“The M.B.A. is a challenged brand”, Greg Pass, the former chief technology officer of Twitter and now on the faculty of Cornell Tech stated in a very recent New York Times article . As an alternative for educating future business leaders Cornell Tech has launched an innovative concept which includes cross-disciplinary project collaboration between M.B.A. candidates and computer science graduates, group problem solving and group critique methods. “The emphasis is on making things rather than planning.” Pass stated according to the article.

Here’s what is striking when reading about this innovative but not entirely new concept for business education. At least it is not new for artists: putting making before planning is at the very heart of any art education. What is interesting to know about art versus many business disciplines is that “artists are craftspeople.” They “think by making” and unite the “hand and the head,” as sociologist Richard Sennett describes in his book The Craftsman.

Greg Pass explains the motivation for an evolution of the classical engineering education with today’s challenges in the business world: “Engineers may be the most valued asset in business today, but the engineering mentality has its weaknesses. Engineers tend to be problem solvers, one step at a time, solving the problem in front of them. But the major business issue, especially for entrepreneurs, is often that problems are not known, need to be discovered or defined in a new way. You need a more integrated, broader view of things.”

Such a broad view is characterized by uncertainty and ambiguity. German education professor Michael Brater, who explored the artistic process for many decades, suggests that individuals can learn from artists and look at how they act and make decisions under circumstances of uncertainty and unpredictability. According to his research, artists cope with openness and uncertainty not through objectification, but through unbiased, exploratory actions instead of pondering and planning, free playful and experimental exploration without intention and alternating between action and perception, influencing and viewing. This is what leads artists, engineers and business people alike to finding the new and individual – by following an original, unrepeatable and experiential path.

The current business developments might make the MBA a challenged brand but the solution for a successful rebranding is already in sight. It is to educate the Generation A, a generation that expands upon subject matter expertise with art-based approaches that encourage exploration of the real business problems and possibilities to be fully equipped for the decades to come. This represents the future of business and engineering education.

For Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, art and engineering were both part of her life at a young age. Her mother, an art teacher, taught her about art history and her father is an engineer. She said the two topics “are not all that different.” and continued to emphasize during a recent interview “engineering that isn’t beautiful has its drawbacks, and art that isn’t engineered is also less interesting.” Marissa Mayer was fortunate to receive a dual education at an early age. For all other it is time to fill the gaps and they will look for innovative education institutions for support.

Michael Brater, “Wenn Arbeit Kunst wird…,” Vortrag zum 2. Forum Wirtschaft meets Kunst, Freiburg, February 3, 2014.
Richard Sennett, The Craftsman, For a review see here.

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