What’s the biggest takeaway from business school? Ask MBA alums and they’ll tell you it was learning how to think. Whether they were dissecting their 200th case or pinpointing revenue streams for a startup, their two years were a daily exercise in diving deep into data, weighing tradeoffs, and tying up loose ends. In the process, they learned how to think like leaders, build consensus, and roll out solutions.
Question is, was this thinking tethered to pedagogy or picked up hodge podge? More important, did they learn to how to make the best decisions — or just better than ordinary ones?
“A NEW WAY TO THINK” AND THE FOUNDATION OF THE ROTMAN CURRICULUM
That’s the crux behind a distinctive framework pioneered at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Termed “integrative thinking,” it is a step-by-step model that codifies the increasingly collaborative nature of decision-making. In a nutshell, it is a holistic approach that combines solutions to reveal the full range of possibilities. “The typical way of dealing with problems is to list several solutions and decide on the best one, as though it were wrong to select more than one,” explains Roger Martin, the school’s former dean and the mastermind behind integrative thinking. “Business students are taught to analyze business problems in this way: option A yields $2.8 million, option B yields $3.4 million, so option B is superior. Integrative thinking is a mindset that leads you to a new option, which combines the best elements of A and B. It’s a creative act.”
In other words, Rotman MBAs are trained to step outside their own experiences and interpretations. As a result, they are more able than most to embrace complexity and contradiction and map ever-evolving variables and relationships, adapting to the issue at hand — instead of cramming it into a fixed philosophy — so they can fame solutions that are both inclusive and durable.
Rotman describes its program as “a new way to think.” Indeed, the integrative method underlies every course. It was among the biggest reasons why so many members of the 2018 class flocked to the program. “Rotman is one of the few business schools, if not the only one, that believes in a different way of doing business and promotes integrative thinking to solve business problems,” says Albert Cuesta Reig, an architect from Barcelona. “I am convinced that combining a creative thinking process with the analytical rigour of the business world will lead to new solutions and opportunities that would otherwise be neglected.”
This integrative approach also puts a new spin on the vaunted case method, a bedrock of any MBA curriculum, adds Tess Cecil-Cockwell, who arrives in Toronto from the oil fields of the Alaska wilderness. “Case studies are a valuable tool for teaching business methods, but they run the risk of having pre-determined results that may not apply to a problem that you encounter outside of your MBA. Rotman avoids this by teaching its students how to form business models that may be adapted to various problems, and then having the students actually apply what they learn to real business problems. It is an innovative and exciting approach that I look forward to pursuing!”
A CLASS OF DEEP AND DYNAMIC THINKERS
Make no mistake: Rotman is associated with academic rigor–and for good reason. Regarded as Canada’s premier graduate business program-—with the larger university ranked among the world’s top research universities-—the program boasts three faculty members in Thinkers50, a roundup of the best minds in management. It is also a program with momentum behind it. That’s in part to Martin’s 15-year stewardship, which saw the program nearly quadruple its faculty and endowment while transforming into a go-to for ambitious MBA applicants looking for exposure to the most innovative minds and practices in business.
The Class of 2018 is a natural fit with the program’s integrative philosophy. Daphne Hemily, a McGill grad and former program unit coordinator with Doctors Without Borders, is a “believer that there’s always another option through dynamic thinking.” Bosnia’s Marko Tesanovic describes himself as “a big thinker driven by curiosity and the desire to make a lasting impact on the world.” Business school should be a snap for Toyosi Aiyelabola, who has already successfully balanced her roles as a mum, a medical doctor, a businesswoman and an aspiring leader.” If there is a criticism to be had, you could say the class may be a bit too transparent. Desmond Yeo, a diplomat from Singapore, notes that he struggles with “serious imposter syndrome” and an “irrational fear of chalkboards,” while Tesanovic admits to a “peanut butter addiction.”
They also fit well with Toronto’s cosmopolitan and intrepid spirit. Take Cheryl McConachie, who studied English at Queen’s University. “I have been skydiving twice,” she notes. “Combined with my background as a ski racer, I think it’s safe to say I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie.” Similarly, Hemily has been hard at work on her bucket list to visit as many countries as her age. “So far I’m on track,” she states. “Highlights have included: Bike touring on two continents, including across four West African countries; Studying on four continents; Celebrating weddings in five countries; Working or volunteering in ten countries.” Reig should quickly thrive in Toronto, home to over 200 nationalities, thanks to her special talent. “I tend to remember random words and expressions in multiple languages, including Japanese, Korean and Arabic, some of them quite useful.” The class even boasts a celebrity in Rashi Kakkar, who hosted a television program called “Campus Blog” on Channel V in India.
GROUND BREAKEERS WHO PAY THEIR BLESSINGS FORWARD
How is this for serendipity? “One year after I translated a book analyzing P&G’s matrix organization, I joined P&G,” says Haolin Zhang, a renaissance man considering his love of sales, programming, and Photoshop. When it comes to a surplus of diverse talent, Aiyelabola could give Zhang a real run. During her career, she has served as a medical officer in Lago’s Ministry of Health along with managing sales and marketing teams at 3M and Johnson and Johnson. Indeed, this is a class that defies expectations in more ways than one. “I´m the worst salsa dancer, despite being Colombian,” jokes Andrés Afanador, a self-described “metalhead.”
When it comes to their professional accomplishments, this is a class that focuses on paying it forward. At Doctors Without Borders, Hemily oversaw the handover a hospital in South Sudan, which involved negotiations with “four United Nations Organizations, nine NGOs, national, state and municipal government officials, community leaders and militia,” all while maintaining high quality care for over 49,000 patients annually. Zhang’s big moment came when he established a charity marketing partnership between Mars and Wal-Mart in China that was a “win-win” for everyone involved: “The campaign eventually grew business by 15%, attracted more than 100,000 shoppers to take part in the charity program, and delivered more than 280,000 nutritious meals to the kids in poor areas in China.”
When they’re not giving back, the Class of 2018 is blazing new trails for others. Yeo headed a team that was responsible for “the world’s first government-owned and operated platform on Alibaba’s Tmall Global site.” Cecil-Cockwell was the first female directional driller for oil giant Schlumberger in Alaska. Similarly, Kakkar was the first female hire at Total Sports Asia’s office in India. While her peers had their doubts, she considered the views as an opportunity more than a deterrent. “Through constant engagement and a focus on results, I managed to win over the trust of my colleagues and supervisors. TSA later went on to hire two more women consultants.”