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MBA Syllabus: 9 Things You’ll Be Surprised To Find

Acting, cooking, and climbing mountains. Some business schools serve up the unexpected on their MBA syllabus

By  Simon Lovick

Mon Apr 8 2019

In a classroom of 20 MBA students, there’s a good chance every individual will have a different reason for being there.

For some, it's all about building a business network; for others, it's about getting a higher salary. The reasons are many and varied.

Yet it is the unexpected delights which often distinguish one MBA syllabus from the next—whether this is the opportunity to get in touch with your artistic side, to learn how to improvise, or even to change the lives of the least fortunate.

Here's nine business schools with an MBA syllabus covering things you might be surprised to find:

1. Get in touch with your creative side, The Lisbon MBA

In the business world, it is not uncommon to be asked to ‘think outside the box’. Thinking creatively and in an unconventional way can separate the great from the good.

The ‘Friday Forum’ series on the Lisbon MBA syllabus embraces this, incorporating regular ‘out of the box experiences’ as part of their program.

This changes from week to week, and is as varied as sampling European cuisine, learning how to write a book in a day, to exploring the famed Portuguese Fado culture. Each session is similar in pushing Lisbon MBA students out of their comfort zones and into the mentality of letting creativity take over.

2. Become an explorer, Cass Business School

An MBA is not unlike climbing a mountain—it can be an uphill struggle at times, with challenging circumstances, but can provide wonderful outcomes and views at the top.  

The Expeditionary Society (XPS) at Cass has taken this metaphor to heart, taking its MBA students into the world’s great wildernesses. The expeditions encourage leadership and teamwork in the frequently adverse conditions in which their explorers find themselves.

Now in its third year, the XPS has trekked to the South Pole, explored the ancient Lost City in Colombia, and climbed Mount Fansipan—one of southeast Asia’s highest mountains.  

3. Adopt the philosophical position, Cranfield School of Management

The great ancient Greek philosophers, like Plato and Aristotle, shaped our understanding of the human nature and behavior.

Cranfield’s MBA adopts the position that the key to great business leadership might be through understanding human nature. Choosing an elective module entitled ‘Leaders as Thinkers’ offers the philosophical perspective which may very well give students the upper hand in challenging situations.

In a globalized world where business perspectives vary greatly, this philosophy module on the MBA syllabus teaches students to ‘articulate their position in situations where ‘the right answer’ does not exist’.

4. Work for a soccer club, University of Liverpool Management School

Liverpool, north-west England, the home of The Beatles and the fateful Titanic, also proudly boasts one of the world’s most prestigious and successful soccer clubs, Liverpool FC.

For those not fortunate enough to wear the shirt, the Football Industries MBA at Liverpool Business School offers students the exciting opportunity to work at institutions like Liverpool FC. and Manchester City.

Offering a soccer-shaped lens of marketing, leadership, and innovation, among others, offers a lucrative pathway into the great soccer clubs from which the ‘beautiful game’ earns its name.

5. Rebuild business in post-conflict society, University of Notre Dame: Mendoza

War, along with the tragic loss of human life, can critically damage infrastructure and industry, bringing a society to its knees. Learning how to rebuild post-conflict societies is a complex challenge, and one which starts with business.

This is the drive behind the ‘Business on the Frontlines’ program on the MBA at Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame. Students work to define the problems that post-conflict societies face, and work with local industry to repair and rebuild.

Since its initiation in 2008, the program has worked to empower disadvantaged women in Palestine, revitalized agriculture markets in East Timor, and tackled youth unemployment in Rwanda.

6. Paint like a professional, IEDC Bled School of Management

Renowned Spanish painter Pablo Picasso was never one to shy away from pushing boundaries—his distinctive paintings, once met with shock and revulsion, are now appreciated as masterpieces of creativity.

Like the trailblazers of the artistic community, MBA students at IEDC Bled are taught to embrace creative leadership in the business world, as part of the syllabus. At the Center for Arts and Leadership, creativity and socially responsible leadership is nurtured through painting, sculpture, and drawing classes.

Through inspiring and encouraging artistic creation, the school aims to create leaders who become ‘artful in their behavior and solutions’.

7. Think on your feet, MIT Sloan

Curveballs and plot twists can be a worst nightmare for business professionals. As circumstances drastically change, there is a fine line between staying afloat and letting chaos take over.

Thinking on your feet can often be the solution. The hallowed art of improvisation, favored by performers on shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway?, offers the secrets and skills of rapid decision-making to MBA students at MIT Sloan.

Daena Giardella, course director of Sloan’s ‘Improvisational Leadership’ module, illustrates how improvisation “teaches us to take risks and to respond confidently in the moment to whatever happens”.

8. Mastering mindfulness, Rotterdam School of Management

"Living 24 hours with mindfulness is more worthwhile than living 100 years without it."

This belief, one of the founding principles of Buddhism, reveals the importance of keeping a calm head and remaining mindful in the face of daily challenges. The stressful environment of an MBA might seem to be at odds with this; on the contrary, Rotterdam School of Management sees mindfulness as the groundwork of their MBA.

The MBA leadership retreat removes students from the classroom and surrounds them with nature, everywhere from Catalonia to South Africa.

“During an MBA, participants get a lot of new information in a very short amount of time,” comments Dr Daan Stam, academic professor of RSM’s MBA. The retreat is breathing space, a chance to download and process all of this information. 

9. Getting ‘touchy feely’, Stanford Graduate School of Business

Making tracks in the business world pins largely on your ability to build personal relationships with the people around you. Sometimes, this involves getting out of your comfort zone and really getting to know people.

Nicknamed the ‘touchy feely’ course, Stanford’s ‘Interpersonal Dynamics’ syllabus module forces MBA students to break down their barriers and interact with their peers on a personal level.

Enhancing emotional intelligence and reinforcing positive feedback systems is all part of creating the rounded, respected professionals for which Stanford is famous.