When asked, “Which schools in the Greater Boston area are direct competitors of Babson College,” President Len Schlesinger responds, “None.” He then points to a cartoon designed by Hugh MacLeod that hangs on a wall in his office and reads it out loud.
“Don’t be the best in the world at what you do. Be the only one in the world to do what you do.”
Although he admits there are a lot of great business schools in this town and that he wouldn’t denigrate them, he also claims that, “The focused player wins every time.” While he recognizes the surrounding schools as ones doing significant things in entrepreneurship, he says, “But this is all that we do.”
Since 2008, Schlesinger has not only been striving to differentiate Babson, but to create a unified curriculum across the College’s campus. What stands Babson apart is that they operate under, what Schlesinger calls, “an umbrella of entrepreneurial magic.” Under the trademarked twin banners of “Entrepreneurial Thought and Action” and “Entrepreneurship of All Kinds,” the school has created a strategy and methodology that the entirety of the faculty stands by.
Instead of having several MBA programs, the College has created “The Babson MBA,” promising that no matter what option students choose — one year, two year, evening or fast track — they are guaranteed the curriculum is “consistent, proven and committed to shaping leaders with a strong business foundation and an entrepreneurial mindset.”
To Schlesinger, those at Babson don’t just teach entrepreneurship, they live entrepreneurially, as well.
“In order to maximize the value of this environment, you teach and you learn entrepreneurship in the classroom, and then you live entrepreneurially to ground it,” Schlesinger said.
But, why entrepreneurship? Why should we live entrepreneurially? I wanted Schlesinger to sell the idea to me.
“I’m not going to sell you,” he responded. “I’m going to get you to realize you have no choice.”
And, he did.
Schlesinger referenced the term “Giganomics,” coined by Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast and Newsweek. As Brown describes it, “Instead of jobs for life, we rely on a series of ‘gigs,’ some regular, some not. No one I know has a job anymore. They’ve got gigs: a bunch of free-floating projects, consultancies and bits and pieces they try to stitch together.”
At Babson, there’s a professor who teaches “Giganomics,” who explained to Schlesinger that you need to stop thinking about a job or a classical career. Instead, you need to decide how you’re going to move from gig to gig in a way that marks progress. Today, the world’s already unstable, and so you need to find a way to ground that.
“You need to start thinking about your life completely in entrepreneurial terms,” Schlesinger said. “You need to figure out, when you take a step, where you are now, and what opportunities emerge from that profit. Your life, quite honestly, is no different than the continuity of a startup.”
After that set in, Schlesinger handed me a booklet entitled, “State of the College, October 2011.” Inside, were illustrated images done by MacLeod that explained the Babson methodology. Page by page, Schlesinger walked me through the school’s strategy in short, simple sentences.
“I knew, if we have it nailed, we should be able to put it in cartoons,” Schlesinger said.
After our interview, Barbara Blair, Babson’s assistant director of public relations, admitted Schlesinger has nailed it. For over 20 years, she’s watched presidents make their way in and out of the College, but it’s Schlesinger that has made the most change.
“I inherited a school that was in the perfect position, but not doing anything with it,” Schlesinger said. “We were playing not to lose before.”
Now, however, Schlesinger is doing nothing but playing to win.