Crowdsourced Open Consulting from the Classroom

Submitted by: Wade Eyerly (US), Defense Intelligence Agency

Summary: By using an Innocentive-like model, companies large and small would be able to offer up potential student projects to MBA teams in a central repository. This would also provide opportunities for MBAs to get hands on work opportunities outside what the alumni – or geographically local networks their school can afford them. Suddenly schools with smaller reach can work on problems with global reach. Imagine students in Mumbai consulting for Coca-Cola in Atlanta, or the reverse.

Full Description: The idea is to create an open consultancy platform for MBA students, and corporations to meet. This is similar to how inncentive.com matches corporations with researchers - both professional and amateur to solve problems. Companies with projects for MBA student teams would assign a value to a project or problem that they want looked at. Then, MBA teams have at it, paying the students or the school upon completion.

There are three sides to this. Companies propose projects, assign value to them, and pay out upon satisfactory completion. Students identify target opportunities on the website, perform the work, and while doing so introduce themselves to the company as potential hires - and gain experience applying the skills they are developing in the MBA.

The university whose MBA teams participate would have their work rated and stored in the system by companies. As a result, a new sort of "ranking” develops, demonstrating how MBA students from XYZ program compare to other participating programs. This will help push MBA instruction to match real-world issues, and help the MBA curriculum to evolve reflecting its application in the corporate America. Non profits, social ventures and the government could participate as well.

This idea addresses the major role of MBA programs, helping students apply their skills in the real world - and find appropriate jobs.

This project would have a global impact. The training is not difficult, and it leverages the power of the internet to level the playing field between large and small MBA programs, those with legendary histories, and those MBA programs that are just coming of age. It will also give students access to projects across the globe - meaning MBA teams from Taiwan, Paris, and Akron might be working on problems in Ghana, Manila, and Dallas. It would allow collaboration across MBA programs, as well as competition among schools. And all of it would be adding value to companies while exposing students to career enhancing opportunities and potential employers.

The training would consist of basic use of a website modeled on www.innocentive.com. The idea takes advantage of the strengths already inherent in MBA programs, the real-world struggles of companies, and the energy and talent of MBA students. By using the open innovation model we can basically create a crowd-sourcing of MBA student projects. This helps level the playing field for smaller, less well-known MBA programs by giving them a chance to prove themselves in real-world situations with top companies.

We know that companies appreciate the talent and energy of MBA's. Most every program requires some sort of real-world application of classroom skills. And companies are eager to leverage the talent. This just brings those projects to a central database, and allows for a more competitive selection of proposals from MBA teams for the companies, improving their end product, and giving MBA's across the globe a chance to shine.

So, to start we'd have to build a website. I would work with Innocentive to look at lessons learned from their experience. Then, marketing becomes a real challenge. How would I overcome it? I'd enlist the help of a team of MBA's to build a promotion plan.

Another implementation challenge, however, comes with the nature of consulting versus R&D. Unlike scientific problems with patentable answers, or discoveries - consulting requires a level of corporate openness that may not fit every problem. When a company is looking to have a business process improved it rarely wants to let that information out into the public. As a result, some projects may be inappropriate for participation in the open consultancy. However, those projects that do fit will see tremendous work, and the ability of those companies to see top MBA students' work will offset the fears that accompany indiscretion on the part of the students.