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Thursday
Oct082009

The Unusual Suspects 3: Scenes from BIF-2 Doing and Knowing

Len Schlesinger, the newly installed President of Babson College in Massachusetts, taught at Harvard Business School for 20 years and has held executive positions at Limited Brands and Au Bon Pain. He has also written or co-authored nine books.  He says he's so productive because he has a short attention span.

His attention was clearly focused as he took the stage at BIF-5 to talk about innovation and education. Two words that aren't typically found in such close proximity. His charisma and passion are infectious. This upbeat sense of urgency has served Schlesinger well in his long career on both the academic and private sides of business. “At the end of the day, on the things that need to get done, my orientation is to get it done before it’s not interesting,” he says.

He commented about a huge shift he is seeing.  The shift from a knowing - doing model to a doing - knowing model.  It's a thought that resonated with the crowd of 300 innovators.  "There is a kind of information paralysis,"  he says, that focuses on learning by knowing."  The classic Yoda-like proverb  "to know and not to do is not to know" shows that it's not a new thought.  But the shift is in about how we need to be more ambidextrous in how we learn.

This thought was echoed earlier by Roger Martin, dean of the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Martin, the author of four books on business innovation, talked about how our current
methods of educating college students aren't innovative.  
 
Two leaders in education.  Both with a healthy dissatisfaction with how things are.  

The uphill challenge Schlesinger faces now is to keep Babson financially strong in the midst of a recession and a changing educational environment. A decade ago, colleges and universities attracted new students with impressive new construction. But those days are gone, according to Schlesinger, and schools have to find new ways to stay competitive. Babson’s new Fast Track MBA, for instance, requires only 30 percent of face-to-face class time. It has been a major booster of the college’s enrollment and tuition dollars.

Just don’t show up unless you’re ready to play. Only “naïve organizations” try to get everyone on the bandwagon, but Schlesinger says you only need a large enough critical mass to get things done.

Schlesinger is doing.  And we're learning.