MBA Programs

Electrifying Electives, Part 1: MBA courses designed to shake, rattle & roll your outlook.

June 22 2011 By The MBA Exchange
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Top business schools set the bar high — and keep raising it — by offering innovative, engaging and truly exciting elective courses that augment the core classes. We’ve been poring through their course listings to highlight — in a series of blog posts – some of the more “electrifying” of these electives.

Harvard Business School

“Building a Business in the Context of a Life”

You’ll want to take this course if you’re intent upon pursuing your “life vision” like an entrepreneur goes after a business opportunity: “With relentless passion and without regard to resources not currently controlled.” Instructor Janet Kraus is a recipient of Boston’s “40 Under 40” and was a finalist of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year; she’s a senior lecturer in Entrepreneurial Management.

“The Financial System in Extremis”

Taught by visiting professor Jeremy Stein of the Economics Department, this course will use the global financial crisis that began in 2007 as a means to study the modern financial system, focusing on the “interplay between a variety of institutions and markets, the resulting fragility and potential for systemic risk, and the ongoing roles of financial innovation and regulation in shaping the evolution of the system.” Let’s hope it promotes the practice ofChaos Interruptus!

“Entrepreneurial Solutions for Market Failure”

Baker Foundation Professor of Business Administration Joseph Bower (a leader in general management education at HBS for over 40 years) teaches this course focused on a range of goods and services vital to the performance of modern society but that “cost too much and the quality is inadequate.” Here you’ll examine the characteristics of entrepreneurial activity that enable it to overcome the systemic barriers experienced elsewhere and build a framework to create solutions that are sustainable, profitable and impactful. Finding opportunity amidst the ruins sounds intriguing.

“Contemporary South Asia: A Survey of Intractable Problems and Inovative Solutions”

This survey course focused on problems faced by South Asian countries such as education, health and governance. You’ll be immersed in an interdisciplinary and university-wide setting to look at current issues and explore a range of entrepreneurial attempts to solve them. This course is taught by Tarun Khanna – Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor and Harvard’s Director of the South Asia Initiative. A true window to the future of this dynamic region.

Stanford GSB

“Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability”

Jointly offered by School of Engineering and GSB, this course affords you a unique opportunity to join a small team and apply engineering and business skills to create solutions for challenges faced by the world’s poor. You’ll collaboratively design product prototypes, distribution systems, and business plans for entrepreneurial ventures in developing countries. What better learning lab could there be?

“Entrepreneurship from the Perspecitve of Women”

Among the topics you’ll cover: How to use networking to advantage. What particular challenges do women founders face in raising venture capital or managing a board of directors? What’s the best way to manage difficult conversations and negotiations? And how can entrepreneurial women find balance between their careers and family responsibilities? One student who took this elective says, “I am more likely to consider getting some corporate experience before launching my next company . . . . I realize how the styles, personalities and companies of women entrepreneurs don’t have to look a particular way.”

“How to Tell a Story”

“Stories” are central in crafting a truly compelling marketing campaign. But a good story is not enough; it must be well told and have a purpose. In this seminar you’ll learn to break down the basic elements of storytelling, elucidate the power of the verbal as well as the visual, and explore how storytelling helps build brands and organizations. Once upon a time there was this little company withthe silly name Google . . . well, you get the picture.

“The Business World: Moral and Spiritual Inquiry through Literature”

Organized around the interplay of religious traditions and national identities, this course uses novels and plays as a basis for examining “the moral and spiritual aspects of business leadership and of the environment in which business is done.” In this elective, literature will be used to shed light on the “cultural contexts of values and beliefs within which commercial activities take place in a global economy.” Sounds like Ethics 101 on steroids.

Columbia Business School

“Innovate or Die”

Taught by Jeffrey Harris, this elective looks on the accomplishments and challenges of select entrepreneurs as they struggled to create and implement disruptive business models while introducing new products and services. Each class focuses on a different industry, pulling examples from the worlds of IT, automobiles, finance, retail, government, media and the arts. If you don’t leave with a long list of cool startup concepts, then you must have been asleep in class.

“Napoleon’s Glance”

This isn’t a study of the art of management; instead, with Professor William Duggan you will learn the art of management through strategic intuition – otherwise known as Napoleon’s glance – through analytical tools and techniques. A sequel to Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”?

“Social Networks & Social Capital”

Effective social networks are increasingly key to important business outcomes – from finding jobs to building brands, from harnessing creativity to ensuring your organization’s survival. In this hands-on elective, taught by Associate Professor Ko Kuwabara, you’ll learn to understand, measure and develop key resources, diagnosing one another’s own social networks to identify career oppotunities and analyzing corporate networks to ID opportunities like IPOs and mergers. And you thought Twitter and Facebook were just for laughs.


“Your First Hundred Days”

You and your team of fellow managers have just bought a company and assumed managerial control. All contracts have been signed and you enter the “real world,” rife with events and crises. Your mission will vary according to the event. “Sometimes you will simply have to state what you as a management team propose to do. At other times, you will actually have to go and do it.” Above all, your mission is to react to each situation in such a way as to ensure that the buyout will be successful in the long term. Fun stuff! “Monopoly” anyone?

“Psychological Issues in Management”

Concepts taught will include both time-tested and recent findings, putting you at the forefront of management thinking and giving you the chance to practice and experiment with these ideas. Through class exercises, videotaped exercises, interactive assignments and cases you’ll turn concepts into competencies. The course will develop your repertoire of skills in individual effectiveness, emotional intelligence, leadership effectiveness one on one, and team leadership. To paraphrase the late Dr. Freud, sometimes a merger is just a merger.

“Blue Ocean Strategy Simulation”

Ahoy there! Instead of competing head-to-head, in this interactive elective you will learn to reconstruct market boundaries and unlock new demand. Understanding how to go beyond competing in existing market space to create blue oceans is critical for leaders in consulting, strategy and business development, and entrepreneurship. B.Y.O Dramamine!

P.S. If you’re a current MBA student or fresh grad who has taken an elective course that you feel is truly “electrifying” then please tell us about it. Email The MBA Exchange at and we’ll include it in the final blog post of this series.