What do Ted Turner, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Tony Hsieh, Herb Kelleher, Walt Disney, Anna Wintour, George Lucas, Guy Laliberté, Jeff Bezos, and many otherunconventional leaders have in common?
They didn’t attend business school. In fact, many didn’t even attend or finish university. It’s no accident that innovative ideas seldom come from business schools. Business schools are built to create bureaucratic, risk averse managers who can’t think outside the box. In fact, business schools do much to create and perpetuate The Box!
How can this be?
Business professors all over the world teach the same old ideas the same old way…boring PowerPoint lectures! They often use slides provided by textbook publishers, so everyone uses the same slides. These poor souls are incapable of adding any value to their boring lectures; no insights or original ideas. The result is no new ideas are taught. There is no incentive to innovate teaching.
Professors are not rewarded for being relevant to practicing managers. If a professor were to publish a best selling leadership book, he or she would not be rewarded. Only peer-reviewed academic journal articles count. Most business schools focus on publishing research that no one reads. Here is a sample of papers presented at the 2014 Academy of Management conference:
The linearity of Words and Oppressions of Linearity: Mapping, Dreaming and Imagining of Workplaces
Becoming an Intellectual Shaman: Tackling Big Ideas Around Social, Ecological, and Economic Issues
Wordplays of the Self: Narrative, Discourse, Power and the Hard Work of Identity
Being There/Being Them: Stages of Entry, Exit, and In-Between in Organizational Ethnography
Tens of thousand of dollars were spent to produce and present these …THINGS! It’s not surprising that executives don’t attend academic conferences; nor do they read irrelevant academic articles or books. It’s almost impossible for faculty focused on such nonsense to be good teachers. Even when they research relevant issues, they often choose subjects already understood (ex. motivation), so their research provides no value to anyone.
Business professors are so clueless when it comes to the real business world, they seldom get paid for their ideas in terms of consulting and speaking.
Soaring Tuition, So What?
The focus on research also results in unsustainable economics. To support the research fantasy, schools spend enormous sums sending faculty to academic conferences (aka, vacations). Additionally, the more research professors do, the less they teach, which means more faculty must be hired to teach. Keep in mind that business faculty are some of the most expensive instructors at universities, and many only teach 3 or 2 courses per semester.
Small classes also increase expenses in a similar manner; more professors must be hired. Classes are made smaller, not to improve teaching (which it doesn’t), but to make it easier for professors to teach and grade … so classes get smaller and smaller and smaller. Add to this the lavish 3+ months of paid vacation and periodic sabbaticals (one whole year of paid vacation), and it’s no surprise university education is so expensive.
However, no matter how much tuition they charge, it’s still not enough to cover their ridiculous costs.
If tuition goes up much faster than inflation and students have tens of thousands in debt plus no job, professors don’t care. To make this Rube Goldberg system work, business schools resort to a combination of begging and Ponzi scheme financing (they call it “fund raising”) to meet their ever increasing spending.
Could you imagine any company asking for donations from former customers (alumni), foundations, government, etc. to fund its current operating costs? That would be called INSANITY, but this is just what business schools do every day!
The Easy Life
Universities exist for professors, not students. They are built for professors to have a nice, easy and safe job. In fact, except in very rare cases, professors with tenure cannot be fired. That’s right, tenured professors have a job for life, no matter how bad they teach. If what they teach and research has nothing to do with the real world, that is ok … they live in an academic make believe world that is well insulated from reality.
Their self-serving approach extends into every aspect of operations. At any store or restaurant, the best parking is reserved for customers.
At universities, the faculty, who happen to be employees, reserve the best parking for themselves. Despite paying tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of attending college, students get the worst parking … plus they have to pay for parking too!
Do businesses close for 3 months per year, plus take a few more weeks off for spring and winter breaks?
Of course not … businesses are built to serve their customers. Universities take all this time off, plus all holidays everyone else gets. Who cares if students need to graduate and start working, let them wait. If that isn't enough, most professors only teach 9 hours per week.
At research universities, it is even less, 6 or 3 hours per week. Some professors, if they are really good at publishing useless research, rarely teach, if at all.
For over 16 years I have witnessed all this silliness. I have taught business courses at the executive, PhD, masters and undergraduate levels at universities in the United States, Brazil, France, Peru, Thailand, Singapore, Portugal, Mexico, India, Switzerland, China, Estonia, Sweden, Puerto Rico, Indonesia, and Germany. As AVP for Research at AACSB (business school accrediting body), I learned much about the business education industry; in particular how commoditized it is.
Not only are schools mostly the same, but they are designed to produce conventional thinking managers (not leaders) who are incapable of innovation. My years of freelance teaching around the world has confirmed this fact. Stay tuned for my proposal for a school of leadership that will produce innovative leaders.
Eric J. Romero, PhD is an Unconventional Leadership Badass. For over 15 years, Eric has helped managers become unconventional leaders. Eric partners with leaders to help them create competitive advantage based on creativity, flexibility and risk-taking so they can innovate and win. Eric has written over 35 articles and presented his ideas around the world.