icm2re logo. icm2:re (I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything) is an 

ongoing web column by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.

Chronological Index | Subject Index

Do you sell Executive MBAs? Keep waiting!

About information management challenges for executive education

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2014). Do you sell Executive MBAs? Keep waiting! About information management challenges for executive education. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 3.4 (April).

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2014). Do you sell Executive MBAs? Keep waiting! About information management challenges for executive education. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Online)], 3.4 (April).

London - 1 May 2014 - In 2011 I applied for being admitted to an Executive Master in Business Administration (MBA). It seemed evident from the failures I had experienced for the previous four years - while trying to reinvent and reposition my information management business - that I needed to rethink my entrepreneurial efforts and to concentrate on some competence gaps I had possibly never had the opportunity to fill during my career. The application was rejected.

Almost three years later, reading the statements and motivations I wrote in that application, I clearly see that there was nothing I could have learned from attending an MBA in terms of information management competence but, perhaps, the motivation and the practical ideas useful to invent something new. In that respect, the assessors did a good job preventing me from wasting my pension savings (threatened by others, but this is, perhaps, another story and will be told in another occasion).

In the meantime, I have changed my mind on a number of practical issues related to the market for information management services and to the same offerings of MBA programs.

Now EMBA programs seem to me like a kindergarten for the global corporate plutocracy, where wannabe leaders working for dinosaurs organisations can exercise in the art of "strategic misrepresentation in mega-projects" or attempt similar games of chance, often very improbable in the real life of small and medium sized businesses.

But it is true I speak from the side of the excluded and marginalised. Perhaps the true challenge in executives education these days would be to train and retrain leaders in the art of losing games, in the game of becoming followers in spite of not having any predisposition and any patience to that, in the art of learning to identify and build partnership with other micro organisations and sole traders, to develop common design strategies, to invent completely new business infrastructures. In sum, to reinvent management capability every day.

I am sorry I did not have the opportunity to discuss these problems with other mature students, researchers and academics. But I recognise I was perhaps ahead of my time and I would not achieve my goals attending an MBA with other middle-aged executives coming from totally different perspectives, background education, experiences. On top of that, leadership in information management is something that the whole of the academic world seems quite confused about at the moment: most of the times it looks like it is me, with a self-taught and patchy education and a massive hands-on experience, to be in the natural position of lecturing others when not patronising emeritus professors.

One of the questions of my unsuccessful MBA application was Describe an aspect of your organisation which could be viewed as 'problematic'. Briefly outline three different action plans which could be implemented to deal with the issues involved, assessing the advantages and disadvantages of each.

I think my answer, reproduced below with minor editing, was quite superb at the time, highlighting the unsolved problem of change and career progression that is affecting more or less, sooner or later, any professional in the digital sector or the creative industries.

Do we really need leadership in information management?

There is a common bias leading many executives to assume that expertise in data and information management is always obviously included in contracts for other services or for IT services (from risk management or due diligence advice and training to supply of IT systems) or it is simply redundant and without peculiar business justification in their contexts. This bias induces a distorted perception and appraisal of the value of distinctive standards, bodies of knowledge and expertise existing in the field of processes and systems dealing with data, software, information or records management goals and duties.

Apart from few sectors that heavily rely upon strategic information workflows, formalised and controlled, such as defence or policing, my expertise is generally difficult to sell to new customers because it is perceived as just redundant or unnecessary.

Three diverse strategies and action plans can be implemented with regard to this problem as far as I know and I have experienced myself so far:

1) Embedded expertise

The problem can be avoided selling products, technologies or specific services instead of generic consultancy services in data and information management. Providing new directions and solutions bundled with original products and innovative services is a common strategy for start-ups in the IT sector, for instance.

The main positive aspect of this approach is that it slows down the technological pressure to innovate business propositions. The advantages lie in the possibility of standardisation and predictability of business cycles. The disadvantages are in the limited possibilities to introduce further innovations or substantial radical reviews and retain lasting competitive advantages at the same time. In other terms, provision of products or services can conflict with provision of independent advice.

Although there are cases in which a single new product or service has completely reoriented information behaviours within certain corporate processes (for instance, Amazon has influenced and re-designed or re-oriented processes in procurement and customer services from the late 1990s onwards), most of the times new successful software objects or services are quickly absorbed in the existing data practices and patterns through HR policies, recruitment and continuous professional development in ICT. This inevitably leads to what is the main disadvantage of this strategy: the commoditisation of that (once upon a time) original expertise.

No expert really wants to remain locked in a certain position in the market by his or her own expertise! But it inevitably happens to experts from all walks of life.

2) Personal branding

A possible alternative strategy (or way out from the risks of the former) consists in branding and marketing new ideas and technical or political solutions at personal level, transforming the provision of management advice in a form of semi-artistic and original contributions to corporate communication, internal workflows and training programmes or campaigns in support of Charities, political and non governmental organisations.

The advantage of this strategy is that the size of one's organisation becomes irrelevant being the "celebrity" consultant perceived in his/her circles as a dominant personality almost synonym of his/her own "specialty". From Ester Dyson to Cory Doctorow, there are a relatively interesting number of consultants, writers, gurus or speakers in the Western economies who have successfully marketed their expertise at national and even international level through mainstream media and events and entered or developed their consultancy businesses following this pathway.

It is in its own value proposition that investing in personal branding risks to loose business justification. In fact, the "celebrity" information management adviser tends to be swallowed by the 24/7 media production cycle and his role to be confused with that of a public relation expert with a background expertise in some areas. To preserve payoffs, status, image, personal networks and audiences he or she must often accept to give up independence of judgement, or lower his or her expectations of earnings. There is no transferability of a consultancy business based on personal branding.

Among the risks of this strategy there is also the evidence that few advisers are really able to achieve great financial success as authors or speakers without strong support from media organisations.

3) Partnerships

A third strategy consists in changing the structure of the business. Partnership among consultants and small businesses allow solo proprietors to provide their clients with specific problem solving capabilities but also with an integrated portfolio of services, industry or competence based, and even inclusive of an interdisciplinary approach that is much needed in many sectors.

The disadvantage of this strategy is in its implementation and marketing costs necessary to overcome the risk of being perceived as a commercial patchwork or temporary association of single practitioners, more than a reliable integrated consultancy. In fact, any partnership to be soundly credible has to be built upon strong business cases over a certain period of time: this may require long term investment in design, testing and reviewing synergies, practices, code of conducts, objectives and sharing customers’ cases. Examples of failures are abundant both in the IT and in the creative sectors.


To the best of my knowledge at present there is not an optimal solution for the problem of being perceived as redundant or unnecessary in spite of having a recognised and recognisable expertise in data and information management. This is perceived as one the most perishable kind of knowledge, no matter if linked to an educational background in the social sciences and in the humanities or arts or to a software development and engineering one. Perhaps a sound understanding of business cycles, maturity of the organisations and project methodologies can lead information management advisers to be more flexible and competitive and to tailored actions and marketing plans over time. But other hypothesis could and should be formulated, starting perhaps with accepting that people like me, with a patchy formal educational background, risk their life savings and a couple of years of their precious middle age time to attend an Executives MBA.