The most common myth about executive education

Overcoming common executive education myths

Professor Martha Maznevski

With the recent launch of Ivey’s new brand of executive education, I’d like challenge one of the most common myths that many business people have about executive education. Specifically, it’s the myth that I bump into most often: business school is solely academic, therefore it is irrelevant and impractical.

Let's be clear. The first part of that myth is true. Business school is academic in nature. The second part, however, is not at all true. Especially in executive education, to be academic is to be relevant and practical. Let's look at those two parts a little more closely.

For us as scholars, "academic" simply means objectively understanding and deeply knowing. We're obsessed with making sure the advice we give and the perspectives we teach are valid. We want to know the boundaries of our teaching and advice – when does it work, when doesn't it, and when and how can it be adapted for different situations? We like asking the questions that come below or after the surface questions, to find the underlying causes and effects that are consistent even in the face of change. We're equally obsessed with the question, "how do you know?" We're skeptical of passing on advice and knowledge that hasn't been tested across situations and over time. So we're pretty good at taking an idea that has promise and figuring out quickly how to test it and refine it.

For something to be academic, it can absolutely be practical and relevant. In business schools, we're obsessed with being academic around the ideas and skills that are practical and relevant, translating them into high quality tools for business transformation. We start with research questions that are on business leaders' minds: how do we anticipate disruption, and even disrupt ourselves? How do we leverage big data for customer insights, and translate those insights into value? How do we lead across international units of an organization to enable alignment and innovation?

We're driven to find answers that help leaders know what levers to pull to result in the best outcome. We seek to explain the most important elements of a situation, so you can influence it and drive improvements. As you lead a business transformation, wouldn't you like it to be built on knowledge and perspectives that are valid? Wouldn't you like to know how to adapt them to changes in the situation? When you do that, you're being academic.

In fact, Kurt Lewin famously (to academics) said, "There is nothing so practical as a good theory."


Martha Maznevski is a Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Ivey Business School and a Faculty Director for Executive Education at The Ivey Academy. She is an expert in global teams, global leadership, culture and identity, and empowering individual differences. She has published widely on these topics in academic and management arenas, and also works closely with leaders and their companies around the world on innovative approaches to leadership at all levels in today’s highly complex global environment. She is a Faculty Director for three Ivey Academy programs for individuals & teams, namely Women In Leadership, the Ivey Executive Program, and the Ivey LIFT Advanced Coaching Certification Program

About The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School
The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School is the home for executive Learning and Development (L&D) in Canada. It is Canada’s only full-service L&D house, blending Financial Times top-ranked university-based executive education with talent assessment, instructional design and strategy, and behaviour change sustainment. 

Rooted in Ivey Business School’s real-world leadership approach, The Ivey Academy is a place where professionals come to get better, to break old habits and establish new ones, to practice, to change, to obtain coaching and support, and to join a powerful peer network. Follow The Ivey Academy on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Associated Faculty

Martha Maznevski

Martha Maznevski

Professor, Organizational Behaviour