Update I: Thoughts on Curriculum Reform from Dean Joel M. Podolny
April 13, 2006
On March 22, 2006, Dean Joel M. Podolny presented the new Yale SOM core curriculum to an auditorium packed with students, faculty, and staff. It was the first chance for most in the audience to hear about what the school is planning for next year, and the response was enthusiastic.
The new curriculum is a revolutionary departure from current management education, replacing traditional disciplines with “Organizational Perspectives,” tailored to the needs of today’s managers.
Dean Podolny said, “It’s really hard with this curriculum to have too much hyperbole about the amount of change it implies.” In the following excerpts from his presentation, Podolny discusses some of the reasons why this change is so exciting for the school.
We encourage you to visit our Curriculum webpage first for an overview of the new curriculum.
On Why Change is Necessary:
“There’s a lot of anxiety around management education today. I spoke at a conference last month about the state of management education. Next week, I’m off to another conference about the state of management education. It probably was the ethical scandals of the late ‘90s and early part of this decade that created a cascade of concern around management education. But there’s something that’s more fundamental, which is that the way we teach management education is disconnected from what the leaders of organizations, regardless of sector, are looking for from their managers.
“On the one hand, we have curricula that are functionally balkanized. So, you take your course in Finance, and then you go over to Marketing. Then you go over to Economics, and so on. On the other hand, the leaders of organizations say that what they most need is managers who can identify problems, frame those problems in a way that is organizationally tractable, and then draw resources from across boundaries in the organization, across functional boundaries, and across geographic boundaries.
“Now, this is a tremendous opportunity for Yale SOM, because, if you look at the mission of this school--educating leaders for business and society--the mission of this school calls us to pursue paths less trodden. And if you look at the graduates who we hold up as being such leaders for business and society, they have careers that cut across those boundaries. There’s a very nice convergence right now between the mission of Yale SOM and what the leaders of organizations are asking for in their managers.”
On “Organizational Perspectives”:
“The most significant part of the core is what we’re calling ‘Organizational Perspectives.’ We’re getting rid of the functional courses. There’s not going to be a course in Finance. There’s not going to be a course in Marketing. There’s not going to be a course in Accounting. We are instead going to have a set of eight multidisciplinary courses that are arranged around the perspectives that a manager needs to engage in order to be effective. Four of these are key external stakeholders that the manager needs to engage, and four of them are key internal constituents.
“The external stakeholders are: the Investor; the Customer; the State and Society—think about the public officials that need to be engaged by the manager; and, fourth and finally, the Competitor.
“On the inside, I’ll describe them by going forward along the value chain of the organization: a course on the Innovators—those who are coming up with the ideas that the organization is ultimately going to end up doing; the Operations Engine of the organization; the Employee; and, finally, a course on the Sourcing and Managing of Funds.”
On Putting the Disciplines into Context:
“We’re not doing away with the disciplines entirely. We’re setting them in a new context. If you talk to investors, they will tell you that to be an investor you have to know finance. But they’ll also tell you that investment is about being able to figure out where future earnings are coming from. Well, to understand future earnings, you have to understand strategy, understand organizations, and have the ability to analyze the leadership of an organization. For instance, if you look at the contract that the CEO has with the board--What are the incentives? All of that is important. The minute you adopt the Investor perspective, as we have in the new curriculum, you start thinking about questions like: What are the different classes of investors? What are they optimizing on? What information do they need? What are things that a manager would need to know to engage those different constituents? When you anchor the course in the functional discipline of finance, you could cover some of those questions eventually, but they don’t arise out of the discipline. But they do arise out of the context of a manager trying to engage the investor.”
On Multidisciplinary Teaching:
“Every business school talks multidisciplinary. They’ve been talking multidisciplinary for decades. I think there are a lot of reasons to think we are uniquely able to deliver on this. We are a small faculty. I’ve always been amazed by the fact that all of our faculty attend one research seminar—faculty from all the different areas. It’s the only school I know where that’s the case. We will bring that same kind of interdisciplinary energy to the way we teach in this new curriculum.”
On Risk and Comfort Zones:
“The faculty know that this change takes them out of their comfort zone. But what they also know is that, if we are going to take the school to where we all want it to be, we are going to have to raise our sights to do something that is truly great and truly unique and truly bold. And when you are that ambitious, you can’t often say, ‘Okay, that’s in my comfort zone.’ Each time I present this curriculum at one of these meetings I have with people, it’s clearer and clearer that the logic of this is very compelling. There are going to be risks. There are going to be challenges in executing it. But this is the right thing to do.”
On Teaching Method:
“Inherently, this curriculum will be team taught. I am excited about this opportunity to work with some very bright people who think very differently about the kind of material that I care about. They’re going to bring a different perspective that will enrich my own understanding. We are also going to bring in some of our alumni who think very deeply around this material and for whom a particular perspective is something that they spend a significant amount of their career engaging, and that will greatly enrich the experience for us as faculty and for our students.”
On the International Experience Component:
“We’re going to have a two-week international experience that’s aligned with the unique features of our curriculum set up in the beginning of January. Because of this timing, our students will go into their internship interviews having just come back from abroad. They’ll be primed to talk about, for instance, ‘Let me tell you about what it’s like to deal with those who are trying to invest in China, and why that was really exciting for me.’ I think it’s going to be a great platform for students to have some context for those interviews.”
“The disciplines play an important role for the creation of knowledge. I think it would be a mistake to say that, because this curriculum makes sense for MBAs and for those who are going to lead organizations, that then it makes sense for those who are doing research. We’ve held MBA programs hostage to the way research gets done; we shouldn’t do that. Again, I think it’s great that the faculty are willing to break out of the way in which they’ve been aligned to do their research, and teach in the way that makes sense for management students. But we don’t want to make the reverse mistake and say, ‘Now do research in a way that doesn’t give the checks and the rigor that a discipline provides.’ In economics and accounting and finance and even OB—my own field--there is a rigor that tests ideas.”
On Creating Synthesis and Breaking the Frame:
“I love the logic of this curriculum’s structure. When I think about how I’ve taught in a discipline my whole career, I love what it’s going to do to break my frame. What are the questions that engage the customer? That engage the investor? This really should be the thematic guide that my teaching is directed to. The faculty knows that. The faculty who are going to be working on the final design of the curriculum are excited about that synthesis. It’s still going to be hard and everybody recognizes that. But, again, it’s right, so let’s do it.”