Let them eat stale bread!

Yesterday, I participated in a half-day session called “Hack B-school”. It was facilitated by Stern professors and administrators and was intended to produce revolutionary thinking about business education. One of the exercises was to list cliches about business education and then challenge them. The idea is that the status quo is the status quo because it served a purpose at some point, but maybe (likely!) it’s no longer optimal.

Luke Williams, resident innovation expert, walked us through three ways to challenge cliches:

  1. Invert: What if the opposite were true?
  2. Deny: What if we eliminate the cliche?
  3. Exaggerate: What if we take it to extremes?

For (1) inversion, let’s take soft drinks. What are the cliches?

  • Cheap
  • Tastes great (hello, sugar high!)
  • Aspirational (it’s not sugar water – it’s childhood memories)

So, if we inverted the cliches, we’d get this product:

  • Expensive
  • Tastes bad
  • Functional

“Ha!” you might say, “Who would want a product like that? How could it be pawned through clever marketing? No way anyone would pay a premium for that over a Coke, right?”

Boom:

It's more expensive than a soft drink, tastes worse, and is all about a functional boost.

Red Bull: more expensive than a soft drink, tastes worse, all about the functional benefits

For (2) denial, we looked at rental cars as an example. The cliches are that you have to go to a rental center, fill out paperwork, pay by the day, etc. What if none of those were true?

Boom:

Pick up anywhere, no paperwork, and rent by the hour.

Zipcar: pick up a car anywhere, no paperwork, rent by the hour

For (3) exaggeration, we talked about socks. Who says they have to be sold in pairs? Is this cliche optimal? It seems logical – most of us have two feet. But think about the angst about matching up sock pairs and that random sock you hold on to in case its mate reappears. Could there be a business in mismatched socks?

Boom:

LittleMissMatched: coordinated but mismatched socks sold in sets of 3

LittleMissMatched: colorful, coordinated, but mismatched socks sold in sets of three

Red Bull, Zipcar, and LittleMissMatch successfully challenged the status quo by launching innovative products that inverted, denied, or exaggerated long-standing cliches. Remarkable, no?

In yesterday’s session, we were asked to do the same for business education. We applied the same three methods: invert, deny, exaggerate. What if business education were cheap, open, and inclusive? (Read up on MOOCs.) What if there were no distinctions between soft and hard skills or between corporate management and entrepreneurship? What if it lasted for one hour or ten years … what if business students were 10 years old or 50 years old?

What will be the “Boom”?

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