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[ftf] Nitin Nohria

Nitin Nohria, Dean of Harvard Business School, talks about what education is for.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

He had never been out of India when he got accepted to MIT. Plus he got a fellowship, or else he would not have been able to go. Education opens up opportunities in ways people could not even imagine.

What words to you hear when you hear “HBS,” he asks? Audience: elite, rich, case method, leadership, lehman brothers…

The case method is the idea most associated with HBS. But it took 20 years to evolve that method. What can we do in our second hundred years? The school is in a good place. The program is strong. Enviable applicant pool. Strong placement record, even in bad times. There’s a natural engine of innovation in the case method: they write 300 new cases per year. New faculty come in. New courses, etc.

Why the case method? It’s close to life. It’s real problems. “If you were in the protagonist’s shoes, what would you do?” You learn why you think differently from others. Over 2 yrs, students will have been through 500 cases. Problem-solving becomes a habit. You get good at collaboration, communication. “Our alumni think of the case method as developing a meta-capability.”

A few years ago, HBR wrote cases about 7 different business schools, and researched 200 others. They found business schools generally agree that their task is teaching knowing what it means to be a leader, translating that knowing into doing, and getting over the gap between doing and being (i.e., how you are being experienced). HBR has been asking how it can do better at the “being” component. So, it’s creating the field method in addition to the case method. It puts student in the “field” in a small group (about 6). Students will be the protagonist, rather than stepping into someone else’s shoes. They are presented with a scenario, and must take action, and then reflect on the action and outcome. Students should be in about 10 different situations by the time they are graduated.

Also, all students will have to build a venture that they can launch in eight weeks. In teams. The school expects one third to fail at this; those students can then either join one of the surviving teams or write a case about a team.

The key is to have a method. That’s why the case method works. In 7-8 years, Nitin hopes a method for field exercvises will emerge.

The case method needs an amphitheater; try running it in a flat classroom and it won’t work. The field method will have an architecture based on hives. The instructor will be at the center of the room.

Q: What percentage are involved in social entrepreneurship programs?
A: 8% . Last year, 9% of graduating students went into social enterprises.

Q: You spend a lot of time on the how, not on the what.
A: We have no innovation on the “what.” There are plenty of people doing field studies. If there’s anything new, it will be in the “how.”

Q: BTW, a lot of what you’re doing are what’s happening in middle schools. What about the design process?
A: We’re not sure. That’s why in the Harvard Innovation Lab we’re creating a space to think about this. We’re also working on cultural entrepreneurship. By doing all that, hopefully we’ll discover something. (Students are the best innovators. They don’t always know what they’ve done.)

Q: Aren’t you inventing a formula for making MBA education even more expensive?Why not put Michael Porter online? Also, how will you help students reflect on what they’ve learned?
A: Lots of other schools offer lower-cost educations. Second, the reflection will happen after every encounter. We don’t yet know the precise methodology of the reflection cycle.

Business leaders often suffer from moral over-confidence. People think they won’t even be tempted to do anything immoral. People are more over-confident about their morality than about their intellectual abilities. It’s important for HBS to address this.

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