Friday, November 27, 2015

The Idea of E-School Reconsidered

This was an old idea that I keep coming back to - that of a Global Enterprise School. Indeed, the shortening to E-School is deliberate to contrast it with B-School. A Forbes article in 2011 first used the term (see my earlier post) and I have been exploring it ever since. This was the idea I pursued in the transformation, which remained incomplete, of London School of Accountancy and Management that I was running at the time, and afterwards, as I set up U-Aspire to offer pathway education globally. While I may have been doing something else for several months now, and U-Aspire, in its China-only format, became more focused on qualifications that lead to English degrees, I have never abandoned the idea. However, the intervening months of experience was valuable and helped me develop the concept further, and perhaps to a point when I am ready to give it a shape.

The idea may have started as a contra-B-School, particularly attractive as the limitations of B-School teaching is all but apparent and the MBA, which made the industry, has lost much of its sheen. As management cadre and career dwindle, many B-Schools have since caught on to the Enterprise mantra, though this may be a significant departure from what they were set up to be. The Enterprise play is self-defeating in a way - no one should sign up for an expensive MBA if s/he wants to become an entrepreneur - and is a roundabout admittance that there are not many management jobs to go around. Indeed, in the end, the B-Schools have done what they do - produced Investment Bankers who revel on the Business Plan competition experiences as Entrepreneurial stints! The world, in a way, remained exactly where it was.

However, this spells doom for Entrepreneur Education too, if that was the idea one had to pursue. That one can teach Entrepreneurs, though consistent with the modern-day mythologies of planned entrepreneurship (and all those Government schemes that come with it), has always been proved wrong. There are issues of aptitude, environment and indeed, the timing. Whatever we believe, not everyone is ready to be an entrepreneur after they leave college, and not everyone should be struck off as potential after they have crossed 40. Entrepreneur Education, particularly of the variety that calls for setting up of a school, is by definition a doomed project.

But, indeed, the Enterprise School is not the same as a School for Entrepreneurship, though this may be quite a nuanced distinction for the blunt hammer of education marketing. Education Marketing, as it stands now, wants everything to be a Course, and all outcome to be defined as a Job Description, preferably with a dollar figure attached - and tries to do so for Entrepreneurship. The Process of education is somewhat redundant in this world, except for some dreaming spires and sprawling lawns that always get attached to Higher Ed, even if it is only virtual (one Marketer told me to think about virtual lawns for an online university, only half-jokingly). The point of Enterprise School is indeed about a new process of education, one where asking right questions are more important than searching for one true answer, is indeed irrelevant for this translation.

This is where the tendency to frame the E-School in contrast with B-School comes from, though, as I argued, this is a non-starter. In this simplistic formulation, one trades up the management career for an entrepreneurial stint, though that defeats the purpose - quest of certainty - that drives enrollment in the first place. However, at the core of enterprise thinking is to turn this model of certainty on its head and to make it emerge from inside out - that I would know that I can find a way - rather than depending on others for certainty. And, this - by definition - should come from the Process of Education rather than the Paper (or the Degree or Certificate) that comes at the end.

So, this is the starting challenge of the E-School conversation - flipping the usual discourse and make the proposition distinctive enough. The way to do it is to connect with real experience, as there are no other way of building confidence. And, this experience needs to be just business projects - one of the big limitations of the business school is to start formulating everything as business and overlooking the distinctive nature of our engagements in family, community and polity. The experience-based education as attempted in business schools usually focus narrowly on business-related problems, but the Enterprise School must go further and seek to create an Experience-based Education engaged in the whole experience of living. 

The other challenge in E-School conversation is the one about what is being taught. Business Schools teach business, but if E-School does not teach Enterprise - then what should it teach? If a label has to be used, it is indeed Leadership in the broadest sense that is being offered here. However, this is not leadership as a soft skill, which it has now come to be, but rather leadership as a character trait that one is after. The wider engagement, diverse teams, commitment to learning and reflection and pursuit of values should make the E-School graduates distinctive.

By definition, E-School is also global, reflecting the nature of global engagements in our daily life. However, another distinctive feature of E-School is to appreciate Globalisation as a nuanced process in all its variations, rather than adopting the Globalization Apocalypse thinking that B-Schools promote (the assumption that business everywhere is the same, or should be). This is one thing I learned over the last several years of work in education internationalisation, and E-Schools should provide the safe space for promoting and exploring differences, rather than providing idealised models of behaviour. This is indeed part of the first principles here - the ability to ask questions rather than seeking the best answer - that must guide the approach to globalisation.

This is just a concept at this time, and I am not at the implementation mode yet. However, when an important investor recently asked me what I really want to do, my answer was this - I really want to create this model. I am still not ready and my exploration of ideas continue, but I am hoping to get to the point of fleshing out these ideas into operable principles at some point in 2016. Till then, I am in the lookout for all those cotravellers, whose ideas are similar and who are exploring one or the other aspect of education in their own distinctive way. This post is my invitation to connect up and start the conversation.

 


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