The Liberal Arts Approach at B-School

Roger Martin, the new dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, has a radical idea for business education: that students need to learn how to think critically and creatively every bit as much as they need to learn finance or accounting.

Critical thinking skills ”” learning how to imaginatively frame questions and consider multiple perspectives ”” has historically gone hand in hand with a liberal arts education, not a business school curriculum, so this change represents something of a tectonic shift for business school leaders, according to Lane Wallace’s piece in Sunday’s New York Times. Dean Martin even describes his goal as a kind of “liberal arts MBA.”

While some valued what a liberal arts background could provide, the dominant view was that those elements had no place in professional business schools, Wallace writes.

In recent years, however, executives working in the global arena began to recognize the value of managers who could think more nimbly across multiple frameworks, cultures and disciplines. The financial crisis underscored those concerns ”” at business schools and in the business world itself.

Many prominent business schools have re-evaluated and, in some cases, redesigned their MBA programs in recent years in ways that are moving them into territory more traditionally associated with the liberal arts: multidisciplinary approaches, an understanding of global and historical context and perspectives, a greater focus on leadership and social responsibility and, yes, learning how to think critically.

The Times highlights the Graduate School of Business at Stanford, Harvard Business School, the Rotman School, Darden School of Business and Yale School of Management as front runners in this new pattern of thinking.  Read the original article to find out more about how each of these programs has tweaked its offerings to include a more liberal arts approach for today’s executive.

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