A very strong process orientation

I had a philosophical disagreement this week with another faculty member. Basically this instructor believes that students should follow a template for completing their graduate thesis work. “I do consider the process resembling a ‘paint-by-numbers‘ approach” is a direct quotation.

Further arguments used in favour of a standard format approach included:

1. “…most of the IE [international education] students in the MBA program do not have a good command of the English language, and they are not used to working in unstructured settings.”

2. “…the standard format provides them with more focus and structure, and generally…results in a better grade for the student.”

3. “…grades are given for specific tasks [tasks=structural components being present is the implication], and the marker is asked to judge how well that task was accomplished.”

I respectfully disagreed and left this a philosophical difference – which it really is. Obviously a process orientation dominates my peer’s way of thinking. Rather than provide a line by line rebuttal, which would fill a book, I thought to leave my notes here with a few questions in response:

1. How do people learn to work in unstructured settings? By being given structure or by being given a “safe” and supportive environment in which to find ways of generating their own structure? And at a Masters degree level, should we still be giving structure – any structure – to students? When Masters degree graduates get into the real world, will they be taking up positions doing highly structured work or will they have to be the ones who create structure for others to follow? If the latter is the case, then shouldn’t they be getting ready now in our post-secondary institutions?

2. By following the standard format we may get better grades (from this one instructor only!), but will we be successful in life by always being followers? More importantly, what if the standard format leads us to an incorrect output? What if life is not about standard formats but about change, uncertainty, and finding your way through tangled and often conflicting messages? The “standard format” for the American Way of Life, for example, is consume as much as you can, have as big a house as you can in the suburbs, and maximize the size of your SUV. What is the output of this standard template? Global warming, huge disparities between the rich and the poor in the world, economic imperialism, and more. Perhaps people should focus less on following someone else’s standard template in life and more on creating their own?

3. In the end, do grades matter? Will anyone look at your grades once you graduate? Will the bottom line of your company reflect how well you as a manager, for example, followed a standard template? Does it matter how much “stuff” you have collected at the end of your life following the American Way of Life? Will you look back bitterly and wish you had not judged your own accomplishments (and lack of them) by the limited criteria of a standard template?

All interesting questions. And all part of where philosophies and views of the world differ. Success orientations play a part by being both a cause and by being a result of these ways to thinking.

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