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B-schools wake up to the real world
Samyukta Bhowmick
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August 03, 2005

If there's one thing that Donald Trump's hit reality TV show The Apprentice has taught us, it's that your MBA won't always bail you out in a real life business crisis. By all accounts, acquiring an MBA is a gruelling process.

But could it be that students are so busy discussing textbook problems, writing papers and taking exams, that they've forgotten how to handle the real world?

Business schools in the US obviously think so. They're redesigning their business courses to "get real" (in some instances actually using Donald's show in classrooms). And recently, they have started to move towards the arts, and in particular, design. Schools such as Stanford, Harvard and Carnegie Mellon have all introduced design courses into their business curricula to teach their students how to think creatively.

This trend is beginning to crawl into India. Although most B-schools still keep strictly to their business curricula, some are offering arts classes, or introducing a creative element -- beyond the classic "lateral thinking" (a la Edward de Bono) -- into the curriculum that allows students to apply what they learn in the classroom.

The Indian Institute of Management at Bangalore, for instance, has a class called "Tracking Creative Boundaries", introduced to it by the India Foundation for the Arts. Artists teach students about the history of art and the lives of artists.

"A professor," explains the executive director of IFA, Anmol Vellani, "once said to me that management education is all wrong. It only teaches technical competence, whereas management is about other things as well -- soft skills, ethics and, above all, creativity."

The value is clear. "Artists are naturally suspicious of accepted idioms," says Vellani. "They're constantly reinventing themselves. Entrepreneurs need to be inventive too... they need to recognise real world constraints, have the imagination to adapt to them, and be creative."

Other schools, in their quest to lend vibrancy to an entrepreneurial culture, are also focusing more closely on 'creativity' in business.

For instance, the Faculty of Management Studies at Delhi University is facilitating an entrepreneurship competition, involving around 500 students from 20 B-schools and 20 undergraduate colleges, where students have to come up with a business plan.

The 'ROI'? Relevance, originality and impact -- before you get any return on investment. FMS students also have the option to take arts electives in separate schools at DU, but are so busy, says a student, that no one has taken a single one.

Gurgaon's Management Development Institute, meanwhile, has a course on theatre technique incorporated into the communications portion of the MBA program. Theatre is widely acknowledged as a laboratory of audience response, invaluable to any business person who must work out how to address and engage a market.

"Classes like this help students to put themselves in real world situations," says Gita Bajaj, an assistant professor of Business Communications at MDI-Gurgaon, "With exercises like public speaking and role playing, we put students on the spot and this forces them to adapt quickly and make practical decisions."

To be sure, Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats

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