What I Didn’t Learn in Business School: A Strategy Novel

A lot of alternative ways for teaching strategy seem to be emerging.  I recently, for example, ran into a cartoon series that tries to teach basic concepts of strategy: Atlas Black: Managing to Succeed (there’s even a movie trailer, here’s the WSJ story: can b-school students learn from cartoons?).  Cartoons and strategy, really?

Hmm.  I have to say that everything in me resists reducing strategic and organizational knowledge to cartoons, seems to really cheapen the field.  I’m sure they are not meant as stand-alone materials – but still.  To put my Mike hat on – are there equivalent cartoons to teach the hard sciences, say, physics?  And, at what level can you teach something via cartoons?  Obviously the intended audience matters – a lot.

There’s also a strategy novel – written by Jay Barney and Trish Clifford:What I Didn’t Learn in Business School: How Strategy Work in the Real World.  I haven’t read it – though am curious and plan on getting to it sometime soon.

If any readers have already read it – leave a comment.


7 Comments on “What I Didn’t Learn in Business School: A Strategy Novel”

  1. @mdryall says:

    When I see stuff like this, it really feels like the profession just throwing up its hands and surrendering.

  2. @Mike: “Just throwing up its hands” about what? “And surrendering” to whom? Why? Please elaborate, sir.

  3. srp says:

    I browsed the book at the Academy exhibitor hall. It looked pretty good–it’s not about what wasn’t taught, but what wasn’t learned. The title is a clever come-on to get the Philistines to enter the Temple.

    It describes a naive consulting hiree making rookie mistakes because he didn’t listen carefully to his professors and didn’t think carefully about analyzing business case situations–for example, not considering executives’ self-serving motives when they give opinions. An older, wiser team leader has to school the kid about why you can’t use the five forces to do advantage analysis, etc.

    I only saw a few pages but I thought about buying it.

  4. teppo says:

    I’ll read Jay’s book sometime soon and will then properly review.

  5. Russell Crook says:

    I understand the concern about using graphic novels. However, I wanted to try something different in an MBA course (competitive strategy), so I tried the Atlas Black book. In short, the students loved the book. It does not begin with “In today’s complex and dynamically changing environments….”.. The students read every word (and graphic). That said, I found it to be a good resource. The slides were also very helpful. So, I think graphic novels are very useful…

  6. Miles A. Zachary says:

    In my opinion, Atlas Black and other graphic textbooks serve as valuable companions to other more traditional texts. Not all students respond equally to traditional textbooks. Pedagogical research has suggested that to accommodate different learning styles professors should incorporate multiple learning devices. Atlas Black may be more effective at communicating some information to some students than others. Plus, since they are relatively cheap, students aren’t upset about buying both sets of books.

    The story itself is well-written and well-developed. To be honest, I’ve even found myself wrapped up in the crazy world of Atlas Black…

  7. Aaron McKenny says:

    You raise a number of interesting points. I agree, I do think that it depends on the audience/intended use of the book. Certainly Atlas Black, like most narrative-based texts, does not go as deep into a given subject as a randomly selected traditional textbook. As such, the onus is on the instructor to either assign a companion textbook to fill in the depth, or provide this depth through in-class instruction. In this way, the graphic novel format is not a perfect substitute for the traditional textbook. Rather, I believe that the benefit of the graphic novel format is in the engagement, both through the narrative and visual stimuli. This is particularly important with the current generation of students, who grew up accessing more access to television, video games, and other visually engaging stimuli than any previous generation.

    At least in my classes, I have found that very few students even crack open their traditional textbooks unless coerced into doing so via threat of quizzes, etc. This signals to me that they do not find these texts intrinsically engaging (and candidly, neither do I). However, with Atlas Black I have actually had students tell me that they have read ahead of the assigned chapters. While I imagine that reading ahead is also rare, this signals to me that the students may be more engaged with the ‘text’. While I am certainly no pedagogy researcher, this strikes me as something to be desired.

    In sum, I don’t believe that graphic novels ‘cheapen’ the field of strategy when done well (as with Atlas Black). I agree that it does depend on the audience in that some will be more receptive to the visually engaging format than others; however, I think that this ‘appropriate’ population is growing as the ‘Nintendo’ and ‘The Simpsons’ generation. So, if the ultimate classroom objective is student learning, why not present information in a way that facilitates that – even if it is not the way that we learn(ed) best?

    By the way, while I’m unaware of a ‘natural science’ graphic novel, I am aware of a comic book that teaches statistics, and graphic novels to teach history and about the financial system (macroeconomics).


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