As if the notion of specialization was not enough, a significant number of B-Schools now offer dual specialization – sometimes the two areas are treated on an equal footing, or as a major / minor combination. Whether this facilitates value-creation better than time-tested systems is a moot question. What it does in practical terms is to improve the chances of employability. Once again, we are faced with the dilemma – are we as educators forgetting our primary mission and making decisions with the end-users (recruiters) alone in mind?
At the other end of the spectrum, we also have B-Schools that have done away with the concept of specialization. Every student is expected to go through a set of core courses. Beyond these, a slate of electives is provided from which the student can choose any combination as long as it meets the credit-hour requirements. Thus, you have students opting to study anthropology to classical music with everything thrown in between. This approach raises a different question – does the study of a field merely on the basis of one’s liking or aptitude make for a better manager?
Within the broad spectrum of the generalist – specialist divide, we have to contend also with questions as to the extent to which say a marketing specialist should be conversant with compensation management or derivatives. The ideal of a borderless organization envisaged by Jack Welch is yet to see the light of day in organizations. Functional divisions do exist as indeed hierarchies.
Proponents of the generalist school argue that specialization tends to narrow one’s view. The “big picture” is lost sight of in the fight for turf space and superiority. Since management is becoming increasingly complex and uncertain, generalists alone can bring the holistic view into a decision-making process.
Specialists would have us believe that depth of knowledge is critical. Concentrating on one domain or even sub-domain does not necessarily mean losing sight of organizational goals. As long as functional goals are aligned with organizational goals, there should be no problem. In this world-view, generalists are the brakes of an otherwise fast-moving organization. The holistic view is a smoke-screen for procrastination.
With such divergent views, how does one frame a curriculum that is contemporary, futuristic, and addresses the concerns of both groups? How does one manage a balancing act between the need to know more and more of less and less (specialization) and the converse (general managers)?
In the context of emerging economies like India, where diversity is in the extreme – students may enter with an engineering, commerce, science, life sciences, literature or medicine background, additional complexities arise starting with language and ending with questions like how much of mathematics and statistics should a micro-biologist wanting to make a career in human resources learn.
There may not be easy answers to any of these questions. However, the sooner we start addressing these issues with objectivity, the better would it be for all stakeholders.