Does (management) education teach you anything?

It’s become quite fashionable these days to criticize the value of our education system. And I don’t mean the criticism focused on lifting Australian educational standards to match international best practice. This is necessary if we want to retain our place as a truly competitive nation.

No, I’m talking about the criticism that is leveled against the value of formal management education in driving innovation and creativity. The argument suggests that the structure and theory learned at college and university make people risk averse and unwilling to create new opportunities. They point to people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Dick Smith and Kerry Packer to suggest that formal education serves little purpose in creating successful business enterprises.

Let’s get some perspective on the issue:

Yes, there are some dud management colleges and university courses where the qualifications aren’t worth much. Yes, there are many graduates from management courses and degrees who actually can’t do anything useful.

In general, however, bright and exceptional people (like Jobs, Gates, Smith and Packer) will usually succeed, with or without formal education. They have a natural ability to learn and adapt – and they generally identified opportunities early and didn’t bother finishing their education.

But most of us have to learn how to learn. We have to learn how to assimilate, integrate and analyse information to make intelligent decisions. We have to learn that correlation does not imply causation. We have to learn how to interpret outlier data. We need to know the history so we can build on what has gone before and not reinvent the wheel.

Colleges and universities teach us how to learn.  They allow us to advance our own knowledge by building on the work of others. Once we have learned, it is our natural progressiveness or conservatism that comes to the fore. Our personality will then determine whether we seek to play it safe or go out and create new things. Now, maybe colleges and universities attract a high proportion of those who want to play it safe in the belief that an education will give them security. But that is quite different to alleging that a management education through college or university will suppress innovation and creativity.

Management education is an important ingredient in improving the overall effectiveness of Australian enterprise and our overall levels of productivity.

Norman is a Future Strategist and Organisational Architect. He believes in the value of management education and informed decision making.


Leave a Reply