Operating in a digital world
The mission of Harvard Business School is to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. The school delivers on that promise with operating mechanisms that include the classroom experience where we learn from diverse student perspectives, cases that provoke and inspire, a curriculum serving that special blend of theoretical and practical knowledge, career search and preparation, various opportunities to practice leadership and decision-making, and a number of underlying tools and resources helping students navigate these mechanisms.
Meanwhile, the world is being transformed by technology, which is reflected in the shifting interests of current and future students. 15% of the class of 2018 are coming from Technology, which is tied with Consulting and Private Equity. Post-HBS careers in Technology are on the rise – from ~6% in 2006 to ~20% in 2015. While the school has firmly stepped into the arena of the digital world, it hasn’t quite created a cutting-edge experience inspiring and qualifying its students to lead that digital world.
In a number of ways, HBS has updated itself and its teaching methods to be consistent with a more online, digital environment. HBX CORe launched in 2014. The RC curriculum is incorporating “website”-like, multimedia formats such as in the Threadless and Bridgewater cases as well as critical technology concepts and challenges such as those in the Valve, Uber, and IBM Watson cases. A number of optional resources such as the “SQL 101” course and the CODE club promise to help interested students speak the language of and develop skills in technology. Microsoft Office 365, the Thrive app, and mobile printing are helpful tools to make us more productive. The school has also launched the Digital Initiative (digital.hbs.edu) which is a “think/do tank… that studies, and builds community around, the digital economy”, and the engineering school is slated to colocate on this side of the Charles River in 2020. All these measures prove the school’s awareness and interest in becoming more technologically-advanced and competitive against the tech-savvy reputations of Stanford GSB and MIT Sloan, which is awesome but still lacking. HBS could further adapt its operating model for the digital world by investing in the obvious as well as more subtle levers.
For the bigger, more obvious areas such as curriculum and career prep, I would appreciate more exposure to and discussion around technology. IBM Watson was a super interesting case that prompted critical questions like “How should I think about the long-term implications of technology development on society?” and “How can my organization use technology to gain advantage?”. These questions and other technology trends like extracting value from big data, UX, and security deserve more conversation and case studies. In terms of career development, is the structure of CPD appropriately aligned with an increasingly digital landscape? Is the fact that technology is not only an industry of itself but also a function within every other industry reflected in CPD’s strategy?
HBS could also put more resources towards improving learning and productivity resources. For example, what if instead of paper cases, we were issued large, pre-programmed e-readers such as the Onyx Boox Max? We’d save resources and time it currently takes to print, receive, distribute, and pick up cases, and the school could reduce distractions by shutting down WiFi connectivity when class begins. Tools like MyHBS and Canvas (which isn’t mobile-optimized, btw) are somewhat linked and somewhat redundant instead of being a fully-integrated, single solution. Event management across the MBA Event Calendar, various club newsletters, and Outlook is more time-consuming than it should be. Perhaps the school could license products that consolidate all on-campus events, offer customization for an individual’s interests, provide automatic calendar updates, and incorporate room reservations. Also, chalkboards… really? Smartboards allow board visuals to be saved, reviewed, and shared either only within the faculty department or with students, which could be beneficial. Sure, one could argue these areas aren’t core to the learning experience, but if HBS doesn’t invest in internal technology, I worry students will increasingly notice a discrepancy between the environment that HBS says it’s preparing them for versus the environment HBS actually creates at the school.
For all my criticisms, I’m jazzed to be here witnessing HBS adapting to a more technical and digital environment and excited to see where the school goes in that respect. Maybe one day in the not too distant future, HBS can even take protagonist empathy to a whole new level: Imagine preparing cases with a VR headset that transports us to Toyota’s manufacturing plant where we can see the TPS line in action, experience a Bridgewater feedback session or the emotions on Rob Parson’s face when we tell him we can’t promote him. How cool would that be??
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3Korn, M. & Gellman, L. 2015, Should Harvard Business School Hit Refresh? Students, Faculty and Alumni Say School Is Behind in Tech, New York, N.Y., ABI/INFORM via ProQuest, accessed 11/2018.
4“Harvard Business School; Harvard Business School Marks Completion of First Cohort of HBX CORe”, 2014, Investment Weekly News, pp. 590., ABI/INFORM via ProQuest, accessed 11/2018.