Sir Ken Robinson, the acclaimed educational visionary, visited Lehigh University last year and delivered a powerful talk on the urgent need to change educational paradigms. (A link to a video synopsis of his talk is here.) He urged the audience to think about revolutionizing education from the ground up.

An analogy he used during the lecture stuck with me—modern farming often focuses on output, standardization and yield of the crop with scant attention to the soil.  In the same manner, he asserts that our educational system in the United States  has a myopic concentration on producing the most plants (students)  without giving thought to the soil (the educational structure). Without the educator or farmer’s attention, the soil is depleted and loses its effectiveness in education or farming.

Bringing this analogy into undergraduate management education, I will take the comparison one step further and suggest that business schools are like potato farms. Potatoes grow with the tuber below ground and the green leaves above ground making it part of two eco-systems.


Business schools have one foot in academia and one foot in industry, creating the same duality of existence. Our bright leafy exteriors interact with industry while beneath the surface we are producing the brightest, most innovative, creative leaders.  Business leaders will embrace our novel ideas! Our potatoes will change the world! Just like the farmer, we concentrate on the plant.

But what about the dirt? Our soil is the environment created by the curriculum and the program and deserves our attention if it is to sustain our potatoes in the future. As I pointed out in a previous post, industry is looking for graduates who are “moonshot” thinkers.

In fact, our society as a whole should be looking to our graduates to be those who push the innovation and creativity envelope. Can we say the same thing about our curriculum? Are we nurturing our soil to allow us to meet the needs industry and society asks of us?  Many business schools have made great strides on their MBA curricula to maintain relevancy. However, on the undergraduate side, how many of us can say that our curriculum has kept pace with the rate of change in the business world?

Too often, we react to changing circumstance in a “one off” manner. Globalization? Yes, let’s add that one course. Ethics? Push it into a couple of class sessions during the first year introductory class. Data Analytics? Um… ask the computer science department.  

How about we talk about radical change? Should the first year contain a design thinking class and then include that method of problem solving over the rest of the program?  What is the right mix of business and liberal arts classes? What is the role of hands-on experiential learning?

We should constantly redouble our efforts to enrich the soil of our educational experience with the replenishment of the nutrients of change.  The outcome of our labor may be that our graduates are not uniform and standardized.  Perhaps output may take a hit as students step out of school for a brief period to work and apply their learning to real-life experience.  

But if that is the price of maintaining a rich, nourishing environment, I submit it is worth the cost.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Tags: education
Georgette C. Phillips

Georgette Chapman Phillips

Georgette Chapman Phillips, J.D., is the Kevin L. and Lisa A. Clayton Dean of the College of Business; and Professor in Finance and Africana Studies.