When people ask the question "Do you know the correct answer?", I don't like that question at all. It is not a smart question as a start. The biggest problem with our formal education systems is our over-emphasis on finding the correct answer to a particular problem. While the quest for correct answers helps us function at work, it also impedes us when it comes to making the bigger, more important decisions, largely because many bigger, real-life business issues are ambiguous, complex and dynamic.
If you have been around for over 50 years and have traveled to more than 20 countries and speak a few languages and have a few degrees under your belt, you probably know there is no right answer, maybe a lot of wrong answers.
Creativity is not a license to be wrong (you have been reading too much Fast Company), strategy is not a license to be boring or lack imagination (Reading too much HBR). A PhD degree is not a license to over-intellectualize and be irrelevant to the real world and use words that you need to explain what they mean. And an MBA is not an automatic license to make key business decisions, you need to earn it.
However an MBA does teach you a few important concepts only if you understand how to apply them. You should know how to re-org your in-laws into a 'team-based family.' You learn to refer having babies as pilot market testing. You should understand the cost structure and system implications of starting a family. You know the cost of capital when your spouse decides to purchase a Hermes Birkin. And most of all, you know how to talk about your past relationships as ‘sunk costs’.
School definitely needs to teach more creativity. Not the crazy useless exercises but applied creativity and design thinking in everyday life from science to economics. Today (and I should say it has always been) creative thinking is critical to business strategy and innovation; however, if you look at the top 20 MBA programs around the world, you will be challenged to find any courses, core or elective, which teach, train or even inspire students to be truly creative. Instead, most MBA programs and courses focus on numbers, analysis and the logic of deductive reasoning.
There is an inherent conflict between this kind of logic and creativity, and in most business settings, logic is usually quick to get in the way of creativity. Creative ideas can run into the walls of business logic because 1/ it does not quickly, clearly or at all connect to 2/ business strategists often operate within the boundaries of defined roles, and decisions are made based on those boundaries – they draw on what they know and what they have learned including formulaic behaviors, processes and the “best practices” that have evolved through mass consensus – to shape how they think and act.
That explains why many MBA students had Adam Smith on their reading list. The 18th Century idea that people – given their limited time, information, resources and budgets – act purposefully to maximize their own satisfaction is epistemologically central to business thinking. In Smith’s view, all human behavior is rationally self-interested and we are innately selfish. This model convinces many how “easy” it is to predict individual or organizational behavior. It is not quite that simple.
When it comes to human behavior, this is where many economic principles, particularly Smith’s, break down. I am not rational (ask those people who work with me) and many of us are not. The economist's notion that people act rationally only implies that they try to act in ways that are consistent with their own personal objectives, even if those objectives seem absurd to outsiders. That's the beauty of being human. Read more about creativity in this coming issue of M/I/S/C - The Creativity Issue.