Tag Archives: innovation

‘Dedicated to the things that haven’t happened yet and the people who are about to dream them up’

I spent a few minutes today catching up with the Stanford GSB Dean’s “State of  the School, Fall 2010” message, which anticipates the GSB’s move into the new Knight Management Center in Spring 2011.

What caught my attention, from an MBA admissions perspective, is the inscription on the new cornerstone of the new center. How is that for clarity in what Stanford GSB is looking for? Dreaming up — and presumably then building — new things is, literally, the cornerstone of the institution.

So if you are applying to Stanford GSB, you need to have some idea of what (ambitious) business or organization or innovation you may dream up, why it’s important to the world, why you are the person to do it, why SGSB can expect you to succeed, and a sense of how they can help you.

Is this saying, “think small?” Is this saying, “comfortable career track?” “Sure, we want to educate you so you can be a trader in an I-bank, or telecoms strategy consultant…?” I think not. They are not demanding mainline entrepreneurship exactly, but they are demanding those ready, willing, and able to build big new things in the world.

It’s also worth spending the 4 minutes it takes to watch Dean Saloner’s presentation, below, because he integrates key elements in the business school education framework, from perspective to foundations to critical-analytical thinking to innovation to personal leadership in a very joined-up way. As an applicant, it’s worth pausing to think how this simple pattern can be used to structure stories and events in your own life that you are trying to tell Adcom about.

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The value of a bad boss in MBA admissions

Unless you are independently wealthy or have been lucky enough to work for yourself all your life (and most of us fall into neither category,) chances are you’ve had a bad boss or two along the way.

You know the type: the boss who sets ambiguous tasks and then micromanages them. Who offers a grunt when you ace a project, but chews you over for 20 minutes because of a minor error. The one who will take credit up the chain for great work you do, but won’t cover for you when deadlines slip. And so on.

I was reminded of this in profiling a client recently. He had been doing everything right, killing himself to complete complex operations/IT projects, plus studying nights for an M.S. degree and co-managing a young family. His boss committed all of the above evils and more. She would casually set him ‘by-close-of-business today” tasks late in the day, interfere in carefully nurtured team relationships he had built up over months, use fear of termination to crack the whip, and the list goes on.

At the first possible moment, he quit. Yay.

Listening to this phase of his life, I felt need to reach for the Kleenex. But I could offer some consolation. After the event, what he had was fabulous experience for his future role as a manager and leader, and it would play well in an MBA admissions essay. Why? Because if you have experienced having your motivation sapped, having to walk on eggshells around an idiot who controls you, having to grind your teeth in frustration at not being able to implement an obvious innovation — that is, if you have been poorly managed yourself, you have excellent insight into what not to do. And therefore, reversing all that a bad boss does, you have a good idea what kind of boss you should be.

Further, for MBA admissions essay or interview purposes, your bad-boss story is “proof” you have been through fundamental learning about management, have developed insights into how to handle people under you, and are therefore ready to manage effectively when your turn comes. If you have a story like this, tell it.

New HBS Dean talks of competence, character, internationalism, and dirty boots. Adcom will follow suit

The soul-searching at Harvard Business School over business ethics and the relationship between business and society has been widely documented. From Anderson to Enron to Lehman Bros., risktaking, dodgy, and sometimes outright criminal companies have been loaded with HBS alumni (as well as many from other schools as well, let’s not forget.) But somehow, of all business schools, perhaps because of its self-proclaimed “leadership and influence” focus, Harvard sees itself as needing to lead a new era in business-society relations.

With this as background, a recent Economist piece views the appointment on July 1st of new dean Nitin Nohria as part of a general HBS ethics-focused shake-up.

“Mr Nohria is the first HBS dean who was not born in North America. He is also the first who has come to the job having said that business faces a ‘crisis of legitimacy’ and that business education is at an ‘inflection point’…

“Mr Nohria’s first task is to try to restore faith in business in general and in business schools in particular. This means improving two things, he reckons: “competence” and “character”. He wants the faculty to focus more on the risks of clever financial techniques; they will have plenty of case studies to choose from. He also wants HBS to renew its commitment to shaping its students’ characters as well as their intellects. He has long argued that business people should regard themselves as members of a profession. He supports a movement by students to adopt a business equivalent of the Hippocratic oath… (For more on the MBA Oath see here.)

“Mr Nohria’s other great passion is for super-charging innovation at HBS. This will involve making the school even more globally connected than it already is: one of Mr Nohria’s first acts as dean was to embark on a whistle-stop tour of the world’s business hot-spots. More ambitiously, he wants to rethink the school’s hallowed teaching methods. Since the 1920s, HBS students have pored over case studies of business decisions. The new dean wants them to take part in live case studies—to take themselves to the Midwest or Mumbai and spend time working for real companies. This answers one of the most persistent criticisms of business education: that it is too abstract. Mr Nohria wants his students to get their boots dirty.”

So there is clearly a manifesto from the top of HBS to (1) address character issues and define competence more broadly, that is, to exclude absurd risk-taking; (2) to increase the school’s active global connections, including in emerging markets, in the spirit of innovation, and; (3) to extend the case-method to include “do-it-don’t-just-think-about-it” immersion.

Nobody is suggesting that the Dean makes admissions decisions directly. But HBS Adcom as a whole can hardly be immune to the strong winds of this new directive either. Therefore, applicants who (while staying true to themselves!) show evidence of good character, a measured risk-taking profile, global-innovative intent, and readiness to go beyond the ivory tower during their studies and afterwards, will be doing themselves a favor.