Every Business School Needs a Lab

by on August 4, 2010 | posted in Marketing

Remember business school? Remember the idealized curriculum that did little to prep you for the real world? Remember the strong recommendations during school by professors to get an internship to support your learning?

Yes, you remember that.

More clearly, you remember the difficulty and process getting an internship worth having required. Often times, the pull of inflationary school fees and rent and the need for egregious amounts of alcohol swayed you towards some rudimentary desk job over the internship, and as such, you left school without as much of a blip of experience.

You’d set off with a degree and that would be enough. Or you prayed that would be enough. And often times, maybe for you, it was.

But for most, it wasn’t.

For many people coming out of the black tunnel of business school, you were left with the one thing getting a real job and being a useful employee required: application of theory to practice.

The Great Barrier to Entry Reef

And in many ways, that was okay. Business schools had few real ways to give students real world experience besides pushing them to internships. Giving students experience in business meant one of two things: either getting an internship or starting a business. The thing about starting a business is that the barriers to entry were huge – schools couldn’t afford to chalk up costs, and definitely, students couldn’t either. Because of this, creating a business that would replicate true competitive corporate environments was impossible – as lemonade stands are rarely compatible with more robust business school theory.

I think you know where I’m going with this. Things have changed. Just as the traditional MBA is in many ways considered “outdated”, this traditional undergraduate curriculum is also quickly accumulating cobwebs – and has potential to move towards a new, technologically advanced model.

With the onset and maturation of business on the internet, barrier to entry for new companies has almost dropped to zero. You can throw up a Twitter, Facebook and WordPress blog for almost nothing, and with a little conniving and research, can buy a unique, brandable domain for little more. The only cost of success is the time invested to learn from experience.

Here we are, in an educational system where we often rely on the motivation of our students to forge business experience. My school did not require an internship. I know many do, but just as Marketing 101 is a requirement of almost every business school everywhere, a Business Lab should be created to give students, at the freshmen and sophomore levels, an environment to practice their learning.

Even when internships are possible, the best ones aren’t available until you are at least a junior or senior. Implementing a business lab where students were thrown into action, whether solo or with groups, would allow instant learning through real-world application.

An Internship Without the Ability to Opt-Out

This would allow an applicable outlet and a charge, for those who needed it. A huge percentage of business school students will never get internships because they were never forced to. Others will succumb to the rat-race and fall away from entrepreneurship not because “they weren’t born with the entrepreneurial drive”, but rather, because they never had the opportunity to develop it. Others simply aren’t good within the school environment – but when placed in a dynamic, real-world opportunity to apply and compete, thrive.

This class, this “lab”, would offer students a credit towards purchase of a domain or two based on certain foundations. They would work together with other introductory computer science or graphic design students to create a beginning website, promote it, and attempt to “succeed”, whether that metric was monetization, visitors, or something else.

Success and grades would not necessarily be credited based on accomplishment (as this can vary depending on the person as well as vertical conditions), but rather on execution of theoretical principles. They would be thrown into the fire, forced to work in real business environments, and undoubtedly, learn and grow from their experience of building an internet enterprise.

Not an End-All — A Start

Admittedly, this kind of internet business is not applicable for all students, and growing one wouldn’t necessarily be directly applyable past their graduation. But, like “Public Speaking” or any other extra curricular, this experience would at very least strengthen their ability to practice the business theory they’ve developed, and more importantly, help develop the experience they need to succeed in the real world.

We need to be nudged. It’s been proven (and cited in aforementioned book I linked to) – that people make terrible decisions in their lives. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Using a libertarian paternalist thought process, we can push them towards a path of accomplishment and growth – one they would not have chosen on their own.

Beyond the bubbles of their thirty-seat enclaves, there’s a world of experience to be had – and students shouldn’t have to wait until after they’ve turned their tassels to start getting it.

Illustration by Tom Gauld.

Previous post:

Next post: