'What works in one case won't help in another'

It is only when applying knowledge to practical issues that you can see how vital MBA skills are

What does an MBA offer that makes it desirable, even at a higher price than other postgraduate qualifications? This question is even more important in tough economic times when competition for jobs and opportunities is intensified. One response to such challenging times is to go for a proper management qualification.

The fact that more than 250,000 prospective students took the GMAT test in 2011 suggests an MBA is perceived to be a qualification that greatly improves the applicants' chances in a professional career.

The expected outcomes from a well-conceptualised and taught MBA include knowledge, skills, attitudes and opportunities. But the actual outcome depends critically on how one approaches learning, work and life.

Recognising that you can learn something about management by going through a structured educational experience is the beginning. I use the word "educational" rather than professional training or development because a good quality MBA develops the critical faculty of an individual.

Effective management practice depends on how well you are prepared, being willing to challenge the received wisdom and to look for different interpretations of business situations. Developing such critical perspective means recognising current understanding of a subject and being open to examining it in light of the context in which it is to be applied. It is a teaching challenge for business schools to enable students to develop this. Most students expect right or wrong answers – black and white solutions to management problems that are often messy and do not lend themselves to such straightforward responses.

This reminds me of a story in which a car mechanic tells a cardiac surgeon that both of them do the same thing – fix engines – but the pay-offs for the mechanic were nowhere near those of the surgeon. After a pause, the surgeon replied: "Yes, we do similar jobs, but try doing yours with the engine on." Organisational situations are actually more complex than the situation even the surgeon is facing. Instead of dealing with one switched on engine, a manager's challenge is dealing with multiple switched on engines of different horsepower (if I may extend the analogy). This requires not just knowledge and skills, but also attitudes such as a willingness to learn, adapt, collaborate, question and being prepared to be questioned.

What about knowledge? Does an MBA provide all you need to be an effective manager? As an academic, I wish I could say it does, but as a practising manager with an MBA qualification, the answer is more nuanced. The knowledge required for effective management continuously changes, because the business world is also dynamic. What works in one situation may be counter-productive in another. Governance issues, business practices and cultures vary. In today's international business environment it is naïve to assume that what works in Anglo-Saxon regions of the world will work in other parts, and vice versa.

So what knowledge can an MBA claim to impart? A good quality one will offer comprehensive knowledge in core business functions and an overarching strategic perspective, but it will enable something additional. It will fine tune the intellectual antennas of the students to frequencies for receiving knowledge from a wide range of sources. These include economics, operations, finance, sociology and psychology, which have been key in feeding sciences into management theory.

Neuroscience, anthropology, politics and evolutionary theories are some of the areas that may offer interesting views on management and organisations. The MBA knowledge package has to be more than a set of manuals or handbooks. The edge a good MBA qualified person must acquire is finding that "something" that a great cricket player would find that is not mentioned in cricket manuals, or a successful football coach discovers that is not mentioned in coaching manuals.

An effective manager does need certain skills ranging from personal organisation to managing negotiations to working with multiple and multi-disciplinary teams. An MBA enabling development of such skills clearly will have the edge over one that focuses too much on knowledge acquisition only. The more opportunities a student gets to reflect on what they learn and how it relates to practice more are the chances that these skills will get prominent attention.

It is only when applying knowledge to practical issues that one recognises how crucial these skills are, and why they need conscious development through the taught programme. Connecting theory and practise in a learning loop is best achieved by practice-based management programmes.

Dr Devendra Kodwani is Masters programme director at The Open University Business School

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + + uncapped commission + benefits: SThree: Did you ...

SThree: Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + benefits + uncapped commission: SThree: Did you kn...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence