I wrote this letter in support of Executive Responsibilities taught by Reg Litz at the Asper School of Business this past winter:
When students are exposed to topics such as ethics, and responsibilities, it is too easy to view them in a detached manner, much as one would view a documentary on Enron or the global financial meltdown. I personally experienced this detachment in my undergrad, when I took “Ethics in Medicine & Law”. The Executive Responsibilities course which I took with Reg Litz this past winter was different…It engaged and seduced us into an understanding of the challenges that Executives face, and into the belief that it could also happen to us.
The structure of the course was straight-forward: Present an argument about how incentives affect people, and then link that to how irresponsibility happens. Those two ideas are followed up with a description of how scripts (systems) play a role in irresponsibility, and a suggestion as to how one can avoid becoming the type of executive that has been known to create / be created by such systems.
In the end, it was all about balance.
It was not only the over-arching strategy of the course that differentiated it from others. Every layer had the same painstaking amount of thought put into the design. From the structure of pre and post assignments, to the use of props (toys, dvds, books, knick-knacks, etc) as mnemonics, each piece fit into the lesson and engaged the students in stimulating ways.
Reg would initially lead a class discussion on a topic at hand, involve a few of his props, and engage the students for input and comments. After a break the class would break up into 4 smaller groups, to continue the discussion in a smaller, safer environment. Each of these groups was led by one of Reg’s previous students, which allowed for a wider set of perspectives to guide the class. After a discussion about the topic at hand (we usually had objectives to meet as a group) we would go back to the larger class and either present our findings, or discuss / debate them.
When I look back at all the tools Reg used, I can see a concerted effort to include a diverse set of learning methods. The class used a wide array of social, visual, audio, and text based tools to impart the learning experience to as many students as possible. One key example the sticks out in my mind was a tool that helped those who find it difficult to participate in a large class. Reg allowed them to select a different (but still fair) grading scheme, thus not penalizing them for their personality.
My personal takeaway from the course was one of revelation. It sounds cheesy but if you read my final essay you will understand. I am a very driven person, always striving to be the best at everything. What I did not understand was what was driving me? Some of the topics we discussed started a period of self-reflection, which allowed me to understand and define what drives me, and what “Winning” means. While not a new subject for me, it’s rediscovery in this context made a real connection between who I was, and who I’ve become. In the end I took away a letter to my future self, outlining this and other revelations I had, within the context of the course and its goals. I plan to keep this letter for many years to come, to remind myself of how crucial balance is.
I believe the experience of this course was invaluable to me, and my fellow students. In time, with gentlemen like Reg leading classes like this one, hopefully the reputation which has been following MBAs around will start to change.