Learning more about Strategic Management and Health Care Entrepreneurship: An Interview with Senior Lecturer Carole Carlson

Carole Carlson is the Director of the Heller School MBA Program, where she also teaches courses on Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship. Below is the transcript from a short interview, in which she provides insight about what to expect in her two courses in the EMBA for Physicians curriculum, Strategic Management and Health Care Entrepreneurship, and how the topics apply to the needs of a practicing physician.

What skills can a physician expect to gain from your classes?

For Strategic Management, you gain an ability to diagnose and understand strategic positioning, both for your organization and its competitors, and an ability to understand and align an organization behind a compelling strategy, which often involves change skills as well as strategic skills. More generally, you gain an understanding of the strategy of your current organization and what the implications are for multiple stakeholders. Strategic thinking is fun because you start to look at the world in a different way. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a restaurant or in a bookstore or on vacation at a hotel; you’re looking around and thinking about the strategy of that organization. I find that really intriguing. It’s a great way to engage with the world.

The entrepreneurship course is little bit more nuanced. It covers how to take an idea from the idea stage to implementation and also how to stop wasting time on bad ideas.  If you asked a group of physicians, “Who wants to be an entrepreneur?” some would put their hands up. If you asked, “Who knows how to be an entrepreneur?” if people are telling the truth, almost no one would put up a hand. It makes sense to understand that process and whether it’s right or wrong for you. Another thing that I found really resonates with physicians in my classes: There’s a lot of issues around founding and cofounding. People don’t tend to become entrepreneurs solo. Thinking through the dilemmas that can arise around cofounders is actually really valuable because if people are pursuing a strictly or narrowly entrepreneurial path, they are typically not going to do it alone. They need to think through these things in order to be able to make it a successful experience.

How can an understanding of both Strategic Management and Health Care Entrepreneurship help physicians in their professional lives?

For Strategic Management, in my experience, the physicians that are attracted to our program want to have a broader impact in their organizations. To do that successfully, it is critical to be able to both understand and promote your organization’s strategy. On the entrepreneurship side, I don’t think you can be an effective leader without having some entrepreneurial skills. Even if you’re not interested in starting a venture, your ability to lead like an entrepreneur, look for new opportunities, articulate them, and help the organization see them is essential. People have different mixes of those skills, depending on their professional situation, but I think both are fundamental building blocks to be a more impactful leader in health care today.

What can you expect during your classes?

In class, you can expect a little bit of up front lecture and then a discussion using the case method, which, if you haven’t done it, is really engaging. It’s an exciting way to think about protagonists in challenging situations, often in health care organizations.  For example, this month we are discussing a company that is commercializing a blood substitute product and one that is innovating in portable ultrasound. We also discussed Netflix: their strategy and how they think about effectively managing through turbulent markets. Those are highly interactive discussions that involve the whole class. Sometimes we get a little excited during these discussions, but at the end of the class, the participants have found that they have thought deeply about how that organization might improve. That type of learning is very intense, but there is a really high level of retention and understanding and you get some fantastic insights through the debate and discussion. Finally, the third part of the class is how those insights relate to program participants in their careers and how they might apply the ideas we discussed to their organizations.

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