Business Schools Are Going All In on AI - Kanebridge News
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Business Schools Are Going All In on AI

American University, other top M.B.A. programs reorient courses around artificial intelligence; ‘It has eaten our world’

Fri, Apr 5, 2024 7:00amGrey Clock 4 min

At the Wharton School this spring, Prof. Ethan Mollick assigned students the task of automating away part of their jobs.

Mollick tells his students at the University of Pennsylvania to expect to feel insecure about their own capabilities once they understand what artificial intelligence can do.

“You haven’t used AI until you’ve had an existential crisis,” he said. “You need three sleepless nights.”

Top business schools are pushing M.B.A. candidates and undergraduates to use artificial intelligence as a second brain. Students are eager for the instruction as employers increasingly hire talent with AI skills .

American University’s Kogod School of Business is putting an unusually high emphasis on AI, threading teaching on the technology through 20 new or adapted classes, from forensic accounting to marketing, which will roll out next school year. Professors this week started training on how to use and teach AI tools.

Understanding and using AI is now a foundational concept, much like learning to write or reason, said David Marchick, dean of Kogod.

“Every young person needs to know how to use AI in whatever they do,” he said of the decision to embed AI instruction into every part of the business school’s undergraduate core curriculum.

Marchick, who uses ChatGPT to prep presentations to alumni and professors, ordered a review of Kogod’s coursework in December after Brett Wilson, a venture capitalist with Swift Ventures, visited campus and told students that they wouldn’t lose jobs to AI, but rather to professionals who are more skilled in deploying it.

American’s new AI classwork will include text mining, predictive analytics and using ChatGPT to prepare for negotiations, whether navigating workplace conflict or advocating for a promotion. New courses include one on AI in human-resource management and a new business and entertainment class focused on AI, a core issue of last year’s Hollywood writers strike.

Officials and faculty at Columbia Business School and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business say fluency in AI will be key to graduates’ success in the corporate world, allowing them to climb the ranks of management. Forty percent of prospective business-school students surveyed by the Graduate Management Admission Council said learning AI is essential to a graduate business degree—a jump from 29% in 2022.

Many of them are also anxious that their jobs could be replaced by generative AI. Much of entry-level work could be automated, the management-consulting group Oliver Wyman projected in a recent report. That means that future early-career jobs might require a more muscular skillset and more closely resemble first-level management roles .

Faster thinking

Business-school professors are now encouraging students to use generative AI as a tool, akin to a calculator for doing math.

M.B.A.s should be using AI to generate ideas quickly and comprehensively, according to Sheena Iyengar, a Columbia Business School professor who wrote “Think Bigger,” a book on innovation. But it’s still up to people to make good decisions and ask the technology the right questions.

“You still have to direct it, otherwise it will give you crap,” she said. “You cannot eliminate human judgment.”

One exercise that Iyengar walks her students through is using AI to generate business idea pitches from the automated perspectives of Tom Brady, Martha Stewart and Barack Obama. The assignment illustrates how ideas can be reframed for different audiences and based on different points of view.

Blake Bergeron, a 27-year-old M.B.A. student at Columbia, used generative AI to brainstorm new business ideas for a project last fall. One it returned was a travel service that recommends destinations based on a person’s social networks, pulling data from their friends’ posts. Bergeron’s team asked the AI to pressure-test the idea, coming up with pros and cons, and for potential business models.

Bergeron said he noticed pitfalls as he experimented. When his team asked the generative AI tool for ways to market the travel service, it spit out a group of very similar ideas. From there, Bergeron said, the students had to coax the tool to get creative, asking for one out-of-the-box idea at a time.

Professors say that through this instruction, they hope students learn where AI is currently weak. Mathematics and citations are two areas where mistakes abound. At Kogod this week, executives who were training professors in AI stressed that adopters of the technology needed to do a human review and edit all AI-generated content, including analysis, before sharing the materials.

Faster doing

When Robert Bray, who teaches operations management at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, realised that ChatGPT could answer nearly every question in the textbook he uses for his data analytics course, he updated the syllabus. Last year, he started to focus on teaching coding using large-language models, which are trained on vast amounts of data to generate text and code. Enrolment jumped to 55 from 21 M.B.A. students, he said.

Before, engineers had an edge against business graduates because of their technical expertise, but now M.B.A.s can use AI to compete in that zone, Bray said.

He encourages his students to offload as much work as possible to AI, treating it like “a really proficient intern.”

Ben Morton, one of Bray’s students, is bullish on AI but knows he needs to be able to work without it. He did some coding with ChatGPT for class and wondered: If ChatGPT were down for a week, could he still get work done?

Learning to code with the help of generative AI sped up his development.

“I know so much more about programming than I did six months ago,” said Morton, 27. “Everyone’s capabilities are exponentially increasing.”

Several professors said they can teach more material with AI’s assistance. One said that because AI could solve his lab assignments, he no longer needed much of the class time for those activities. With the extra hours he has students present to their peers on AI innovations. Campus is where students should think through how to use AI responsibly, said Bill Boulding , dean of Duke’s Fuqua School.

“How do we embrace it? That is the right way to approach this—we can’t stop this,” he said. “It has eaten our world. It will eat everyone else’s world.”


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The benefits of steering people toward making better decisions has become conventional wisdom. But the evidence suggests it doesn’t work quite as well as we hoped.

Mon, May 27, 2024 5 min

The concept of nudging has become popular in the past few years—using psychological tactics to subtly steer people toward making better decisions that are aligned with their own interests or societal goals.

Companies and governments are using nudges, for instance, by automatically enrolling people in retirement savings plans instead of having them opt in, or by placing healthier snacks at eye level in a cafeteria or by comparing people’s electricity consumption with their neighbours’.

But as nudges became increasingly popular, we wondered: Can they go the distance? Would they keep people on track beyond the initial push, like actually eating healthier foods or saving more money or reducing their energy use over the long term?

We found that, in many settings, they don’t. Lots of people simply don’t follow through on options they have been nudged to choose—making those nudges less effective than many people believe. As the old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

Other research has shown this effect. In 2012, a team from Cornell University published research showing that more people grabbed healthy snacks—like apples and carrots—when they were placed in contexts that made them more convenient, such as being put at eye level, among other things. The finding got wide attention and helped spread the idea of nudging.

But another aspect of the experiment didn’t get much attention at all. Those Cornell researchers didn’t just measure what went on at the cash register. They also stuck around to see what people did with the food. The nudged people ended up eating the same amount of healthy food as the ones who weren’t nudged—and the extra that was taken because of the nudge was thrown in the garbage. In the end, the effect on consumption of healthy foods was nil.

“For a long time we had always included language in these published studies lamenting the lack of long-term studies to see exactly how long the effects would last,” says one of the researchers, David R. Just, a professor of applied economics at Cornell.

Just adds: “It makes some sense that nudges would be much more effective in the short term than in the long term. Choices like food that are repeated often over time lead to learning, and eventually people are likely to recognise how the environment is interfering with their choices. This may say that nudges are most important in one-time or rare decisions like organ-donor status.”

In the long run

To be sure, sometimes a nudge is better than nothing. Let’s say somebody who wouldn’t otherwise join a gym is nudged into becoming a member. In the end, that person probably won’t use the membership regularly, but might use it occasionally—which is better than not exercising at all. And nudges may be beneficial when people don’t have to follow up on their initial choice, such as a plan that automatically puts a part of each paycheck into a 401(k).

That is only some cases, though. In others, no nudging might actually be better than a nudge. For instance, somebody might want to choose to join a gym, and plans to attend three days a week. But if nudged into the choice, this person might go there much less.

But even when nudges are better than no nudges, we have found that nudges don’t provide nearly as much benefit as initial results indicate—or as much as many nudge proponents are counting on.

We conducted studies on three of the most popular nudge strategies. In one, we gave the participants a chance to sign up with a website to get daily trivia. We described one as a way to have fun, the other as a way to get smarter every day. In reality, everybody was directed to the same site, no matter which option they picked.

When we gave participants one website as a default—in other words, we nudged them to choose it—70% opted for it, compared with 48% who chose the same one when it wasn’t preselected. That’s typically how default nudges work: People are much more inclined to pick the default, which presumably will be the one that is best for them or society.

Next came the important part. We waited. We tracked how often the study participants visited their website membership over eight months. Those who were nudged to choose the default plan visited the site 42% less often than people who chose an identical plan without nudging.

This was true for people nudged with a default option, as well as people nudged with what’s known as a decoy: a deliberate dud that makes another option really shine. In this case, the dud was an offering designed for children. So, in effect, the default and decoy strategies had a positive impact on choice, but not on long-term actions. When we nudged participants into the program, they used it less than they would have at all if they hadn’t been nudged.

Another study that we conducted threw cold water on a nudge known as the compromise effect. Think of Goldilocks choosing a bed: Nudgers know that people make choices in the same way, preferring to avoid extremes. Let’s say a store is trying to boost sales of a product that gets high ratings but is considered too expensive. The store might try to nudge customers by offering another version of the product at an even higher price—so the original looks like a better deal.

In this study, we gave people the option of choosing a plant, and steered some of them toward a compromise option (a plant that wasn’t too flashy or high maintenance). As with the trivia website, everyone ended up getting the same plant, no matter which option they chose. But people who ended up with the plant by way of the compromise effect let theirs die 16% sooner than those who chose without a compromise option. In other words, the people who were nudged into the “Goldilocks” choice weren’t as committed to caring for the plant over the long term.

A better way

Why don’t people follow through on nudged choices? When people are subtly steered toward options, it can feel as if a decision happens on autopilot. This lack of conscious effort might lead people to feel disconnected from their choices, potentially reducing their engagement with them.

This raises all sorts of questions about social programs designed to help people make better choices. Although nudges can be a powerful lever to increase sign-ups, program organisers shouldn’t conflate the popularity of a plan with the amount of people who actually use it. As our studies show, nudges can increase the latter, but decrease the former.

Encouraging individuals to save for retirement through nudges, for instance, may boost initial participation rates but may not translate into sustained engagement or prudent financial habits over time. A nudge might get people to enroll, but it doesn’t make them feel ownership, like the choice was really theirs, so they don’t follow through as much.

In designing nudges, the focus should shift toward helping individuals follow through with their decisions, complementing nudges with strategies that promote sustained engagement and behaviour change. For instance, people get more motivated for tasks when you turn the jobs into games and let them share their achievements on leaderboards. (Think of the popularity of Wordle.) It feels good to have a streak and see how you stack up to others. We might be able to transfer those competitive elements to nudged choices: If you nudge people into saving for retirement, for instance, you could show them how their savings stack up against other people’s each week.

In the end, though, the main takeaway from our research is that nudges may be a great first step. But that’s all they are: a first step. Much of the hard work is what comes next.