business schools: a problem in organizational design

Rakesh Khurana and former orgtheory guester JC Spender have written a provocative, forthcoming piece titled: Herbert A. Simon on What Ails Business Schools: More than ‘A Problem in Organizational DesignJournal of Management Studies.   (Here is Simon’s original 1967 Journal of Management Studies essay: The Business School, A Problem in Organizational Design.)

Rakesh and JC’s piece essentially traces the history of business school education, links it with the Carnegie tradition and then reflects on Simon’s essay about business schools and highlights some of the extant problems.  I enjoyed their historical discussion though I disagree with the end-conclusions about an “intellectual stasis” – along with the associated rigor-relevance issues.  I’ll post about that beef later on.  But the essay is most definitely worth reading!  It raises all kinds of interesting issues.

Here’s the abstract:

We critically examine Herbert Simon’s 1967 essay, ‘The business school: a problem in organizational design’. We consider this essay within the context of Simon’s key ideas about organizations, particularly those closely associated with the ‘Carnegie perspective’ on organizations and how they influenced the reinvention of American business schools in the post-Second World War era, and were deeply influenced by the post War context and also were appropriated by the Ford and Carnegie Foundations to reform business school teaching and research. We argue that management educators misappropriated Simon’s concept of an intellectually robust and relevant research and educational agenda for business schools that has in part contributed to the intellectual stasis that now characterizes business education research and its capacity to inform management practice.

Written by teppo

March 29, 2012 at 8:44 pm

7 Responses

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  1. Thanks for this, Teppo, esp. since I’m working on an article about business school education….


    Robert C.

    March 31, 2012 at 12:39 am

  2. Robert: Great (would love to read it). And send JC a note as well: Rakesh and him are also writing a piece on doctoral education in business schools.



    March 31, 2012 at 4:27 am

  3. This is right up my alley, as a business educator in an Asian context.

    You said:

    “I disagree with the end-conclusions about an “intellectual stasis” – along with the associated rigor-relevance issues. I’ll post about that beef later on.”

    I will be waiting for your response to ‘that beef’.



    April 3, 2012 at 2:39 pm

  4. […] jQuery.ajax({type:"GET",async:false,url:"",data:"cache_post_id=161&cache_view_type=normal&cache_output_type=content",cache:false}); […]


  5. […] recent (also blogged here) article takes a fresh look at Herbert Simon’s article and reports a dismal picture in terms […]


  6. Reblogged this on Class(ic) Stories and commented:
    I will be devoting more of my upcoming blogposts to the business of business schools, and higher education in general. The higher education field, particularly the business education arena is in disruption mode, particularly in its birthplace-USA. For example, MBA, the crowning glory of business schools is hard to justify now as the ‘returns on investment’ and the legitimacy of MBA are being increasingly questioned (see this blogpost). There are other models springing up to provide an ‘apprenticeship’ style of education where students, under the wings of real entrepreneurs, learn the ropes of entrepreneurship (see this article which talks about an initiative: Enstitute – learning by doing). Their central idea makes great sense: who is a better ‘teacher’ of entrepreneurship: a university professor or a guy who has ‘been there done that’? Professors from top universities are launching their own online elearning presence (for example these Stanford professors; the comments on this link are equally insightful). The only major issue left now is robust assessment and credentialing mechanisms.

    So essentially there are issues with the organizational design of business schools in terms of what they offer (the product or service, i.e. the content and the end product in the form a credential), and the processes involved how they provide that product (pedagogy, delivery technology ).Both are currently in the throes of major tranformation.

    Interestingly, issues with business schools had been identified as far back as 1967 by Herbert Simon, the polymath Nobel Leaureate, also considered to be a founder father of the organizational model of business school. The title of this blog comes form his article with the same title published in 1967 (here is the abstract). In this article, Herbert Simon’s problem in organization design of business schools included the increasing polarization between those, coming from scientific disciplines who want to take business schools towards the path of rigorous research, and those who are focussed on applied research relevant to practical business problems. He predicted that the two groups would ultimately get divided into opposing and isolated camps so that scientists work on irrelevant problems while application oriented faculty might not be innovative enough. He mostly focusses on research in business schools, but some of his comments on teaching are interesting:

    About the casual part time lecturer he said: “The outside lecturer is more often used than
    used well.” (p.9)

    About the lecturers who come with extensive industry background he said: “This man is likely to suffer from the further dangerous illusion that good business teaching consists in ‘telling the boys how I did it'” (p.7)

    A recent article (also blogged here; and my source of inspiration for this blogpost) takes a fresh look at Herbert Simon’s article and reports a dismal picture in terms of the interaction between the science based social world of knowledge creation and the practitioner imperatives. The article is titled Herbet Simon on what ails business schools: More than a ‘problem in organizational design. Apart from taking the critique of business schools forward, this article provides an interesting account of the historical origins of the business school as an institution.

    The issues with business education are many, and go beyond the issues identified by Herbet Simon. A lot is happening and I have a lot to say on business schools but I have busted my word limit [of 500 words]! So more on that next time.



    April 22, 2012 at 4:30 pm

  7. […] in organizational design’ of business schools. My inspiration comes from another blog here. I am going to back to the article to highlight issues with business school as a learning space. […]


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