Time To Rethink Business Education

The Widening Gap Between Business and Data Threatens Traditional MBAs

I recently published a LinkedIn post on an MIT Sloan article that argues there is a growing gap between our capability to great new insights and the capability of managers to apply these insights in meaningful ways. A critical argument by the author of the original post is that managers need to understand AI better. That way managers can intelligently utilize the outputs but not blindly rely upon them. I have said that I agree that implementing AI will be a requirement to keep up and new winners in every space will come from new strategies that fully leverages AI/Big Data/Analytics. That may become the most critical source of innovations for years to come.

So let’s say you buy the premise. If AI will revolutionize finance and marketing and so on then it is the people that know how to leverage the technology best and really get the most from the opportunity that will rise to the top. That means that the top business positions will require some degree of data science. That means it is time to rethink business education. Below is the current required curriculum for the Harvard Business School MBA program. This is not a criticism that colleges are too ivy tower. Schools do make an effort to be adaptable to changes in business and a few examples exist below with many, many more in the list of electives. The issue is that the fundamental goal of business schools has not changed. We are still trying to teach general business skills to students. As a result they cover a broad range of skills like finance, strategy and marketing.

Michael Zammuto on MS and MBA coursework

The MS/MBA From Harvard Combines Business & Technical Skills

The opposite viewpoint does have a lot of adherents too. Here is a post that argues that AI will eliminate the need for data scientists because we will just use it as a tool to do all that complex stuff. It is an interesting argument that I don’t agree with and I will articulate more why later.

My argument is that business leadership does require people to understand data, analytics and machine intelligence and automation. Perhaps the future of business education is a blend of what we teach today with business intelligence and data science. Take a look at the required coursework at for the Harvard MBA and MS in data science programs and see if we are not creating gaps between them. To its credit, Harvard has created a joint MS/MBA program that blends the two. I think this may be the single most valuable degree on earth. So is this the future of business education and will traditional MBA’s be left behind?

The Harvard Business School – MBA Required Courses 

Finance 1
Financial Reporting and Control (FRC)
Leadership & Organizational Behavior (LEAD)
Technology & Operations Management (TOM)
FIELD Foundations
RC Startup Bootcam

Business, Government, and the International Economy (BGIE)
The Entrepreneurial Manager (TEM)
Finance 2
Leadership and Corporate Accountability (LCA)
FIELD Global Immersions: Global

Harvard Paulson School of Engineering & Applied Science – Master of Science in Data Science Required Courses

Data Science I
Data Science II
Advanced Scientific Computing: Stochastic Methods for Data Analysis, Inference, and Optimization
Systems Development for Computational Science
One semester of the new Critical Thinking and Data Science course
At least one research experience. This requirement can be satisfied by the AC 297r Capstone project course or a semester-length independent study project