discussions for insiders to have, and I don’t think it is productive to use them as evidence that the field seeking improvement is worthless.

    I won’t get more specific in defending any aspect of the b-school curriculum other than my own. Here’s my free online book, What Counts and What Gets Counted . It walks students through the challenge of measuring what actually counts, and the problems that arise whenever you try to do it. No system is perfect, so we are always trying to choose the imperfections that hurt the least.

    For those who are more interested in what accountants might have to say about scholarship, you can take a look at my recent article No System is Perfect, which takes a deep dive into a recent conference dedicated to registered reports. Our take is that peer review is a reporting system like many others, and accounting provides some pretty useful insights into how to deal with p-hacking, publication bias, etc… Again, we are trying to devise a system with the imperfections that hurt the least.

    Business schools have their problems (as do my book and article linked above). But let’s not throw them under the bus completely.

  8. consciousness razor says

    I’m not a subscriber, so I can’t read the article. Let me say right from the beginning that I personally don’t understand how business programs are valuable either. I just couldn’t say what they are supposed to contribute academically.

    However, what I don’t see is something that tells us why there cannot be such a thing as an academically-respectable business program. If they need some kind of reform, as presumably every discipline does to some extent, then that doesn’t imply “get rid of business schools.” It means “fix business schools.” If there cannot be such a fix and therefore they should simply be gotten rid of, then I don’t understand how one is meant to reach that conclusion.

    Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it seems like there’s a slippery slope to worry about, so we should tread carefully or at least have it on our radar. You’re not a business professor or something similar, have no expertise about it, nothing. The author of the article you linked to is apparently a historian, from the short blurb I could actually read at the Chronicle. I also see that comment #1 is from somebody who if I’m not mistaken studied physics, not business.

    Anyway, back to you, PZ, I gather that you also know jack shit about music education, along with numerous other subjects. You’re just ignorant about it, which I guess is not usually a big deal all on its own, but arguments from ignorance are not generally advisable. Let’s suppose you’re not going to be very careful about them, just this once…. What’s to stop you from arguing, based on just as much genuine knowledge as you have here (i.e., practically none), that music programs don’t belong in academia? If someone asked you to defend the existence of music education, would you feel comfortable doing so yourself, with no input from a music educator? Simply the fact that you like certain music (but, alas, probably very little that came from a contemporary university setting) can’t be a coherent argument. So what precisely is supposed to be differentiating these cases, if they’re supposed to be different? (If they’re not and I should prepare for a rant against music ed., from the perspective of a biologist, I’ll accept that type of response too.)

    I think that if we had something like the one Biblical studies dude who was criticizing the value of Biblical studies (can’t remember his name at the moment*), that would be coming from a place that’s more likely to be well-informed about the subject, understand what the problems are, what might be done about them, what’s not possible to fix because it’s built-in at the ground level as it were, why exactly the recommendations given are the best approach, and so forth. Then it could be fairly persuasive.

    *But notice that his argument, however right it was, hasn’t resulted in the desired effect either, even after many years. Maybe these types of things aren’t really meant to accomplish much anyway, but then it’s not so clear what the point is.

  9. says

    @8, consciousness razor

    However, what I don’t see is something that tells us why there cannot be such a thing as an academically-respectable business program. If they need some kind of reform, as presumably every discipline does to some extent, then that doesn’t imply “get rid of business schools.” It means “fix business schools.” If there cannot be such a fix and therefore they should simply be gotten rid of, then I don’t understand how one is meant to reach that conclusion.

    Ya that’s part of what I was thinking too, it’s rather extreme.

  10. says

    It was only a few months ago that I finally got around to reading The Management Myth by Matthew Stewart. It basically confirmed what I think of a lot of suspected: the notion of ‘management’ or ‘business’ being a profession is farcical nonsense, its history is nothing but non-empirical faddism, and the whole idea that one can simply train to ‘manage’ and be ready to manage anything and everything is insulting to the people who actually do the work. Highly recommended.

    https://www.amazon.com/Management-Myth-Debunking-Business-Philosophy-ebook/dp/B002PQ7B72

  11. says

    I have a BA in Business Administration with concentration in Accounting from CSU Fullerton. I graduated in 1986. When I read Bethany McLean’s “The Smartest Guys In The Room” I recognized absolutely NOTHING with any resemblance to anything I had been taught about fiduciary duty and basic honesty in the accounting profession. One of my professors was an editor of the Journal of the American Institute of CPAs. Fullerton is not and was not a huckleberry business school. No wonder the largest accounting firm in the US went belly up (Arthur Andersen) as a result of their turning a blind eye to Enron’s fabrications. If American business schools are simply training future plutocrats, they deserve to die.

  12. Michael says

    Yeah, I was on a university wide committee (that included the B school) that was trying to develop a basic “core” for all students and of course the business school was a huge pain in the ass. They load their students up with twice as many credit hour requirements in the b school than other majors making it pretty much impossible to include many courses in the humanities and sciences in the core. Do you really need that many management courses to get some entry level corporate job? The accrediting agencies for b schools are run by business school types and they push b-schools to up their credit requirements. An accounting prof. on the committee who wanted a bigger common core kept complaining that they had little room to maneuver. So much for a “common core” in a modern state university. Evidently, they don´t want to lose any credit hours to outsiders. I’m not against business programs, I even think an accounting course would probably do a lot of good for non business students, but they need more non-business courses to get them out of their bubble. They really do have a bubble, non business school students could not take b-school classes.

  13. hemidactylus says

    @1- a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    https://www.amazon.com/Ethical-Theory-Business-Norman-Bowie/dp/0133985202#featureBulletsAndDetailBullets_secondary_view_div_1519701097996

    661 pages

    Not that a typical business student would read and comprehend such a tome. I wonder if ethics has been underemphasized in business curricula as behavioral economics may be in economics. So a business major would then be unschooled in ethical and behavioral aspects of their wide ranging potential curriculum.

    I would think an MBA could be useful for someone with something else to add, perhaps another undergrad field and previous life experience in real world. Or a business owner. The degree may be so common that being from a prestigious school and having connections would help.

    The graduate may be numerate with accounting, stats, and business calculus. So not a total waste.

    And though potentially odious fields I have found marketing and PR fascinating in the same way as the relations the Borgias and Medici have to Machiavelli’s political ruminations are telling. One must know the dark arts to know how the bad folks think.

  14. Snarki, child of Loki says

    I blame NASA.

    If they hadn’t been SO SLOW on getting that 2nd Ark ready, we’d be rid of the MBAs by now.

    Because just about all of the “stupid” in modern organizations can be traced to MBAs.

    BUILD THE ARK!

  15. archangelospumoni says

    Where I used to work, we had lots of nice b-school kids with nice shiny MBA degrees–yes we knew this because they told us during roughly the first 8 seconds we met. Bean counters. Tons of ’em who had zero idea about the end product nor ANY desire to learn–but they always told us there were there to “manage the process” and there was no need to know anything.
    So it devolved to “chart boys” because every time there was a meeting, charts were guaranteed to be an integral part of the damn meeting. Later we were told that somebody was insulted by “chart boys” so it became “cartographers”—persons who make maps or . . . . . . . . . . . charts. Chart boys, yes men, big shots, wannabes, heavy breathers, umbrella holders, flashlight holders, special assignment specialists (often absent on special assignment), change agents, team facilitators, facilitators, etc ad nauseam.
    When any one of the company big shots used a new buzzword, the rest of ’em incorporated it into their own little vernacular within precisely 2.00 seconds and they obediently used the buzzword just like it was a real word.
    I just had a nightmare even typing this. Worthless turds–every stinkin’ one.

  16. consciousness razor says

    chigau: let me dumb it down for you…. PZ didn’t explain why “we” should (respectfully) get rid of business schools. It’s an idea, possibly even a halfway decent one. I don’t know. But what’s the fucking argument? I have no clue. And the solution to this supposed problem? Let’s gut random parts of academia that PZ doesn’t like and/or understand? That doesn’t sound like a sober plan to me. Even if business schools are pure shit and should die immediately, the way this is being discussed doesn’t seem like it sets a good precedent for any other departments (like, e.g., music or biology or literature or insert any fucking thing here) that random fucking people may feel like criticizing for whatever random fucking reason, quite possibly because they just don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. I’m definitely at a loss, trying to figure out what the guiding principle here is supposed to be, other than “I don’t like subject X, so let’s remove it from universities.” We’ve been there before many times over the centuries, and let’s just say that it has never worked out very well.

    But maybe I’m mixed up, not thinking clearly, whatever. So you explain it to me, chigau — suddenly, I’m very fascinated (and surprised) by the prospect of you at last saying something that has an ounce of substance. Why does this seem like a reasonable process, if this is a legitimate problem that ought to be addressed? Why is it treated like such a fucking joke, while at the same time, we’re apparently supposed to believe that this is somehow about a solemn obligation to preserve academic integrity and do the right thing for students? If I were acting “sober” (whatever you think that would be like), then how should I have responded?

  17. hemidactylus says

    @22-archangelospumoni
    I am reminded of the characterization I had absorbed of the greenhorn lieutenant freshly in country in ‘Nam or any other combat zone placed in command of seasoned troops. Do they go solely by their officer training or military school theory or do they wisely consult their experienced NCOs and listen attentively rather than dictate orders? I think this problem of naive overbearing authoritarianism is possible in all organizations and represents character defect as much or more a downfall of a graduate degree. A wise MBA newbie would delegate authority and take advice from experienced subordinates. A military officer who failed to do this would earn themselves and others a trip home in a body bag. Or themselves if unceremoniously fragged.

    I hate buzzwords, especially HR generated training buzzwords. How many variations of the four humours of personality typing can the bullshitters come up with? It all seems to boil down to task and people orientation. And given the overblown dichotomy of introversion vs extroversion (thanks Jung) I am pleased to hear of the ambivert middle. Throw that at the instructor in your next coma inducing training seminar.

  18. says

    @23, consciousness razor

    I’m definitely at a loss, trying to figure out what the guiding principle here is supposed to be, other than “I don’t like subject X, so let’s remove it from universities.”

    Well, the argument (assertion? none of the quoted bits actually support it) seems to be that we just don’t need them because they provide no value, literally at all: “I suspect that even most of their graduates would agree that the skills to succeed in business are ones you learn in real world practice”. Of course that’s skills, not knowledge, and even for skills I find it hard to believe that they don’t or can’t practice skills.

    As you said before: that doesn’t imply “get rid of business schools.” It means “fix business schools.”

  19. chigau (違う) says

    So, we got consciousness razor and Brian Pansky
    genuinely trying to engage me in a dialog.
    golly
    I don’t know what to do.

  20. chigau (違う) says

    I could try some one-liners but that is sooo last decade…
    and none of the old hats are around to whinge correct me.

  21. says

    @30, chigau

    Unlike you, I am genuine and sincere in what I say. I do genuinely want to know why you thought insincerely asking “are you drunk” was a meaningful thing to do. I think learning why people do things I don’t understand can (at least) help me in the future.

  22. chigau (違う) says

    Brian Pansky #32
    I am genuine and sincere in what I say.
    Do you have access to a mirror?

  23. whheydt says

    It is certainly true that the plural of “anecdote” is not “data”, so take the following for what it is worth…

    I am acquainted with a person who has an MBA from Cambridge. He also has a PhD in Computer Science from Cambridge. He has built an extremely successful business in the form of a charity around the idea that kids need cheap computers with which to learning programming and other aspects of Computer Science. The computers should be cheap enough that destroying one will not be a financial burden. In the last 6 years, some 18 million of those cheap computers (none listing for more than $35) have been sold. The profits (it’s a charity, so the money has to go for the charitable purpose) have been used for educational efforts, including free classes for teachers to learn how to effectively use the cheap computers in the classroom.

  24. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Having the idea that you should approach problems systematically is quite powerful. The various management techniques that get taught are implementations of that idea.

    Some people come out with an understanding that being systematic and measuring outcomes is the important bit, and have learned some examples of that.

    Others come out with the idea that this particular method they were taught is the one true way and must be followed religiously.

    So, are the results better than placebo?

  25. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    More generally, I can imagine a useful, methodologically and ethically sound, business curriculum. Then I go outside and look at how business is actually conducted.

    It strikes me as kind of like philosophy in that there’s a body of useful knowledge and techniques, which tend to get spun off into their own fields if they’re effective, leaving a disproportionate share of the rest to fester, and the average person’s exposure to “the field” including a disproportionate share of the festering kind.

    The contrast between PZ criticizing one discipline and prostrating himself before the other is perhaps instructive.

  26. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    @chigau

    Genuinely curious, what kind of response or reaction or outcome were you hoping for when you addressed consciousness razor?

    Presumably that Consciousness Razor would briefly “WELL I NEVER!” and then continue masturbloviating on marginally relevant conspicuous-absence-of-points and Chigau would feel better.

    Sounds about right.

  27. John Morales says

    cr @8:

    However, what I don’t see is something that tells us why there cannot be such a thing as an academically-respectable business program. If they need some kind of reform, as presumably every discipline does to some extent, then that doesn’t imply “get rid of business schools.” It means “fix business schools.” If there cannot be such a fix and therefore they should simply be gotten rid of, then I don’t understand how one is meant to reach that conclusion.

    I personally think this is an excellent rebuttal to the OP, which stands unchallenged.

  28. says

    Over the course of my life I had the misfortune of meeting a few people who had no other higher education than some “degree” in management with an MBA on top of it. They all are total jackasses and an extreme pain in the nether regions to deal with, as well as all those under them who tried to mimick them.

    They all think (I am speaking about those whom I met) that everything can be evaluated purely through the lense of money, ignoring anything that cannot right now have a price label attached as completely inconsequential. Further all of them are authoritarians who do not heed expert advice but expect the actual experts to take advice from them. They have only vague knowledge of statistics and apply some statistical tools without real understanding. They think that descriptive statistics of how things emerge in populations of units (like businesses) can be applied as rigorous prescriptive rules on how to manage each and every unit of said population. I have even met some who think that 95% CI is a magic border at which things become black and white proven/disproven. Another one thought that when know-how leaves the company it can be quickly re-acquired on demand (an assertion he lived to see vehemently disproven). Yet another one thought that laws of physics will change when he decides that ignoring them will save him money.

    The only managers I ever met whom I consider to be good managers are those who started as experts in some specific field and went to being managers after that. They know how the work their subordinates are supposed to do is done, they know its trappings and limits etc. And most importantly, they know the value of experience in a specific field, so even when they go and manage something outside of their field of expertise, they are competent enought to recognize expertise in others.

    MBA, in my limited experience, is just an amplifier of Dunning-Kruger effect on a massive scale. On its own it only gives the ignorant and arrogant a false sense of erudition and wide raging competence.

    I am all for the idea of these programs being only follow-ups to other kinds of education, not an education on their own.

  29. komarov says

    Since the thread has been considering other things that might be useful to teach business students, how would people feel about sustainabillity as topic to be included? Not as a means to inject “radical environmentalism” at random into curricula but to actually add something useful outside the “bubble” mentioned further up.
    It seems businesses in general have been slow to grasp the idea that wastefulness and, by extension pollution, can be quite expensive. Besides, sustainability can often be equated with efficiency, i.e. a means to increase profit margins or decrease dependence on, for example, critical yet limited resources. The basis of sustainability is often rooted in various scientific or engineering disciplines, e.g. process and life cycle management, general systems thinking and the likes. So it should provide a solid foundation immune to flavour-of-the-decade woo, if that really is such a prevalent issue at business schools.

    Re: Numerobis #3

    Some is definitely evidence-based.

    That made me wonder, do they commonly include things like quality control? The way I was taught that it is as much a management strategy as it is an engineering discipline. Of course it is also the dryest topic I have ever had to sit through, and I say that having listened to thermodynamics lectures. I do not envy those who turn it into their life-long profession.

  30. mtfnby5 says

    Long time reader – First time poster – I received both my BS in business and an MBA back in ancient times. (Never used the degrees professionally since I wound up spending 35 years in public education – long story)
    I have to believe schools of business have changed greatly in the intervening years since I clearly remember a course which emphasized that a business should benefit all stakeholders to include workers and their unions. Now it seems it all about shareholder valuation and executive compensation; workers, customers and society in general; not so much.
    And in all my courses I don’t remember hearing the word entrepreneurship even once. Now it is all the rage at every area college and university. Apparently every business school student expects to start his own business which in reality might be just a touch better than hoping to rise to the top of some big organization.

  31. drascus says

    I’m a manager. I don’t have a degree, but that’s my profession. I am absolutely a better manager than I was when I first started leading people. I have learned a lot, and I think it’s ridiculous on the face of it to say that there’s no value in teaching management, or that management isn’t a skill that has some commonalities across any management position.

    In my mind, it’s very akin to teaching, but perhaps that’s my bias because I have also worked as a teacher and have a teaching-oriented management style. Do you have to know the material when you’re a teacher? Absolutely. It’s extremely important. However, I have had TERRIBLE teachers that knew more about the material than I will ever know. They were still rubbish at communicating it.

    Management is not teaching, exactly. But I do need to know how my employees do their jobs. I need to be capable of it myself. I don’t generally need to be as good at it as they are. They are, and should be, more practiced at their jobs than I am. Managers that think they can manage without knowing the job are just as bad as teachers who think that they can run a class without the faintest idea of how to teach, just because they are experts in the subject matter. It’s the reverse problem, one has too much communication / interaction ability without context, the other one has no ability to communicate.

    A good manager coming in to an unfamiliar job will spend time learning from their subordinates. Getting a basic feel for the job, understanding the nuances of it, and will then look for ways to make improvements and help the team. A bad manager will just use whatever worked at their first job and try to ram it through.

    Outside of job-specific processes, however, there are things that work for any group of employees. The way I build a team has not changed from industry to industry. It has improved as I’ve gotten more experienced, and I customize it to the culture of the group I’m working with. The basics of turning a group of individuals into a coherent team that works together to solve problems and get the job done is the same for me however. Discipline is not any fun, but it’s necessary, and what is effective and ethical discipline remains more or less the same from team to team. Hiring is a skill, and in my opinion one of the most important in the manager’s tool set, because bad hiring decisions make everything you do a pain, and can destroy a workplace.When I’m mentoring young managers, I always start with hiring.

    Are some parts of business schools bad? Yeah, I’m sure that’s the case. I don’t have a business degree but I’ve studied English, Philosophy, Mathematics, and Physics at the undergraduate level. Every single one of those programs had something incoherent, or problematic, or just plain bad about it. Doesn’t mean that there wasn’t value there, or that we should rip those programs out by the root. Humans are TERRIBLE at building good systems that will last for a long time. There is always room for improvement, and we should be seeking it. Giving up on a system because it isn’t good is not the answer. Telling people that management is useless and unneeded is ignorant, and is basically a rephrasing of the infamous, “Those who can’t do, teach.” Teaching is hard, and requires skill. Good management is the same.

  32. Michael says

    Here’s one thing that HR departments at established companies do better than academia, they really crack down on sexual harassment. And I think B-schools have been faster at incorporating it into their training. (It would be interesting to see if there are more or less abuses in Business or Arts and Sciences schools). I admit this is just my impression from having some experience in both areas and talking to people who have had dual careers (academic/private sector). There is plenty of abuse out there, but you don’t have the same crap as you get in academia.

  33. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    [PZ] The only managers I ever met whom I consider to be good managers are those who started as experts in some specific field and went to being managers after that. They know how the work their subordinates are supposed to do is done, they know its trappings and limits etc. And most importantly, they know the value of experience in a specific field, so even when they go and manage something outside of their field of expertise, they are competent enought to recognize expertise in others.

    Funny, my experience is the exact opposite.
    People who worked in the field and got promoted to managers because they were good in their field turned out to be shit at management.
    They are incapable of planning for months ahead or organizing a department of 20 people. Because they are expert at the work we do, they can’t help themselves in trying to micromanage every little thing… only to lose perspective on larger issues or drop everything and move on once they realise there are 5 more projects waiting.
    The only example that confirms your experience is of a person who, in addition to being an expert in another field (which is what got them promoted), also has a degree from the Economics and Business University. But that’s probably just a conicidence.

    I like getting snobby about “rich kids’ diplomas” as much as everyone, but I agree with everything consciousness razor wrote here .
    This too:

    [drascus]Telling people that management is useless and unneeded is ignorant, and is basically a rephrasing of the infamous, “Those who can’t do, teach.” Teaching is hard, and requires skill. Good management is the same.

  34. says

    @Beatrice, I am not PZ, yet you are quoting me in response to him? How did that happen?

    And I am not saying that management is useless or that every expert who went on to be a manager is a good manager. I have too met managers who started as good experts, but were lousy managers. In fact, I could be one of those people which is why I do not aspire to be a manager and am actively resisting becoming one.

    There are four possible combinations:
    1) good manager & not good at anything else
    2) bad manager & not good at anything else
    3) good manager & has some other skill
    4) bad manager & has some other skill

    Out of these four hypothetical combinations I have never ever met 1, I have met plenty of 2 and some of 3 and 4. I did not make a statistics of it, this is just my experience.

    I completely agree with this from drascus at #44 (emphasis mine):

    Management is not teaching, exactly. But I do need to know how my employees do their jobs. I need to be capable of it myself. I don’t generally need to be as good at it as they are. They are, and should be, more practiced at their jobs than I am. Managers that think they can manage without knowing the job are just as bad as teachers who think that they can run a class without the faintest idea of how to teach, just because they are experts in the subject matter. It’s the reverse problem, one has too much communication / interaction ability without context, the other one has no ability to communicate.

    A good manager coming in to an unfamiliar job will spend time learning from their subordinates. Getting a basic feel for the job, understanding the nuances of it, and will then look for ways to make improvements and help the team. A bad manager will just use whatever worked at their first job and try to ram it through.

    Which is why I wrote this:

    I am all for the idea of these programs being only follow-ups to other kinds of education, not an education on their own.

  35. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    I’m sorry, Charly. I was reading all the comments in one go… and I’m actually not sure how I managed to make the mistake. Apologies

  36. madtom1999 says

    I worked with a dozen or so MBAs (Master of Business Administration in the UK) and it seems almost all of their holders* are the sort of people who will put a PUSH sign on a PULL door and blame anyone but themselves when the door doesnt open. I thought at first that as I was in IT ( a career you only stop learning the day you stop doing it) that maybe its was just beyond most. But I’ve worked in other things too (I sometimes take sabbaticals to stack shelves so I dont nail MBAs to walls and the buggers are there suggesting ignoring shelf loading because they couldn’t calculate the capacity of a shelf and you cant mess with their plan even if it does mean 300 TVs lying in a broken heap.
    I had one good manager who, once he worked out I could do what I told him I could do let me get on with it – apart from some Friday afternoons when he’d phone me from the pub and demand my company. But he wasn’t an MBA.
    *holders, ie people who have paid for them not earned them.

  37. drascus says

    I do think the MBA is weird, because it’s too general for a Masters. I’ll be getting a business degree because I need it for my career and that’s the degree people will want to see. But if I decide to go for an advanced degree, I’ll get a Masters in Healthcare Administration, not a MBA.

    I think there should be lots of administration masters like that, Master of Technology Administration, Masters of Sales Administration, etc. The MBA always just seems like a “I Businessed harder” item on a resume. Maybe it should be reworked to be a degree in how to manage huge multinationals as a C level employee. Maybe then we’d have less Equifax style disasters.

    I do think the basic business degree has value. There is a lot that applies to any business or non-profit. Basics of accounting, how to evaluate investments, the laws on hiring, firing, and discipline, how to read a P&L statement, etc. These are things you’ll have to have some knowledge about to succeed in a variety of management roles. I know that business schools do follow fads, but I don’t think that other academic subjects are totally fad immune either. I guess I’m saying we should keep the baby and just run some new bathwater. :)

  38. Bad Tux says

    A business school professor friend of mine once said that the whole point of business school was to take callow youth off the streets for four to six years (depending whether it was an undergraduate degree or they were going for a MBA too) in hopes they’d mature enough to be worthwhile individuals by the time they graduated. That was pretty much the whole point of the exercise, as far as he was concerned. Thus why nobody in his classes ever got less than the “Gentleman’s C”.

    If that’s what the people who actually teach in these institutions of higher “learning” actually think….

    As for the case for getting rid of business schools: They appear to have done a really crummy job of teaching people how to actually manage businesses, based upon the many companies that have been driven into the ground by people with MBA’s. I’ll simply point out that Hewlett-Packard was a powerhouse during the years when it was run by engineers, and now is but a pale shadow of what it once was. Of course, being run by content area specialists is no guarantee of success — when Jerry Yang came back to lead Yahoo, he was no more successful than the MBA’s who preceded and succeeded him. But people who actually know the business seem to do a better job than people parachuting in with a MBA regardless of what business we’re talking about.

  39. says

    @38, Azkyroth

    Maybe, but that’s speculation, I wanted to get the inside view, chigau’s own perspective. Of course it’s possible that chigau doesn’t even really know the answer.

    The usefulness of speculating the answer to that question is also limited because it’s just a starting point, and leaves further questions unanswered. Once a desired outcome is determined, the next step is to figure out 1) why that outcome is desired and 2) why those means of achieving that goal were used. And so on, down the chains of means and ends, learning chigau’s ideology on the topic of communication and handling disagreement and resolving conflict and so on.

    For my own ideology on those subjects, see my pages on Changing Minds and Conflict, and what they link to. You’ll see, for example, that forming mutual understanding is a vital first step, which is why I asked. Admittedly my wiki pages are incomplete, but it’s a start. And learning about opposing ideologies can even help me to develop mine.

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