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Asked what type of student they are looking for, most business school deans have the same answer: the best.
It is natural to want the most promising applicants. But are we really talking about and competing for the same group of potential students? At first glance it would seem so, given that the admissions criteria of business schools is so markedly similar – making for a zero-sum game. Each student can only go to one school.
The pool of potential candidates, along with the criteria by which they are measured capable of undertaking an MBA, should be convergent and complimentary, but not identical. Some schools give priority to applicants with a strong entrepreneurial spirit. Others look for tomorrow’s marketing experts, or those who will excel in financial management.
Consequently, if candidates have different profiles based on their career paths, it makes sense that different procedures should be applied in identifying their potential. One of the biggest challenges facing business schools in the future will be to come up with alternative ways of identifying diverse talent and of developing the means to bring out their best.
The most commonly used tests to pick out the “best” candidates, particularly the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), favour a certain type of intelligence, one that we might call analytical and that is also reflected in IQ tests. Studies show that there is a clear correlation between this type of intelligence and success in education, whether at the primary, secondary, or tertiary levels.
A growing number of educationalists are questioning our approach to assessing intelligence and talent, among them Howard Gardner of Harvard University. His multiple intelligences theory argues that traditional measures of intelligence fail to take into account cognitive and interpersonal abilities, which are equally important in learning and personal development, not to mention professional success. Traditional educational systems and measurements of IQ tend to emphasise linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence, largely overlooking other forms.
This may explain why many artistic talents and innovative thinkers have emerged from non-academic backgrounds and why they frequently forgo conventional ways of learning. Might this not also explain why entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs or Bill Gates had little formal academic training.
Based on studies about intelligence that precede Prof Gardner’s work, other scholars have contributed to the theory of emotional intelligence, including Daniel Goleman, who explains it not as something we are born with but that we learn along the way. Such skills – for example self-awareness, social awareness, or relationship management – can be developed through repeated practice and are all likely to improve one’s management abilities.
We have all come across students with a prodigious analytical ability but who lack the emotional intelligence to be leaders. Similarly, there is no shortage of chief executives who have average IQs but have learnt to develop their emotional intelligence.
It is important to find new ways of identifying talent that go beyond conventional forms of intelligence. This will significantly expand the pool of potential applicants to business schools, while helping schools to identify candidates that are right for them. This in turn means schools will need to develop teaching methodologies that foster the individual traits of their student bodies. To bring out management students’s entrepreneurial and innovation skills, IE now includes the humanities in its curriculum, for example.
This change in admissions criteria and teaching methodology and content is probably the next frontier for business schools. To get there we must work closely with educationalists and psychologists.
Such an approach will have a tremendous impact on MBAs and management in general. Not only is it essential for the relevancy of business schools, but also for our graduates.
Santiago Iñiguez is dean of IE Business School.
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