Castles in the Sky or More Reality?

Wolfgang Lassl

Wolfgang Lassl has worked for 12 years as a management consultant, university lecturer
and top executive coach in theelds of strategy, organisation and leadership. He has worked for organisations in the private, public and non-pro t sector. He has earned two master degrees from
his studies in theology and philosophy in Vienna and Paris, and in international relations at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, USA, as a Fulbright scholar. He is currently preparing for his PhD in management on the design of organisations.

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Wolfgang Lassl offers some thoughts on the relationship between business academia and managers.

The 16th century marked the end of medieval castles. The power of gunpowder turned their walls into paperboard and the rise of cities as the vibrant centres of society made rural castles irrelevant.

So, are we now seeing similar changes with regard to one of the last remaining medieval institutions: the universities?

The internet has fundamentally changed the ways we create and spread knowledge and has brought down former icons of academia such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Society as well as business needs constant innovation and learning, but will universities and academic research be the places to provide them? Or will people, and in particular managers, look for different ways to acquire knowledge and create new ideas – perhaps via the web – thereby bypassing universities?

After 12 years in management consulting and with many open and unsolved questions that I wanted to explore more deeply, I decided to return to academia for a PhD in management at a North American university.

My experiences so far have confirmed my decision. However, the deeper insights I have gained into how future professors are shaped have only posed another question: does this training add to additional knowledge needed in a

modern society and business world or is it rather intended for medieval castles?

I began to realise that the divide between the world of research and the world of practitioners is greater than I thought – and the reasons why can be found on both sides.

First, let us take a look at the selection of PhD candidates. One of the best-known entry hurdles is the GMAT, an academic aptitude test. The internet is full of advice and training materials on how to achieve high scores.

Yet, it still remains a mystery to me how answering a question for the unit digits of n in the expression n=5 x +7 y+3 in less than 100 seconds relates to a doctorate in management.

Will someone who solves this question have a good understanding of management issues and the governance of organisations? Perhaps; perhaps not. Although business programmes choose candidates not exclusively on the basis of this test, they yet place great emphasis on it.

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