The Duality of Knowledge

Examinations. I have never met anyone who actually enjoyed exams.

Of course there are people that are good at them and there are also people who may prefer an exam over a group assignment however, all things considered, examinations have the ability to ruin your otherwise perfect day. And no one wants that.

Take for example our Block 1 and 2 examination period which culminated last week. Some people felt they did well, most people thought they had failed and a few people were hysterical. As I referred to last post, the Cass MBA isn’t a sit back and just enjoy the ride kind of road-trip. You must apply yourself. You must work until you understand it, not until you just know it. You can either be in the driving seat or riding shotgun – but never a back seat passenger!

Thankfully, and for the moment at least, our examinations are over. We can relax a little and prepare for Blocks 3 and 4. There is no doubt we will be challenged again soon enough, but that is the point obviously.

The biggest difference I feel between an MBA exam and any examinations I have completed in the past, either as an undergraduate or as a high-school student, is that in an MBA exam more often the questions are designed in a way so that a single and definitive answer doesn’t exist to the problem posed. It is our comprehension and approach that is being tested not our recollection of the basic facts. The Cass approach aims to separate the people who can simply regurgitate slabs of text and those who actually comprehend the theories and apply them in an increasingly wider context in an ever-evolving business and social world. This is only a good thing.


The other day, David Bowie passed away. That of course you already knew. What you may also have known is that he was a reasonably visionary guy and, if you had sifted through the endless number of fan tributes currently circulating social media, as many have, you may have come across this video of David Bowie and Jeremy Paxman from 1999. If you have seen this before than I would certainly encourage you to re-watch it now and if you haven’t seen it, then the advice is largely the same – watch it now. (If for no other reason that the remainder of this blog won’t make any sense to you. Thanks.)


So, once you look past the fact Jeremy Paxman hasn’t really changed (whether this is a good or a bad thing I’m not really sure yet) you will see that Mr Bowie really gets it. Stay with me here, but this video is exactly what our MBA exams are about! (I’ll admit there is a small risk that it may simply be the 3rd coffee of the day talking now but I will explain.)

Two things stand out to me. First of all, the stark difference between Bowie’s and Paxman’s understanding of the internet (from about 6:40min) and secondly, the wider implications of Bowie’s attitude of the ‘grey in the middle’ (from 9:10min). I’ll leave you to take whatever you want out of the rest of the interview however I will elaborate on the first point further.

Fortunately for us, Paxman pressed Bowie deeper on his view of the internet and as a result we get a fantastic example of the difference between thorough comprehension and simple recollection. Bowie may not have foreseen all that was to come with the Internet however there is no doubt he understood the significance of the arrival of the internet and the tremendous opportunities that would present themselves to those that embraced it, not only for his line of work in music but also to the much larger and wider world. Very impressive.

I would presume that any past, present or future Cass MBA student would draw obvious parallels with this particular example and the Cass MBA approach. For me it is the importance of deeper comprehension rather than merely focussing on the obvious yes/no and black/white type answers. As Bowie puts it, the time of singular answers to singular questions is over. Luckily, life is about the greyness – the three, four and five different points of view.

Difference in opinions is what makes life interesting, unpredictable, challenging and exciting. Difference is also why an MBA is more important now than it has ever been – as long as your business school understands that too.

In Bowie’s case, perhaps  it was his flamboyant youth consisting of “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” that helped elevate him to see the world from a rather enlightened perspective.  For the rest of us however, there is a particular MBA designed to help you reach your ‘psychedelic’ state instead.

Later

@samuelhcook

Sam Cook, Full-time MBA 2015, Cass Business School

1 Comment

  1. Sionade Robinson

    January 22, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    A thought provoking piece, Sam … love the comparison and you have me thinking too. Among the many tributes to Bowie over the last week or so, one really stuck home. He was described as a “man who lived in the future.” I think that is an inspiring way to think of the aspirations of the Cass MBA programme … to prepare our students with the skills, the courage and resilience to live in the futures they can create for themselves. More please! Sionade

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