Tag Archives: Harvard

Disrupt Education … Please!

I wonder if we as a society are ever going to figure out how technology can disrupt our antiquated systems for educating our children.

Think about what’s happened to information, social interaction, research, and business over the web — not to mention mobile technology — and then think about education. Preschool, K-12, and higher education.

Would anybody disagree that the institutions we depended on as kids are now embattled and crumbling as a result of political and economic factors? Higher ed has had the worst inflation of any industry I can think of over the last two generations. And the K-12 still depends on the old model of the teacher and two or three dozen students in a single classroom.

Innovation, yes, all over the place … but has it really changed anything yet?

And why not? Last week Shelley Palmer‘s email update tipped me off to Harvard and M.I.T. Offer Free Online Courses on YTimes.com, and a new Stanford-related venture called Coursera, a Web portal to distribute a broad array of interactive courses in the humanities, social sciences, physical sciences and engineering.

Also last week I received this in email…

(The innovative minds at TED have brought a new educational video website to the head of the class. Today, TED-Ed launched http://ed.ted.com a site that features TED-Ed’s original K-12 animated videos with accompanying lessons and quizzes. On top of that, the site allows educators to create original lessons for any YouTube video, rendering the video on a new link where teachers can monitor student progress.

And I’ve subscribed to several and offer several courses at udemy.com myself. And by this time we’ve all heard of Kahn Academy, another compilation of online courses.

How many universities are offering online courses? How many of those are simply free to users? How many at very attractive prices?

But what about attendance, homework, kids doing things they don’t want to do, people growing up, validation, certification, leverage, consistency?

My angel investment group is looking in detail at EdCaliber, which offers online tools for K-12 teachers. And I saw two additional education business plans over the last three weeks at business plan competitions at Rice and the University of Texas.

I’m hoping something really changes public education for the better. I haven’t seen it yet.

(Image: bigstockphoto.com)

Is Networking Friendship, or Just MBA Speak?

What do you think about this?

The networking connections are one of the most valuable benefits of an MBA. Five to ten years down the road these people will either be running their own businesses or have high-level positions in large companies.

That’s a comment to my post here and on Small Business Trends. I said the value of my MBA degree was what I learned, not what I earned.

That networking idea, especially connected to business school, has been around for a long time. It was already there in B-school lore, thoroughly entrenched, ironically, even before there was actual networking – the web, social media, Internet, email, etc. I did my MBA from 1979 to 1981, and we heard it a lot even way back then. And they meant it then exactly as it’s used here.

But I don’t like it. To me, the term networking smacks of people as career stepping stones, and relationships as business assets. And insincere grins and car salesmen wearing white buck shoes and green checked sports coats. And pinkie rings. And people who barely know each other asking for favors. It makes me feel like after I’m done networking I should take a shower.

Friendship, on the other hand, I like. Friendship is about people, and life, and it’s always good. Also community, and discussion and keeping in touch.  I’m fine with that.  I like the idea of people who do higher education together becoming friends for life. That’s cool. I haven’t been the best at keeping up, but I’ve always liked the idea. I’m still in email with some people I met at Stanford and even with friends from Notre Dame, my undergrad school, where we were the class of 1970. But that’s not networking, it’s life.

And social media, by the way; I like that too. I’ve had lots of twitter relationships end up as face to face or phone, and these are friendships, not networking. These are people I like. Communicating (well, publishing) about things they like. If that’s networking too, then it’s not so bad.

You tell me, please: am I making something out of nothing? Is networking just another word for friendship? Does the new world of social media turn networking into something different than its meaning in the MBA context?

(Image: James Steidl/Shutterstock)

Read This Before Getting an MBA Degree

Here I am, father of five grown-up children, 37 to 22 years old, all of them working in small high-tech companies, all of them college grads, two of them with graduate degrees. And, while my MBA studies were exactly what I wanted, and worked great for me, not one of my five kids has a business degree, much less an MBA. Yesterday somebody asked me why that is. This post is my response.

1. Don’t do it for the money

Search Google for Is an MBA degree worth it? and you’ll find lots of people showing that the average incremental income linked to an MBA degree doesn’t compensate for the expense plus the lost income for two years. They’ll use buzzwords like opportunity cost. Ironically, I’m sure my MBA degree paid for itself in money terms many times over, but the analysis seems to indicate I’m the exception, not the rule.

So why do it (and if you have to ask, that’s a bad sign)?  You do it because you want to learn about business: entrepreneurship, marketing, finance, operations, strategy, management, planning, and so forth.

2. Don’t do it when you’re on the way up

Don’t ever quit an exciting new job to go get an MBA degree. Do quit a boring job or one you’ve mastered so much you’re not learning any more. Do use an MBA effort as a catalyst to change locations, the life you’re living, your business interests. Don’t do it when times are good.

3. Don’t do it if you hate school

If getting your undergrad degree was a long hard haul; if you don’t like school or classes or homework or teachers; then you’re going to hate the MBA program. You know who you are: some people like school, and some don’t. If you don’t like school, even if you successfully dragged yourself through it because you’ve got good discipline and you’re highly motivated, then you’re going to hate the MBA classes. And that’s hell. That wasn’t my case. I’d grown up (finally) when I went back to school.

4. Do it at the best school you can get into

Listen carefully for a while and you’ll start to hear people saying so-and-so is “Harvard MBA” or “Stanford MBA” or “Wharton MBA” and so on, in a way that changes the title to incorporate the school name. Northwestern also works for that, Duke, Babson, and for sure a few others (and I apologize for leaving them out). I have to recognize that this is easier said than done, because they are tough with admissions and expensive, but there is a difference between an MBA from one of these name schools and the MBA from one of the others. Even that return-on-investment analysis that I brought up in point 1 above looks much better when it’s an MBA from a name school.

5. Don’t do it if you can’t afford it

My wife and I worked my way through. I didn’t have scholarship or family money. I worked a lot at consulting while studying full time. We ended up with a lot of debt. But in the end, we were able to afford it. It was a lot cheaper back in 1979. If you can’t make the money side of it work, if it’s going to be two years of financial hell, don’t do it.

6. Don’t sacrifice a lifelong relationship for it

There’s a catch 22 problem here: first you have to say, if it’s a matter of either your marriage (or a lifetime couple relationship) or your MBA degree, forget the MBA. Lifetime relationships are way more important. But the catch is: in a healthy relationship each person makes the other one better. When I quit a job to get an MBA my wife encouraged me. “Let’s take the risk,” she said, “if we fail we fail together.” We’re still married. If you’re married or in a real long-term relationship, and your spouse, partner, or significant other doesn’t like the idea, it could easily destroy your relationship. That’s too big a sacrifice.

And be honest with yourself on this point too: if you really want it and the boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t care enough about what you want, realize it’s a bad relationship anyhow, one person pulling the other down, then go get the MBA anyhow. Meet somebody new.

Yeah, I know, that last bit has too much paradox.

On Twitter, A/B Analysis, and the Art of Headlines

Do you like my headline here, on this post? Can you write a better one?

Headlines are critical. I’ve noted that, with some frustration (I’m not so good at headlines) on this blog before, here.

Headlines come up today because being in New York last week to  judge the Forbes.com business plan contest gave me a chance to visit with my son Paul, who lives in New York, and is CTO of Huffington Post. And he told me what they’re doing on the Huffington Post about headlines.

Why do you care? Maybe because (whether you like its political views or not) in the last 2-3 years Huffington Post has posted huge growth in traffic and advertiser and investor interest and visibility and traffic. So they have to be doing a lot of things right. And, if you’re writing or blogging, you should know about how they do headlines.

It starts with a lot of testing. Paul was quoted in How the Huffington Post uses real-time testing for headlines in Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab:

The Huffington Post applies A/B testing to some of its headlines. Readers are randomly shown one of two headlines for the same story. After five minutes, which is enough time for such a high-traffic site, the version with the most clicks becomes the wood that everyone sees.

And then there’s Twitter. As a Twitter user, I enjoyed reading Huffpost crowd sources headlines in Snoo.ws. Here are highlights:

Using the hashtag #headlinehelp, visitors will be able to click on a link to an article and help write an appropriate headline that fits the story. Through social byproduct, the best headline will filter through to editors.

The Huffington Post made its first attempt at using the hashtag late yesterday asking participants to replace the headline, “No, YOU Lie,” regarding a story about Rep. Joe Wilson’s interjectory fireworks during President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress.

Hashtags are not perfect aggregators by any means, as previous use of them has seen contests hijacked and critical messaging spoiled. With Huffington Post’s reputation, they surely have gained some followers who may wish to use this idea in a negative way for the company.

How cool is that? I’d love to copy that idea. But reality rears up its ugly head: Huffington Post has hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter; I have barely four thousand. Mine are smarter and better looking, but still …

Or no, perhaps, not so cool? Maybe data-driven headlines are a problem (quoting The Noisy Channel on this subject):

I’m sure this approach must rattle some old-school journalists. And there is a real danger of optimizing for the wrong outcome. For example, including the word “sex” in this message might improve its traffic … but to what end?

OK, good point, but the discovery that there are some words (sex, violence, naked, brutal) which get better results is nothing new. It’s older than I am (I posted about words I won’t put into titles despite the temptation on this blog a couple of years ago).  What’s new is the ability to test quickly and bring a crowd into it in a practical way.

It’s not about asking people what’s new, or changing the news content. It’s about headlines. And gaining readers.

Rethinking Business Schools After the Fall

Blame the business schools? As the culprits roll out of the fancy offices in New York and Washington, it’s hard to resist the temptation. There have been several thoughtful pieces on that in the last couple months, particularly the New York Times on blaming the business schools, and Are Business Schools to Blame posted late last month on a Harvard Business School blog. If you care about business education, for whatever reason, read both of these. The first is a bit longer than most blog posts, but thorough, well researched, and significant. The second includes a long string of thoughtful comments.

I care about business education. I think there are serious issues here, and a chance, maybe, to use this crisis to promote some change for the better.

The Times’ piece raises serious issues:

Critics of business education have many complaints. Some say the schools have become too scientific, too detached from real-world issues. Others say students are taught to come up with hasty solutions to complicated problems. Another group contends that schools give students a limited and distorted view of their role — that they graduate with a focus on maximizing shareholder value and only a limited understanding of ethical and social considerations essential to business leadership.

The Harvard follow-up cites three underlying problems (and I’m paraphrasing, here; the words are mine, summarizing):

  1. The traditional business school curriculum separates management from leadership. Management is analytical. Leadership is fuzzy.
  2. Business school lore and legend is about making money. Get an MBA, get rich.
  3. Business schools aren’t owning up to the possibility. The actual phrase is “There has been little contrition on the part of those involved in MBA education after the crisis.” Hard to argue with that. At least Harvard is there.

I see a whole lot of truth in most of this. And I believe in education in general, and I loved the two years I took to get the Stanford MBA, and I wouldn’t change a thing about that time (from 1979 to 1981). I teach one class a year at the University of Oregon business school. So I am involved in all this. And I do think there’s room for a lot more change. And good and bad news.

The Bad News

So much of what they’re saying is, at least from my point of view, mostly true.

Business schools tend to train people to be consultants and middle managers. In my class at Stanford we almost all wanted to be management consultants. Those were the best jobs. From what I can tell, that’s still true, and at all the good schools.

That idea of minding the stockholders interests, blindly, is very deeply rooted. It’s a very powerful rationalization. “Oh well,” they say, as they make the short-sighted, environmentally insensitive, socially insensitive, and even borderline unethical decision, “our job is to mind the share price.”

And the share price, meanwhile, drives very short-term views. The share price doesn’t often reward the strategic decision that sacrifices short term bumps for long-term health.

Business ethics are too often an afterthought. They should be at the core of business strategy, wound in and absorbed in product and market strategy, but they aren’t. They’re separate.

The Good News

The good news is the tremendous boom in teaching about entrepreneurship. It’s the absolute rage in business schools. Entrepreneurship programs are the bright new thing everywhere.

When I was at Stanford, there was only one course on anything related to small business or entrepreneurship. It was called Small Business Management, taught by Steve Brandt. It was a really good review of the startup process, the business plan, and getting investment. It was my favorite course. But it was also the only one offered that had anything to do with entrepreneurship. Today Stanford has a booming center for entrepreneurship and some amazing activities related to entrepreneurship: speaker series, videos, and so on.

And that’s the rule, not the exception.

Furthermore, people inside the schools are waking up to the growth in green business, social entrepreneurship, sustainability, and so on. I was at MERC 2009 the week before last: put on by the George Mason University Entrepreneurship Center, focusing on sustainability. The University of Oregon business school has a program on (a center focusing on) sustainable business. There too, that’s the rule, not the exception.

And a Hope for the Future

Maybe it’s still just a pipe dream, an ex-hippy delusion left over from the 1960s, but it seems to me that changes in the business landscape — increasing visibility, for example, in an explosion of small-scale quasi-journalism in blogs and social media — make it steadily more important than long-term successful business has to respect the fundamental values of fairness to employees and customers, sustainability in resources and the environment, and better citizenship in a very broad sense.

The world is revising the golden rule: do unto others as you would have posted and tweeted everywhere, and lodged in Web searches forever. I think that’s a good thing.

Maybe in the future the businesses will actually do well by doing good.