Diverse opinions in Barcelona

George Bickerstaffe reports from the Future of Leadership and the Role of Business Schools conference in Barcelona.

The atmosphere at the Future of Leadership and the Role of Business Schools conference (part of IESE’s celebrations of its 50th anniversary) was surprisingly upbeat. Surprisingly, given the unseasonably rain-lashed Barcelona streets outside and the equally turbulent economic storms around the world.

Still, management academics can usually be relied on to find something to worry about. One of the most challenging speakers (among a line-up that included such luminaries as Joel M Podolny and J Frank Brown, respectively deans of Yale and INSEAD) was Arnoud de Meyer, dean of the University of Cambridge’s Judge business school.

Mr De Meyer’s first thought was that the “information overload” society, represented by the “Crackberry” generation, and its concomitant pressure on people’s time was likely to prove a serious threat to the traditional two-year and even one-year full-time MBA formats.

Second, he called into question the much-vaunted diversity of MBA classes. However many nationalities might be represented, he pointed out, MBA students demonstrate a remarkable similarity in their social and financial backgrounds and they particularly share an “international” outlook and attitude towards business and society.

Any differences are smoothed further by the ubiquitous GMAT, which requires a standardised approach to mathematical problems and especially the comprehension and manipulation of a certain kind of written English.

Finally, the strictly conceived and applied admissions criteria of leading MBA programmes complete the homogenisation process.

In other words, don’t expect to be challenged too much by those exotic foreign students — they are probably more like you than you think.

A slightly different take on diversity came from strategy guru Pankaj Ghemawat, a professor at Harvard Business School and IESE. He raised a few eyebrows by commenting that there is good evidence that the more you add diversity to a group the more likely you are to produce a negative group performance.

INSEAD dean Frank Brown came up with an idea for new-style business school programmes that tap an unexpected market. Since we are all going to live to be 100 in pretty good health (apparently), why not offer “conversion” and training programmes for those in their 50s and 60s approaching retirement and those in their 70s looking for somewhere to apply their skills? Indeed, why not?

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2 Responses to “Diverse opinions in Barcelona”

  1. Martin Says:

    Pankaj Ghemawat is absolutely right, that the more you put diversity into groups, the more they can suffer. That’s exactly what INSEAD does (did to my chagrin!), it creates maximum conflict.
    it can be good and bad.
    But 15 years in hindsight I can say, that this conflict is exactly what happens in real business. I am more than happy to have had major conflicts at INSEAD groups and learned how to solve it, because 5 years after INSEAD I was stuck in the very same situation in business.
    Pankaj Ghemawat should taste a bit the REAL WORLD if he thinks that group conflicts are negative. They are a well calculated learning experience!

  2. Monica Sanchez Says:

    I would like to know the “Masters in theology” programmes in the University of Navarra.


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