Education Leaders Could Learn Sideways From Sectors Further Ahead

First published in Forbes Leadership July 24, 2017. Most leaders never learn that predictive modeling is a false prophet in fast-changing industries, the siren that lulls them to sleep even as their companies smash on the rocks of outdated assumptions.

But for the few willing to kick addiction to false certainties and grapple with the many rich qualitative approaches to anticipating change, one of the best is “learning sideways,” that is, absorbing the shape and pace of change from analogous industries which are further down the road.

A great example of this is offered by Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet, co-founder of the annual EdTechXEurope education innovation conference, who was previously Head of Strategy, Business Development and Ventures for Time Warner, EMEA

In an interview with forbes.com he expanded on how media-entertainment industry evolution is helpful in understanding what’s coming next in the education sector, and how fast.

For example, he says, “five years ago when people were talking about MOOCs, (Massive Open Online Courses) there was a lot of criticism: ‘content is poor, student engagement is low, it’s for developing countries because they can’t access good universities…’”

“I remember at the time, coming from the media industry, that’s exactly what people had been saying when YouTube came out: ‘It’s poor content in the TV industry, it will never rate, it will never work.’”

As with YouTube so with MOOCs, the content quality may be variable, but access is ubiquitous. Therein a groundswell of adoption. And there goes the industry neighborhood.

Says Vedrenne-Cloquet: “In fact, MOOCs were a formidable marketing platform for digital education, because suddenly mass populations were accessing digital education. It was a turning point.”

Coursera and EdX are now surpassing even Oxford and Cambridge in terms of internet search, he says.

Coursera vs Oxford Cambridge

Internet searches, Coursera vs. Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Pic: EdTechXEurope

“Everything media executives didn’t see coming in terms of what was happening and how to react to it, the same is now happening in education, ” says Vedrenne-Cloquet.

“When digization starts, that creates a profusion of new forms of content, which creates confusion because the customer is a bit lost and established providers are losing market share.

“So there is suddenly a need for more curation, personalization, and customization. This is where ‘platforms’ come in, to organize and curate that content.

You suddenly have a shift of power between traditional content providers or publishers, and platforms which are aggregators and distributors.

“These aggregators use ‘programatic curation’ that is adaptive learning software that tailors content to the audiences, and ‘social curation,’ leveraging social communities and social networks, to recommend and distribute content,” he says.

This is what happened in the music industry (Spotify), in the TV industry (YouTube and Netflix), and the publishing business (Amazon). Now in education this is becoming visible with the mainstreaming of the Coursera and EdX platforms.

Overall, the education industry’s digital vortex has been relatively slow in coming compared with other tech-disrupted industries because significant positions held by large institutions, government bodies, and national budgets have protected incumbents from rapid consumer-choice adoption.

The brand protection of long-established universities has also so far been a frictional force in consumer adoption of alternatives.

But, again following the media and publishing industry precedents, Vedrenne-Cloquet suggests established university and executive education providers will likewise fall to winner-take-all platforms, and will be effectively forced to throw in their lot with them.

EdTechXEurope EdTech China

EdTech investment in China already dwarfs rest of world. Pic: EdTechXEurope

Moreover, the brand protection that Western education institutions have enjoyed in Asia and the Middle East is fast dissipating. Homegrown options are gaining legitimacy, not least on the back of massive international investment.

For example, China has 9,500 EdTech companies and is attracting 30-40% of global education investor money. Vedrenne-Cloquet is partner at Ibis Capital, which invests in the region.

Speaking to global opportunity, the annual EdTechXEurope conference and education industry event week in London has in five short years established pre-eminence in the worldwide EdTech calendar, and is itself globalizing. EdTechAsia takes place in Singapore in October, and new conferences are planned in Africa (Cape Town) and South America (Buenos Aires) in 2018.

Posted by admin in EdTech, Innovation, Leadership

Posted by admin in Innovation, Leadership, Learning

Posted by admin in Leadership, Learning

Remix Lets Planners Learn With Visual Data

“After releasing their first tool, a simple, gamified bus route mapper then called Transitmix in 2014, they began working with planners. In essence, they were designing the data visualization tools the planners wanted, but didn’t have.

“You can think of Remix as a video game for planners, which is leading to better public transit service.

More: The Small Startup That’s Helping Hundreds Of Cities Visualize The Future

Posted by admin in Innovation, Leadership, Learning

HBX Swaps Content For Connections In EdTech Strategy U-Turn

First published forbes.com 12/2016. Professor Bharat Anand teaches digital strategy at Harvard Business School, yet when he came to co-developing the HBS digital education business (HBX) he fell headlong into the very trap he tells leaders to avoid. That is to say, the content trap.

In The Content Trap (Random House, 2016) Anand shows how the primacy of connections in the digital era—across users, across product and services complements, and across the firm and its specific context—puts three previous holy cows of business strategy to the sword.

Professor Bharat Anand. Picture: Harvard Business School

Professor Bharat Anand. Picture: Harvard Business School

There are three seemingly rational behaviors that companies follow, that turn out to be flawed, ” he says in an interview with Forbes.com.

“First, managers see many competing products and think: ‘let’s make a better product to rise above clutter.’ This is the Quality Trap. It’s well known that the best products don’t always win.

“Second is the Focus Trap, where leaders see many things going on around them, and decide, or are advised, to simplify to win by focusing on their core competency.

“Third, decision-makers look at best in their industry, and copy them. This is the Benchmarking of Best Practices Trap. Each situation is unique, so copied decisions are unconnected to their real situation.”

In other words, these flaws are all of a kind: they miss or undervalue connections. Connecting people. Connecting products. Or connecting decisions.

But even writing and teaching this principle didn’t stop the professor and his team being lured by the siren call of better product and content when creating the HBX digital executive education CORe (Credential of Readiness) course in 2013-14.

CORe was aimed at pre-MBA under-30s, but has since seen far wider uptake.

The faculty development team included Youngme Moon, Janice Hammond, and V.G. Narayan. Says Anand, “It is so insidious! We realized we were automatically thinking about creating ‘great content, great product, great platform.’

“We were not thinking ‘community and connections.’”

Realizing what was wrong, and being more than ready to eat their own dog food in making digital strategy, in May 2013 Anand and the team pivoted 180 degrees to a user-connected, peer-learning base.

In The Content Trap, Anand says getting things right requires “seeing how what we do is increasingly linked to what others do; looking beyond where we play to bring related but invisible opportunities into focus.” [italics original]

With this somewhat in hand, the team had another business challenge to solve: how to scale.

Many executive education businesses, such as Coursera or Udacity or Udemy, or MIT and Harvard’s own edX, have scaled via the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) model. You record a lecture, you put it online, you advertise, you make it free, you have scale.

But, says Anand, “There’s a tension between reach and engagement.

“On the one hand you have MOOCs with massive participation, albeit oftentimes cursory. On the other there are highly interactive platforms, creating a rich, personalized experience for every learner.”

“The very thing that allows us to have highly engaging experiences (small group, close faculty involvement) is what prevents us from scaling.”

Resolving this apparent tradeoff was the key problem for the HBX team. “To crack it we forced ourselves to focus on one metric first: engagement. We had nothing if we didn’t crack the code of engagement.”

The rate-limiting factor in providing engagement is not technology, nor number of learners who want it. “It is number of content experts, that is, faculty,” says Anand.

Therefore the team realized, counterintuitively, the only way to have both scale and engagement was to limit faculty interaction. This reverses the prevailing wisdom that quality of student experience is achieved by providing greater interaction with faculty.

How could CORe provide engagement richness without faculty interaction? The answer came in facilitating and incentivizing peer engagement, in other words getting students to teach each other.

Peer learning has always been a big part of MBA and executive education, where the best teachers are not necessarily academic researchers but relative content experts, whose real skill is facilitating the multiple points of knowledge in the room into a cohesive learning experience.

Once again, the winning principle is who is good at making connections rather than who is good at making content.

From The Content Trap (Random House, 2016). Picture Random House

From The Content Trap (Random House, 2016). Picture Random House

Peer learning is also integral to the pedagogical “DNA” of Harvard Business School’s case method.

The three principles of the case method, according to Anand, are real-world problem solving (presenting real situations and dilemmas); active learning (hands-on student immersion and involvement); and peer learning (learning from each other.)

In the book, he observes how the case method can be frustrating for both student and teacher. “Students might yearn for ‘the answer’ but are encouraged to engage in reflection and conversation with their peers. Faculty might yearn to give the answer… but are committed to let students try to discover it on their own.”

In case method teaching, “when a student asks a question, the last thing you should do is jump in with an answer. You let students discuss, and you guide the conversation.”

Taking case method principles online means, when a student posts a question, faculty or teaching assistants must resist the urge to jump in and answer it, even if it is answered incorrectly or only partially by peers.

“You trust the students. After a day or so, the right answer converges,” says Anand.

The HBS MBA has a traditionally allocated 50 percent of a student’s grade in any course to quality of class participation. This engagement carrot-and-stick moved seamlessly online, giving students more than adequate incentive to get involved with their peers.

However, taking case-method pedagogy online also meant new and onerous pre-course design challenges for faculty.

It meant “designing a process, guiding learners through a series of mysteries and puzzles, each time unlocking a new question for them to tackle on their own,” says Anand in the book. [italics original]

“As we developed the courses, we were now not just producing the materials, but trying to think through every learning moment for students as they might proceed through them–then inserting the right teaching elements at the right moments.”

A live classroom instructor can course-correct on the fly, but this is “far harder to pull off online. Every learning moment has to be anticipated.”

Anand describes this instructional design as “creating a maze” for students to go though on their self- or peer-guided learning path.

In making the maze, faculty work extensively prior to course launch. But then their job is considerably reduced. By contrast, in MOOC “flipped-classroom,” upfront effort is relatively low: a camera records a faculty member and this is posted online, adding in some assessments.

However, enhancing the student engagement experience after the course has started requires extensive ongoing faculty or TA time, says Anand.

“By contrast, our approach demands high upfront commitment from our faculty—but virtually no ongoing effort. By hard-coding elements into the course flow we are able to make ourselves, as faculty, redundant once the learning process has begun,” he says.

“We can achieve both high student engagement and scale, because the bottleneck of faculty input is no longer a constraint.”

Posted by admin in EdTech, Innovation, Leadership, Learning

Finland’s Schooling With A Management Twist

First published forbes.com 7/2016. Finland is famous for schooling that starts kids at age seven, gives them short days, little homework, few exams, lots of crafts and music and outdoor expeditions, and yet turns out pupils that shoot the lights out in the International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings—all while being free to users and leaving very few students behind.

No surprise then that education policymakers and managers worldwide want to look under the hood of Finnish schooling.

“The rest of the world is more interested than ever. We have been organizing educational visits for nearly a decade,” says Anna Rantapero-Laine, Head of Training at the University of Helsinki Center For Continuing Education (HY+).

The University of Helsinki’s Department of Teacher Education faculty has over the years provided much of the research and pedagogical thinking behind the Finnish schooling model.

At the Aalto Executive Education facility. Picture Aalto University

At the Aalto University Executive Education facility. Picture Aalto University EE

But now HY+ is going one better, merging the visitor experience into a 6-day executive education program, combining education sector and business school expertise, created and offered in conjunction with Aalto University Executive Education. The program is scheduled for November in Helsinki.

Pekka Mattila, Professor of Practice at Aalto and Dean of Executive Education, says “Oftentimes education sector leaders are ‘a bit homegrown’ with a strong background in education, but not that much exposed to general management, strategic management, or innovation.

“This is our design idea. Aalto’s role is to bring in business and innovation. The University of Helsinki makes sure this links back to education management.

“Often one side is missing. Educators find it difficult to relate to standalone management topics. But if it is only about education, if there is nothing about implementation, how to make change happen, how to run experiments, how to restructure things, how to build a new culture—then education insights are not turned into reality.”

“Aalto’s role is to make this kind of conversion and bridge-building happen.”

The program targets schooling (up to age 16) industry professionals, administrators, policy makers, city planners, government officials and ministries, and education NGOs, “anyone planning and developing schools, creating educational systems and institutions, even planning the whole education structure of a country,” says Minna Wickholm, program designer and head of the Aalto University Exec Ed open enrollment business area.

It includes an off-site day visit to a learning-innovation benchmark school, Viherkallio, in Finland’s Espoo region.

Viherkallio says this about its approach: “The work philosophy of our school consists of three main focus areas: To find information in different ways—especially using ICT—and make something new of it. To use different ways to learn and to use different kinds of pedagogic ideas—with a strong emphasis on drama—as well as to learn to use various interaction skills in living and learning.”

At Viikki School. Picture: Linda Tammisto

At Viherkallio School, Finland. Picture: Linda Tammisto

But, says Wickholm, even as it caters to foreigners, the Exec Ed program is also designed to challenge local delegates, particularly provoking Finland’s schooling administrators to open up to an entrepreneurial view of education, including using customer-development frameworks for service improvement.

It offers a hands-on “design thinking” day, encouraging delegates to bring the current challenges they have in their schools into a guided service (re)design workshop.

The program also approaches future-of-education topics, from both educator and learner perspectives.

Education planners will get to think about innovations in learning technologies particularly within an understanding of the 21st Century competencies students need to succeed in jobs of the future—collaborative, creative mindsets and a willingness to embrace continuous learning.

Posted by admin in Leadership, Learning

Education Disrupted? AACSB Offers Deans A 5-Headed Hydra To Fight Back With

First published forbes.com 5/2016. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) has on its 100th birthday released a vision document fueling a future in which business schools recharge their relevance by positioning themselves as trusted partners with industry in addressing real-world challenges.

Coming at a time when technology is side-swiping classroom delivery models, traditional modes of student qualification and recruitment are eroding, profit-seeking business models are displacing the academy—among many trends shaking graduate and executive education industries—AACSB’s “Collective Vision for Business Education” aims to give Deans a way to regain the initiative.

“This is a vision for a future where business schools are drivers of change. Where business schools change the narrative” the document says, calling on them to “more assertively lay claim to areas for which they have expertise and competitive advantage.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 16.36.41

(Photo: AACSB)

It suggests there are five domains in which schools may find opportunity to renew their identity and purpose:

• Catalysts for Innovation. Providing knowledge, convening power, and networking to foster new solutions

• Co-Creators of Knowledge. Partnering in knowledge formation at the intersection of academia and industry

• Hubs of Lifelong Learning. Addressing the need for on-going learning and qualification at later stages in the career cycle

• Leaders on Leadership. Advancing research into understanding leadership and creating environments that train leaders

• Enablers of Global Prosperity. Helping address societal goals, including creating ethical and sustainable organizations

These opportunity domains are designed to be applicable across different national, social, and economic contexts, given AACSB’s current global membership of 1,456 members in 92 countries, and President and CEO Tom Robinson is emphatic that the AACSB is not being proscriptive about which of these forward paths schools should take, if any.

Nevertheless, the AACSB has chosen the vision format in future thinking, and visions are by definition if not proscriptive then at least strongly suggestive, best thought of like a trellis a gardener might give a climbing plant: the plant still has to do the growing, but it is being given a framework to grow towards and around. (This in contrast to anticipatory foresight which seeks only to cleverly anticipate what may happen, with no suggestive element.)

AACSB walks a delicate line in offering schools this five-frontier framework, or any future-opportunity framework, not least because it is one of the two million-pound-gorilla accrediting bodies in the world of b-schools, the other being the Europe Foundation for Management Development’s EQUIS.

Accreditation means achieving a rolling 5-year positive quality audit from one or both of these two bodies. It is much-sought after because it is the main way reputable schools separate themselves from the tens of thousands of non-accredited institutions out there also trying to make a buck teaching business and management.

Therefore it is a clear likelihood that schools, particularly those on the cusp of accreditation, may interpret this AACSB-endorsed forward view as something of a blueprint.

Here Robinson, himself a CFA and past Director of the CFA Institute, advises the common investment wisdom of “portfolio effects” as a decision-making strategy that champions diversity in success.

“Schools are in different markets, serving different communities. We want them to continue to have their unique missions and value propositions. The industry needs a diverse ecosystem,” he says.

The Collective Vision represents a collation of inputs from about 6,000 researchers, students, executives, and clients—gathered over three years across AACSB conference sessions, online forums, and user studies. It is therefore seen to be co-owned by the management education community rather than merely the AACSB viewpoint.

The project fell under the auspices of the association’s Committee on Issues in Management Education. Many of its probes were led by staff liaison Juliane Iannarelli, AACSB Vice President and Chief Knowledge Officer, who also did final collation and writing.

According to the vision’s companion trend research site, the process started out wide, seeking to first capture the shifting roles of management in society, addressing trends such as business being called to social problems, aging workforce demographics, talent recruitment through data analytics, etc.


Focus then narrowed to how this changing external landscape would affect management education and leadership development, here capturing ideas such as emerging alternatives to degrees, the blend of knowing and doing, student expectations as consumers, and so on.

This was then distilled into the five-pillar opportunity structure which, Iannarelli says, is in part putting a organizing frame around the various initiatives already happening, building on and validating some of the directions schools of management have already successfully pioneered.

This is both to accelerate these initiatives and help others to clarity on possible future success strategies.

Juliane Iannarelli

Juliane Iannarelli, AACSB VP and Chief Knowledge Officer (Photo: AACSB)

Beyond this, the new opportunity areas call for “greater experimentation with different faculty and staffing models, educational and credentialing models, and funding models.

“Operational models will involve deeper collaborations with business practice and non-business disciplines. These models will reflect new strategies for drawing on the diverse strengths of individuals with a range of educational, professional, and cultural experiences,” the report says.

Interpreting this, Robinson uses the term “connectivity” to sum up the new ways of working the five opportunity areas will demand. Each one implies business-school scholarship connecting extensively with industry and with other external bodies, and with other disciplines, throughout learning process.

He says this in the full knowledge that talking up real-world connectivity is hardly a neutral stance in the current era where business schools promote faculty almost exclusively on the ability to write impenetrable articles in journals nobody reads.

But here again Robinson sees strength in diversity. The vision renewal is not about faculty or schools being less “academic” or more “real-world,” but about being both, and being able to continuously connect these different elements that make up the education enterprise, including all of its wider stakeholders.


The AACSB vision is astute in many respects, not least in tacitly acknowledging how “what gets measured gets managed,” such that if you want new practice you have to reward it.

To take one example, it recognizes how business schools strongly orient themselves to the criteria used in the rankings disseminated annually by the Financial Times or QS TopUniversities.com or the US News and World Report, among others.

Apparently talking directly to these ranking organizations, the AACSB envisions a future where “rankings that prioritize graduates’ salaries will increasingly compete for attention with new platforms that facilitate quality assessments along a range of different dimensions.

“New metrics will emerge to recognize the impact and success of business schools (e.g., number of new businesses started, number of jobs created.)

“A wider range of accepted metrics of success should give schools more freedom to pursue strategies that support achievement of their core missions and purpose,” the document says.

Also, remarkably, the Collective Vision offers pointers to the future that are not mired in the idea that technology itself is “the future,” as so many of these kinds of visions tend to be.

“Technology change is implied in each of the five opportunity dimensions,” says Iannarelli, “but it is not just about adopting new tech to check the check box, without being very deliberate about the intent.”

The vision is about finding renewed purpose and relevance for management education going forward, with technology being a set of capabilities that can advance these purposes.

Posted by admin in Innovation, Leadership, Learning

How Oxford Helps Leaders Face The Complex And Uncertain Future

First published forbes.com 4/2016. Turbulent-Uncertain-Novel-Ambiguous (TUNA) is the acronym an Oxford University Executive Education program uses instead of the more familiar VUCA—volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous. But either way we understand the problem: The external environment changes rapidly and unpredictably, making leaders look silly. What worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow.

As TUNA pressures warp previously steady-state industries, executives respond by trying to predict the future, grappling with early-warning signals or trying to identify market or technology trends.

The five-day Oxford Scenarios Programme (OSP) offers a different path.

“At Oxford we try really hard to try to get through the futurology that’s out there, and (instead) power people who have resources and agency to do things better,” says Dr Angela Wilkinson, who teaches the program along with Saïd School Professor Rafael Ramirez.

Scenario Planning is a method of direction-finding and strategy formation that defines itself by non-prediction.  Scenarios are integrated narratives of how the future may unfold, with always two or more in a set. This avoids the brittleness of a singularly predicted future—which the unpredictable world will surely make nonsense of.

The OSP accepts about 40 delegates and—fairly unusually for executive education—also hosts two or three organizations as real-world “proto-clients,” providing live client situations for the delegates to work on .

Dr Angela Wilkinson leads a scenario planning workshop

Dr Angela Wilkinson leads a scenario planning workshop.

In the next program, April 25-29, 2016, the proto-clients are: a University (not Oxford) trying to manage faculty field research in the new era of geo-political risk; an FMCG ice-cream company concerned millennials aren’t buying its products; and a scholarly professional body struggling with how digitalization is eroding its centralized authority and journal-based business model.

“These live cases give the program a ‘clinical-research feel,’” says Wilkinson. “We used to use some form of a generalized case, like Harvard Business School cases. But that doesn’t prepare the delegates for what they are going to encounter in their organizations.

“Live clients reflect the ambiguity of the scenario planning reality they will find themselves in, how messy and difficult it is.”

The clients present their business situation late on Monday, and are then interviewed over dinner by the assigned delegate teams. Midweek there is a check-in teleconference lasting 1-2 hours during which the teams test their evolving framework. A half-day on Friday is given to client presentation and discussion of the implications.

For executives that don’t have a spare week and approaching £6,000 (about $8,400) to spend at Oxford’s Egrove Park executive education facility in England, co-incidentally Ramirez and Wilkinson have just published a book, Strategic Reframing: The Oxford Scenario Planning Approach (Oxford University Press, 2016)  written to broaden access to the philosophy and methods of the Oxford Scenario Planning Approach (OSPA).

Strategic Reframing, OUP, 2016

Strategic Reframing, The Oxford Scenario Planning Approach. Oxford University Press, 2016

“Reframing” in the title refers to leaders’ mental frames—sometimes called mental models, or paradigms—that scenario planning targets. A key problem, arguably the key problem in successfully managing a TUNA world is “frame rigidity,” when a leader’s mental model is not wide enough or flexible enough to perceive (or to take seriously) all the alternative, plausible outcomes that matter.

Scenario planning invites multiple framings of an uncertain situation, making leaders more aware and conscious of the legacy frame they have unconsciously been using to make sense of the world.

According to Strategic Reframing: “Reframing occurs in the process of scenario planning when alternative scenarios describing future contextual environments are contrasted to reveal, test, and redefine the official future (given frame).

“By rehearsing actions with these alternative frames, new and better options for action can be identified and contribute to a re-perception of the present situation.”

Wilkinson is an alumna of renown planning office at Royal Dutch Shell and currently Head of Strategic Foresight at the OECD in Paris, where she describes her remit as “leading a project to upgrade it (strategic foresight).

“The OECD, like most organizations, is strongly oriented to ‘evidence-based policy.’ If you can’t quantify it, it can’t go in the conversation,” she says.

But if you just stick to the numbers you can end up ‘not learning’ because you just stick with the stuff you can measure as opposed to the stuff that’s important —which requires you to exercise judgment.

“Quantitative, evidence-based policy served us well in he last maybe 10 or 20 years before the financial crisis, when everybody thought everything was very steady state.

“You can manage by numbers but you can’t lead by them. Quality of judgment, of intervention, needs a more systemic understanding of why things happen, and are connected to each other.”

“The numbers matter, but so do the narratives,” says Wilkinson.

Posted by admin in Leadership, Learning

CEOs Make Room For Bold And Beautiful In HBS Business Of Entertainment Course

First published forbes.com 2/2016Harvard Business School Professor Anita Elberse has a decade of research charting the great rise in power top-tier celebrities have in entertainment, both in commanding ever-higher pay and as moguls in their own right able to dictate the terms of engagement and define new business models for themselves.

If stars are becoming power brokers of their industries, it makes sense to get them into the mix of a business school course that looks at strategies for success in the entertainment industry.

Last year when HBS executive education ran its four-day Business of Entertainment, Media and Sports (BEMS) course, basketball star Dwyane Wade was a student delegate, alongside other stars who have sought anonymity. In 2014, linebacker Brandon Marshall and supermodel Karlie Kloss were in the class.

Dwayne Wade, Anita Elberse, and Brandon Marshall at Harvard Business School, 2015. Picture: HBS

Dwyane Wade, Anita Elberse, and Brandon Marshall at Harvard Business School, 2015. Source: HBS

When I interviewed Elberse for Forbes.com last week, she said: “If you compare the world of entertainment now with the world of entertainment 25 years ago, you see that some individual stars can get things done now and can wield an influence now that they couldn’t in the past.”

Superstars are getting smarter about how much new-found power they have, but knowing how to best use it is what brings people like Wade into the HBS classroom.

“They want to know how they can best monetize their brand enterprise and leverage their influence.”

Says Elberse: “If you want to understand the world of entertainment you cannot just have people from the big (conventional entertainment industry) companies, in a room, and have them try to figure out what’s the future.

“You have to also incorporate the perspective of people like Wade or Kloss, and get an understanding of what it is they want to achieve and how they want to achieve it. Because increasingly they are shaping this space.”

“That’s why we are keen to have these people in the room”.


This is an arrangement that is obviously also valuable to the standard agents, managers, and entertainment executives the course attracts, who get to hear the perspectives of talent from the very source.

Executive Education always justifies its value in part by who else is in the room—the cross fertilization, networking value proposition.  Other than sourcing the perspectives of star talent, BEMS carefully assembles a classroom of executives across the worlds of film, television, music, book publishing, sports, and allied sectors.

Following the famous HBS “case method,” where learning is achieved by close study of past real-world situations (a pedagogic style b-schools learned from law schools), the BEMS program uses cases studies of stars who have flexed their power, for example the HBS Beyoncé Case, which looks at the company Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime show star built around her brand, that sits outside the traditional record label structure.

Case Studies in the Business of Entertainment, Media, and Sports program, 2015

Case Studies in the Business of Entertainment, Media, and Sports program, 2015. Source: Anita Elberse

The BEMS program also pivots on Elberse’s other main research theme: the rise of blockbuster economics in the entertainment industry.

“Increasingly companies, and even individuals, have to make bigger bets in order to stand out in this space. So this is where you get film studios making ‘tentpole films’ or record labels spending an insane amount of money to try to market someone’s album,” says Elberse.

“That creates a new competitive environment in which there is increasingly a difference between companies that have scale and can do those things and companies that cannot—which are increasingly locked out of that space.

“Increasingly these markets are winner-take-all where a few people at the top get all the rewards and are increasingly powerful.”

The winner-take-all distribution pattern, which can manifest in situations where variables are able to scale far beyond what would be expected in a Gaussian “normal distribution” curve, is a topic well known to statisticians, and it was Nassim Taleb who most clearly brought it to a business audience in The Black Swan where he says: “Intellectual, scientific, and artistic activities belong to the province of ‘Extremistan,’ where there is a severe concentration of success  with a very small number of winners claiming a large share of the pot.”


Elberse, in her book Blockbusters, tells the story of how Alan Horn in 1999, new in his role as president and chief operating officer of Warner Bros., singled out four or five event films among his annual output of more than 20, and steered a disproportionately large portion of production and marketing budget to them.

Making big-budget movies and lavishly marketing them was not new; what was novel when Horn did it was building an entire strategy on selective disproportionate budget allocation.

The recent wall-to-wall tsunami of media during the launch week of Star Wars 7 is the poster event for this approach.

Blockbusters contrasts this strategy, which was wildly successful for Warner Bros., with that of Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC’s Television Group and NBC Universal in 2007, who pursued the opposite strategy: placing a larger number of smaller bets and guarding against deep investment on any single project.

“During Zucker’s tenure, NBC fell from its perch as the highest-rated television network to fourth place, behind its three broadcast rivals—ABC, CBS, and FOX—a demise once unthinkable.”


Blockbuster strategies almost always go hand-in-hand with eye-popping investments in top creative talent, which is how these two themes of the BEMS course come together.

According to Blockbusters “The focus on star talent now extends into virtually all sectors of the entertainment industry. A Spanish businessman single-handedly raised the bar for investments in A-list talent in the world of soccer. Bringing a show-business mentality to his renowned soccer club, Real Madrid’s president, Florentino Pérez, started pursuing what he called his ‘galácticos’ strategy, a reference to the star power of the players he sought to recruit.”

The celebrity pay scales and tsunami marketing budget required of a ‘galácticos’ strategy puts huge pressure on the business models of studios, record labels, and sports teams, and flies in the face of conventional business logic which says spread rather than concentrate risk, and limit investment to a level that won’t break the bank.

Yet not doing ‘galácticos’ appears an even surer route to failure, not only inside but also outside entertainment. One need only think of the many that have fallen or can’t now get into the industries where Uber, Twitter, AirBnB, and Facebook are winner-take-all. Such is the pressure on studio executives and other leadership decision makers in managing the strategic economics of ‘Extremistan,’ of which the entertainment industry is a core province.

Not one to undersell itself, Harvard’s marketing for the BEMS course tells paying executives they will learn to “assess different strategies, including when to bet on a blockbuster versus a number of smaller ‘plays’”; “discover when it pays to bet on A-list talent”; and “evaluate the effectiveness of strategies that play to the value of star talent.”


Meanwhile, crossing both themes of star empowerment and blockbuster economics is the not-insignificant matter of digital technology evolution.

The entertainment industry is ground zero for digital disruption because so much of the product can move in digital form, and because social media allows stars and fans to disintermediate the corporate broker.

The program has case studies on Facebook and BuzzFeed, among various players that are changing the way either stars or producers can market and distribute content.

The big question currently facing entertainment companies is how digital technology will affect their bets on blockbusters and superstars. Does it increase or decrease the power of talent? Does it make the blockbuster strategy obsolete, or even more necessary?

Elberse in Blockbusters says “Some industry insiders have suggested that digital technology will spell the end of blockbusters—and, with that, the effectiveness of blockbuster strategies. Is the rise of online distribution channels a sign that soon the ‘old’ rules of the entertainment business will no longer apply?

“Looking at the popularity of sites such as YouTube that democratize content production and distribution, one might be tempted to conclude that a ‘yes’ is the only right answer.

“But a closer look reveals that the reality isn’t quite so simple. In fact, in today’s markets where, thanks to the Internet, buyers have easy access to millions and millions of titles, the principles of the blockbuster strategy may be more applicable than ever before.”

Her conclusion: “There are fundamental laws of consumer behavior that explain the strategy’s enduring appeal—the kinds of laws everyone with an interest in the entertainment industry should be aware of, in other words. The blockbuster strategy’s continuing importance to the success of entertainment companies is made abundantly clear in the enormous amounts of data that online channels generate.”


BEMS runs June 1-4, 2016 at Harvard Business School, taught by HBS faculty, Anita Elberse, Kristin Mugford, and Felix Oberholzer-Gee who is also Chair of the Harvard MBA Program.

Cost is $9,000 including residential hospitality which would hardly trouble the likes of Taylor Swift or Peyton Manning, or the Bertelsman board, but may give pause to the average company sponsor particularly as two of the days are half-days.

But tuition spend notwithstanding, HBS anticipates a full class of 75-80 delegates, and turning many hopefuls away. Selective admissions allows HBS to curate the class—selecting for seniority and influence, and for balance across entertainment sectors, including film, television, music, nightlife, fashion, publishing, sports, and the performing arts.

A Harvard Executive Education spokesman would not reveal what percentage of applicants is likely to be rejected, or was rejected last year. (By way of possible comparison, the full-time HBS MBA rejects seven out of every eight applicants.)

So who are the celebrities earmarked to be BEMS students 2016? Elberse knows already, mostly, and she has also signed a celebrity guest speaker—but she won’t give Forbes.com any names.

To a certain extent this is understandable: “In 2014, when word got out that Sir Alex Ferguson was coming to speak, people were lined up outside the Harvard Executive Education building and down the road. We had to call security! This doesn’t normally happen in executive education, not even at Harvard Business School,” she says.

Posted by admin in Leadership, Learning

How Michigan Ross Can Give 500,000 Alumni Free or Half-Price Executive Education And Still Make Money

First published forbes.com 10/2015 The University of Michigan Ross School of Business on October 12 announced free lifetime open-enrolment executive education for all its degree alumni, a business model inflection that raises interesting issues in strategic cannibalization, and which threatens the status quo of both MBA and wider short-course leadership development industries.

The “Alumni Advantage” offer means UM graduates have lifelong free access to executive education, in Ann Arbor, in Hong Kong, Malaysia, India, and online. Non-Ross UM alumni are eligible for half-price.

The offer applies only to open-enrolment executive education programs. The school will continue to operate custom in-company executive education in the normal way.

Still, there are about 3,400 students at Ross School at any one time (including about 400 MBAs, adding themselves consistently to 45,000 MBA alumni), and the University of Michigan estimates its global alumni base at more than 500,000. That’s a lot of people to promise free stuff to.

The question is how Ross can sustain this offer, and why it expects to gain more in value than it gives up in fees.

Picture: University of Michigan michiganross.umich.edu

The Ross School, University of Michigan. Picture: University of Michigan. michiganross.umich.edu

It is standard practice for executive education units to limit free or concession seats on programs so as to create a sustainable ratio of paying vs. non-paying delegates, and to cancel programs that don’t have enough paying delegates.

In this they are something like airlines. Once a program hits an acceptable profit (or acceptable strategic loss) threshold, the marginal cost of the unused seats is close to zero and and the revenue value of the empty seat is zero, so it’s relatively easy to give them away. Also, executive education can push class size, within reason, to accommodate the giveaway seats.

With obligation managed in this way, the only revenue loss to be born is the number of alumni who would have been full-price buyers of open programs multiplied by the value of what they would have spent. It’s hard to know what that number might have been, but we can assume that Ross Exec Ed knows its existing open-program customer base, and that it’s not thickly populated with paying UM alumni.

All this is why Professor Scott Derue, Ross School Associate Dean for Executive Education, in an interview with Forbes.com is able to say: “I do not expect a major impact on (Ross) Executive Education from a business perspective. We will continue to serve our clients at a high level and enroll participants from across the globe in our open-enrolment and custom programs.”

MBA Calculus

On the other side of the ledger, the move has various significant upsides.

First, it completely changes the Ross MBA cost-benefit calculation, not to mention that of all other Ross and UM degrees. The $61,590 per year (full-time MBA, out of state) for two years that the Ross MBA pays will now buy them as much business school education as they could ever use.

This should drive up MBA admissions interest, and therefore student quality, all of which will push the Ross MBA up the business school rankings, where it is currently ranked 24th in the world.

Full-time MBA–the  traditional flagship b-school degree–rankings have an disproportionate effect on the general reputation of a business school and the desirability of all its products and services. So pushing its MBA ranking gives the Ross School impetus in executive education and all across the board in gaining parity with the historically elite providers such as Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, Chicago GSB, and European equivalents LBS and INSEAD.


There are other benefits. Open short-courses, which have always required a heavy and consistent marketing spend, are becoming harder than ever to sell due to mostly free MOOC (massively open online course) purveyors such Coursera, edX or Udacity, as well as readily available product from a myriad of b-schools, policy schools, and wider professional education providers. There is huge pressure on profit margins.

So Ross is astutely giving away product that has become quite difficult and costly to sell.

But part of the reason for keeping open programs going is they function as a “shop-window” for the in-company custom side of the business. This side, with bespoke programs designed to directly advance clients’ strategic and business interests, typically renews via senior relationships and is less sensitive to price.

Furthermore, from a marketing point of view, the alumni who see benefit in the open programs they will now attend become gateways to custom programs potentially sold to the organizations they work for.

Donor dividend

Still more benefit is to be had from genuine alumni integration into the life of the business school. B-schools tout the value of their global alumni networks, but beyond immediate cohort friendships this benefit is at least dubious, and perhaps widely overestimated.

When Derue says: “We are redefining the relationship between student and school to be a lifetime partnership,” he has a valid basis to claim there is a real possibility that Ross alumni will be around, involved, integrated, and so add value in a way that other schools cannot match.

And, to cap it all, there’s a likely quid-pro-quo donor dividend. Being active in the life of graduates and giving them clear and present value is not going to hurt the Ross School or UM when it comes time to solicit alumni donations.

Posted by admin in Innovation, Leadership, Learning

Executive Masters in Organizational Change Offers ‘Mindset Shift’

First published forbes.com 3/2017. Activism is not usually a term that goes hand-in-hand with executive education, but in a world where “resistance” and “protest” are now everyday language among the educated middle-class, it’s not altogether surprising that a major U.S.-U.K. business school is offering a graduate studies program with a radical edge.
In an interview with forbes.com, Academic Director and faculty on the new Ashridge Hult Executive Masters in Organizational Change (EMOC), Professor Steve Marshall, references Albert Einstein saying, “a problem cannot be solved from the same mindset that created it. ”

Ashridge Hult

Ashridge Business School. Inset Professor Steve Marshall

Problems we don’t seem to be able to shift using our habitual ways of thinking include “‘intractable’ issues like climate change, social justice, the growing gap between rich and poor, gender issues,” says Marshall.

“Without doing deep work about the way we think, anything we do to address the bigger problems we face will be so rooted in those problems that its unlikely to be effective.”

To break the mindset, Ashridge EMOC is dipping into its 20-year experience in Action Research.

While Action Learning is a well-known real-world oriented team learning process, its problem, says Marshall, is participants remain rooted in existing paradigms.

Action Research, by contrast, has an agenda of promoting “a spirit of participation, social justice, sustainability, equality, and leaders’ reflexivity in considering their own paradigmatic models that we would expect to see in leaders at this (senior) level.”
Ashridge, located in a former royal residence in Hertfordshire, England, merged operations with U.S. Boston-based Hult International Business School in September 2015.

At an outreach event at Ashridge House in February, course directors told potential participants and their organizational sponsors that EMOC is for participants who are facing volatile disruption, looking to acquire new skills to go about change and become leaders through working with disruption.

It is for participants who are “fed up with standard business school platitudes and want a different experience with a focus on application and wisdom.”

“Participative and reflective frameworks of Action Research offer better ways to intervene in complex systems and lead change in organizations facing a changing future.”

Enacting Action Research implies challenging and renewing the business education mindset, so EMOC designers are rejecting the Harvard b-school case method in favor of live cases that participants and their sponsoring organizations bring to the program.
Participants’ own real-life change projects are the case studies.

Marshall explains: “The world moves fast. Typical business school case studies become less and less relevant. We would rather participants bring the stuff they are currently working, and that will be our cases.

“Faculty and peers will work alongside delegates on the project work they bring in, interlaying and interweaving methodological considerations. We hold process for them.

“We engage with their current ‘mess,’ rather than offer polished solutions to past solved cases.”

A curriculum design that invites participants to work on their organization’s real-world business challenges also calls the sponsoring corporate (or professional or public sector organization) into direct engagement.

Our invitation to the sponsoring organization is “bring us your worst problems to work on,” says Marshall.

The two-year, part-time Masters program combines online learning and webinars with six three-and-a-half-day workshops held at Ashridge and Schumacher College in the U.K.

Posted by admin in Innovation, Leadership, Learning

Milbank Takes Clients into the Classroom, Not Out to the Ballgame

First published forbes.com 1/2017. With the festive season now firmly in the rearview, all that budget you allocated to hospitality tents, restaurant dinners, VIP boxes, and the like to develop and lubricate client relationships… what will it turn into in 2017?

On sober reflection, could you have done differently or better?

Law firm Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy has an extra play in its client-relations playbook, which points to the growth of a new arena in business development, and also a new market for executive education providers .

Milbank invites and pays for clients it seeks to build relationships with to attend a 4-day business and leadership executive education program at Harvard, including modules in strategy, finance, accounting, leadership, and macroeconomics.

The program is developed and run in association with the Harvard Law School (HLS) Executive Education, with crossover to the business school. Four in five of the program faculty come from Harvard Business School.

Milbank Law at Harvard

Harvard Business School Professor J. Gunnar Trumbull teaching Milbank associates. Picture: Martha Stewart Photography

Milbank specifically invites the General Counsel or Senior General Counsel of its client firms, in other words its key relationship holder inside the target firm.

It had 23 such client delegates from across Asia, Europe, South America and the U.S. on its Corporate Counsel program in 2015, and the same numbers again on a second program in 2016.

Clients pay only for travel. Milbank funds tuition and hospitality. While program cost is confidential, executive education at a top institutions runs at $3,000 per person per day on average.

Nevertheless, when set against what firms allocate to business development or client retention it may provide comparative value, particularly in that it is value less likely to evaporate when the last port is drunk and the last cigar smoked .

The Corporate Counsel program is run by Partner and Executive Director, David Wolfson, who in an interview with forbes.com stresses the engagement is not all just about business and marketing.

“Obviously if you provide value to people you have business relations with, that is a beneficial thing for the relationship,” he says.


“Maybe they learn more about us, maybe we do get additional opportunities, and we cross-sell better. But we’re doing this more because we think we have found something of real value to our culture and to our lawyers.

“We think we can share that value with our clients.”

Milbank’s corporate program grew out of the company’s internal Associate training program, which it started in 2011.

“At the time we felt there was a great deal they didn’t know,” says Wolfson.

“We sat down with HLS Executive Education and we created our own unique program. We mixed up stuff from the business school leadership and management program, and also from the law school and from our own firm.”

Associates are sent to Harvard for a week each year for four years, starting in their fourth year, and the learning was so positive that Milbank hatched the idea to extend a similar version to clients.


Say Wolfson, “Obviously we are doing this because we want to have a business relationship, but we really do think we’ve provided a service that is quite unique.”

Part of the uniqueness is, in addition to providing learning, the engagement builds relationships. In both of the two corporate counsel iterations thus far, eight Milbank partners have participated alongside the invited client group.

Putting partners and clients into the classroom together creates shared experience and collegiality that beats simply chatting in the hospitality tent.

“We’re getting to learn about them and they’re getting to learn about us, and that means when we work together going forward we can provide a better client service ‘with’ them,” says Wolfson.

This is ever-more necessary in a complex world where professional services providers of all types, including bankers, are pitching advisory and partnering services as a way to go beyond the classic vendor remit of their profession.

For Real

As host and client solve problems in the classroom, so they are creating the partnership basis to solve them together for real down the line.

Given the cost and the close-knit partnering intent, it makes sense that buying executive education for clients is more about deepening existing relationships than about green-field prospecting.

But there is nothing about the formula that makes it unique to law firms. Using the same model, the way seems open for vendors across professional services fields and beyond to invite important client contacts into a co-learning environment which builds a more solid and more enduring partnership than even lavishly gifting ever could .

It also suggests a significant growth direction for executive education providers able to embrace their own clients and their clients’ clients in one offering.

Posted by admin in Leadership, Learning