Deep Links: Business School Students’ Perceptions of the Role of Law and Ethics in Business
Executive Summary — The researchers spent more than a year eliciting twelve MBA students' thoughts and feelings about the role of law in starting and running a U.S. business. This research offers new insights into the ongoing debate about how best to educate the business leaders of tomorrow. More than a standalone course in business law or ethics, it would be wise for educators to use an approach that treats the role of law and business in the broader context of societal needs and norms. Key concepts include:
- Business school curricula that ignore the role law plays in making markets possible may undermine students' appreciation of how law undergirds the capitalist system.
- Business students need to learn both more ethics and law.
- Teaching materials should highlight the positive associations or linkages between law, business, and societal welfare.
- The systems approach to management is one way to link law, business, and ethics to create an integrated mental model.
To better understand how business school students view the relationship between law and business, we used the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET) to elicit the unconscious thoughts and feelings of twelve students about the role of law in starting and running a business in the United States. Our study revealed three deep metaphors: system, moral balance, and force. In this subset of American culture we saw a far richer, more complex and less negative mental model of the role of law than previous survey or anecdotal data would suggest. We were frankly surprised to see the links our subjects drew between law, business, and ethics. Ignoring the role law plays in making markets possible threatens to undermine students' appreciation of the manner in which law undergirds the capitalist system. The results of this research suggest that teaching materials that highlight the linkages between law, business, and societal welfare may have a greater likelihood of altering students' perceptions and thus their behavior than either a course in business law or a course in ethics taken alone. The systems approach to law and management offers a way to link law, business, and ethics to create an integrated mental model.