Getting strategy right can be difficult, even for seasoned business leaders, but their success is more likely if they use an integrated approach to decision making, says Vikas Mittal, a professor of marketing and head of the energy initiative at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business in Houston, Texas. In the spring of 2015, the Jones School launched what it calls its first ICO—or integrated course offering—for MBA students. The course, called Critical Thinking and Strategic Decision Making, was taught by an interdisciplinary team of professors, who included Mittal, for his expertise in decision making and psychology; finance professor Alex Butler, for finance and econometrics; marketing professor Amit Pazgal, for game theory and operations management; and associate professor of management and psychology Brent Smith, for leadership and change management.
In spring 2014, the course, which enrolled 30 students chosen through a competitive application process, was offered as a series of modules. The first two modules, which covered decision making and social psychology, were taught by Mittal and Smith. In the first module, students completed self-assessments to help them better understand their personal biases, relationships, and weaknesses. In the second, they explored the science of group dynamics and interpersonal relationships, especially as it pertains to successful change management. The third covered econometric regression modeling, used for predicting trends and measuring causal relationships between strategies; the fourth was devoted to game theory. The last two modules were taught by Butler and Pazgal.
During the semester, leaders from Cameron International, a company that manufactures equipment for the oil and gas industry, served as executives in residence; executives from Shell Oil discussed decision making processes within their company.
Using the ICO model, faculty focused on training students to examine a potential decision’s pros and cons in light of factors such as reputation, relationships, and emotions, as well as profit, says Mittal. “Critical thinking is the art of being able to evaluate an issue nonjudgmentally…without getting wedded to any particular alternative.”
The Jones School plans to offer Critical Thinking and Strategic Decision Making again in spring 2016.