Thursday, March 27, 2008

Harvard Business School's 100th Anniversary

Geoff Colvin of Fortune has written a very interesting piece about my alma mater's 100th anniversary. Colvin sets out to ask some very succcesful alumni what they learned at HBS. After listening to their answers, he concluded, "All their answers are different, but they're all the same: none are about the content of the courses; all are about the experience." He goes on to say, "It makes sense that the content of the classes isn't what it's all about. That's constantly being commoditized."

At HBS, students learn to think, both individually and collectively, through the case method. It's active learning each and every day. At one point, Colvin quotes Yale Professor (and former HBS student and faculty member) Jeff Sonnenfeld, who says, ""I learned that yellowed lecture notes and blackboards filled with algorithms don't teach professionals how to think."

As a graduate and former faculty member of the school, I can attest to what Colvin and Sonnenfeld have concluded. We do easily forget the frameworks and theories that we learned at HBS, but we never forget the learning experience. As former Dean John McArthur once said, "How we teach is what we teach." In other words, the faculty member leads a process of collective inquiry, using the Socratic method, that can and should be emulated by leaders in any business. What do students learn at HBS? They learn the process of asking tough questions, stimulating debate, questioning assumptions, and generating alternatives. They learn to work as a group to identify and solve tough problems. These are the skills any aspiring business leader must master.

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