Mintzberg & Cooperider

This is the second in a series of reports on the 2004 ASTD Conference.

Henry Mintzberg

Henry Mintzberg is a professor of management at McGill, well known for his books and articles (Here is his 23-page CV.) He earned both his PhD and his MS in Management from MIT's Sloan School of Managmenet. His appearance at ASTD coincided with the publication of his new book, Managers, Not MBAs.

Professor Mintzberg's website describes the message of the new book like this:

Henry Mintzberg believes that both management and management education are deeply troubled, but that neither can be changed without changing the other.

Mintzberg asserts that conventional MBA classrooms overemphasize the science of management while ignoring its art and denigrating its craft, leaving a distorted impression of its practice. We need to get back to a more engaging style of management, to build stronger organizations, not bloated share prices. This calls for another approach to management education, whereby practicing mangers learn from their own experience. We need to build the art and the craft back into management education, and into management itself.

Mintzberg examines what is wrong with our current system. Conventional MBA programs are mostly for young people with little or no experience. These are the wrong people. Programs to train them emphasize analysis and technique. These are the wrong ways. They leave graduates with the false impression that they have been trained as managers, which has had a corrupting effect on the practice of management as well as on our organizations and societies. These are the wrong consequences.

Mintzberg describes a very different approach to management education, which encourages practicing mangers to learn from their own experience. No one can create a manager in a classroom. But existing managers can significantly improve their practice in a thoughtful classroom that makes use of that experience.

I caught up with Professor Mintzberg at a press briefing and also at an event at the Canadian Embassy. Henry is an entertaining speaker, although I sense that his compelling soundbites cover up some rather weak arguments in favor of his view of management. (Disclosure: I have yet to read more than the introduction to his book.)

"Take away the dollars, and you'll find there aren't many leaders left."

"Management and business schools are 'off the rails.'"

"Shareholder value is another term for corporate irresponsibility."

MBAs need to "do a better job, not get a better job."

"You cannot measure what people learn. Attempts to measure learning are a monumental waste of time."

In the press briefing, Henry said that as a starting point, he'd reviewed the performance of top grads from Harvard Business School. Only five out of nineteen had a clean record. The losers included Frank Lorenzo, who personally destroyed more than one airline! HBS does not teach management. It teaches only business functions. The students are youngsters. Business is taught as if it were engineering.

Explaining that I would soon be returning to Harvard Business School for my MBA class reunion, I asked for clarification, since I didn't want to mislead my classmates when I gave them the news. Some have said that if you housed HBS's entering MBA class in a large motel in the middle of Kansas, they'd come out a couple of years later having learned most of what they would have had they stayed in Boston. I wondered whether Henry's findings were the result of the admissions policy or the schooling. After all, Henry had said the schooling was largely ineffective.

Reflecting on this exchange later in the day, I couldn't reconcile Henry's ability to judge Harvard from observing a few dozen graduates with his statement that you cannot measure what people learn.

Before the press briefing ended, Mintzberg said that the primary utility of laptops among students was email, not assisting learning.

 

Henry and I met the next day at a buffet table at a reception at the Canadian Embassy. I'll admit that I baited him. He had complained that MBAs don't learn management. I pointed out that is was he who had a Master of Science in Management and a PhD from a School of Management. My Masters is in Business Administration; it was awarded by the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration. Wasn't he attacking the wrong school?

The day before, the subject of Harvard's case method had come up. I said that I didn't think any program should slavishly commit to a single method of instruction. In fact, my reaction to the case method had been to develop the first business curriculum for the University of Phoenix. "The University of Phoenix? Is that Thunderbird?" he asked. No, it's a different operation. "What is the University of Phoenix?" I explained that it was the largest accredited, for-profit university in the world, with an enrollment of 125,000. Its students are working adults who average 34 years of age. 36% of them are enrolled in undergraduate management programs; 20% are taking graduate management courses.

At this point, I was called away to the podium to give the opening remarks. When I returned, I couldn't find the professor. I hoped to find out how someone can study management education for decades, conclude that it's wasted on the young and learned through practice, and not know of the University of Phoenix.

 

David Cooperider

Lest you this I'm just in a nasty mood, let me say that I was really looking forward to meeting Case Western's David Cooperider, and I was not disappointed. David is the father of "Appreciative Inquiry," or "AI" as it is called by its adherents.

Cooperider's core message is to lead from positive emotions and strength, not negativity and problems. As Peter Drucker told him, "The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths, making our weaknsses irrelevant."

Just as Marty Seligman's positive psychology focuses on individual happiness in lieu of mental illness, AI builds on achievements, opportunities, innovations, tacit wisdom, vital traditions, social capital and business strengths, not problems. Cooperider contends that organizations move in the direction of what they study. Focus on problems and that's what you'll get ("Deficit Change Theory").

Change begins in the imagination of the creative mind. Before reading about Appeciative Inquiry, I billed myself as a problem-solver. Since then, I've converted into an opportunity maximizer.

We must learn to scale wholeness, to ask what's possible rather than what's wrong, and to move from systems thinking to systems living.

While the AI methodology sounds touchy-feely, the results are real. One organization's recent AI Summit focused on:

  • Customer retention
  • Market share growth
  • Exploiting market position
  • Entry into adjacent markets
  • New lines of business

Who's doing AI? Blue Cross, BBC, Boeing, Bristol Myers Squibb, British AIrways, BP, British Telecom, Cap Gemini, GE Capital, GlaxoSmithKline, John Deere, Roadway...

Soren Kaplan is working to support AI with Icohere. David said the potential "sends chills up his spine."

David concluded with two of my favorite Einstein quotations:

"No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. We must learn to see the world anew."

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."

 

Visit the AI website


T - 20 minutes, Thursday morning.
Will anyone fill the chairs at Jay's session?
FInd out in the next installment.


Posted by Jay Cross at June 1, 2004 04:56 PM | TrackBack
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