In a recent Bloomberg Businessweek article (April 21, 2014), Dr. Bhaskar Charavorti, Senior Associate Dean of International Business & Finance at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and founding Executive Director of Fletcher’s Institute for Business in the Global Context, wrote an interesting thought piece on “How Business Schools Create Irresponsible Leaders”.
He says, “Most business schools have spent the past decade making their programs global in scope, which tends to mean sending students to foreign lands for immersion programs. The model they’re using, however, creates leaders that are dangerously out of touch with the context in which they’re running businesses. That’s because international field trips and contact with global chief executive officers cannot alone give students an understanding of the social and political issues unique to every market.” http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-04-21/how-business-schools-create-irresponsible-leaders
I cannot agree with him more, as my last post focused on this very issue. If we take a ‘front-stage’ look at culture, we become passive recipients of information while enjoying the experience as spectators. Any of us enjoys being entertained (or in this sense – learning something interesting on a study tour). However, we know that basic human interaction (whether cross-culturally or with someone from your own in-group) is complicated, and it is not enough to know the ‘what’ of doing business in a global context. Truly responsible teaching and learning helps the student go ‘back-stage’ by drawing back the curtain that hides the mystery of what is transpiring behind the scenes. Seeing behind the curtain can foster dynamic learning as students become active participants engaged in a sort of improvisation – as they begin to understand ‘why’ things are happening the way that they are – then through trial and error, they can build a repertoire of responses and actions to real-life situations when they happen.
At the end of his piece Dr. Charavorti states, “…business schools should make it mandatory that MBAs interested in international studies take courses in politics, history, security, and humanitarian studies so they can develop an overall appreciation for the varied causes of market failure around the world.”
I applaud Dr. Charavorti for his thinking as we need more academic leaders who understand the critical nature of connecting business learning with culture learning. However, I would add two important aspects to this equation: 1) It should include ALL business students and not just those interested in international studies because the reality is that we live in an interconnected world and it is critical to understand multiple perspectives when interacting with different people even at home. 2) Taking courses in politics, history, and humanitarian subjects is definitely a step in the right direction, as this is almost entirely ignored in most business schools today. But awareness for the sake of awareness is not enough.
Digging deeper, or as we discussed in the prior post, going ‘backstage’ to understand more about ‘why’ and not just ‘what’ is essential to our deepening understanding and then hopefully active development of cultural competence. So, I would advocate course design that would address historical, political, social and cultural content with the specific intent to develop cultural competence and not simply cultural awareness. Understanding history or politics is important – but understanding it within the various cultural dimensions and then engaging in reflection that gets at the ‘why’ of the ‘what’ is even better. Only when we are changed from the inside through reflection based upon trial and error, can we truly begin to understand how to ‘do business’ around the globe.
The next post will demonstrate the intentional culture learning that takes place with MBA students at the Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame, in preparation for their China immersion experience.