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Innovation at business schools

Part I: The Degree

For better or for worse, “innovation” is a widely used term in the business world. Often, it points to new ideas and new actions taken.

Too often, though, it is simply window dressing, a word that businesspeople, business schools, and business students throw out because they feel they must.

So, what does innovation really mean? And what does it look like in the B-school world?


The dictionary is always a good place to start. There, in my favorite definition, the verb “to innovate” means “to introduce something new; to make changes in anything established”.

For now, I want to focus on a few examples of how B-schools can put that verb into action. In my next post, I will take a closer look at how B-school applicants can prove themselves to be innovative.

I could point to several examples of B-schools innovating, many covered on this blog (one year programs, specialized programming).

One example that I have not talked about though, and that really intrigues me, is the expansion of Stanford GSB’s “Ignite” program.

Established in the Silicon Valley in 2006, the course seeks to teach scientists, engineers, graduate students and others interested in enacting change the business knowledge needed to make their ideas a reality.

As faculty director Yossi Feinberg says, “It’s remarkable how much innovation there is and how much is lost through the lack of business skill”.

There’s that buzzword again- and, in this case, I believe the Ignite program fits the bill.

By including scientists, engineers and others in the Stanford GSB umbrella, the Ignite program introduces something new and different from the typical B-school applicant pool. And, it works both ways.

Those same science and engineering students that are bringing new perspectives to B-school are gaining new perspectives that, hopefully, will enable them to challenge established practices and introduce new ideas in their own fields.

By expanding the program internationally, Stanford has introduced yet another new element, impacting markets where the cost of travel, the complications of international immigration and other factors might make relocating to Silicon Valley cost prohibitive.

In this sense, the Ignite program is serving a similar mission to programs like the Stanford Africa MBA Fellowship, which funds tuition and fees for selected African students to complete MBA coursework at Stanford.

Each of these programs brings Stanford education to areas of the globe where it was previously less accessible, introducing a new element with tremendous potential for innovation.

And, in turn, Stanford gains new international perspective to spur new ideas on their own campus.

So, given the seemingly widespread hunger for innovation, are changes in curriculum format and delivery, changes like the Ignite program, set to become the norm?

I certainly think we will be seeing many more programs like this one- programs that retain the character of an MBA education but that tweak the format, funding, and delivery model to make that education available and appealing to a wider variety of students.

And, I believe we will be seeing them more globally than ever before, in a sort of hub and spoke configuration that will spread the influence of major B-schools all around the globe.

Personally, I am looking forward to witnessing these innovations and their ripple effect on students, faculty, the business world, and B-school applicants. It’s changes like these that keep the MBA from becoming staid.

For more on how B-school applicants can showcase their own innovation, stay tuned for our next blog post.

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