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Blending Theory With Practice

In short, what is missing in the majority of management sessions and institutes is a perfect blend of theory and practice

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Challenges in today’s world are multifaceted. The first and foremost challenge is the availability of qualified faculty. First, with the exception of elite schools in India and other emerging markets, the result is an over-reliance on adjunct faculty to close the gap. Adjunct faculty bring business experience but may lack academic frameworks necessary to ensure learning that requires a blend of theory and practice.

While one might expect the imbalance between supply and demand to lead to more young people opting for academic careers, prevailing compensation packages are not encouraging. Even if qualified candidates were ready to enroll in PhD and DBA programmes, our degree granting capacity is limited. In any case, it takes four or five years to earn a PhD and most bright people find other attractive options along that journey. A potential solution might be to attract senior managers into a second career as academics. The Indian School of Business (ISB) is working towards this solution through its Centre for Learning and Management Practice and will launch Master-Teacher and Executive Eminence Programmes designed to bring senior executives in second or parallel careers in management education. These short-duration programmes will focus on developing pedagogical skills, case writing, teaching and applied research.

Linked with the first challenge is the second challenge. Management schools across the globe are aligned by disciplines such as marketing, finance, or human capital management. Hence, while most courses are based on narrowly defined disciplinary perspectives, real life problems and opportunities are multidimensional. For example a course on managing mergers and acquisitions or business model innovation should not just focus on a single discipline such as finance or strategy.
Majority of MBA programmes take students right after their college without any work experience. Classroom interactions tend to follow lecture-discussion formats.

Business is an applied discipline. Unlike Physics and Chemistry, there are often multiple answers to the same question — say pricing a new offering — depending on scope, scale, short-term versus longer-term perspectives, tangible products versus experiential services in developed versus emerging market contexts. These decisions require debate, tradeoffs, experiential learning. They also require a modicum of maturity and on-the-job experience so learning is based on the ability to ask the right questions to contribute to the dialogue — not on note taking and rote learning. The ISB’s post-experience programmes ensure that students come with adequate experience. Additionally, we recruit to build experiential diversity from across multiple industries. We do provide deferred admission to exceptional students without experience in our Young Leaders’ Programme but ask them to work for at least two years before joining ISB. We are also trying to increase the experiential components in our programmes, subject to constraints imposed by our one-year term structure.

In short, what is missing in the majority of management sessions and institutes is a perfect blend of theory and practice. Our job as instructors is to dissect the theoretical underpinnings and convert them into practical terms. If management skills are taught theoretically without any industry exposure and insights, then students may not be able to apply them in their day-to-day operations in future.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Rajendra Srivastava

The author is dean & Novartis Professor of Marketing Strategy and Innovation, Indian School of Business

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