Harvard Business School: Degrees should be written in disappearing ink

Harvard Business School, Advanced Management Program

In their book, “Promises Fulfilled and Unfulfilled in Management Education”, Howard Thomas et al. (2013) quote a Dean saying that degree certificates should be written in invisible ink. It is an interesting idea. If 80% of products we use today did not exist 10 years ago as marketers tell us, then we should be constantly going back to formal education to relearn new methods and techniques. The usefulness of knowledge learn at the age of 20, may have ‘disappeared’ by the time we are 30 or 40.

Working in higher education means that you should constantly get the chance to challenge set logic. (Or have it challenged by bright colleagues and students.) Still, there is no reason that the same reasoning should not apply. I have therefore chosen to begin this semester by going back to school myself. For the next two months I will be studying Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School. 

By all accounts it is a very intense program, an intellectual and management boot camp if you will. It has been designed to push people to the limits for their management efficiency and their capacity to deal with a vast quantity of work. This short Wall Street Journal report gives a excellent insight to the ethos of the program.

The course is a large personal investment but I am also very grateful to my family, friends and colleagues for their support in this. There will be a colossal amount of work to do in the coming months for all the participants but I am aware that my own team will also have extra things to do in my absence. (It was also kind of them not to break open the champagne until they were absolutely sure that I had left the office!)

Harvard Business School, Advanced Management Program
Getting ready for Harvard AMP

In theory, it is a 6-day a week program, but most of the former participants I have spoken to point out that most of Sunday is spent reading all the case studies that have to be prepared for the following week. One blog I have read about the program gives a start time at 7am which then goes through until 11pm. Just your normal 16 hour day then (assuming a little time to eat and do some exercise.) A rough calculation puts that at an 90-100 hour week. So, no pressure then!

I was lucky enough to speak to a very senior executive from a government agency was on the program during the Boston bombings in April 2013 and would normally  have been involved operations after the event.

“That must have been difficult for you trying to deal with the course and the entire bombing affair at the same time.” I said.

“I was so busy on the program that I really didn’t have time to deal with it, relying on people in his team to deal with the matter.“

Harvard AMP Books

Click to access more AMP books.

That kind of puts the workload in perspective. Another former participant put it another way.

“If you want to take 30 minutes in the day to call home, you will have to decide what you are not going to do that day.”

The program was set up in 1942 and was originally called the War Management Program and designed for civilians. From there Harvard realized that people over 35 were capable of still learning (!) and after the war they changed the name to the Advanced Management Program. It was the first program of its type in the USA and is thus the very genesis of executive education for managers.

The program accepts about 170 participants for each cohort. All the participants are senior managers with an average of 20-25 years of experience. That’s about 3500 years of work experience under the same roof and a unique opportunity to learn about the challenges in a whole range of different industries and services.

All managers at that level are used to working long hours, but the basic idea behind the AMP is to push them so hard then they are forced to find quicker ways to do things and to seek out new solutions. Can it really be as tough and enduing as that? Time will tell.  Everyone I have met who has done the program talks about an exhausting couple of month but a highly enriching experience.

Enjoy your start to the new academic year.

Harvard Business School, Advanced Management Program

My workplace for the forthcoming 2 months.

See also:

Harvard Business School – Introduction

HBSFrom the incorporation of Harvard Business School (HBS) in 1908, its founders wrestled with questions regarding the School’s institutional mission and social responsibilities intrinsic to the study of business within the university setting. It soon became apparent that the School, which occupied parts of far-flung buildings on the Harvard grounds in Cambridge, would require a larger, integrated site to sustain its growing student population.

Harvard Business School – Building the Campus

HBS campusHegeman-Harris Company, the contractors hired to construct the HBS campus, documented the construction progression from a fixed point looking northeast from Harvard Stadium in a series of photographs now held by the HBS Archives. This selection of images shows the campus development from spring 1925 through fall 1926. Construction of the campus was completed in 1927.



Filed under Advanced Management Program, Boston, Business Schools, Harvard AMP, Harvard Business School, Higher Education, International studies, Leadership, Management, Strategy, USA

9 responses to “Harvard Business School: Degrees should be written in disappearing ink

  1. Congratulations on your acceptance and good luck with the program! I will be missing your posts during that time. It is so admirable to take the time to renew your skills and put yourself under the bootcamp of management education as a management educator. That’s the spirit needed to keep b schools from turning into “pass go and collect $200” degree factories.

    • Mark Thomas

      That is very kind of you. I am delighted to be here and it is a great chance to learn.
      I still may publish a few posts from time to time. As I work in a business school the organisation of the program interests me as well.
      Best wishes to you for the future. Mark

  2. I love the concept of disappearing ink and the need to keep learning….I also think that, in some ways at least, older learners are even better learners. They are definitely more appreciate learners. Best of luck in Boston — and I hope you’ll find at least a few moments to enjoy the fall scenery in New England!

    • Mark Thomas

      Thank you Martha. I liked the idea as well. I like the idea of older people learning better as well…but I would say that, wouldn’t I?

      Boston is a beautiful city and it is great to be here at this time of year. The leaves on some of the trees are already changing colour. I probably won’t be getting out much, but I do have a wonderful view over The Charles River from my bedroom!

  3. Pingback: The Harvard Business School and the Case Study Method; like a horse and carriage? | GlobalEd

  4. Abeer Alomar

    Thank you Mark for the effort .The concept and Idea is wonderful .i do support the Learning and gaining knowledge as it is a kind of sustainable powerful method regardless of the age .Thanks Abeer AMP185

    • Mark Thomas

      Abeer, Thank you for your comments. I loved this idea too because it shows that learning should never stop particularly in the world in which we live today. Best wishes, Mark

  5. Hello Mark… I’m going back in time a bit and reading your posts from the past. So now you completed it and have some perspective, how was the course, and did it live up to your expectations?

    • Mark Thomas

      Hello Tanny, Sorry for taking so long to reply but I really have been incredibly busy. Honest! Yes, it was fantastic. the pressure during the course is incredible. I remember waking up one Sunday morning at 8am and my first thought was that I was already late with my daily schedule. (I had planned to get up at 6am that day!) You learn a great deal from the course, the professors are of the highest standard, as is the organization and it is great to talk to participants from different industries. It is an experience I would highly recommend.

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