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JAN 18, 2016

The Old-School MBA Is Ready for Disruption

By Yoshito Hori
iStock photo/kutubQ

One word we hear a lot of these days is “disrupt.” Netflix is disrupting old-style TV. Tesla is disrupting the auto industry. Uber is disrupting the taxi business.

One business that hasn’t yet experienced much disruption is business education itself. The old model, consisting of written case studies, class discussion, and the study of fundamental management skills like marketing and accounting, remains firmly entrenched.

This MBA model actually dates back to 1908 when Harvard Business School was founded. Surely, the skill set leaders need now is not the same as it was back then? A business model unchanged for over a century MUST be ripe for disruption!

Over the last two decades, digital technology and the internet have revolutionized business, and the pace of change is only getting faster. This new business environment demands a new kind of leader; and these new leaders need an updated education that equips them with relevant skills for the 21st century.

So what should an MBA tailored for the age of digital disruption look like? This is a question I’ve pondered a lot. As a venture capitalist, I spend a great deal of time evaluating and investing in disruptive new businesses and their leaders. As the head of a business school, I also want to provide our students with the most practical, up-to-date training possible. That’s why I’ve created an imaginary “Disuptors MBA.” The curriculum is built around the six core course areas.

1. Technology-enabled business models
The most successful new companies grow to massive scale based on a technology platform. They often have few employees and no hard assets. Airbnb is a hotel company with no hotels; Uber is a taxi company with no taxis. The Disruptors’ MBA should focus on those companies that have achieved market dominance by boldly leveraging digital technology.

2. Coding, Algorithms, and System Architecture
The traditional MBA aims to produce well-rounded executives with a respectable grasp of key disciplines like finance, marketing, strategy, and so on. In a world that revolves around the internet, not having a similar grasp of programming and algorithms is downright dangerous. The new “Disruptors’ MBA” should equip leaders to manage and direct IT specialists based on a sound understanding of system architecture.

3. Social Media Communications
When I did my MBA, we studied old-school communication skills such as letter writing and presenting. Our training was about addressing a small “insider” audience. Social media has blown that exclusive model to smithereens. CEOs are widely mistrusted, but at the same time, corporate executives now have a potential online audience of millions of everyday people. How the CEO communicates with the public generates the word-of-mouth that shapes the company’s image and wins trust. The new “Disruptors’ MBA” should prepare leaders to communicate through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube in an informal, authentic and timely manner, both in good times and in bad.

4. Robotics
Robotics is expanding off the factory floor and into our everyday lives. iRobot’s ROOMBA robot vacuum cleaner and a recently opened Nagasaki hotel — the Hen-na Hotel (“Weird Hotel”), featuring robot receptionists, luggage porters, and cloakroom attendants — exemplify this trend. I expect robots to soon start playing an expanding role in health and elderly care. The new “Disruptors’ MBA” should equip leaders to use robots as a key component of their organization by incorporating them into the workforce they lead.

5. AI
In the 1990s, a wave of offshoring swept through the developed world, driving manufacturing jobs to lower-wage countries overseas. That trend then repeated in the 2000s, but with white-collar jobs moving to places like India and the Philippines. The next such wave will involve the shifting of certain white-collar jobs from humans to AI. At GLOBIS, for instance, AI already handles a large proportion of the application process, something that is both efficient and helps eliminate human bias. The new “Disruptors’ MBA” should equip leaders to utilize AI in their business models and value chains in order to create competitive advantage.

6. Cybersecurity
The massive December 2014 cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment brought the cybersecurity issue well and truly into the spotlight. There were any number of reasons why cybersecurity wasn’t getting the attention it deserved until then — CEOs aren’t too keen on admitting to being hacked; and plenty of them may not be computer-literate enough to grasp the size of the danger! Sony changed all that. The new “Disruptors’ MBA” should sensitize students to this existential threat. Modern corporate leaders must start from the default position that someone somewhere is working to steal their IP and sensitive personal data, and they must take the necessary preemptive steps to protect themselves.

There are plenty of other areas that the new “Disruptors’ MBA” could cover, from the internet of things to augmented/virtual reality and design (user experience, user interface) through to regenerative medicine — even DNA editing and clean energy.

A “Disruptors’ MBA” wouldn’t just have a new curriculum. It would have a new delivery mechanism. I define that mechanism by what it would NOT have.

No textbooks: Who needs textbooks when there’s so much information available on the internet? From TED talks to World Economic Forum panel discussions, high-quality materials abound in cyberspace.

No written cases: Who needs written case studies when faculty can go one better, interviewing actual company CEOs and streaming the video to their students in real time?

No classrooms: When all learning takes place online, physical classrooms are an anachronism. Cyberspace is the new classroom.

Now, I have a confession to make.

GLOBIS business school launched just such an MBA in April 2016 with our Technovate MBA, one that combines technology and innovation. That’s right — the Disruptors’ MBA is real, after all!