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Innovation requires non-MBAs

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A while back there was a journalistic leitmotif about whether we (Canada) were adequately training our grads for our collective future well-being. The gist was a lament for non-practically trained university graduates (i.e., not business (under)grads or engineers) being shunted from productive higher-paying jobs in favour of those MBAs and engineers, and other professional school finishers.

The stories were directed to the economics and so on of why this is a terrible situation not only for those underemployed but also for Canadian society at large, which ultimately funds higher education, and for the employers passing up these people.  For the employers, the argument is that these folks'the arts grads, for clarity--bring with them everything that employers say they want except for instant work-readiness--something that business training provides allegedly.

My take was a little different.

While the authors made good points and arguments, I think that there is much more damage going on by this practice, especially as it applies to the MBA-holding candidate bias. Let me make one entirely different argument for why the bias toward business grads (read: MBAs) and against arts or music or science grads is regressive and suboptimal.  It has to do with innovation.

The syllogism is straight-forward.

Premise:  Innovation is based on the unusual connection of disparate pieces into combinations that unlock new value.  This can be by both bringing new knowledge into the system/situation or by perceiving the system/situation differently.

Premise:  MBAs in particular and representing those favoured 'business' education programs, are given high-level trade training (which is what makes them job-ready), which is consistent with the best practices of the trade.

Premise:  It is alleged that post-secondary students are all taught to think (even business students), but the ratio of critical thinking training to trade training in the desirable programs is well below one. To the contrary, in the arts and sciences the ratio exceeds 1, sometimes nearing infinity.  (In other words:  in some arts programs there is NO trade training, only training to think for yourself.)

Conclusion:  Therefore, if innovation requires high doses of both different thinking and critical thinking the most likely candidates to achieve that would be anybody but the graduates of the more favoured programs such as MBAs.

QED.  And I would hope the reasoning is obvious.

So, not only would looking harder at archeology and biochemistry graduates keep them from behind the espresso maker, it would also raise the potential for innovation by the employer's organization.

Just a thought.

About the Author

Timothy Grayson, is the Author of "The Spaces In Between" and Director of Digital Product Development at the Canada Post Corp Management. He blogs at and can be reached at @graysonicles.
Editor's Note

We invite you to join Timothy at FEI Toronto this month where he lead a Learning Lab on how to go From Systems Thinking to Artful Innovation: Assessing the Unknown and Believing in the Invisible

As innovators, we wants "systems" to be both creative and manage the process. We want structure and predictability in a business where none can exist. The paradox of innovation is that it's based on unknowns. 

Many tools and frameworks promise that if you follow their rules you will be more successfully innovative. Right! You will be more methodical and may be more innovative around the edges. Breakthrough innovation relies on assessment of the unknown and belief in the invisible. 

There is art in identifying value in the unknown. 

In this session, we will Explore the few common ways that analytic techniques let you down as an innovator; Learn how to blend art with the science to identify opportunities to innovate in ways that can't be easily quantified today; and reveal the stubbornly secret oxymoron that innovators and entrepreneurs know about vision, luck, and persistence. 

During the session the group will go through one or two simple interactive processes for identifying the hidden "x-factors" that could make a good idea great; a good product a hit; a good campaign outstanding.

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