On Campus

‘Softer, subjective issues get less attention in B-schools’

Jagdish Rattanani | Updated on December 22, 2013

M. L. SHRIKANT, DEAN, S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research

M. L. Shrikant, Dean, S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research, is keen that student-managers understand and manage themselves before they can manage others.

He has designed an innovative course that teaches the significance of the ‘spirituality quotient’ in management. In this interview, he discusses the challenges facing management education.

How do you view the current state of management education in B-schools in India and across the globe?

Management education is too standardised and is following the norms of US society. This is inappropriate given the heterogeneity of business situations and contexts and the emerging environmental trends that question the very basis of business operations. B-schools became and have remained overly scientific, with softer, subjective issues receiving less attention.

In the 21st century, we are passing through an era where business is seen as having failed to deliver and we are grappling with issues like the role of business in society, the so-called triple bottomline and sustainability issues. There is a lot of questioning going on and what is emerging is this tripod of management education under the ‘knowing, doing, being’ framework, which is more amenable to delivering a customised approach to management education.

Both are important — content and delivery, along with technology that provides further options to deliver a portfolio mix.

Across nations, there is a sense of disquiet at the ways of businesses and the methods of business leaders, leading to protests like Occupy Wall Street in the US and similar action in other nations. Is this a passing phase or is there something deeper we as society should be worrying about?

This is not a passing phase. Management education is closely linked to business and business has a role to play in human society. The real issues now facing human society are of two kinds: lack of distributive justice and the attendant issues of resource constraints, pollution and environmental degradation. It certainly means that if the current growth strategy along the path of Western economics — if the poor nations were to follow it, it’s certainly unviable from a resource point of view.

What will be required to rebuild trust between managers/ business leaders and society in the days ahead? In your view, what role do B-schools have in this regard?

Basically, the current social economic structure is unviable and unsustainable. Business will have to play some kind of role in an alternative paradigm.

The political system, business system and cultural system will have to develop a common viable structure for human society if this kind of inequity is to be addressed. Right now, some sections of business recognise the problem so we find some attempts to address it, like the triple bottomline approach or the stakeholder model…things are happening but one wonders if this isn’t too little and too slow. There are two ways for changes in society to occur. One is through regulation and the second is through self-correction. We have, perhaps, an over-dependence on the legal framework as the initiator of change. Faster, deeper and more permanent change can happen through a self-correcting system.

This self-corrective system has to come into play and this is where education can play a role. In essence, we have to change the thinking of people who decide the future of society. If the thinking changes, that will induce self-correcting steps and that will be our contribution.

Behaviour changes take place because of intrinsic forces. They are far more genuine and authentic, and trust develops better here. The triggers for such change are in place — the yawning gap between the rich and the poor and the kind of pressures we see in society today.

At SPJIMR, how do you address some of these challenges and what has been your experience with the students you see on your campus?

We could combine Western experiences of efficiency with this kind of thinking. This marriage we seem to have conducted reasonably well.

Specifically, you have, under your personal leadership, launched a course titled ‘the science of spirituality’. How come you’re teaching spirituality in a place where students are supposed to excel in competition and the philosophy of more – do more, sell more, perform more, deliver more?

This “more” is the issue. How do you counter such a paradigm? There comes the issue of a value system. We have to address this issue in individuals who have power and who determine the future of society. How do you do that? Spirituality provides an answer, and spirituality is an integral part of one’s personality anyway. We must only evoke it.

On one side, you will teach the idea of ‘more’, while here is the part that says ‘no more’. How does that work? Isn’t there an inherent contradiction between the idea of spirituality and the idea of efficiency and performance as it is commonly understood and promoted by MBA programmes?

To bring about societal change, you need to have power. Our graduates have to get responsible jobs and operate in a system which we want to change.

To gain that power, you have to follow the same paradigm that society has drawn up and is currently living with. So you have to be competent in managing the system of more and more.

Your competencies in managing all that society values must be high but within that process, you should realise how to bring in less and less. This is the logic.

It’s like you need to be within the system to bring about real change, you can’t do it from outside.

The strategy of change management is this.

How do you address, in the classroom, concerns about issues as deeply individual and private as faith? On the other side, how would you address the concerns of those who might practise no religion?

Unfortunately, religion has become a bad word because of wrong defences. Anything you do, in which you have faith, is a good thing. You recognise your limitations, recognise some power beyond you… this is what religion does and this is a good thing. The problem is if you say this is the only thing, or the only path to follow…and this is how religion has acquired a bad name.

All religions are good. You follow whatever religion you have to and this is part of spirituality in the real sense. He or she who has tolerance for all religious ideas is the most religious person, in my opinion, and also a spiritual person. Once you start appreciating the basic authenticity of all religious propositions – that is spirituality in itself. So I’m indifferent.

And you have no issues if someone is agnostic?

I have no problem. As long as you recognise that there is some order that you don’t know all the details of, that is all you need to know. And if you don’t know something, you have to trust somebody. That somebody – you must trust that. Don’t have the arrogance to say ‘I don’t know and I don’t want to know’. That is not right. If you are ignorant about something, I’m sure you’d like to know about. That acceptance is the fact that you are ignorant, and it’s worthwhile knowing that – that’s enough. The more educated a person is, the more aware he is of how much he doesn’t know.

Personally, what made you design and offer this course? At what point did you realise the significance of having a SQ in a B-school? And, critically, how does it help make for better managers?

By the age of 35, I had realised the importance of spirituality. I came to this Institute at the age of 45. I already had ten years of experience of life based on some form of spiritual ideas. As for how does it make for better managers — it makes you more objective. If you recognise the reality of all the experiences that you’ve had in life, you don’t have prejudices, biases.

( Jagdish Rattanani is Editor, S.P. Jain Institute of Management & Research, one of India’s top ten B-schools. He was earlier Business Editor of Free Press Journal)

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Published on December 22, 2013
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