What to expect from your Business Education

Business studies must prepare people for the big difference between the cosy classroom environment and the realities of today's business world.


Anyone thinking of embarking on a business education must ask himself or herself a basic question, 'what should a business education give me?' The answer would seem to be obvious; business knowledge. But what does that mean?

Business is a practical subject. Everyone agrees with this, but when one looks at the way business is taught sometimes, it seems too easily to be forgotten.

Why is business a practical subject? Because in business you have to DO things; take decisions; take action; monitor results. You cannot operate any business by just planning what to do on paper. Planning is, of course, an important step in the process, but there are many examples of businesses that have had excellent plans but failed because no one implemented the ideas.

Learning from business practitioners

So, you might ask, isn't the best way to learn about how to do business, to work in a business and learn from others? The answer is: No.

In the heat of battle you cannot learn to fight. There are too many day-to-day pressures, and few people have the time and/or the capability to explain what is happening and why. The reason for decisions must be explained in a way that allows a greater learning experience than just solving that particular problem at that time.

How can the dynamism of real business be simulated in the classroom?

By having people who know about business, teach business - the successful, business practitioners of today. "What we did in a similar situation" or "What we are doing right now" should be phrases often heard.

Practice, NOT theory

One of the important things these people know is that very few, one could even say no, real business situations will fit the textbook examples. Each situation can be described as unique, requiring its own unique solution. Managers must be able to analyse a situation, examine various alternatives and combine parts of solutions to solve the particular problem being faced. A business school should teach people to do this, not just find solutions to specific problems.

In order to facilitate the learning process, topics such as marketing, finance, human resources are studied individually. But real business success depends upon the optimum integration and combination of these subjects. People who will rise to the top of a company or run their own business, the aims of most business school graduates, need to learn how to do this during the MBA studies. Narrow focus specialisation limits the opportunities to understand the benefits of integration.

Learning by participation

One of the definitions of management is 'the achievement of goals through other people'. To do this requires a set of skills additional to finance, marketing, and human resources. These are sometimes called the 'soft skills' and because of the name, are often ignored or relegated in importance by business schools. However, business-practitioners know people skills can be more important than technical skills for business success, and they must be correctly incorporated into the learning process.

In the real world of business, few people can or are expected to solve a problem by themselves. The value of multiple inputs in reaching a better solution is widely recognised. But the sharing of ideas, the acceptance of other people's ideas, and the learning from other approaches is rarely a natural process. Students must learn how to present their ideas in a way that will allow others to see the value. Statements must be challenged by faculty and other students. Attack and defence of ideas, and the assimilation of other approaches are important parts of the learning process.

The benefits gained from the participation learning approach are further enhanced by a multi-cultural student body. Students who come from literally the four corners of the world, bring with them all the advantages, disadvantages, fairness and prejudice of centuries of cultural heritage. These characteristics manifest themselves in sometimes totally different approaches to solving business problems. From all of these approaches there is something to learn, if we are prepared to. To achieve these goals a business education class should be a maximum of twenty people.

A set of business tools

To come back to the original question, 'what should a business education give me?' The answer is, the tools to enable you to make an immediate contribution to global business success. These tools are:

  • The ability to use the contingency approach to solving business problems; combining the best parts of several solutions into a unique and better solution
  • Having a global perspective
  • Working with and learning from others

The MBA programmes that offer these tools are spearheading the education of a new generation of business people.

Author: Dr Trevor J Johnson, Dean, Business School Lausanne (www.bsl-lausanne.ch/)


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