LO and Higher Ed LO7578

Thu, 23 May 1996 11:31:23 -0400

Replying to LO7538 --

Hi John,

At the risk of being controversial. I must confess I found your response
to James Needham's comments rather unsystemic. He wrote that college
graduates lacked:

> *The ability to work effectively in teams.
*The ability to work effectively with people of both genders and
diverse disciplines, cultures, races, religions and nationalities.
*The ability to think quickly, clearly, and critically.
*The ability quickly and easily to communicate effectively both
orally and in witting.
*The ability to appreciate the total enterprise, not just one of
its elements.
*The ability to adapt rapidly to changing circumstances.
*The ability to work without sacrifice of integrity, even in
corrupting environments."

And you responded:

>It is relatively easy to understand that colleage graduates lack these
>skills because essentially nothing is being done to develop them in the
>universities (with a few notable exceptions).

You then went on to propose that the Chief Executive come up with programs
and infrastructure to "fill the void."

I don't think that this is a systemic solution. A systems view suggests
that there are no apparent voids: the colleges/universities are complex
systems packed with policies, routines and programs, all of which have
been developed in response to challenges faced by these institutions in
the past. IMHO the primary question is thus not how to fill voids, but how
to release the system from the constraints which prevent it from doing
anything different.

One should ask:

1. Are these skills desirable and of higher priority than the skills being
currently taught? (I assume the answer is "Yes" - some skills, such as
communication, seem to be already on their agenda). But these are not just
intellectual questions to be answered by Chief Executives - there has to
be some consensus in the institutions on the matter.

2.. Can the college/university do an effective job at teaching all these
skills? (Here the answer is unclear - many of them may not be able to
supply multi-cultural experiences, teamwork etc. although one would hope
that some business schools would be able and should do this. But should
they all do it? What about institutional diversity and individual choice?)

3. Given a consensual "Yes" to 1. and 2. Why don't colleges/institutions
do a better job i.e. what are the constraints on change? And how do we
break them? This takes us into the systemic barriers to change -
individualistic grading systems, tenure etc. It's a complex analysis, but
fortunately we don't have to do it: Gordian Knots have to be cut! That is,
we have to create a context and space in which new programs and structures
can emerge (I develop this in my book - see below). We don't have to fill
voids, we have to create them! Or at least make the institutions aware of
the voids.

The best demonstration of what's needed is in the ongoing reform of North
American business schools. When I attended the MBA program at the
University of Chicago in the early '70s we did no cases or team/leadership
work whatsoever. The Business School had an excellent rationale: "We only
have you fulltime for two years," they said, "It's a waste of time trying
to simulate business condition. Our core competence is teaching the
disciplines. You learn about business when you go into the real world and
our disciplines equip you for a lifetime of learning." I happen to think
that there is a lot to be said for this point of view, but that's another
discussion. The fact is that in the last 7 years they have changed
radically. They now offer extensive leadership and teamwork activities.
Why? It was in largely in response to the Business Week ranking of
business schools! Prior to 1988 there was no external "output" test of the
business schools, other than ATGSB entry scores. As a result they were
insulated from their myriad stakeholders and had no idea of how they felt
about the "product". Chicago graduates felt the lack of teamwork (and
consequent lack of network) very keenly. The measurement made people aware
of voids that few knew existed and this created the context for coherent
action. For example, less than 5% of Harvard's case studies are
international: there is a scramble on the part of many institutions to
fill this emergent void. As is usually the case, it's often the weaker
members of the community and the "fringe players" who are the most
innovative: the strong have too much to protect.

I am concerned that your suggestion that the Chief Executive has to
diagnose the programs and develop the infrastructure to deliver them is
too complex a task and beyond the wit of anyone. Rather, the Chief
Executive has to destroy the system creatively (using Business Week type
rankings) and then create a context in which learning can occur - the
programs and structures will be emergent rather than designed. They come
out of the context, developed by "monomanics with a mission", as Drucker
puts it, not rational analysts of the system. There is a logic, but it is
a metalogic, an eco-logic. To quote/adapt W.P. Kinsella, in a rather
different context: "If You Build It, They Will Come"

Best wishes,

David Hurst (dhurst1046@aol.com)
Speaker, Consultant and Writer on Management
Author of "Crisis & Renewal: Meeting the Challenge of Organizational Change"
(HBS Press, 1995) see New Books at http://www.mghr.com



Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>