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Staying Ahead of the Curve

September 2014

By Patrick Cullen, Associate Vice President and Scholar in Residence

In a recent AACSB eNEWSLINE article, one business school dean opened an essay with a loud wake-up call: "The business model of business schools is under attack."¹ Extending this argument, last year prominent b-school faculty contributed essays to a book with a title that conveyed a clear message: "Disrupt or Be Disrupted."² Perhaps most striking of all, earlier this year a business school dean shared his belief that "half of the business schools in [the USA] could be out of business in 10 years—or 5."³

These are just a few examples of debates on the future of management education that coalesce around a clear theme: business schools face formidable challenges born of an intensely competitive (often global) marketplace, financial pressures, and technological innovations.

While these significant challenges to the business model of business schools might seem daunting, many deans and other members of the business school community embrace this dynamic environment as providing the impetus for recognizing, and ultimately seizing, new opportunities. The development of new programs, curricula, and courses supported by a recalibration of teaching and learning models are at the forefront of these opportunities, as are new approaches to funding the major business school activities and collaborations across departments within each university and across universities.

As several AACSB International business school deans have argued, to stay ahead of the curve our schools must engage in ever more rigorous strategic thinking and creative problem solving. Responding to this imperative, AACSB (in collaboration with award winning teacher and researcher Professor Jackson Nickerson) has developed the Strategic Thinking and Creative Problem Solving seminar as part of the Leading in the Academic Enterprise™ series.

Developing new strategies that create enhanced value from distinctive strengths is vital for business schools to thrive. Yet strategic advantage is difficult to achieve. AACSB research revealed that such difficulties often have their roots in the original formulation of strategies, which can result in a need to cycle back to the start of the process with some degree of time, resources, and momentum all being lost to along the way. Other obstacles, such as the absence of truly creative thinking and of facilitation skills that enhance the performance of committees and teams, were cited often as problems during AACSB's research.

The Strategic Thinking and Creative Problem Solving seminar is designed to help business schools overcome major obstacles to effective and creative strategy formulation and implementation based on feedback from a wide range of AACSB schools. To enhance learning and skills development, participants will practice identifying exactly what is strategic to more effectively guide resource allocation. They will learn to solve the "right" problem so that time is devoted to the school's priorities rather than "fire-fighting." They will also develop and practice facilitation and communication skills to improve the performance of committees and teams. The learning opportunities are enhanced by custom designed pedagogical tools developed specifically for this seminar. Case studies will focus on important issues, such as promotion decisions and how to establish the appropriate enrollment for degree programs. In addition, new exercises have been developed to instill thinking processes that will enhance participants' creative thinking abilities.

While the challenges ahead for business schools are significant, many schools are already implementing carefully developed innovations and reforms. AACSB is committed to supporting its members with programs and services that will help them chart their future path—a path positioned ahead of the curve.




¹ Francois Ortalo-Magné. Dean's Corner: The Future Business School: Restaurant, Buffet, or Club? AACSB eNEWSLINE, April 2014.

² Brooks Holtom and Erich Dierdorff (editors). Disrupt or Be Disrupted: A blueprint for change in management education (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013).

³ Patrick Clark, "Online Programs Could Erase Half of U.S. Business Schools by 2020." BusinessWeek, March 14, 2014.