I have come to the conclusion that most executive education of any reputation and high fees, is based upon five pillars:
1. The provision of conceptual frames toolkits and language. These help to navigate and provide conceptual comfort. Not a bad one.
2. Retrospective data analysis of dubious predictive value, populated with great deal of clustering fallacies, labelled as ‘research’. Not even the often fuzzy ‘social research’ is as bad as ‘business research’ [We have interviewed 1000 CEOs and our research indicates that their 3 keys for the future are innovation, execution and culture’]
3. A Pick and Mix library of justifications and legitimizations that can look as solid and cohesive logic even if there isn’t one: For traditional leadership, pick GE and Jack Welsh; for transformation pick IBM; for a really, really good story, Jobs and Apple, for sexy structure going bad, pick Zappos; for ethics and values or lack of, pick Enron and if you want to impress with a quote, get McKinsey Quarterly.
4. Journalistic mapping of the ‘past-leads-to-present-prepares-for-the-future’ via ‘case studies’. Most of them would give journalism a bad name.
5. Weak or complete lack of Critical Thinking that reinforces the impression of ‘business organizations’ having a solid narrative, a solid body and a solid logic.
Most MBAs operate that way. Most Executive Leadership Programmes are built that way.
The brightest pool of students will transform themselves quickly into MBA survivors (with perhaps a big job in The City, Wall Street, or a Big Consulting Group) and, if lucky, will become members of the Scepticism gym.
My recommendation to all is: Suspend all judgement and confront that hernia.
OK, I will now have to explain the hernia bit, I know.
In a book by Mikhail Bulgakov entitled ‘A Young Doctor’s Notebook’, the author recalls his experience when confronted with the reality in a small village hospital in Russia. He says: ‘ Forty eight days ago I qualified ‘with distinction’; but distinction is one thing and hernia is another’.
To solve ‘the hernia’ in organisational management don’t look for Porter’s Five Forces. All MBA templates are impressive, the lexicon is appealing, the name of the school very prestigious, but a hernia is a hernia. And you don’t have a clue about where to start.
What you do, once you have run out of Five Forces and Disruptive Innovation Curves, will depend on how many people around you are used to dealing with hernias.
For Bulgakov, young doctor, circa 1916, that was a challenge. For 2016 post business/management education, it remains the same.