What's an Education Worth?

This story from the WSJ has been making the rounds today: 

Struggling Thunderbird Business School Finds a For-Profit Lifeline

It's worth a read for anyone interested (or in) management education. The short story is that the Thunderbird School of Management has leased its main campus to a for-profit campus operator in order to stay afloat. While the recession has hit every walk of graduate education, Thunderbird lacks an affiliated university and is thus particularly vulnerable to the downturn. And while it may be an extreme case (applications are down 75% over 15 years), it's worrying when viewed as a canary in the coal mine.

Thunderbird's solution (a twenty years lease to a for-profit campus operator) is also worth a pause. In the short term, it keeps the school running and allows for valuable (and substantial) investments in campus infrastructure. Over the long term, it's worth asking whether shifting a formerly non-profit educational institution into a for profit enterprise fundamentally harms its educational mission - a question that's particularly apropos in the context of the current discussion on higher education in America.

Personally, I believe that full time, dedicated, and in-person educational experiences offer an unparalleled value in terms of networks, skills, and expanded horizons they allow students to develop. At the same time, the options for free, online, and interactive learning platforms are improving, which means that the benefits of the "in the flesh" experience need to be quantified and communicated to students; especially once a school can no longer claim "education" to be it's only goal.


Making Creativity Come True

What does it take to turn a creative idea into reality? It seems like a simple question, but truly creative ideas are tricky critters: they don't fit well with existing ways of doing things, they create conflicts between people, and they can even cause companies to go under. And the worst part is, truly creative ideas usually fail. After all, it's their novelty and uniqueness that make them creative in the first place, so it's no surprise that they don't always work. Companies (and people) famously abhor change for exactly these reasons. Sure, that idea sounds great - why don't YOU try it out and let me know how it goes? So what makes a particular creative idea likely to be implemented, and when are you likely to be able to see your idea turn into reality?

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Yet Another Excuse to Cut Out Early

In the mood to start your weekend early? It might not be a bad idea, according to an article in Sunday's New York Times by Jason Fried, the co-founder and CEO of a Chicago-based software company called 37signals. In it, he discusses two experiments that his firm has used to improve creativity and productivity:

1. During the summer, the company runs on a four-day workweek. Rather than cram forty hours into four days, they actually switch to a 32-hour workweek. This creates helpful pressure without introducing creativity-crushing stress, just as we discussed in earlier posts (Creativity Under the Gun and You Should Go Home Early Today).

2. Every June, employees use their non-essential time to explore projects and ideas of their own. As Keith Sawyer points out in his excellent blog "Creativity and Innovation", this is actually a technique commonly used at companies like Google (20% time) and W. L. Gore (dabble time). The practice dates back to 3M, which initiated "15% time" as early as the 1940s. The basic idea, as always, is to encourage divergent thinking and allow employees to find the products that might become the next big thing.

It's a short article, but it's exciting to hear about companies that are exploring creative new ways to get work done. Creativity may not be a primary consideration in every profession, but I wouldn't mind seeing our society place a greater emphasis on those in which it is. After all, taupe walls and square lines survived through a period of amazing economic growth and revolutionary innovation over the past half century, but it's arguable whether those environments have been good for the people in them. The same holds for the length of the American workweek, which has been climbing steadily over the past decades and is now one of the longest in the world. Three cheers for the managers that see happy and healthy employees as a key part of a healthy (and creative) company.

Check out Jason's op-ed at NYTimes, and thanks to Keith Sawyer for tipping me off.

What is Management, Anyway?

In the grand scheme, the goal of academic research is to advance the state of human knowledge. While this necessarily entails diving into some fairly esoteric weeds, I won't pretend that management scholars have it too tough in that regard (at least compared to chemistry). At the same time, our field is somewhat unique in that few people know what it actually means to study management (at least beyond an MBA). For years, people have been asking "so, you're getting a PhD in how to make money?" That's a fair question, but pursuing a PhD isn't usually a ticket to fame and riches. Instead, academic research in management explores topics such as innovation, entrepreneurship, organizational behavior, and strategy. And because you're now thinking, "those don't really sound like real scientific pursuits either," it's probably worth digging a bit deeper.

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