The serious nature of an MBA program

For those curious about how an online MBA proceeds, here’s my most recent class discussion summary for my economics class. It’s pretty funny and there are some inside jokes, but generally you’ll see that learning online can be just as pleasant as being stuck in a classroom twice weekly.

[With abject and humble apologies – in advance – to just about everyone and everything, including Jack Welch (you’ll see..!) It’s insanely long, a day late, and doubtless a dollar short, but, um, Enjoy! 🙂 ]

Knowledge Duel-a-thon, Episode V

Good evening ladies and gentlemen (and Dr. Brownstein) and welcome to another thrilling episode of the Economics Knowledge Duel-a-thon! That’s too long to say, so flip on your auto-translators and teach ’em that every time I say ‘EKD’ I mean Economics Knowledge Duel-a-thon. Got it? Great!

This week our intrepid team of virtual knowledge warriors faced off against the likes of McMaster, Gable, Ellig, and long-time competitor Hayek! Before we start, though, a brief word from our sponsor…

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This week got off to a tumultuous start as Daniel L. jumped the gun, posting his message before DrB. even added his Looking Forward, Looking Back message. Some players have said it should be a -5 for DrB., but we don’t agree! -1 and no e-vids for 48 hours!

In his note, Daniel brought up some ingenious observations, notably that information is money [we can’t disagree with that! You can, though; send us 20 centaurons and we’ll talk!] and then adds that socialism has collapsed and that, in terms of engineering as the cornerstone of economic theory, after fifty years we realize that this was a mistake. Go Lazo!

EKD teammate Nicola promptly responded “What do you mean by mistake?” and updated the idea brilliantly by noting that it’s significantly the foundation of history that lets us see mistakes, and that’s part of the natural process. Virtual janitor DaveT stole a keyboard – as usual [what does this guy do for a living anyway?!] – and then confused everyone by asking if the equation tacit knowledge = experiential knowledge doesn’t contradict what we’ve covered? Seems to us that, as Denise and Nicola pointed out, everyone got confused at that point, even DaveT, so let’s just move on to the next chat area!!

Then next sacrificial EKD victim was intrepid boy economist Kevin Closson, with his witty answer, in which he actually talked about how a market economy can be defined by knowledge transfer, but as a consequence of the economic system itself. Kudos, sir! He followed this by demonstrating that knowledge is central to either a command or market economy.

Nicola again demonstrated her fearless e-skills by actually – I kid you not, e-viewers – agreeing with Kevin! – Yes! A wonderful turn of events and quite unexpected! She tried to squeeze out whether training was a way to disseminate knowledge or not, and Kevin responded by playing fast and loose with semantics, saying that training from materials doesn’t violate Hayek’s law of “knowledge is not something that can be transferred from one person to another” by saying that training is a tool you personally use to increase your own knowledge. Bill then popped in and agreed with Kevin on this point! An amazing coup!

Popular e-warrior Jarrod tries to set the record straight by pointing out that McMaster states that “Most training programs are ineffective” with an emphasis on “most”. [Of course, is anyone surprised a philosopher would speak in shades of gray?] Denise and Nicola added their two cents and that room ran out of time for the EKD this week, so on to the next!

The next discussion entrant was Shakiera, the woman with the name my spell checker swears it doesn’t understand, even after weeks of EKD debate! In her trademark fashion, she pointed out cogently that the economic problem … is the communication of additional knowledge to the “man on the spot.”. Oh, she couldn’t be more right, could she, fans? She adds As we learned early in this course [bonus points for synthesis! Go girl!] it is imperative that we think outside the box. She wraps up this powerhouse of a posting with the JapManMan (if you haven’t turned on your translator yet, that’s Japanese Management Mantra) idea that All parties, regardless of their box on the hierarchy chart, should be recognized.

Trying to throw off the competition, Daniel tossed a steak to the lions. Literally: “bosses once a year cooked steak in the office at lunch for his team”. We’ll let that one go, won’t we? The point, which was to do with how monster company General Electric tried to buck the hierarchy. [And long-time CEO Jack Welch didn’t mind cooking a steak for paramour Suzy Wetlaufer too, but that’s for another time, bizfans!]. Fortunately, Daniel wove it back into the thread with his timely observation that .. what is becoming the wave is how to communicate… more empathy and emotional intelligence are required to become leaders. Right you are, Dan-baby!

Next up was Jarrod, with his short-but-sweet missive where he spent much time chewing on that dynamic economics duo Gable and Ellig, eventually spitting out his view that a market-based organization reduces political power and gives ‘authority’ to those who deserve it.. [I know, fans, that’s pretty entertaining! Don’t worry, we’ll be featuring it on “Oh, those wacky things MBA students say!” in a few weeks!]

Shakiera is quick on the draw trying to pin down the idea “deserve it”, asking Is it decided subjectively, based on a person’s track-record, seniority, or a combination of variables? To which Jarrod flips right back less than 60 minutes later with “it’s a combination of variables”. [Righto, Jarrod, old boy! Including “who are yer mummy and daddy”, right?]. Bill adds his $0.03 (added a bit for inflation and general brilliance) by suggesting that the incentives of someone who is motivated to SpikeLee (you know, “do the right thing”) are something that motivates the employee to make a good decision: keeping their job, earning a promotion, earning a salary increase, etc. Brilliant, Bill. You neatly brought the discussion full-circle back to the original comment by Daniel that knowledge is money!

This discussion didn’t go down without more tumult, though, believe you me! Nicola jumped in and stated that, in her opinion the person who has the authority is not always the best man/woman for the job. Nicola expanded the discussion by using an outside reference, ingeniously enough, a dictionary!, suggesting that in fact a true incentive for someone to do a SpikeLee is “because it feels good inside oneself.” We’ll have to deduct two points for that answer, though, Nicola. Remember: true managers have no feelings. Got it now?

Shakiera muddies the water by actually agreeing with Nicola! Unbelievable. Minus 2 for you too, Shakiera. On the other hand, she shakes my bombastic, closed-to-contrary-information perspective when she notes that I am fairly certain that money and promotions would be at the top of the [drivers] list, which I think is due to self-interest and autonomy… individualism. Hmmm…

some time passes….

Nope! I’m happy in my ignorant knowledge that only external factors can influence behavior. Remember, fans, ignorance is bliss, and, oh, how sweet it is!

But back to our EKD!

Next up, Laura offers a view of a wonderful workplace: Knowledge, intelligence and learning are shared among employees. We are encouraged to communicate… “new ideas are welcome.” Special congrats to Laura for such a wonderful workplace! Laura and Bill then agree that Hayek is a fan of decentralized knowledge and that the command system is not as feasible as the market system in that the command system would require one entity to know all the information that has been dispersed.

Joan adds her contribution by clarifying that Hayek defines the economic problem by who is doing the
. Indeed! She also paints the picture of a dismal, rigid hierarchical workplace, where the organization is slow to react to change. DaveT – no surprise – responds by asking whether knowledge, analysis and recommendations all flow upward too? Joan’s distressing answer: “In my admittedly jaded view of corporate America, information comes ‘down’ the hierarchy as a river, but the information going back up the hierarchy is a thin trickle.”

Nicola and Joan posit that when information is not widely dispersed, a centralized decision is easier to support and more likely to be the best possible decision. [Ah, shades of statistical analysis and American Demographic magazine if I ever heard it!]

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At this point, with so many great ideas in the hopper, it’s hard for all of us, here at the EKD Network and there in bizfan-land, to extract distinct threads from subsequent discussions, so let’s indulge in a favorite pastime instead: the 100 mile view, where I actually try to restrain my garrulousness in the interest of concise communication! Ready?

Bill: the ability to utilize dispersed knowledge .. is very important to the market or organizations success, spawning Nicola’s “what’s the difference between knowledge and information?” One of the most popular questions of the week!

  • Bill: “Information is knowledge derived from study, experience or instruction.”
  • Jarrod: “it’s possible we use these terms interchangeably.”
  • Joan: (quoting McMaster) “knowledge has to do with what is received, rather than what is sent.”
  • Shakiera: “information=the collection of raw facts. knowledge=the recall of specifics, methods, processes, structures or settings.” (citing that flower-nut Bloom’s taxonomy)
  • DaveT: “information= the subset of data that’s relevant and substantiated. knowledge=the result of studying, synthesizing and.. experiencing the information extracted from the sea of data.”
  • Jarrod: (quoting T.S. Eliot) “men seem more than ever prone to confuse wisdom with knowledge, and knowledge with information.”
  • Joan (again): “is it possible we get information from a mentor, but only knowledge through experience?”
DavidS boldly states that my organization probably uses knowledge better than other companies, however I see daily examples of how it can better utilize knowledge. This spawned an observation about duplication of effort due to lack of communication (Shakiera, then Laura). Coupled with the earlier knowledge versus information, it’s no surprise that the conversation turned to: what’s the point of an MBA program?.

DavidS: “students helping each other by sharing experiences. Just Do It!” Joan agrees, adding “better to ask forgiveness than permission.” and Laura also agrees. Playing the contrarian, DaveT responds “as a manager, I want to encourage autonomy and flexibility, but I also want to make sure that I have a good idea of what’s going on.”

The discussion then turned to mentoring and partnering new employees with experienced employees as a method of [tacit] knowledge transfer. Adding their two cents were Nicola, Laura, Shakiera, DavidS and DaveT. [Total value of comments: $0.12. Not bad at all]

DaveT’s initial response drew a sharp disagreement from Kevin, who stated that modern communications mechanisms are not equivalent to ‘communicating code ideas and knowledge’, to which DaveT neatly turned it around, saying that his concern was the transfer of knowledge not information, and that had improved significantly since Hayek came on the scene. A surprising ally surfaced when DavidS shared that he too had problems with Hayek this week. The fans loved it, based on the insta-ratings!

Another debate broke out regarding whether centralized organizations aren’t actually more collective than they seem because of the upward flow of recommendations and advice? The specific example was whether Alan Greenspan [“Big Bucks Alan”, as we call him here at the network!] was a solo leader of the Federal Reserve or simply a media-hyped figurehead. No clear consensus emerged, with DavidS saying it’s a one-man op, and Kevin and DaveT arguing otherwise.

AT this point, everyone collapsed in their respective easy chairs and watched episodes of either the popular soap opera All My MBA Students the political show Discussion: Impossible, or the popular comedy Not in My Class You Don’t!
And so, bizfans and other members of the EKD Network, thanks for tuning in to another thrilling episode! We’ll have more post-game analysis online in a day or two, when DrB recovers from this crazy posting!

Next week don’t forget to root for your favorite e-conomics hero in Profits and Entrepreneurship! You can just bet it’s going to be a stimulating debate!

This posting has in no way been sanctioned by the Department of Peculiar Results, the University of Baltimore’s e-UB entertainment network, or the Brownstein Alternative Institute of Electronic Educational (also known as “AIEE!”). All legal queries are directed to our legal team of Dewey, Cheatham & Howe, Attorneys at Law.

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