Rethinking Business Education

Written by Tom Tresser, appeared on ArtsBlog on November, 15 2011

Have American business schools failed America? I think they have.

Have these very expensive and prestigious institutions taught our best and brightest the wrong things? Have they placed too much emphasis and focused our appreciation of value in the wrong place? I think they have.

But it’s not just me. Harvard Business School scholars Srikat Datar, David Garvin, and Patrick Cullen have written a book, Rethinking the M.B.A.: Business Education At A Crossroads. And the conclusions are grim.

Here’s how Paul Barrett, an an assistant managing editor at Bloomberg BusinessWeek interpreted their findings:

“After studying the nation’s most prestigious business schools, the authors conclude that an excessive emphasis on quantitative and theoretical analysis has contributed to the making of too many wonky wizards.”

M.B.A. recipients, according to this book, haven’t learned the importance of social responsibility, common-sense skepticism and respect for the dangers of taking risks with other people’s money.

“Put even more bluntly: Business schools played a contributing role in creating the geniuses who brought us the economic meltdown of 2008.

‘Postcrisis, executives and deans identified a number of gaps in M.B.A. teaching, largely in applied areas,’ the authors note. These include risk management, internal governance, behavior of complex systems, regulation and business/government relations and socially responsible leadership.

The authors lend credence to critics who ‘question whether business schools do a good job of alerting students to the imperfections and incompleteness of the models and frameworks they teach.’”


Michael Jacobs, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flager Business School, was director of corporate finance policy at the U.S. Treasury from 1989 to 1991. He published the following in The Wall Street Journal on April 24, 2009, under the headline of “How Business Schools Have Failed Business”:

“As we try to understand why our economy is so troubled, fingers are increasingly being pointed at the academic institutions that educated those who got us into this mess. What have business schools failed to teach our business leaders and policy makers?”

He speculates on ethics and governance education and regulation and concludes, “America’s business schools need to rethink what we are teaching — and not teaching — the next generation of leaders.”

To me, it’s a very fundamental problem around the question of “what is valuable.” What do we, as a society, value?

What systems have we set up to propagate and reinforce this definition?

What do we teach around this, what do we preach around this, and what do we reward around this?

I’d have to say that our business schools are servicing and perpetuating a system that has created a mirage of value and rewarded people obscenely for laboring in that system.

We have trained and rewarded naked greed and bleached all human compassion out of our economic calculations. The result is that business leaders literally burned their own houses down, committed crimes that defrauded millions, and evaporated hundreds of billions of dollars — money that the America taxpayer (that would be people like you and me) had to bail these companies out.

This system and the architecture which supports and perpetuates it is no longer viable.

I believe that the domains of art and creativity have something to offer American business schools and the larger economy which they serve.

We can teach you about another way to assign value — looking at intrinsic worth past ascribed extrinsic worth.

We can teach you about the gift and about generosity and about the unreasonableness of cooperation without monetary reward.

We can teach you about empathy and the joy of seeing through another’s eyes and appreciating variety, diversity, and unorthodoxy.

We can teach you about the illogical act of defying precedent and accepted doctrine in order to create something new, shocking, and world-changing.

We can teach you how to see differently and be differently.

For these reasons, I call on America’s business (and law) schools to reach out to America’s artists to create new classes that challenge the old paradigms of what is valuable and to reimagine the skills we need to succeed to create that value and share it.


About Tom Tresser

Tom Tresser is a consultant, producer, educator and organizer works with individuals, companies and communities to use their creative assets in order to solve problems, create economic value and trigger civic engagement. He recently designed and produced training programs for the provincial government of Saskatchewan on how to use the arts and creativity for local economic development.

Creative Commons License
Resource Center for Arts Entrepreneurs by Entrepreneur The Arts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at