Here’s how Nohria describes each of his five priorities:
The first priority is innovation in our educational programs, starting with our MBA program. The MBA is our crown jewel; it symbolizes what is precious and distinctive at Harvard Business School, it has influenced generations of leaders around the world, and it is a model for other schools on a wide range of dimensions, whether it be the qualify of our teaching or the engagement of our students.
SOME COMPANIES NO LONGER WANT THEIR BEST YOUNG LEADERS TO GET MBAS
All the same time, we must face up to significant challenges. As the opportunity cost for completing an MBA program increases, the perceived value of doing the program decreases. We know that many companies no longer insist that their best young leaders come to us as part of their development; some in fact work hard to discourage them from doing so. Student engagement in the classroom is at risk of declining, even if less quickly than at other schools. Alternative programs, especially one-year and part-time programs, are rapidly multiplying, and demand for them is growing.
SOME PERCEIVE HBS AS BEING TOO CONSERVATIVE ABOUT INNOVATION
Moreover, in the world more broadly, there is growing concern that students who come to MBA programs, including HBS’s, value the credential they get and the connections they build more than the opportunity to develop their competence and character. A number of schools—including our peers—have engaged in MBA reform, so that by comparison, despite our commitment to continuous improvement, some perceive HBS as being too conservative about innovation and change.
CREATING A ‘FIELD METHOD’ TO COMPLEMENT THE ‘CASE METHOD’
These concerns about the MBA present us with a great opportunity: people are looking for HBS to lead the way forward. Thankfully, several faculty members have completed major research projects on the state of management education and opportunities for reform. Our faculty (and students) also have piloted many curricular experiments, from international immersion projects to new courses that engage students in novel ways. Building on these ideas, we are well prepared to launch an innovative architecture and platform for our MBA program—in effect, to creatively reconfigure and synthesize the pieces in a relevant and compelling new way. While much work remains to be done, our early thinking points to a model that significantly strengthens the development of field learning, or practice-centered opportunities for our students. We hope we can create a “field method” that will become a powerful complement to the “case method” for which we are so well known.
What both these methods share is a commitment to pedagogy that is engaging, participant-centered, and focused on real problems in management practice. The case method cultivates learning and judgment by encouraging students to think of what they would do in the managerial situations presented in our cases. The field method, we feel, will address what has been called the knowing-doing gap, by giving students opportunities to practice what they would actually do in various managerial situations that might range from launching a new product in an emerging market to starting a new business. Together, we feel these methods will do an even better job of developing leaders who understand the principles of management, are able to translate them into practice, and do so with a deeper sense of personal and professional purpose.
An early focus on the MBA program doesn’t mean we won’t look for opportunities to innovate in either our Doctoral or Executive Education programs. Even today, we find that ideas developed in one program often find their way into the others; Executive Education programs, in particular, given their relative smaller size and shorter duration, provide an outstanding laboratory for experimentation. Indeed, we have always been pioneers in executive education and our continuing innovations have enabled us to sustain modest growth in this arena, even in a difficult economic environment. My ultimate hope is that some of the innovations we launch in each of these programs find their way into the other curricula, and create the possibility for a powerful step change in all these programs. Harvard Business School’s reputation as a leader in business education rests in important ways on creating powerful pedagogical innovations that have been adopted by educators throughout the world.