Mayvin Sir Martin Sorrell Mark Zuckerberg Facebook Relationships Communication

The problem with Business Schools: It’s the relationship, Stupid!

When it comes to the great challenges we face in the era we’re in, relationship building will be critical. But where can people learn to develop these relational skills? 

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is a clever man. You expect him to be. It seems that those who drop out of Harvard to pursue an entrepreneurial career may be cleverer than those who stay on. The exception to the rule is Sir Martin Sorrell of course, but even he implied recently on Desert Island Discs that those who graduate from such these establishments may be too clever by half. He was challenged apparently by his tutors during his time at business school to consider three pillars of his life: career, family and society. From what he suggests, one divorce later, it is the middle one – of relationship building – that gets the shortest shrift.

So in this type of economy, our relationships are allowed to suffer and yesterday I read in the Sunday Times that financial houses are finding it harder to recruit, as fewer people are willing to put up with the required losses in their lifestyle. One wonders about the people they do manage to sign up. So the Facebook generation demands more of their relationships, yet even they are in a hall of mirrors, thinking that they have, say, ‘800 friends’, while spending so much time glued to a screen that they may actually only have four people, or less, in their lives that they can really talk to.

And that circles back nicely to the problem these business schools face. It is the nature of the knowledge required to make a difference. Organisations, to be really effective, take both energy and containment. A balance of both is required, and both, in order to operate, are about relationships. People learning to do their own thing release the energy, and the containment is usually derived from leaders developing a compelling, widely shared story, a narrative of mission. Both these things take the ability to relate, to engage, to look people in the eye and facilitate relationships. This knowledge is often momentary, specific, timely, embodied. It isn’t about (although it can be conceptualised with) theories, concepts, graphs and spreadsheets. Who is teaching this relational knowledge? Business schools aren’t. Facebook kids are too busy relating online to genuinely engage in person.

When it comes to the great challenges we face in the era we’re in, these relational skills will be critical. Angela Merkel will have to look Sarkozy in the eye this week and do a deal. Ultimately it will be about these two human beings and their ability to relate, on which in no small part the economic future of a continent depends.

A scary thought, by the look of them. But perhaps there’s more to them than meets the eye. Let’s hope so.


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