26 April 2012

What They Don't Teach You in Business School

Anyone who reads my blog with any regularity knows that I think social invention is as important as technological invention. It's true that the modern world grew out of technological inventions like the steam engine and computer but it is at least as dependent on social inventions like the nation-state and corporation. Today the most common acts of social invention fall under the heading of entrepreneurship.

But of course communities don't raise their children to be disrespectful of institutions. It is, of course, just the opposite. Children are taught to sit still in church, get good grades, salute the flag, all in preparation for being a good employee. We teach them that success and happiness result from following the rules, not rebelling against them.

Yet those institutions we so admire were "invented" by people who did anything but follow the rule. Jesus managed to offend church and state. Had they failed, the story of our founding fathers would today be told as that of a band of rebels, terrorists perhaps.

Social invention is dicey. For it to work, you must bring along people. You can't really rebel against society so much as its institutions. And it requires a different sort of consciousness, a different way of making sense of the world. Jesus taught that the law of God represented spiritual, rather than tribal or ethnic truths. Our founding fathers saw in Enlightenment philosophy the potential for progress through capitalism and democracy. It's not enough to invent institutions without reinventing your thinking.

While regular readers know that I believe systems thinking is the new thinking that can inform the invention of new institutions for our time, I do think that changes in thinking are not simply prescribed or easily undertaken.

So what don't they teach you in business school? Everyone loves the results that Steve Jobs got as a leader. My guess is that no CEO is more often mentioned in business schools. While business professors everywhere are telling their students to emulate Steve Jobs, I would bet that not one of them is telling her students to take inspiration from Steve Job's admission that LSD was one of the "two or three most important things I have done in my life."

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