There is a common false expectation that anyone graduate with an MBA will be capable of making difficult business decisions. The same apply that may those who graduate with a MFA is automatically a big thinker and is capable of creating the next iPhone or Twitter.
I have been hearing rumblings from clients about the quality of MBA graduates these days due to big quality gaps between of b-schools. Most MBA graduates are undoubtedly smart but often unprepared and unequipped to handle the most crucial of managerial responsibilities: quickly solving problems with less than perfect information. In my b-schools days, people often complained about the lack of information when reading a case study and believing that having complete information will help them make the right decisions. Let’s face it, there’s no perfect information in the world and everyday we are making decisions based on limited information. More often today we are dealing with too much information and a sea of useless or meaningless data. We need to make sense of all this ourselves. Business is about managing uncertainty; strategy is about winning in an uncertain world.
What about MFAs? Well my observation is designers are sometimes over reliance on getting perfect information about users. They develop dozen of persona and hopefully it will give them more rigor. It won’t. Design teams sometime spend a disproportional amount of time on developing personas and not spending enough time on dreaming and crafting the solutions. Design is about managing uncertainty too, the beauty of personas is that they can help designers to create and communicate information about users to the larger development teams.
The approach is to gather information about users’ needs, behaviors, and preferences, and uses those data to construct vivid descriptions about explicitly fictional individuals. The three advantages compared to traditional user research are: 1/ the ability easily to engage teams to think about users; 2/ the possibility for designers to extrapolate from the personas to make design decisions; and 3/ freedom from problems that arise when a full spectrum of user data is presented, such as paralysis or inappropriate generalization which happens all the time. Of course the big question is whether the chosen personas are accurate and reflective of user needs.
But the whole “personas” approach suffers some practical limitations. Two significant issues involve how personas are reconciled with other information, and actually who is responsible for interpreting them. It is not not uncommon that fictional personas would frequently conflict with other sources of data usually quantitative research. Design teams receive information about users from many sources: self-observation, spouses, friends, technology media, and so forth. They form impressions about customers and those naturally show variance from the precise data presented by personas. Even with good personas, there’s still plenty of unknown.
Whether MBAs and MFAs, their commonality is that their jobs require them to make important business or design decisions with incomplete information. There's only so much tools can help.