Exploring the value of interdisciplinary courses

October 3rd, 2009 by under On MBA courses. No Comments.

The second year of my MBA has brought about a tremendous change, not just in my thought process or the perspectives I have developed but also in the dimensions along which I think about issues. During the first year, we focused on developing the core business knowledge and skills, learning about the major components and functions of business, in addition to developing competencies in some of the tools and frameworks that are applicable across businesses. The second year on the other hand, has been more experiential and more application oriented, with an increased focus on understanding and actually working on problems across functional domains.

Most of the courses in the MBA programs across schools focus on the economic aspects, primarily because the sole motivation of businesses is to generate profits and create value for the stakeholders. For the most part, MBAs work on cases and solve problems to allow businesses to strengthen the bottom line of a company. However, there has been an increased focus on teaching ethics and social responsibility to business students, especially because recent events have shown that leaders have not being paying much heed to being responsible towards the society while fulfilling their fiduciary duty towards the investors.

The ethics course in the first year had exposed us to the idea of thinking about business problems across three dimensions – Economic, Ethical and Legal. The course provided us frameworks that could guide us in taking decisions, making us cognizant of the ethical aspects of engaging in businesses and the value of acting responsibly, especially when the conditions are tough and the stakes are high.

This year, I came across another unique course, which offers tremendous insights and from an entirely new perspective. This interdisciplinary course, titled Technology Law Seminar, has graduate engineering students, MBA students and undergraduate students in their fourth year. The course introduces students to legal issues commonly faced by management in a technology company, exploring various topics relating to intellectual property, with an emphasis on patent law and trade secrets. The cross-disciplinary nature and the value of the course is amplified by the very participation of students from different backgrounds – business, engineering and others.

Through reading assignments, and case discussions we are developing a general understanding of intellectual property and other areas of technology law, and feel challenged to develop strategies for both identifying and solving problems that intertwine issues concerning technology, business management, and law.

Having spent a year with people who come from different backgrounds and are very ambitious and business oriented, I find this class especially insightful, for the value it provides, both in terms of the content and the nature of the perspectives that students share in class discussions, and also the integration of the legal perspectives associated with conducting businesses.

I believe that more of such “truly” cross-disciplinary integrative classes should be incorporated in the curriculum of an MBA program, especially because such classes provide the platform to engage with people with different motivations and value sets. In addition, such courses enable you to be a better leader, a leader whose actions are motivated not just by economic profits, but are also guided by the ethical and legal implications of their actions on the society, thus allowing for the creation of  value in a responsible way.