Disclaimer: This is not a cathartic piece or a hate story of ANY B-school, because of the sheer naïveté of such an act.
According to Roman mythology, Janus is the deity of beginnings and ends, the deity of transitions. Portrayed with two faces, he is believed to have one face looking towards the future and one towards the past. At this crucial milestone of having passed out of a B-School, while on one hand, I look to the future, on the other, I look to the past. Not unlike the quintessential travails of Janus, I try to reconcile the past with the future that awaits me. For the past two years, I’ve been a part of the coveted management education system in India as a student of an IIM. My experience, not just of the institution but of the system, has led me to ruminate over certain problems which plague this system. Despite the fact that this system has generated tremendous output and continues to be one of the cornerstones in Indian education system, there is an underbelly of flaws which goes unnoticed.
In many enlightened discussions, I’ve often said and heard that India was lagging way behind in manufacturing. Somehow, I’ve come to disagree with this fact. India has a very strong manufacturing base; only the factories of yesteryears have metamorphosed into B-schools (and majority of other educational institutions) of today. In India, B-schools, irrespective of their stature in the market, are epitomes of standardization; there is a set of practices which ensures that a standard MBA graduate is prepared by the end of 18-24 month time period. I take the example of case study analysis, a simple activity which is indispensable in any B-school. Any management graduate worth his salt would have analyzed anywhere between 80-150 case studies in his/her B-school career. Due to the sheer number of iterations of this activity, it becomes a trite lost cause. Being the “best” existing way in which academia and industry come together, this method is the torchbearer for management curricula. Most of the B-school students are familiar with the fact that this method of teaching was initiated and propagated by Harvard Business School. What is not common knowledge is that this method was first brought into the educational curricula by Harvard Law School (the case studies we refer to now are derivatives of the “case judgements” from the Judiciary). More often than not, this method is implemented just for the sake of it.
The primary problem, however, is that the expectation from case analyses and other such practices is highly similar. The subjects, the facilitators and the “frameworks” change, but there is a very strong yet subtle convergence of expectations from students. Eventually, students end up doing the same or similar things, “gift wrapping” them differently. Interestingly, despite being a god, Janus fought with the Titans (perceived as villains) against the Olympians (the heroes). The aptness of Janus’ choice is immaterial; what matters is that he had the ability to back his seemingly unwise decision. Although it is true that for any educational institution, there are certain systemic constraints which must be adhered to, if a B-school, which claims to have a vision of creating LEADERS, engages in such practices and destroys individuality and individual creativity, then what is the point of having such a system in place?
There is an inherent bigamy in the external projection of B-Schools. No matter what any survey says, the perception of the horde of aspirants of any institute is based on a very important point of competition, if not the most, which is the placement scenario. Externally, the placement report drives the competition while internally, facilitators emphasize on academics and research. I’m all for competition, even when education is in the picture, but it is this dichotomy which drives a wedge between expectations of facilitators and students. A very simple example of how this dichotomy manifests itself is whenever aspirants prepare for their personal interviews (PIs) into B-Schools. It is safe to assume that the true reason why a vast majority of aspirants want to join a particular institution, or management education for that matter, is the lure of attractive placement options and fat pay packages. However, it is considered inappropriate to mention this in interviews, as B-Schools consider themselves as “academic institutions” and not “placement agencies”.
The brunt of this extant dichotomy is faced by the bottom 20 percentile students. The glitz and glamour of management graduation goes to the top 20-30 percentile students, which is Darwinian to say the least, and justifiable to an extent. The rigour, the struggle, the relief and partial glory goes to the middle 50-60 percentile, who have to fight their way up the corporate ladder, again Darwinian. But the bottom 10-30 percentile! Well, let’s just say that Darwin did an Oppenheimer by endowing us with a concept which would be used as a rationale (read: excuse) to justify the skewed focus of the management institutions. Irrespective of several other rifts which can be seen by the participants in a B-school setup, this is right in the foundation of this all-pervasive conflict. Relying on the extant brands and the deft use of statistics (“average” and “median” packages), B-Schools still manage to create a better-than-actual picture, almost akin to infallibility of the Olympians, in the minds of people NOT in the system.
At a macro level, certain things pain me, not just as a part of the system, but as a sane, rational individual. I am appalled to see the mass misalignment happening due to the non-indigenization of management education; like most of the things, we’re copying from the holy cows of the West. Just like the shadow of Pluto lurking below the realm of Olympus, beneath everything else, I am dismayed to see a strong perceptual imbalance about management education itself. Behemoths like IIMs are perceived to have created a “black box” of management education which only they have access to. These institutions have no qualms in fostering this perception as the foundation for their entrances. This however, weakens the bottom-line of popular conception of management. Very few people actually understand what management as a discipline is and what it asks of an individual. There is a facade of management shenanigans which is projected to the exterior world, nourished by B-schools and coaching institutes; students, with their naïveté/enthusiasm/peer mentality, flock to these institutions, thinking them to be their big tickets, much like the offerings of rams, wines and incenses made to Janus in his temples. Perhaps this is why the most difficult question for aspirants to answer in an interview is WHY MBA? Irony abound.
This is not a rant against B-schools. After all, at the end of the day, I’m one of the multitude which tries to get through the hallowed gates, trying to get a three letter stamp for my résumé. These musings are a consequence of the introspection that I’ve been doing as I approach the culmination of this two-year long journey. On one hand, I’ve seen academicians (most, if not all) thrust their points-of-view and disappointments into batches after batches. On the other hand, I’ve read reports and articles on industry practitioners harping on about the acquired-required gap. On behalf of the classes and masses of people who are expected to shoulder not just the responsibility, but the legacy of monuments of corporate progress, the Janus in me would definitely like to pose one problem, perhaps the final problem – WHEN ARE WE GOING TO TAKE A STEP BACK AND REMOULD OUR PATH? Janus, despite once being the most important one in the mythical Pantheon, fell from grace and lost his glory. The day we solve the final problem is the day we truly understand the import of management and management education. Maybe then, the Janus in me, and perhaps in all of us, would truly be able to reconcile the past which has gone with the future to come.
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” – Sir Albert Einstein
About the Author
Jayesh Surisetti has recently completed his PGDM from Indian Institute of Management Raipur. An avid reader and an ardent pursuer of Noetic Sciences, he also the administrator of VaultOfBooks, a book review website.