Business schools train people to sit in their offices and look for case studies. The more Harvard succeeds, the more business fails. -Henry Mintzberg
The other afternoon my doorbell rang and outside were five well-groomed young people (I know it sounds like a dream, but read on). After several “Ums and Ahs” and general milling around trying to make a decision, one of them finally spoke up. Not very forcefully nor with conviction, but at least they started to explain why they were at my door.
They are students in an MBA class (I live a block from one of the top London universities) and their class is divided up into groups of five and they are supposed to go out and acquire items through bartering with strangers. Each group was given an item of equal value (in this case a wool scarf), and at the end of the day they had to significantly increase the value of the item they bring back through bartering. It was a class in entrepreneurship and negotiation. The group with the most valuable item wins!
So, here we have an opportunity to learn about negotiation out in the real world. Excuse me, but a posh London neighbourhood is not necessarily the real world of bartering and negotiation. This is not reality, not the real world of business, not the real world at all. First of all, these are fairly wealthy young people, 4 out of the 5 from Southeast Asia and China. They paid (their parents paid) a very large sum to attend one of the top London universities to get an MBA degree. You tell me, what are they actually going to learn, really, from this exercise?
Here’s their reality. After a few hours they will go back to their plush dormitory rooms, open their laptops and tap into the internet, some to study, some to watch videos. Then they will go to dinner with friends, again on their parent’s cash allowance. If they are the winning team they will get a good grade and have more to talk about.
I have a better suggestion than this teacher’s lame idea of an “experiential” learning exercise in negotiation and entrepreneurship. Let’s take away all their cash, send them onto the streets of London (or better yet, Mumbai) for 48 hours to practice negotiation and entrepreneurship. Will they be able to eat through barter or negotiation? Willthey talk their way into a paying job? Here’s another suggestion. Follow a gypsy beggar around if you want to learn negotiation. Play the shell game with a “street shark” if you want to understand how to sell your ideas. Try bartering with the Nigerians selling fake Gucci handbags on the streets of New York City. Go to the souk in Beirut and see if you can negotiate a good deal on a wool carpet.
Business is about survival and sustainability and real entrepreneurs take incredible risks to build a business or bring their idea to market. A large percentage of entrepreneurs mortgage their houses, raise money from friends and family, go into debt, because they believe in the value of their product or idea. They skip meals, they save so they can pay their staff. The pull all-nighters frequently. They travel 7 days a week seeing potential customers. They don’t take a vacation for 3 years. Business is a contact sport.
What I saw milling around outside my front door was not passion, not belief, not commitment. It was “getting by” to get a grade!
Tight Lines . . .
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