"Insidious" might be a stretch…slightly devious, perhaps.

I’ve been meaning to write about an Economist blog post from December about MBAs which points to a debate between three professors from MIT and Harvard about whether MBAs are the cause or the cure (or something in between) of the current economic troubles:

The reaction of many budding financiers and consultants when faced with an economic downturn is to pack it in and go to business school. Business school applications soar in number during recessions. A lively debate between Andy Lo and Jay Lorsch and Rakesh Khurana questions if business schools are actually to blame for our current turmoil.

Messrs Lorsch and Khurana, professors of human relations and leadership at Harvard, think so. They believe business school can encourage the “culture of me”, or individuals solely out for their own self-interest.

An interesting debate, but I was more interested in a subsequent point made by the Economist blogger. Emphasis is mine.

This reminds me of a discussion I once had with one of my professors, the dean of a prestigious business school. Shortly after the Enron debacle he asked me how business schools could better teach ethics to help reduce such behaviour in the future. I told him you cannot teach ethics to MBAs. By the time you’re an MBA student (typically mid to late 20s) you’re either an ethical person or you’re not. No business school class can make you realise embezzling money is wrong if that’s your inclination. Most MBA students are ethical; they learned from their parents long ago.

I know where he’s going with that, but I don’t think I entirely agree. I don’t think there’s an on/off switch marked ‘ethical’ in the brain that’s either a 1 or a 0; I think it’s a scale, like all other traits and characteristics defined by a single word or concept. I think that trying to teach ethics gives students tangible examples that may later prevent them from doing something overtly unethical…so while it’s not making students think more ethically per se, it might make them act more ethically, and that’s just as important.

When I was in the software industry I worked with enough sales people to know that some individuals:

  1. are so far down the ethical scale that they wouldn’t recognize normal business ethics anymore;
  2. have jobs where incentives structures reward unethical behaviour;
  3. have received no ethical teachings which may have staved off unethical behaviour, as described above.

In all three cases I can see ethical training helping, or at the very least doing no harm. In my undergraduate business degree we were compelled to take a business ethics class (which I actually quite enjoyed, but then, I am a socialist) but had no such requirement in my MBA courses. We could have used some, certainly; I heard some truly astounding moral rationalizations during discussions on child labour, advertising and the like.

What do you think? Can ethics be taught?

Stop 'n go

We arrived back in Toronto today, just in time to do some laundry, perform some emergency triage on the PVR and pack for two days away at a conference. I leave tomorrow morning and get back Wednesday evening. It’s going to be a tough two days, mainly because of how behind I am on my sleep, but it’ll be fun too.


Today was our last full day in Halifax. It started with my convocation ceremony, then lunch with our parents, then a few hours of downtime in the bar and our room, then dinner with our friends Marney & Amy. Great dinner, by the way, at a cool little wood oven pizza place.

We leave tomorrow morning, but not too early. Good thing too…we’re oh so tired. Night, kids.

Graduand –> graduate

It might be a bit quiet around here the next few days since I’ll be in Halifax — for the third time in as many months — to take part in my MBA convocation. Trying like hell to get everything done, at home and at work, before I leave.

Have a good weekend, y’all.

My July has a theme

I settled on a topic for my term paper, and it’s been approved. I landed on “How eliminating organizational barriers around IT will benefit [my company]’s strategy and operational efficiency.” Basically, how to spur innovation and shrink product development by removing the artificial barrier between the “business” and “technology” parts of big organizations.

I’ve started to grab some articles related to it and stick them in del.icio.us, but I won’t work on it for a while. Basically I’ve set aside the whole month of July, right after we get back from the Rockies, to work on it.

Goddamn, I’m going to enjoy finishing this thing.

[tags]mba, term paper[/tags]

I can has inspiration?

I have to pick a topic for my term paper. We’ve been told to do this early, so all the good ones aren’t gone, but my brain still thinks it’s in the grace period between courses where it can shut off and concentrate on naught but NBA playoffs and snickerdoodles. Maybe y’all can help? Here’s the direction the prof gave us:

Any topic in the area of strategic leadership and change is potentially acceptable for the paper. I suggest you pick a topic: (1) of personal interest and whose mastery is likely to make a positive difference to your career; (2) for which academic research material is accessible in reasonable quantity (perhaps through our library); and (3) narrow enough to be do-able within imposed time and space limitations. Acceptable topics include, but are not limited to:

  • alternative cost leadership (or differentiation) approaches and their performance implications in your industry;
  • alternative customer-centric strategies and their implications for your company’s performance;
  • personnel diversity, organisation strategy, and organisation performance;
  • reward systems, behaviours, and organisation performance;
  • dimensions and performance implications of the your company’s organisation culture;
  • why and how your company should become a better learning organisation;
  • alternative large-scale change strategies and their implications for your company.

Any ideas? The only one I’ve had so far involved distilling and bottling my monstrous apathy and releasing it into the water supply of our competitors, but the ROI on that…not good.

[tags]mba, term paper, strategy[/tags]

The treadmill analogy feels pretty apt right now

Whenever I go for a run I crank up the speed and sprint for the last 60 seconds or so before my cooldown, so that my heart rate stays up for longer than if I just held the flat pace. I was too tired to run this morning, but I wound up having the same feeling later on today.

This morning (whilst waiting for my LAN connection to be fixed) I went through the requirements of my final course…25-page paper, a couple of 5-page assignments, weekly analysis on discussion topics and about 1,000 pages of reading. Over the summer, no less. So much for a nice, gentle send-off from the MBA program.

Time to sprint.


No, not that CSI

There are some things I know about myself. One of them is that I simply cannot survive in a club. The music, the translucent people…all hideous.

Why was I even in a club? Well, let me back up: after finishing the exam today we had a ceremony at our corporate headquarters this evening, the first graduation ceremony of two, and most of us went out to celebrate afterwards. I’d never heard of the Brant House; having seen it I wouldn’t have picked it, but I’m not most people, and most people seemed to like it. Put it this way: any place that offers bottle service, and attracts people who would want bottle service, is outside of my wheelhouse.

I stayed long enough to be respectable (i.e., not a pussy) and then fled to safety of my home where I could guarantee the percentage of real people (my wife = 1/1) and control the music that was played. In this case, “Million Star Hotel” by The Constantines: low enough not to wake my wife, but loud enough to expunge all the disco blather and Def Leppard remixes from my head. I scarfed down some food as soon as I got home (dinner was disappointing; at least my friend Russ gave me half his fries) and now I’m typing this, reveling in the knowledge that I don’t have to go to work tomorrow.

Oh, and I’m now officially a Fellow of the ICB (or CSI, or whatever it’s called now) as well as a silver medalist. Imagine my excitement.

[tags]mba, brant house, icb, constantines[/tags]


So endeth the classroom portion of our program. Please tune in tomorrow when I write the exam.

Just tidying up a few things before I head over to the bar for the traditional pre-exam pizza order. A some point tonight I suppose I should also review my notes or study or something. I’m not too worried. I was talking to my CEO today and he asked whether the exam would be tough or a slam dunk. It was then that I realized I’m sometimes too honest for my own good.