27 April 2009

MBA: Mostly Bloody Awful

A well-thought piece from Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio on rethinking the value and place of the MBA degree. It makes the argument - and convincingly, in my opinion - that the culture created by business schools through their MBA programs are responsible for creating conditions that lead not only to the current financial crisis, but the social crisis as well:
The big problem with the MBA culture is that it creates this elite group of people who are there by dint of nothing more than this qualification, which is useful, but little more than that. To say that it qualifies anyone to really do anything is absolutely false. And I also think it's fundamentally anti-democratic...

The influence of Taylorism has been all pervasive, and not just in America.

It's from [the father of Scientific Management, Frederick Winslow] Taylor that the business schools derived their obsession with numbers and measurement, and the idea that management was a science that could be studied in a university.

It's also due to Taylor's influence that the emphasis in business shifted from people to figures, and from quality to quantity. We started to hear talk about the bottom line, employees started to be called human resources, and we saw the rise of the influence of the accountant. ... There's a very good author called Marianne Keller, who wrote a kind of biography of General Motors, and she says the object in General Motors after the arrival of this new concept of management was to improve the numbers, not to improve the product. This is a theme that runs through the whole of American business, particularly in the 1980s and the 1990s. It's what happened at Enron, where they took their debt off the main balance sheet and stuck it into a subservient balance sheet, so the interest costs would not weigh down earnings. So first of all, you find the manipulation of the events underlying the figures to achieve the right figures and then you have of course the manipulation of the figures ending up in fraud. So the characteristic of the new age of management as a profession, is improving the numbers, not improving the product...

[Leadership's] a disease in the United States. Everything is going to be cured by leadership. Look, every time you talk leadership, you're talking followership. So every time you're identifying a leader, you're identifying a whole bunch of followers. Do we want a world of followers? And leadership is a very individualistic notion. Even if that leadership is portrayed as energising everybody else, it's the individual leader who's energising everybody else. And I'm much more enthusiastic on what I call communityship, that we need much more emphasis on the idea of community and people working together and developing things together.
There is a transcript of the program and a podcast. Listening to the interviews that comprise this exposé confirm my decision to follow the course of research that I have chosen. Valence Theory, once and hopefully for all, undermines the fraud that is Taylorism and subverts the dubious principles that govern modern MBA programs.

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