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Guest Article: Dr Kallol Das: The man who kept two combs

By Dr Kallol Das , Mudra Institute of Communications Ahmedabad, New Delhi | In Advertising | October 14, 2011
B-schools need to develop managers who are good at not just analytical skills, but creative thinking, communication skills, and leadership abilities, as well. Such a manager will probably be good at number crunching and write poetry with equal ease.

I fondly remember my first few years in the industry, before I shifted to academics full-time. I was working with Gulf Oil India, and looked after the sales and service of industrial lubricants in South Gujarat. We had a good team which handled automotives and industrial lube sales and service in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa, which formed the western region.

There was someone in our team (I do not remember his name clearly), who out of habit, kept two combs in his shirt pocket. He was a forgetful person who continuously lost something or the other (keys, diaries, visiting cards) every now and then. When one day, Manish, a colleague, asked him what the two combs were for, he replied after some initial embarrassment, "One for my right brain, the other for my left one!"

This single incident put me into a thinking mode. Soon thereafter, I shifted to the academic profession, and even though I have now been many years in this profession, I still remember that funny incident, which I personally feel, has profound lessons to teach.

As I keep recalling the incident, I ask myself as to how good a job we are doing in producing MBAs. Are they emerging from management institutes with a rounded, holistic perspective of the world around? Do they have the right leadership abilities? How ethical are they in their approach? How strong are their communication skills? How good are their creative and critical thinking skills?

The answer that I invariably get is a resounding NO! I do admit that there are several B-schools that are doing a real good job in our country, but they represent a very small minority in this large and rapidly-growing management education sector.

The reason for this current state of affairs, as I understand, is our over-reliance on developing analytical skills. According to management experts Henry Mintzberg and Francis Westley, putting analytical thinking first works best when "the issue is clear, the data is reliable, the context is structured, thoughts can be pinned down, and discipline can be applied." This approach is possible only in a tightly-structured decision making scenario, which is rare.

According to Professors Eugene Sadler-Smith and Lisa A Burke, rational thinking leads to convergent thinking processes, which may suppress divergent thinking that can foster creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Further, rational thinking may ignore the social and ethical implications of decisions taken. It is essential, therefore, that our management education supports the development of intuitive thinking amongst students.

There is a dire need for a strong emotional element in our management education system so that we produce what I term as '360 degree managers'. According to international business consultant Charles G Chase, it is essential that management education comprises the study of literature, poetry, music, history, ethics, and drama, as well as other art forms that will ensure that the manager of tomorrow is well-balanced in terms of both left and right brain development. A strong right brain is essential to produce innovators and leaders who will pave the way for a better world.

The ability to think out of the box is another key ingredient for success. According to Roger Herman, founder and chief executive officer of the consulting firm The Herman Group, a large proportion of people who are in college today, will in the future, hold jobs which do not exist today! That means the analytical frameworks that we teach in classrooms today may not be of any use some decades later. But, the ability to think critically and creatively, as well as the ability to learn will ensure that the MBAs of today are never outdated.

As technology assumes a greater role, this ability to learn will hold the key to success in the times to come. Employees of tomorrow need to learn and adapt to changing technology in order to just survive (forget, succeed) in the hostile corporate jungle. Workers will be increasingly required to do multi-tasking, and therefore, their ability to learn new skills will prove to be crucial for development, both personal, as well as for organisations.

Further, more people will venture out on their own in the coming years. Also, large companies will further sub-divide themselves into smaller autonomous business units in order to manage better. There will, thus, be a huge need for leaders, and it is, therefore, essential that the managers of today are prepared for that.

Work relationships, too, will see more fluidity, according to Herman. Besides, organisations of tomorrow will be better networked with their stakeholders. This translates into developing good social and communication skills, in order to liaise with suppliers, collaborators, alliance partners, customers, outsourcing agencies, government organisations, and NGOs.

In short, we need to develop managers who are good at not just analytical skills, but creative thinking, communication skills, and leadership abilities, as well. Such a manager will probably be an MBA who is good at number crunching, and who can write poetry with equal ease.

In a lighter vein, such an MBA will be one who will need two combs, one for the right brain, and the other for the left one! Management education has to be a true combination of science, as well as the arts. If we can do that, there is a wonderful future waiting for all of us!

(The author is associate professor, Mudra Institute of Communications (MICA). In developing this article, the author is thankful to Dr Shubhra Gaur and Dr Hemant Trivedi, professors at MICA.)

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