Reinvent Management to Get Noticed in the ‘Creative’ MBA Essay

Some schools, notably Chicago Booth, UCLA Anderson, and NYU Stern, ask for open, creative essays where you set the agenda and can submit (within reason, per guidlines) whatever you think is important. The test is (a) how you deal with unstructured situations, (b) whether you have any creativity/imagination ,and (c) what your broader communication skills are like.

It’s a heaven-sent opportunity to get yourself noticed, but only, of course, if you can do something notice-worthy. Of course this essay prompt causes more unhappiness among applicants than any other.

As an applications advisor, I find myself thinking about new and different ways to tackle these questions. The only sure principle is “pop” — can you stand out? As Adcoms keep telling us, it’s not about evaluation (almost everyone who applies is “good enough.”) It is about selection. If you pop and you’re not in a heavily oversubscribed applicant category, your application becomes hard to turn down.

Here’s one way to pop — a management innovation competition. As the Website blurb says:

“The Management Innovation Exchange, a project aimed at reinventing management for the 21st century, and HCL Technologies, a global IT services provider, are offering more than $50,000 in prizes for the best new game-changing management ideas. The HCL MBA M-Prize competition is open to all current graduate business school students and will honor “the best new idea for making organizations more adaptable, more innovative, more inspiring, and more socially accountable.

“One of the people involved in all this is Gary Hamel, director of the Management Lab at London Business School, the author of seminal management books including Leading the Revolution, and one of the most influential management thinkers around. This is what he had to say in a statement:

“Organizations around the world today are challenged to change in ways they have never imagined. Collectively and individually some of the world’s leading management thinkers and progressive CEOs are pushing themselves and their teams to answer the fundamental question: How do we invent ‘management 2.0?’ The HCL MBA M-Prize is not an intellectual exercise or a theory. We are looking for ideas we can test and make work in a real organization. We are looking to reinvent the future of management and let MBA students’ ideas play a critical role in making it work.

‘In addition to a $50,000 grand prize, the winner gets to lead a real-world management experiment, in effect testing the winning idea at a real company. There are also three additional prizes for the best management “hacks”–which the organizers describe as “a bold new idea or radical fix aimed at redistributing power, unleashing human capability and fostering renewal in organizations.”

“The deadline for submissions is Feb. 28. Ten to 15 finalists will be selected by April 15 and the winners will be announced on the MIX site on May 1. Entries will be judged on clarity of thought and originality, potential for impact, feasibility of implementation, and popularity.

“A bunch of the entries have already been posted on the M-Prize web site. One involves giving rank-and-file employees a say in big company decisions, such as mergers and acquisitions. Another proposes an internal market for management talent–allowing employees to choose their own supervisors and rewarding the best. A third suggests an online social network to solicit money-making ideas for the company, and giving a cut of the proceeds from any viable idea to the person who thought of it.

“Not a bad start, but only a start. Surely there must be hundreds of really smart ideas for fomenting the next great management revolution bubbling up in b-school. What’s yours?”

(Yes, it’s open only to current b-school students. But there nothing to stop you telling Adcom what your entry will be next year…)