Twenty Top Ideas for a Better MBA

  1. Building a Better B-School

    Building a Better B-School

    The quest for the golden idea that would improve management education began last summer, when the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) launched a contest it hoped would shake up the status quo at business schools. The Ideas to Innovation Challenge asked people all over the world to answer the question "What one idea would improve graduate management education?" The contest was organized by GMAC's Management Education for Tomorrow (MET) Fund, a $10 million fund established in 2008 to help improve management education. The MET Fund set aside more than $260,000 for the contest, with the winner of the top prize receiving $50,000. It was the first time that GMAC, which administers the Graduate Management Admission Test, organized such a challenge and organizers said they hoped to get perhaps 100 entries.

    Their expectations were met and then some. GMAC was deluged with 600 entries from people in 60 countries. Professors, students, recent MBA graduates, and executives were among those who entered the contest, each of whom had their own unique take on how to improve management education. This fall, GMAC started taking a closer look at the entries, eventually narrowing the pool down to 20 finalists and, today, announcing the winners. Ideas range from alternate-reality game training for MBA students to new ideas for creating more specialized management programs and curriculums. Now that the winners have been announced, GMAC plans to move onto the next stage of the project: implementation. Over the next year, GMAC will be accepting proposals from business schools on how they can put some of these ideas into practice and will be awarding grants that will allow them to begin that process, GMAC says.

    So without further ado, let us present the winning ideas. There are 20 in all: a first-place winner plus four second-place winners, 10 third-place winners, and five finalists who received honorable mentions. A more complete description of each idea can be found here.
  2. First Place: Stackable Knowledge Units

    First Place: Stackable Knowledge Units

    Winner: Alice Stewart, Associate Professor of Strategic Management, School of Business and Economics, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

    Idea: Rather than a fixed generic curriculum, Stewart suggests creating specialized stackable "knowledge units" made up of perhaps three or four courses or co-curricular activity units each. This allows students to consume "chunks" of knowledge as needed or desired for career development, have some certificate as an intervening credential, and potentially create a market for knowledge units in specific technical or specialized areas drawn from engineering and the sciences. Individual students could choose and combine accredited knowledge units, even across multiple universities, to create unique career development sequences based on their individual needs.

    Stewart: "If breaking down barriers to trade is good for business, it should also be good for business education. Let's create a market for knowledge units instead of degrees."
  3. Second Place: The Hub Network

    Second Place: The Hub Network

    Winner: Chukwuma Nze, MBA Student, College of Business Administration, Loyola Marymount University; Lead Developer at

    Idea: While modern entrepreneurship expands through ideas, competitions, and business incubators, Nze says MBAs are constrained by alumni associations and closed school events. The "GMAC Hub Network" that he proposes is a social app where MBAs from different schools would be able to overcome these constraints through self-chosen, team-based work on positive impact projects posted by real-world entrepreneurs. The projects would benefit from cutting-edge knowledge, the MBAs get their hands dirty, and the business schools and GMAC get real-world data useful in modifying their curriculum and services. Think of it as an eHarmony-style matchmaking service.

    Nze: "The impact of modern management education is still constrained by the physical boundaries schools themselves build around their students. My idea uses the Internet to let MBAs reach out from behind those barriers and refine their knowledge in team-based, real-world projects that impact society and, in the process, provide valuable curriculum-modifying data to both GMAC and the management schools involved."
  4. Second Place: Big Ideas to Solve Big Problems

    Second Place: Big Ideas to Solve Big Problems

    Winner: James Falbe, Special Projects Consultant, International Service Partners

    Idea: Many business problems are not economic or financial in nature, and Falbe maintains they can best be solved by the big ideas from other academic disciplines. Unfortunately most of today's management education only teaches the problem-solving models of traditional business subjects like accounting and marketing. The curriculum at most schools could be greatly enhanced by adding a semester or yearlong course outlining the problem-solving models of other academic subjects such as history or psychology, and how these models could be applied in various management situations. Though most educators agree with this idea, someone still needs to take the lead in designing case studies, organizing a curriculum, and pioneering some consulting projects to actually make this improvement to 21st century management education.

    Falbe: "This is one of those simple ideas where everybody says, 'Duh, of course we could have told you that.' But for some reason almost no one has actually done it yet. Ten years from now you are going to hear less about thinking outside the box and more about thinking inside boxes of other disciplines. Why should we dig deeper in our own field for five-cent ideas when there are $100 ideas lying on the ground in the field next door?"
  5. Second Place: Every Student Creates a Business Plan

    Second Place: Every Student Creates a Business Plan

    Winner: Dawn Iacobucci, Professor of Marketing, Owen Graduate School of Management, Vanderbilt University

    Idea: Reflecting on the thousands of students she's taught over two dozen years at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and Vanderbilt, Iacobucci says she would characterize most of them as smart. Many are nice. But few are hungry. The few memorable students she had were the ones with a sparkle in their eyes—they wanted to do something different. Her suggestion is that schools require a "thesis"—a business proposal that addresses how to do something in the world better. MBA programs produce about 500,000 MBAs a year. Even if only 1 percent of the new ideas were ultimately implemented, she says, "how cool would that be!" Students' creative and integrative mindsets would benefit themselves, their schools, and their communities, whether they proceed as entrepreneurs or take jobs in established corporations. As a final by-product, all these rich, new ideas might enhance the reputation that business, and perhaps by implication the U.S., has throughout the world.

    Iacobucci: "The idea would be good for students. [It would] help motivate them to learn and apply ideas from all of their classes—the ultimate in integrated learning, an increasingly important element in B-school education. Part of why I like this idea is that it could be implemented in any B-school, regardless of its resources."
  6. Second Place: Virtual Collaboration

    Second Place: Virtual Collaboration

    Winner: Alex Howland (left), Consulting Psychology Doctoral Candidate, Alliant International University
    Winner: Ronald Rembisz, Corporate Psychologist; Principal at Rembisz & Associates

    Idea: Howland and Rembisz believe the virtual world offers a platform to train, develop, and assess core business leadership skills in a way that cannot be done in a traditional classroom setting. Although individual graduate programs have begun to develop virtual-world resources, they believe there needs to be a more collaborative effort and propose developing a "graduate management virtual-world education community" to promote it. Their idea is built around inclusion, innovation, and feasibility.

    Howland: "The use of virtual environments in education has begun and will continue to transform traditional educational practices. Through our idea, we see the opportunity for the management education community to be an educational pioneer and leader in the systemic use of virtual platforms for field-specific competency development. Transcending space and time, the virtual environment is a platform for global communication and accelerated experiential learning. Opportunities for collaboration and innovation in the virtual world are endless; our idea will simply act as a catalyst in the process."
  7. Third Place: Management Research Platform

    Third Place: Management Research Platform

    Winner: Sanjith Yeruva, Research Technician, Biochemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison

    Idea: Yeruva envisions a management research platform (MRP) that will provide a framework for systematically organizing the scattered educational content related to management research. Freely accessible research content such as videos, presentations, and files will be organized based on their relevance, enabling users to access this information more efficiently and productively. By organizing scattered information, the MRP will make searching for relevant content simpler than ever. The platform would provide educators and students with content-creation tools and a collaborative environment for a more engaging learning experience. It would also leverage automatic transcription and translation services to extend the footprint of management research content across borders.

    Yeruva: "Educators and students in management research are growing up in an ever more information-rich, interconnected world requiring global citizenship skills for their future. The paradox is that the future is now. With its integrated content-creation, collation, and collaboration features, MRP welcomes you to the future!"

  8. Third Place: Integrity Innovation

    Third Place: Integrity Innovation

    Winner: Mariana Lebron, PhD Candidate, Management, Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University

    Idea: How do managers succeed in a worldwide economy focused on capitalist principles, be profitable, and not destroy our environment and society? For Lebron, the answer is simple: through World Focus on Integrity Innovation (WFII), an interdisciplinary course that examines innovation, managerial decisions, and firm and societal consequences surrounding real-world events, such as the financial crisis, environmental disasters, water and food shortages, war, health problems, and corruption. Using accounting sheets, financial reports, world statistics, and human stories, business leaders as well as strategy, finance, accounting, and sociology professors would examine events pre- and post-crisis to look at how the firm, the environment, and society were impacted positively or negatively through new ideas.

    Lebron: "This course impacts globally because it teaches in words and actions an interdisciplinary way of thinking and problem-solving by examining decisions and global consequences. More important, it challenges us [to understand] that integrity and innovation go hand in hand."
  9. Third Place: Alternate Reality Training

    Third Place: Alternate Reality Training

    Winner: Ethan Mollick, Assistant Professor of Management, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

    Idea: Based on concepts developed in the game industry, Alternate Reality Training (ART) would join hundreds of MBAs (and students in other fields) together as top executives in fictional companies, taking part in a scenario that plays out over the course of an academic year or longer, Mollick says. For a few hours each week, they will be expected to self-organize and coordinate to address an ongoing and evolving set of business scenarios, in which the actions of students, or groups of students, affect the scenario's outcome. It will give them a unique chance to work with other students from diverse backgrounds; address unstructured and unspecified problems; and gain experience applying knowledge at a very high level. And ART has another advantage: It will be engaging and exciting to play.

    Mollick: "I would like to help fill the gap between theory and practice in management education. Classroom education often doesn't offer a chance to practice and experiment, and practical experience often doesn't allow time for reflection and learning, especially as most students start their post-MBA careers in positions below that of the business leaders they aspire to be."
  10. Third Place: Civilian Leadership

    Third Place: Civilian Leadership

    Winner: M. Kendall Fitch, Joint MBA and Master in Public Policy student at Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government

    Idea: Fitch proposes an MBA course for veterans, "Leading in a Civilian Context." It would address managing in a civilian context, transitioning to the civilian workforce, and leveraging service experience. Upon completion, students may be offered credit for up to three classes depending on their level and experience of military service. The course, she says, would be attractive to students in speeding time to degree completion and providing community and reentry support that is often lacking in U.S. higher education.

    Fitch: "I have gained so much from the veterans in my MBA class through their insights about leadership in action. By encouraging more veterans into management education, I believe my idea is a win for all students. My idea is very simple, but if implemented well has the potential for scalable and sustainable change. With nearly 2 million young veterans in the U.S., this group of experienced leaders should not be overlooked."
  11. Third Place: Practical Entrepreneurship Education

    Third Place: Practical Entrepreneurship Education

    Winner: Patrick Cheung, Associate, Advisory Services group at MaRS Discovery District, an innovation center in Toronto

    Idea: Cheung's idea is to create a cross-functional entrepreneurship program where MBA students form teams with graduate students from other faculties around them (software engineers, design students, etc) to create a new venture. Teams would have a year to write their business plan and test their assumptions in the real world. At the end of that year, those who show the most promise would be offered seed funding, connections, and incubator space on campus to further grow their business. This is a departure from many existing entrepreneurial education programs, where teams of MBAs get together and create business plans that rarely progress past the ideation or concept stage, either due to a lack of diversity in skill sets within the group or a lack of interest in actual implementation of candidates' capabilities.

    Cheung: "My hope is that by putting MBA students in a startup mindset early on, schools can accelerate the dreams of those who want to start their own business, and instill entrepreneurial values of bootstrapping and innovation into those entering the traditional workforce. Startups will likely be the primary drivers of new job growth within developed economies in the coming decades, and this idea will prepare new B-school grads to lead the way."
  12. Third Place: Admissions 2.0

    Third Place: Admissions 2.0

    Winner: Orsolya Oszabo, MBA Student, HEC Paris; Head of Research, Egon Zehnder International, Budapest

    Idea: Oszabo maintains that business schools need to catch up with best-in-class corporations regarding their selection processes. The assessment of social skills—including collaboration, influencing, and leadership—through business scenarios and group simulation exercises could add a great value, she says, as social competencies are often overshadowed by test results in the current practice despite their essential role in business. Furthermore, the partial substitution of essays with other self-presentation formats, such as slide shows, posters, films, cartoons, etc., would allow candidates to show multiple aspects of their talents, providing business schools with a more comprehensive picture of candidates' capabilities.

    Oszabo: "Following the pioneers of candidate assessment in the corporate arena would unquestionably result in a shift in emphasis toward 'demonstrating by doing' in the selection process. My approach is expected to increase diversity in the classroom and, most important, in business globally."
  13. Third Place: Cloud Networking

    Third Place: Cloud Networking

    Winner: Pritesh Sikchi, Founder and Director of Green Quotient, a consultancy in Pune, India

    Idea: Every B-school is looking for diversity in its class. Every applicant is looking for networking opportunities in a B-school. Every MBA is seeking intelligence to enhance his or her business performance. Sikchi's idea is to start a Global Library of Business (GLB) formed by connecting all GMAC member schools. The GLB will not only facilitate intercollegiate exchange of valuable reports and cases but will also serve as a powerful networking tool that will host every MBA student, faculty member, and graduate. Sikchi has titled the idea as "Cloud Business Networking" on the lines of "cloud computing" to point out the collaborative approach of such a project and the immense possibilities it promises.

    Sikchi: "It's a 'Wikibook' meant exclusively for MBAs."
  14. Third Place: A Small Business Partnership

    Third Place: A Small Business Partnership

    Winner: Yousef Tamimi, Market Analyst and Senior Marketing and Sales Engineer, ABB Near East, Jordan

    Idea: Tamimi envisions an MBA partnership that utilizes the large base of small and midsize businesses in each country. During their time in business school, students would be paired with a business that would supply a tutor, who would develop a customized curriculum for the student and help them develop a business plan. After the student graduates, the hope is that the student will have the opportunity to work for the company or that the company will donate money to the business school.

    Tamimi: "My idea will be applicable in every country; it's flexible [enough] to meet any business and academic environment, and will target a wide range of population. I see my idea implemented in different business schools worldwide, to change lives and societies, and create sustainable development for people and organizations."
  15. Third Place: Tackling a Real-World Social Problem

    Third Place: Tackling a Real-World Social Problem

    Winner: Sisi Zhu, Senior Consultant at Rosetta, an interactive marketing agency

    Idea: Zhu's idea is to integrate a practical ethics experience into the business management curriculum so that graduates will be ingrained with a sense of responsibility for the decisions they will be empowered to make. Students will spend several weeks working with public and private employers to alleviate major problems for real people, such as helping a school face budget cuts or a small business stay in operation. They will be able to witness firsthand the very tangible impact of their decisions. This not only brings to life the decision-making process and tests leadership and teamwork in a real-life setting, but also serves as a lasting lesson in business ethics. Zhu hopes her idea will help students consider the grand scheme of things, rather than fall into patterns of potentially destructive, self-aggrandizing behavior.

    Zhu: "In concentrated efforts bit by bit, students can help relieve some of society's trouble spots and offer their collective brainpower for the greater good. If this project spreads nationwide, possibly even worldwide, management education will profoundly enrich many more lives around the globe."
  16. Third Place: Learning How to Manage at a Distance

    Third Place: Learning How to Manage at a Distance

    Winner: Aadel Al-Jadda, Project Manager, Sigma International; Student in the Accelerated Professional MBA program at the Simon School of Business, University of Rochester

    Idea: Al-Jadda's idea is for an externship that allows students to become comfortable with communicating, managing, and being managed entirely through digital means. Small groups of second-year students would interview and select "employees" from first-year students, who would collaborate on a project all through digital communication. The depth and length of the assignment are up to the universities; it could be a week, a month, or a semester. The key to this exercise, as Al-Jadda sees it, is the feedback given at the end for students on both sides of the monitor.

    Al-Jadda: "More and more, today's business commuters are armed with a webcam and speakerphone rather than a toiletry bag and miles card. While much is gained in the remote revolution in the interest of efficacy, there is also the potential void between managers and their employees that can be as little as the phone pressed to the ear or as great as the miles between."
  17. Honorable Mention: Management Education for the Developing World

    Honorable Mention: Management Education for the Developing World

    Winner: Richard Zhou, MBA Student, China Europe International Business School

    Idea: In Zhou's view, the future of the developing world has been limited by weak management education. His idea is to introduce 60 international graduate management education programs to less developed regions in five years. By motivating local programs to improve overall educational quality and increasing access for underrepresented populations, Zhou hopes his plan will allow local schools to prosper and supply the talent needed to drive economic growth.

    Zhou: "The idea aims to increase access to management education for underrepresented populations, create new education content and academic research in less developed regions, and balance the global management education demand and supply."
  18. Honorable Mention: Professionalizing the MBA

    Honorable Mention: Professionalizing the MBA

    Winner: Erich Dierdorff, Assistant Professor of Management, Kellstadt Graduate School of Business, DePaul University

    Idea: One ideal that underlies all true professions is the common purpose of serving others in the pursuit of personal success. Highly professionalized occupations are at their core based upon a rich set of ideals that promote societal good. Dierdorff's idea is to institutionalize this form of service as a required rite of passage in the MBA curriculum by teaching business to underrepresented groups in areas of high educational inequity.

    Dierdorff: "Simply put, this idea moves MBA students out of the comfort of the ivory tower into a context where their knowledge and skills can make a real and observable difference in the lives of others."
  19. Honorable Mention: Making Communication a Priority

    Honorable Mention: Making Communication a Priority

    Winner: Lauren Hanat, Student, Master of Science Accounting and Information Analysis Program, Lehigh University

    Idea: Given that the world is changing at a faster rate than education, Hanat believes students need to go back to basics for a strong foundation in communication in order to handle the challenges ahead. In today's world, there is nothing more important than effective communication as well as the implementation of information technology in business. Students who excel at using information technology will be great leaders because they demonstrate the ability to learn, change, and communicate through the use of different media. Under the plan, business schools would offer business writing and editing courses, information technology classes, and provide students with iPads.

    Hanat: "I envision strong bonds between classmates as a result of the increase in communication in the classroom. Agile environments will allow students to work together on projects and assignments and fully communicate ideas to one another. Ultimately I believe this restructuring of the graduate management curriculum will create strong leaders, effective communicators, and flexible teammates."
  20. Honorable Mention: Crowdsourced Consulting

    Honorable Mention: Crowdsourced Consulting

    Winner: Wade Eyerly, Intelligence Officer, Defense Intelligence Agency

    Idea: Eyerly proposes the creation of a clearinghouse for MBA consulting projects that is modeled after open-innovation companies that post problems online and offer financial rewards to people who come up with solutions. The proposal would allow students from across the globe to compete for consulting engagements and form project teams. In addition, it would serve as a sort of meritocracy for MBA programs to demonstrate the quality of their students. It's the sort of place where an up-and-coming MBA program could really distinguish itself by performing well for top companies, or where specialty schools could demonstrate strength in their niche.

    Eyerly: "This project would impact management education by open-sourcing the MBA consulting projects that have become such a staple of MBA education. This open approach has taken root in many industries. My idea would similarly improve management education by creating opportunities for students to demonstrate the skills they have acquired—no matter where they study—on that open playing field."
  21. Honorable Mention: Students Becoming Teachers

    Honorable Mention: Students Becoming Teachers

    Winner: Price Paramore, Medical Group Practice Manager, Hospital Administrator, U.S. Air Force

    Idea: Aristotle once said that "teaching is the highest form of understanding," and that is the premise behind the Augeo Project, a proposal that takes its name from the Latin verb meaning "to expand or grow." Paramore says the project would create business certificate programs at regional and local schools that are taught by senior MBA students. The students, who are proctored, learn at a higher level while local entrepreneurs gain specific, valuable knowledge to propel their businesses forward—for a fraction of the cost of a full-time MBA. This program could be applied on a global scale, reaching underdeveloped countries and communities where full-time business degrees are prohibitively expensive for local populations.

    Paramore: "I firmly believe the Augeo Project will change the face of management education. Students will have a better medium of learning, local entrepreneurs will have accessible management education built directly for their local needs, and business schools will have new means to provide these services. It will dramatically impact business education on a global scale by making education more obtainable for individuals in countries and communities who are yearning to break through the barrier of inaptitude."