A/B testing is so yesterday — and so’s your MBA

e New York Times recently ran a piece on how traditional MBA programs were under growing pressure because — in addition to questions about the actual economic value of such costly offerings — their emphasis on corporate finance and strategy is increasingly seen as irrelevant to the skill sets required in today's competitive marketplace where success is largely driven by speed, constant iteration, and the rapid abandonment of bad ideas.

It's possible that, in the next few years, the stigma attached to the MBA may even increase. And if that happens, I'd say it's no great loss. This has been coming for years, and it all began when the top schools became more concerned with inflating their annual rankings in a single magazine (U.S. News & World Report) than with the rigor and relevance of their courses.

But what really bothered me about the article was the description of the ongoing, frantic, and utterly expected and lemming-like responses of the business schools to the problem. According to the Times, these schools are going to “follow Silicon Valley into the Data Age” by adopting the best practices from the outside world and adding courses in stats, data science, and A/B testing.

Focusing on A/B testing — as if it's the new tool in town — when the rest of the world (powered by high-velocity, real-time computing and a flood of data drawn instantly from the marketplace) is simultaneously testing and evaluating variables ranging from A to Z is so backward and embarrassing that it's almost hard to believe. The only thing more frightening is the idea that some of our best and brightest students at these schools are being trained by faculty members who are so far behind the times that they don't even know what kind of data now exists or the power of that data to be applied in new ways to predict and change behaviors in real time.

Matters of education around data and technology, which are so important to our country's economy, are probably too important to be left to educators. The right solutions and our future progress are going to be dictated by active disruptors with original ideas that come from their visions rather than from their practical experience or prior education. The changes required are discontinuous leaps forward and not linear extensions of legacy systems and programs. In many ways, it's as if the world is finally waking up to the fact that our existing educational institutions just don't have the chops to get the job done any more. These schools are selling their students what they have to sell and not what it takes today to succeed.

This can happen in your own business, too. We all get stuck in these ruts after a while and, as we start out the New Year, there are things we can do to pull ourselves out of the mud. As I see it, there are basically three steps you can take to make sure you are moving forward and not slipping backwards. Because, remember, if you only do what you've always done, you'll only get what you've always got — or worse. Nothing is standing still today, and if you're not getting better, you are losing ground.

1. Understand and acknowledge that the way you have done things to date is neither inevitable nor the only or best way to accomplish the results you are seeking. In addition, the results you are getting from your efforts today aren't the maximum amounts you can achieve — they're just what you can do now. These limits are determined by our present lack of vision about what is possible and what will be possible as our tools and technologies continue to improve. If you accept the current state as your boundary, you limit your ability to grow beyond it. And you'll be left behind by those whose vision exceeds their grasp and are hell-bent on continuing to grow until that is no longer the case...

Read full story: Chicago Tribune

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