HBS: Educating leaders who make a difference in an increasingly digital world?

Operating in a digital world

The mission of Harvard Business School is to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. The school delivers on that promise with operating mechanisms that include the classroom experience where we learn from diverse student perspectives, cases that provoke and inspire, a curriculum serving that special blend of theoretical and practical knowledge, career search and preparation, various opportunities to practice leadership and decision-making, and a number of underlying tools and resources helping students navigate these mechanisms.

Meanwhile, the world is being transformed by technology, which is reflected in the shifting interests of current and future students. 15% of the class of 2018 are coming from Technology, which is tied with Consulting and Private Equity[1]. Post-HBS careers in Technology are on the rise – from ~6% in 2006 to ~20% in 2015[2]. While the school has firmly stepped into the arena of the digital world, it hasn’t quite created a cutting-edge experience inspiring and qualifying its students to lead that digital world.

Existing ways

In a number of ways, HBS has updated itself and its teaching methods to be consistent with a more online, digital environment. HBX CORe launched in 2014[4]. The RC curriculum is incorporating “website”-like, multimedia formats such as in the Threadless and Bridgewater cases as well as critical technology concepts and challenges such as those in the Valve, Uber, and IBM Watson cases. A number of optional resources such as the “SQL 101” course[5] and the CODE club promise to help interested students speak the language of and develop skills in technology. Microsoft Office 365, the Thrive app, and mobile printing are helpful tools to make us more productive. The school has also launched the Digital Initiative (d3.harvard.edu) which is a “think/do tank… that studies, and builds community around, the digital economy”[6], and the engineering school is slated to colocate on this side of the Charles River in 2020[7]. All these measures prove the school’s awareness and interest in becoming more technologically-advanced and competitive against the tech-savvy reputations of Stanford GSB and MIT Sloan, which is awesome but still lacking. HBS could further adapt its operating model for the digital world by investing in the obvious as well as more subtle levers.

Big ways

For the bigger, more obvious areas such as curriculum and career prep, I would appreciate more exposure to and discussion around technology. IBM Watson was a super interesting case that prompted critical questions like “How should I think about the long-term implications of technology development on society?” and “How can my organization use technology to gain advantage?”. These questions and other technology trends like extracting value from big data, UX, and security deserve more conversation and case studies. In terms of career development, is the structure of CPD appropriately aligned with an increasingly digital landscape? Is the fact that technology is not only an industry of itself but also a function within every other industry reflected in CPD’s strategy?

Little ways

HBS could also put more resources towards improving learning and productivity resources. For example, what if instead of paper cases, we were issued large, pre-programmed e-readers such as the Onyx Boox Max? We’d save resources and time it currently takes to print, receive, distribute, and pick up cases, and the school could reduce distractions by shutting down WiFi connectivity when class begins. Tools like MyHBS and Canvas (which isn’t mobile-optimized, btw) are somewhat linked and somewhat redundant instead of being a fully-integrated, single solution. Event management across the MBA Event Calendar, various club newsletters, and Outlook is more time-consuming than it should be. Perhaps the school could license products that consolidate all on-campus events, offer customization for an individual’s interests, provide automatic calendar updates, and incorporate room reservations. Also, chalkboards… really? Smartboards allow board visuals to be saved, reviewed, and shared either only within the faculty department or with students, which could be beneficial. Sure, one could argue these areas aren’t core to the learning experience, but if HBS doesn’t invest in internal technology, I worry students will increasingly notice a discrepancy between the environment that HBS says it’s preparing them for versus the environment HBS actually creates at the school.

Futuristic ways

For all my criticisms, I’m jazzed to be here witnessing HBS adapting to a more technical and digital environment and excited to see where the school goes in that respect. Maybe one day in the not too distant future, HBS can even take protagonist empathy to a whole new level: Imagine preparing cases with a VR headset that transports us to Toyota’s manufacturing plant where we can see the TPS line in action, experience a Bridgewater feedback session or the emotions on Rob Parson’s face when we tell him we can’t promote him. How cool would that be??

Word Count: 798



3Korn, M. & Gellman, L. 2015, Should Harvard Business School Hit Refresh? Students, Faculty and Alumni Say School Is Behind in Tech, New York, N.Y., ABI/INFORM via ProQuest, accessed 11/2018.

4“Harvard Business School; Harvard Business School Marks Completion of First Cohort of HBX CORe”, 2014, Investment Weekly News, pp. 590., ABI/INFORM via ProQuest, accessed 11/2018.





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Student comments on HBS: Educating leaders who make a difference in an increasingly digital world?

  1. Since we are studying at HBS these days, it was very interesting to read this blog. Before joining HBS, I also experienced HBX and felt this can be another effective way for distributing high-quality education and generating new revenue for the institution. Looks very powerful. It was so helpful and exciting to read your blog. Thank you.

  2. Great post! I thought your ideas around syncing CPD’s strategy/structure around technology and improving the HBS platforms we use particularly appealing. I wonder if a basic coding class could be added to the RC curriculum to reflect the importance of technology in business? Similarly, I wonder if credit/some sort of prize could be awarded to students who can creatively improve the platforms we use? Given the plethora of tech talent at HBS, I’m sure our classmates could help figure out interesting solutions.

  3. Great article! One question: do you think HBS can digitize the classroom experience? The case method relies on students learning from each other: is this feasible 100% online? Could we imagine doing the case method by video call? Or even without video and just by text? It could solve 2 big problems: (1) time constraint (you don’t need to be available at the time of the class) and (2) location constraint (you don’t need to be physically present in Cambridge during class).

  4. RT,

    Thank you very much for your very interesting article! The comment that really resonated with me was your reference to myHBS and Canvas. I believe that if a learning institution really wants to emphasize the importance of a particular subject (in this case, technology) they should lead by example. The fact that there isn’t one integrated online (and mobile-enabled) system where students can see their course calendar, event schedule, to do list, and class details is very surprising to me. Many times, I find myself thinking fondly of more simple times when I was pursuing my undergraduate degree from 2005-2009 and most of our coursework and syllabuses were done via hard copies. On the flip side, given my negative experience with myHBS, Thrive, course calendars, and Canvas, I have noted the importance of technology in business. Technology for technology sake is not helpful. It must be designed in order to create efficiencies for the end user.

    Thanks again!
    – Jess Delfino

  5. Thanks for turning the microscope on HBS itself! You raised some important structural tensions with CPD resources and the use of technology across the campus, but you avoided the elephant in the room: the case method itself. Do you think that learning via the case method in groups of 90 can adequately prepare students to thrive in the new digital workplace? Stanford GSB and MIT Sloan both make frequent reference to smaller team experiential learning (groups <10) and the ability to customize your learning path. Are there aspects of other top business schools that HBS should be willing to adopt?

    GSB: https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/stanford-gsb-experience/academic
    Sloan: http://mitsloan.mit.edu/mba/program-components/collaborative-environment/

  6. Dear RT,
    Its such an interesting blog post. I must say that i was super thrilled to read this piece — thanks a lot for the same.

    I particularly liked the motivation and the idea behind your blog entry. The things that i strongly resonate with are the use of paper-based cases in the HBS curriculum, instead of a tablet enabled learning environment — such as Onyx Boox Max that you mentioned. Having paper-based cases not only hurts the environment, but also its a logistical nightmare — not just for the distribution department but for the students as well. I wish, we could move to a more digital world at HBS, in the future.

    I also liked the futuristic idea about usage of VR headsets inside the classroom — to move to a setting described in a case, and even create and enact role plays, centered around those cases.



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