Houston, We’ve Had A Problem

A group of senior legacy business leaders were brought together to discuss the future of their companies and industries. Business leaders from industries were represented including media, automotive, banking and retail sectors. They were asked to think through with their respective teams to come up with what they saw as a potential future version of their companies. Many of the media companies mapped out the production and delivery of their services digitally (ie Netflix); automotive companies pointed to their future revenue streams from electric and autonomous vehicles (ie. Tesla); banking firms applied various fintech technologies including mobile and online payments (ie. AliPay) and retail companies projected themselves as full service ecommerce solutions (ie. Amazon). All the companies in each industry looked like they were aspiring to head in the same direction; it is understandable to uniformly think in the same directions when defending your core businesses that are behind the curve and feeling disruptive pressure from new players in the space. However, were any of these leaders truly “thinking different” to lead? Or were they all setting themselves up to follow each other into future crowded marketplaces with little future margin power? Did they have the capabilities to break the mold and “escape the competition”? Or were their mental models keeping them stuck?

Phone Booths In A Mobile World

Many of our business leaders at legacy companies who are chasing these “me too” strategies are trained from traditional MBA programs. Are they applying “phone booth” rooted 20th century thinking in a rapidly changing 21st century “mobile” world? The world is changing faster than ever before – we are interconnected globally, rapidly integrating technology, embracing new ways of working, and awakening to the fast evolving realities of this 21st century. Despite our pace of change, traditional educational institutions are struggling to effectively shed the shackles of legacy methods and teach a modern workforce how to best effectively lead in the ever increasing world of unknowns.

Specifically in business, the age of traditional degrees that opened doors with the pedigreed seal of approval, is being questioned for its relevance and impact. The business herd continues to seek linear and obvious solutions with simplistic catch phrases to support its moves into the future: technology is our “holy grail” for the future, culture eats strategy for breakfast, digitally transform or die etc.

MBAs Disrupted

We know that reality is severely more complex and our educational systems, including the well regarded pedigreed business school degree (MBA) are leaving our leaders behind the curve of change.

The October 31st issue of the Economist featured a recent letter to a Business Dean featured as the future of management education titled “The MBA, disrupted”. The writer of the letter starts by congratulating the Dean of the Business School for having being named by the Economist as one of the world’s top business schools before delivering reality. 

“The bad news is that our best-of-breed status is in jeopardy because the very business model of our school faces tectonic challenges”. 

And then he goes on to list the challenges below:

  • “Applications to business schools have fallen for five years in a row. Even at Harvard, they are down this year by 6%.”
  • “MBAs cost twice as much as it did a decade ago, but nobody believes we are delivering twice as much value.”
  • “We are also failing to grapple with technological disruption….I am beginning to think that your dogged defense of a bricks-and-mortar strategy is wrong-headed. Online business education can deliver world-class thought leadership, too.”
  • “The relevance of (our) curriculum is being challenged. The students roaming our hallowed halls are not the red-blooded Darwinian capitalists who used to strive for business degrees. They are in a very different mind space, demanding that we go beyond our traditional teachings on the primacy of shareholder value to embrace stakeholder value”

At a time where academics, “experts” and classic management consultants primarily represent the arms of the MBA, their antiquated theories and frameworks dissipate in their effectiveness to cope with tomorrow’s realities. We can only authentically learn the nuances of this new rapidly changing world and become effective in it by doing, evolving and refining – everyday. 

Iteratively Doing with Collective Intelligence

Practitioners, on the other hand, who have operated with today’s changing realities persistently, hold much greater value and relevance to tackle the complex problems of growth, change, innovation and transformation. It has become a world where we refine based on iterative feedback rather holding tightly to specific mental models.

In addition, we move through ambiguity effectively if we are able to harness the power of “collective intelligence”. Thomas Malone, Professor of Management at MIT, coined the term “collective intelligence”. Malone defines collective intelligence broadly as groups of individuals acting collectively in ways that seem intelligent. In the Movement Maker Leader Session , we are harnessing “collective intelligence” specifically through small teams working closely together which can effectively lean in on our instincts, senses and intuitions of what is emerging in the “unknown” and give us an edge before we move into leveraging data or technology into the mix; when it’s collective, we can protect against chasing our individual delusions as we question, refine and validate each other in the quest for the next leap forward. And so the network of people providing in-context training, feedback and coaching instead of front of the podium gurus and research paper writers will end up being more potent in the 21st century world of business’ accelerated disruption and ever increasing unknowns.

The Alternative MBA

To address the challenges with the shortcomings of the traditional MBA head on, Seth Godin (a Stanford Business School graduate himself) has designed a program called Alt-MBA which matches the necessary skills of today with a modern learning model. He points out the key places where the world has changed that may make the MBA increasingly less effective over time and eventually knock it off its’ high priced aspirational status of the past:

  1. “Access for information used to be in the academic halls where the MBA was taught as well as the professors. Today, access to information is everywhere and you can find it online.”
  2. “The piece of paper (MBA degree) is worth far less than it used to be because everything we do leaves a trail – your work shows up wherever you go and it’s easier to judge what someone has done rather than what it says on their piece of paper.”
  3. The processes, which institutions did not spend (as) much time on – the swirl, the connection, the expectations people have for one another, the support and the networks one builds are becoming increasingly important.”

Godin’s Alt-MBA program is an intensive 4 week course with 13 assigned projects leveraging today’s collaboration tools like Slack and Zoom to deliver the experience online. The total cost is $4,450. In comparison, the all in costs for an MBA at Stanford University is $232,000 and will also capture the opportunity cost of 2 working years, while you continue to earn in a program like Alt-MBA.

Godin hits the nail on the head by creating a practical and cost-effective course which delivers high value to thirsty learners  on core topics that are needed to survive and grow as leaders in the 21st century: decision making, operating under ambiguity, understanding worldviews, risk taking, critical thinking, story telling, marketing, strategy, driving innovation, securing buy in, management, making things happen.

The Alt-MBA goes further to present itself as a “medium for change”, “an experience for students that want to shift their perspective, draw a bigger box and lead.” That all sounds good when we look at things from an individual perspective or our small tribe of people who are already aligned with the way we think and do; but we also know that leading change by drawing a bigger box to lead is challenging in reality and particularly complex for established mature businesses.

Legacy Businesses At A Loss With Innovation and Transformation

Leading and moving people who are part of an established business machine that has operated with ingrained habits of a mature company and getting it to move into new directions is complex. Effective corporate insurgent leaders and disruptors, welcomed as panacea to legacy businesses at the beginning of their tenure, can meet tremendous friction internally as their journey unfolds and they try to push the envelope into new directions.

In Tendayi Viki’s article “The Myth of Innovation” he points out the dynamic clearly:

“When they (company leadership) set up the innovation lab, they are simply hoping that something that will save the company will emerge from there. But without clear strategic goals, leaders often fail to recognize a good product that may save their company when they see it. This is made worse if the new product from the lab threatens to cannibalize a successful core product in the parent company. The instinct to protect those traditional revenues will trump any other decision making.”

The innovation agents and insurgents either leave, are let go or compromise themselves to blend in with the status quo. This becomes a victory to keep things as they are rather than the way they ought to be. Although the most senior company executives survive the day for the short term, their company’s risk to be marginalized increases significantly in the medium term.

Unfortunately, management consultants and academics have rarely cracked the code to solve these very difficult problems of sustainable innovation and transformation. However, these “experts” and academics provide “insurance” with their pedigreed brand names behind them when presenting to Boards that help lengthen a business leader’s tenure for another day.

The Movement Maker Program

After years of R&D with senior business transformation leaders, the Movement Maker program was developed specifically to rewire legacy businesses into their new directions and new ways of working. After very strong early feedback from senior executives during the pilot phase of the program, the Movement Maker program successfully launched the program with senior leadership teams at established global businesses. It aligns well with the basic set of problems Seth Godin saw with the traditional MBA and created the Alt MBA program; however, the Movement Maker program is specifically crafted to transform legacy businesses and its leaders, and operates on a few of the below distinctions when compared to the Alt-MBA (and traditional business school programs):

  • Change and creativity does not take root in businesses out of context and post inspiring workshops or classes if the foundations of a Movement are not created within the business;
  • The key to your future is not technology led; it’s leaning into Movement Makers inside and outside your company while leveraging technology as only a tool, not as the lead;
  • Drawing a bigger box to lead requires a compelling vision rooted in building solutions that solve the deep rooted problems for your future; understanding how to authentically and systematically unearth the deeper “Whys” before building in the technicals of storytelling, creativity and agile frameworks is critical to success with your customers and employees; as Simon Sinek astutely pointed out in his first Ted Talk: “People don’t buy what you do but why you do it.”;
  • Business Change, Transformation and Innovation should be catalyzed and driven from within a company: the Operators of your business need to be empowered to run this show, not pedigreed academics, “experts” or management consultants;
  • Teaching, Operating and Coaching needs happen hand in hand to deliver real business results outside of the protective walls of a traditional or virtual classroom to rewire your people for the future;
  • Leaders and business operators need be truly re-wired to “think different”, not just be able to say it; reading and preaching about “think different” is very different from being wired to actually do it.

If we truly want to survive and thrive as business leaders at established businesses in the 21st century, we need to wholesale change the mental models and games that no longer work in our rapidly emerging new realities.

We encourage you to consider becoming a Movement Maker Leader in your business if you truly aspire to lead, change, grow and level up to shape this 21st century. We have proven that it works and we’d like you to consider it. Stay tuned and learn more about it and decide if it’s for you. We hope to get the chance to meet you and ignite a movement at your company.