Srikant. M. Datar
Arthur Lowes Dickinson Professor Of Business Administration. Harvard Business School
1. Tell us something about yourself in your early days of career after graduating from IIM and the transition to being a professor at HBS?
I graduated from liM-A in 1978 and started my career with Tata Administrative Service (TAS). Iwas always intrigued by academia
and on several occasions was encouraged by professors at liM to join academics. Alongside my interest in academia, I wanted to pursue a career in the corporate world and therefore went ahead with TAS. I was fortunate to get into Stanford and could pursue higher studies under a sabbatical from TAS. With every intention of coming back to TAS, I picked up Stanford as an opportunity to be exposed to great ideas and great thinking. After completing my Masters in Statistics and Economics and a Ph.D. in Business from Stanford University I recognized academia is the place for me. I joined Carnegie Mellon in 1984 and stayed there for next five years, in 1989 I got tenured at Stanford. Leaving Pittsburgh was a tough decision but Stanford being the first home outside India and good memories from the early days in US made Stanford an easy pick. In 1993 as part of my sabbatical I came to Harvard and got an opportunity to teach here at Harvard. Having thoroughly enjoyed the teaching experience here Imade the transition to Harvard in 1996. Harvard is a fascinating school, it takes teaching and research very seriously. Being at Harvard I have been involved in writing case studies, doing research, field work and work very closely with companies.
2. What motivated you to work on "Rethinking the MBA"?
"Rethinking the MBA" was a fortuitous thing, it just happened to me and has a lot of serendipity in it. David Garvin a good friend of mine and a professor at HBS came to me and asked me to work with him on reviewing our own MBA program. The study was to learn where we are now and where will we go in the future. The study was to be presented as part of the centennial celebrations of HBS in 2008. With the belief of reaffirming that whatever we are doing is great and things are going well we started the study in 2006. As we got into it, lot of other schools started showing interest in helping us. We spoke to many executives as well and that led to many of the ideas that have found their way into this book "Rethinking the MBA".
As the financial crisis emerged, the value of MBA was being challenged, we could see that lot of substitutes were emerging, there was a lack of student engagement. All that we had figured for the book we could see that happening in actual. The idea of where the curriculum needs to go was forming at that time. 'Knowing', 'Doing' and 'Being' became a very applicable way to summarize what our thinking was and explain why we thought important thing such as 'Innovative Thinking' are being missed and why are they being missed. At that time we also evaluated our pedagogy, challenged our ways of teaching. Lot of things played a role in the book but as Isaid in the beginning it was just a matter of chance, a lot of serendipity and the centennial coming up.
Every student in their elective curriculum must take a course where not only they must take a course that is case based and knowledge based but a course where they have to go into the field and implement these ideas. These have been some of ideas that have been implemented and are a major change to the curriculum.
3. What should schools do to make students more capable for the corporate world rather than just being bright students?
When managers make a decision they need a lot of information. Frameworks that are taught in school are not good enough to help managers take decision since there is a lot of contingency, context, human, local and organizational factor. Managers most of the time are 'In The Gap', a gap between what one would like to know and what one knows. Management Schools have relied heavily on understanding management and providing students with frameworks that they can use to address the problem. In reality a student on the job will not have all the information that they would want to know. Hence they will always be 'In The Gap' at the time of making a decision. This directed us towards what we call 'Thinking Skills'. We concluded that we need to train people to be comfortable being in the gap and have the thinking skills they need to be critical, innovative, global and integrative when they think.
Second is the 'knowing doing gap', here we argue that many management skills only come by doing. Knowing marketing is good but can somebody really go out and effectively sell something? Doing is a very important thing that management schools need to embrace for two reasons. First, to reduce the knowing doing gap and second as the result of doing learning will occur.
Certain skills like Innovative thinking can only be learnt and taught by repetitive practice, doing it over and over again. A great example we share in the book is swimming, you cannot teach swimming by lecture method you really need to get into the pool and start doing and as you keep on doing, learning occurs.
'Being' is the last part that came from the idea that management is different from many other professions. We build organizations and organizations are only built when people around us succeed, it is not an individual sport. How do you train people to inspire others, motivate others and connect with them? Managers need to think about how they get other people to perform, how do they connect with their team? Managers need to understand how corporations play a role in the society, they need to understand and be cognizant of the corporation's ethical responsibilities. These are important skills that we relate to 'Being' skills. These cannot be learnt unless you have been given a good personal feedback in lab. Knowing what your strengths, weaknesses are and how other perceive you and what areas you can improve in? These are important feedback that we argue one should know to grow personally.
4. How have these findings been incorporated into the curriculum at HBS?
There have been many changes. First one is about developing leadership capabilities. Knowing one's strengths, weaknesses and other people views about one's own self has helped our student be better leaders.
Next, we introduced a big global component to our course for all our students. All our students travel globally to different parts of the world and do projects/field work to understand global thinking, develop global strategy and see how businesses are different in different countries. This has helped us prepare our students into being effective global leaders.
Third one is centered on innovative thinking, coming up with big and unique ideas. We engage all our students in innovative thinking via new program Venture Capital game. Students are grouped in teams and every team is given a small sum of money and they have to come up with a new idea. It could be a new app or may be a new product. Students from other class support them by playing the role of venture capitalists and then vote on different ideas. Students develop these ideas as a part of their required course at HBS.
"Rethinking the MBA" was written as a compass and not a roadmap, many different schools have taken the findings and figured out what is more valuable to them and adapted our suggestions to their needs.
5. As part of the study, you studied 20 top ranked B Schools in the US. Apart from the elite alumni community, what are the top three things that differentiates HBS from the league?
For HBS there are three things that differentiates it from the league.
First, HBS has a general management focus, by definition HBS has a view that it does not matter what function you are studying or learning, you cannot learn it in isolation. Everything is in the context of a general manager within a corporation. Students are encouraged to think about all functions and subject areas. There could be something in finance they need to think about while looking at a marketing problem.
Second, is a strong integrative outlook. Even when I'm teaching accounting it is very common for me to talk about strategy. In an integrative approach, it's important to think about what accounting makes sense considering the overall strategy of the company. General management focus leads towards a lot of integrative thinking. A lot of discussion across different subject areas and functions.
In order to support all this, third thing which is very important is the case method. Case method puts student in a decision framework, it's not just giving the basic information needed to solve a problem. It is also about how you think about the overall company when one needs to make a decision. How do you react and decide when there is a lack of information?
Last point I would make, over the history of HBS, it has always been open to innovation. Willingness to innovate and come up with changes and ideas that prepare our students better to make a difference in the world has enable us to differentiate and be the leader in management education.
6. What in your opinion is holding back the liM's to compete globally with the likes of Harvard and Wharton?
First, there is a lot of difference in terms of resources that are available to all the top schools compared to the liM's. Over here lot of resources come from the areas such as alumni giving, publishing. Schools like HBS are able to invest a lot in research for these reasons.
Second, top schools here in US have a lot of focus on research. Professors at all the top schools in US are not just focused on teaching they have a lot of time to do research. The emphasis and focus on research definitely differentiates since it all brings a lot of data sets, information and interaction with corporations.
Lastly, it is the great international caliber and draw of the students that we get here. With approx. 35% - 40% of the class being international, the learning about different phenomenon and processes is definitely more global. Indian schools have a lot of Indian centric approach where they have a lot of Indian student, Indian examples and local case studies to discuss in class. Schools in India need to be more focus on globalizing the entire experience for students.
7. You are on the board of multiple companies covering the technology and pharmaceutical industry, how do you see these companies evolving themselves to be more and more innovative?
These days the competition is intense and the changes taking place are very fast. To sustainably create value and growth, the companies don't have any option but to innovate. Companies need to be constantly thinking about innovating, be it a new product, a new business process or maybe a new service. New ideas needs to be novel and need to deliver more value to the customers. Companies need to do it, there is no choice, and now how do they do it?
Companies need to have culture where people are encouraged to innovate and come up with new ideas. Innovation is not a straight learning curve, even when a new ideas fail companies can learn a lot from the failure.
Innovation also depends a lot on leadership. It has to do with whether the leader is innovative minded or not? The leader needs to have the courage to constantly innovate and foster it in the team. There are numerous occasions when the companies are challenged by the market but the leaders need to have the courage to manage for the long run and drive innovation. Then talent is also very important, companies need to have the right talent that can innovate. Also process becomes relevant too since having the right kind of support and organization creates a congenial environment for the team to innovate. It all starts with why do we think it's important to innovate and then it boils down to do we have the right culture, leader talent and process to nurture innovation and can manage for the long run.
8. How can we innovate our approach to career-building? How can we disrupt our thinking about career-progression to achieve our true potential? What's your advice to professionals about untangling themselves from their daily jobs to help achieve more both in their personal and professional life?
That's a tough question. One needs to have strong degree of competence in what one is doing. Beyond that, it is about having the passion if one will have for something. Second, it is about having curious thinking, and trying to think on how can something be done differently, how can it be made better? One needs to have that urge to question in a good way. Perseverance is very important, one needs to have the patience and constantly work on developing this within oneself. One needs to be able to stay with it. It will not happen in a flash. One should not give up and constantly work on developing along these lines.
Last, it is about human qualities. One always needs to be humble and build a sense of empathy for others. The ability to motivate and inspire others around oneself is very important. What's important to understand is that one does not do it by themselves. It will be people around them that will ultimately lead them into this and therefore it is important to build good team around oneself and be able to motivate and inspire them.
These all things are something that can be worked on, these are not things that come naturally. One needs to have that 'Big Thinking', get out of the narrow mindset and think about things in a broader way. Add to that if one works on systematically improving these one becomes an interesting person to interact with and it also enables one to contribute in an interesting way.