The Sims: Executive Edition
Case studies, once considered the only way to train MBAs, are losing some of their street cred. The latest challenge: computer simulations that allow students to run virtual companies. The games, now used by more than half of all B-schools, can last a couple of days or all semester. Students are assigned management roles and presented with a problem, then get to work. Professors track their every move and supply feedback. At the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, professors can create custom simulations, convert case studies to simulations, or develop alternate endings for existing scenarios. Even Harvard, where the case study originated nearly 100 years ago, plans to unveil a new management simulation this spring. As Samuel Wood, a former Stanford B-school professor who markets his own simulations, says: "You can read about bicycles. But you won't be a good cyclist until you start riding one."
Tom Petty had it right: The waiting is the hardest part. Now William & Mary and Wake Forest B-schools are doing something about that. They have come up with an express service for admissions that reduces the months-long wait for acceptance notification to a matter of hours by replacing the lengthy application essay with an hour-long face-to-face interview by faculty and school administrators. At both schools, about 10% of all applicants used the fast-track process, which the schools say is more effective than traditional applications because it requires students to demonstrate business skills such as preparedness and grace under fire.
For Communication Skills, the Play's the Thing
Taariq Lewis grasps his long-handled sword as he strides across the stage draped in regal robes, a crown atop his head. "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead."
Lewis is a first-year MBA student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management, and his starring role in Shakespeare's Henry V is part of a management communications class designed to teach the "soft skills" of teamwork and leadership. Similar efforts are under way at MBA programs at Babson College, Carnegie Mellon, Emory, and the University of Virginia, where B-school students perform in and sometimes write their own plays. "It really takes students out of their comfort zone," says Lau Lapides, who teaches Babson's acting class. While these classes might strike some as the B-school equivalent of basket weaving, they make some sense. Theater enhances communication skills, builds confidence, and requires teamwork—essential tools for managers. The plays themselves—whether Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman or the students' own dramas—frequently touch on business themes. Henry V must assume leadership roles that any modern-day executive could relate to, from a wily negotiator to a general inspiring his troops. The happy ending—Henry's defeat of the French at Agincourt—doesn't hurt, either.