Yale’s New MBA Curriculum: “Perspectives,” Not Functions
| Peter Klein |
Several wire stories and bloggers are reporting on Yale’s new first-year MBA curriculum. Increased study-abroad requirements are getting the most attention, but the reorganization of the core curriculum may be more significant. Says Yale:
In the last thirty years, while the management profession has changed significantly, management education has not. Most business school curricula remain compartmentalized by discipline — Marketing, Finance, Economics, and so forth. This model made sense when a successful career was characterized by vertical advancement in a single field within a large, functionally divided corporate bureaucracy. But today, managerial careers cross the boundaries of function, organization, and industry, as well as cultural and political borders. Even managers in large organizations must be entrepreneurial in the sense that their success depends on their ability to synthesize disparate information, analyze competing functional priorities, and draw together and coordinate resources and individuals in a context that is often fluid and decentralized.
Now, [Yale's School of Organization and Management] is breaking down traditional management disciplines just as contemporary organizations blur the distinctions among management functions. Rather than teaching management concepts in separate, single-subject courses like Finance or Marketing, Yale’s approach teaches management in an integrated way — the way in which most managers must function every day to achieve success.
The heart of the new first-year curriculum is a series of eight multidisciplinary courses, called Organizational Perspectives, that are structured around the organizational roles a manager must engage, motivate, and lead in order to solve problems — or make progress. These roles are both internal to the organization — the Innovator, the Operations Engine, the Employee, and Sourcing and Managing Funds (or CFO) — and external to the organization — the Investor, the Customer, the Competitor, and State and Society.
I find the concept intriguing, but am not so sure about the basic premise. Certainly, integration is a critical managerial skill. But integration works only if there is something to integrate. In principle, that’s what the second-year courses in strategic management are supposed to do — show students how to integrate their knowledge of finance, accounting, marketing, and business law (note to Yale: economics is not a functional area) to solve specific problems. Economic analysis can also serve as the glue binding the functional disciplines, just as a first-year economics course can complement the case method. As one of my own MBA syllabi states:
The case-study approach provides valuable information on the actual institutions that make up business organizations while exposing students to a variety of real business settings and problems. The drawback to this approach is that students are often left without a unifying perspective on the common characteristics of seemingly different problems, and without the ability to formulate general, as opposed to ad hoc, approaches to these problems. Economic theory provides such a unifying perspective.
In other words, cases are like bricks in a construction project. They are essential, but unless there is something to bind them together into a coherent whole, all you have is a pile of bricks. Economic theory provides the intellectual mortar necessary to combine the bricks into a useful structure.
The new courses at Yale may prove to be phenomenal. But I’m anxious to see how the core, disciplinary, tools and concepts will be worked into the various organizational “perspectives.” To put the problem differently, do multi-disciplinary courses work if not preceded by at least some, strictly disciplinary courses?