2015–16 Electives Balance Academic Rigor with Real-World Relevance

More than 150 unique elective courses offered this year; offerings continually refreshed with new perspectives, lecturers, and ideas.

February 08, 2016


Students working on projects in the CoLab

Tim Griffith Photography

Innovation and agility are essential qualities not just of the most successful companies, but also one of the key tenets of the Stanford Graduate School of Business academic experience. In addition to featuring superlative foundational courses on management, Stanford prides itself on offering a rich body of electives that continually evolve to impart real-world relevance into academic theory and reflect real-time developments in faculty research, business, and global happenings.

This academic year, MBA, MSx, and PhD students can choose from more than 150 intriguing elective courses designed to enrich their educational experience.

“One of the hallmarks of our school are well-rounded students who are connected with the real world,” says Madhav Rajan, the Robert K. Jaedicke Professor of Accounting and senior associate dean for academic affairs. Stanford’s flexible teaching model of pairing impactful research with innovative thinking allows faculty to create cutting-edge new courses on a dime. “Our stance of continuous improvement regarding electives distinguishes us from other schools,” Rajan adds.

In his welcome address to incoming students last fall, Philip H. Knight Professor and Dean Garth Saloner noted, “In any given year, 28 percent of our electives are new. Half the electives we have today were not offered four years ago. That means the innovative magic that was at Stanford 10, 15, or 25 years ago is still here today.”

Stanford electives are also unique in that they frequently feature co-teaching between senior tenured faculty and business professionals, pairing academic rigor with best practice. “Many remarkable practitioners, some of whom are our own alumni, come in and help the students see how the fundamentals apply out in the world,” says Charles O’Reilly, the Frank E. Buck Professor of Management. “Because of our location in Silicon Valley and the fact our alums are so supportive, we’re able to do this on a scale that’s different from that of other schools.”

From the perennially popular Interpersonal Dynamics which is offered in 50 sections this year, to new courses such as The Psychology of Startup Teams, Negotiations, and Sustainable Energy, Stanford electives stimulate students’ boutique interests, introduce them to new areas of inquiry, allow them to become a vital part of exploratory faculty research, and encourage them to apply their knowledge in real ways.

One creative new course that has emerged is O’Reilly’s Becoming a Leader: Managing Early Career Challenges. “Five years ago we interviewed graduates four to 10 years out about how they messed up as new managers, and what they wish they’d known when they emerged as MBAs,” says O’Reilly. “We created short video vignettes of them describing the problems they faced, how they handled them, and what they learned from them.”

In any given year, 28 percent of our electives are new. Half the electives we have today were not offered four years ago. The innovative magic that was at Stanford 10, 15, or 25 years ago is still here today.
Dean Saloner

His resulting six-session course based on these videos helps students better understand some of the pitfalls they’re likely to face as they become leaders, in areas such as how to deal with poor performers, how to fire people, and how to manage people who aren’t like you.

Lecturers Robert Siegel, general partner at XSeed Capital, and Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, are teaching another highly regarded course, The Industrialist’s Dilemma. “We look at how digital disruptions are having tectonic shifts on large, successful, and established companies, whether they have a digital foundation or not,” says Siegel.

The course, a spin-off of the well-known Innovator’s Dilemma, features CEOs of both leading Fortune 500 companies and disruptors such as Uber, Airbnb, and Instacart talking about what it takes to survive and thrive in this new digital economy.

“Our priority is to continue to innovate in our programs and at the same time focus on keeping the core of the institution strong,” says Dean Saloner. “With 124 tenure-line faculty on hand — the highest in our history — we’re doing very well on all fronts.”

By Marguerite Rigoglioso

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