Thursday, August 27, 2009

From Second Tier to Top Tier

Fred's a crack plumber, but his plumbing company is second tier. Yet, he aspires for the recognition that comes with tier one status, and so do six of his competitors.

The local paper considers Fred's chance to join one of the tier one companies slim at best. "Imagine Pop Warner football players trying to move up to the NFL," wrote the plumbing beat reporter about the prospects for Fred and the other six second tier plumbing companies to join the tier one companies.

While Fred works towards tier one status, it doesn't dominate his life. After all, he's still got a business to run. He's got to recruit and train plumbers to help elevate his game. He's got to attract customers.

Among other duties, Fred's service manager, George is tasked with training. George is an innovative guy. He came up with an innovative way to provide training with less effort and little or no cost.

George's idea? Let Cheap Depot do the training. Since Cheap Depot holds regular DIY classes for homeowners, George'll just slip a few of his crack crew in the classes. Not only that, Cheap Depot sells a few plumbing items at prices below the supply house (as long as quality's not a huge issue and internal plastic components will do instead of brass).

Being a self-starter, George launch's his Cheap Depot training program. Fred finds out what's going on and catches George just before he calls the local Business Journal to brag out his training innovation.

If you were Fred would you Tell George...

Wow, what a great job. Boy-oh-boy will this help our image. We'll be seen as a conservative, prudent company. They'll have to elevate us to the top tier now.


What? Are you insane? Even if you're set on trying something this lamebrained, don't tell anyone. Do you think this is how a top tier plumbing company performs? Do you think the top tier plumbers use Cheap Depot training?

My guess is Fred chooses the second option. It's what anyone would do, right? Maybe a top tier company could try sliding people into a Cheap Depot class and people would applaud, calling it guerrila training. A second tier company with top tier aspirations, however, cannot appear to be pulling a second tier stunt.

Using Cheap Depot for the company's training program would make the company the laughingstock of its peers. It would hamper the company's ability to recruit qualified plumbing apprentices, journeymen, and licensed master plumbers to its ranks. If that's not enough, it would also cause consumers to doubt the company's quality and skill level. Does the average consumer really want a plumber who's training comes from Cheap Depot?

No one in their right mind would do something that stupid, right? Make that, no one other than a college professor.

You see, this is exactly what a business professor at Texas Tech University did. Instead of keeping it quiet, the university's trumpeting its innovation.

For non-Texans, Tech is one of seven tier two public universities in the Lone Star state. Texas has two tier one schools: Texas A&M and the University of Texas. Tech wants tier one status, but is like a Pop Warner player seeking to make an NFL roster according to the Dallas Morning News.

So what did the professor do? He published "the first-ever graphic novel textbook on management." Think "comic book." That's right, he's teaching business students from a comic book.

According to the university's website, "Students used to get detention for reading comic books in class. Now a similar format is being used as a way to engage them in learning."

This may truly be an innovative approach to education, but promoting the use of comic books as the textbook for a business management course is stupid marketing. It makes the university sound like a joke, which is not the right positioning one should seek when trying to become a tier one university.

The prof admits others look askance at the comic as a collegiate teaching method...

“Some colleagues initially find the idea of a comic as an educational tool to be strange, but after I tell them that the Federal Reserve has been putting out comics on topics such as monetary policy for years, the 9/11 commission report was in graphic novel format, that the graphic novel 'Maus' won the Pulitzer Prize, and that many movies were originally graphic novels, they are generally won over and quickly embrace the idea once they see the finished work.”

Of course, the Fed's comic books are designed for kids, not college students and the 9/11 Commission Report is not in comic book form. It's a 600 page report.

A couple of comic book creators, with credits "Richie Rich" and "Casper The Friendly Ghost" as credits, produced a comic book version of the 9/11 Commission Report. According to the Washington Post, "The creators say they hope their book will help attract young readers and others who might be overwhelmed by the original document."

Is the Tech professor implying that Tech business students would be overwhelmed by a management textbook? I hope not, but it appears so.

Certainly, Maus is an outstanding work. It helps bring home the horrors of the holocaust in a similar way that Orwell's Animal Farm taught about totalitarianism. However, it's Pulitzer was a special citation of "Letters," which is the form of Pulitzer given to Dr. Seuss. "Oh the places you'll go" with a children's book/comic book education?

And is the professor really making the case that comics are suitable replacements to academic textbooks because movies were made from the Spiderman, Superman, Fantastic 4, X-Men, Captain America, DareDevil, and who knows how many other comic books?

Look, Tech is a good school. I know a lot of very bright and capable graduates of Tech, but the school isn't doing past or future graduates any favors by trumpeting a comic book curriculum. Hiring authorities will have to wonder about the quality of education degreed students received from a comic book and worse, the quality and capability of students who require a comic book to learn.

Maybe Harvard or Yale could pull off a comic book approach to an academic education and we would all be amazed by their innovations in matriculation. Tech cannot.


  1. Texas Tceh. A community college with dorms since 1923.

  2. tceh is not Tier Two. They're at the very bottom of the third tier and are hanging onto accreditation by a thread. The State of Texas is wasting money by trying to beef up their research. They should distribute those funds to the University of Texas and Texas A&M University Systems.

  3. tceh sucks.

    It's a choice, not a consequence. Much like the waffle house, you don't plan on going there. It just happens when all other options are exhausted.


  4. You idiot! It's certainly a consequence and most definitely NOT a choice.


    (tceh isn't a bad school. it's actually one of the top 5 schools in all of Lubbuttocks).

  5. Comanche Marketing is sponsored by the Service Roundtable, a contractor alliance providing online marketing, advertising and business tools to members in the HVAC and Plumbing Fields.

    Pretty much says it all. Weak smack from t-shirt aggie that went to vocational school and got picked on for being an aggie t-shirt fan.

  6. I don't go to UT or A&M, but find it interesting that every retort offered by Texas Tech seems to revert back to Texas A&M. I have nothing against Tech, just a curiousity of their imminent disdain for A&M? (I did teach at Texas A&M for a brieft stint, nothing fantastic but nothing abmysal either).I don't go to UT or A&M, but find it interesting that every retort offered by Texas Tech seems to revert back to Texas A&M. I have nothing against Tech, just a curiosity of their imminent disdain for A&M? (I did teach at Texas A&M for a brieft stint, nothing fantastic but nothing abysmal either).

  7. I would rather go to Wayland Baptist U in Plainview than go to Tech....I'm bet its hard to get into also.

  8. Why did you repeat yourself aggy?
    Why did you repeat yourself aggy?

    P.S. tceh sucks! It's a joke. I know of two people that were kicked out of high school and actually got into tceh (after their junior year in high school).

  9. "Weak smack from t-shirt aggie that went to vocational school and got picked on for being an aggie t-shirt fan."

    LOL. I like that. Too bad I've got a degree from A&M and an MBA from another school. And the contractors in the Service Roundtable who you seem to denigrate, account for several billion dollars in economic activity.

    Personally, I think there's nothing wrong with a vo-tech education. I know a lot of business owners, who lack college degress, but have managed to acquire fortunes. Have you ever read the book, "The Millionaire Next Door?" It describes a lot of contractors.

    This post wasn't a slam against Tech, though many would see it that way. I like most Tech graduates I know. In fact the first guy I ever hired had an engineering degree from Tech.

    I just think it's incredibly stupid marketing on the university's part to promote a comic book curriculum. Who wants to hire people who got their college education from comic books? Not me. I'd much rather have an ambitious vo-tech or no-tech graduate who is bright, willing to learn, and unafraid of hard work.

    Tech's actions aren't fair to the many fine graduates of the university. Rather than a point of pride, this should be seen as an embarrassment to the students and alumni, the faculty, and the entire state.

    And by the way, if you attack me personally (even if, or maybe especially if the basis of your attack is erroneous, and it is), rather than the issue at hand, you're conceding that telling the world you teach college from a comic book is highly idiotic, even if the method might be innovative and effective.

    Do you argue otherwise? Do you think it's a good idea to replace college textbooks with comic books? Do you think the development of a comic book curriculum is something to be proud of?

    Your thoughts about these points are much more interesting than what you might think about my motives for reporting on this.

  10. I think that most of the knowledge transmitted at tceh can be very effectively delivered with a well-drafted comic book.

  11. WHOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Get dem guns up tekkers!!!!!!!!!!!
    We's gonna learn gud now that we's got them picture buks wit werds and purty pikchers. Us Red Raidiers will b supreem kolladge lerners now!!! Cowlovers and aggy r jealous cause we got da best lernin buks!!!

  12. How will comic book reading enhance pizza delivery time?

  13. Is it true that tceh diplomas double as Denny's placemats?

  14. Actually, you find a tceh diploma on the back of a Denny's placemat. Just sign your name on the bottom line, and voila! You just graduated from Texas Tceh! Now get back on your moped because those pizzas aren't going to deliver themselves.

  15. Red Raiders should be proud of themselves (for beating the hell out of t.u.), but not for bragging about this new concept in dumbing down the curriculum to reach their customers.

  16. Sure, I didn't get into A&M or UT but I am glad I didn't. You people is arrogant jerks.

    Texas Tech '01

  17. junior high > tceh

  18. Well, it appears that Harvard certainly thinks the idea is worthy of investigating. So much so that they produced a case study with Tech's professor. Forgive me for giving a bit more credibility to Harvard Business School opinion than to yours.
    “To my knowledge, this is the first ever Harvard Business case published in graphic novel format,” Short said. “The co-author is Robert Austin, a faculty member at Harvard Business School. He found out about my interest in the graphic novel and contacted me about adapting a well-known Harvard Business case he had written a while back.”

    The case itself, Harvard ‘iPremier (A) Denial of Service Attack (Graphic Novel Version)’ describes an IT security crisis, and raises issues of risk management, preparation for crises, management of crises, computer security and public disclosure of security risks. It is available at

  19. Matt Michel said:
    Do you argue otherwise? Do you think it's a good idea to replace college textbooks with comic books? Do you think the development of a comic book curriculum is something to be proud of?


    Did you actually read the article? What you just said reeks of old tradition and ivory towers. Do I think traditional textbooks should be replaced by "comics"? No, not necessarily. But if they're able to convey certain principles, ideas, and knowledge in a more effective manner then I think it's a terrific idea that should be embraced within certain areas of study. As posted above, it's such a stupid idea that Harvard Business School chose to produce a case study in comic form.

    It's not as if Tech is producing comics for every subject. This ONE book was cowritten with management professors from Auburn and Portland State. All three professors have written traditional management textbooks in the past. This is an attempt to be creative, innovative, and a bit experimental. That you can't see that, and you try to pass this initiative off as a wholesale change in Tech's educational approach (when it clearly isn't), says more about your comprehension than it does Tech's.

    It doesn't really matter to me though. I'd rather have Harvard in my corner anyway.

  20. I'm not arguing that Tech's comic book might not be innovative. I'm arguing that it's dumb marketing for Tech to proclaim it to the world.

    It's interesting that a couple of people have noted Harvard is building a case study on the Tech comic book with the implication that Harvard fully supports Tech's approach.

    The reference to Harvard supports one of my earlier points. If Harvard, Yale, Stanford, or another institution of similar caliber were to announce the use of a comic book for a business class, the credibility of those institutions' brands would elevate the concept. With Tech's brand, it reinforces negative stereotypes about "Tier Two" Tech. The Harvard brand can lend a comic book course credibility, but a comic book course undermines the much weaker Tech brand. The collaboration of professors from Auburn and Portland State hardly enhance the standing, though my understanding is that Auburn is a fine engineering school.

    Harvard is using the comic book format in an IT case study, not as a text book. There is no comparison between a business strategy course's primary text and a case study designed to stimulate discussion and analytical problem solving skills in a group environment.

    Harvard doesn't appear to be issuing press releases about the comic book case study. If, after usage it appears to work well, they might. Tech is firing off press releases before implementation.

    From a marketing perspective, this is a boneheaded move. Will it help Tech students to learn better than traditional methods? I don't know and am not qualified to judge. I do think the creators of the comic book are dumbing down the educational process. Frankly, I would be incensed if my daughter told me the text for one of her college classes was a comic book. Heck, I wouldn't be happy about it if my daughter in high school brought home a comic book as the text for a class. Would you?

    The comic book could be a great supplement to a text, but that's not how it appears to be used.

    The comic book is a text on "strategic management" for gosh sakes! Read the description of a strategic management text that Harvard uses...

    "STRATEGIC MANAGEMENT: COMPETITIVENESS AND GLOBALIZATION, CONCEPTS AND CASES Eighth Edition, is a comprehensive Strategic Management text that combines impeccable scholarship; cutting-edge research; a sophisticated and practical global focus; and the most thorough, up-to-date, and relevant business examples and cases available. Now, this seminal business text is enhanced by the addition of powerful new media and technology resources, including an updated video program, CengageNOW online teaching tools, and the Business and Company Resource Center (BCRC)--a complete electronic business library. The highly respected authors, all active teachers and experts in the strategic management field, use a unique model that blends classic industrial organization with a resource-based view of the firm to explain how real-world businesses use strategic management to build a sustained competitive advantage. The text includes current and relevant examples to provide context for key concepts, outstanding figures and models to illustrate key points, and a case study section containing engaging and exemplary cases that cover a broad range of critical issues confronting mangers today."

    How does a comic compare?

  21. "The comic book could be a great supplement to a text, but that's not how it appears to be used."

    Based on what? This is an adjunctive text at best.

  22. "The comic book could be a great supplement to a text, but that's not how it appears to be used."

    Based on what? This is an adjunctive text at best.


    Oh, let's see. How about the fact that the university omitted mentioning its use as a supplement, while including the following...

    "...has published the first-ever graphic novel textbook on management..."

    "'I think that many textbooks in strategic management tend to offer a number of disconnected examples using different companies that students might not be familiar with,' said Short. 'This can create information overload and I believe it leads to retention problems. In contrast, the graphic novel uses a fixed set of characters that apply the material to their story.'"

    Tell me, what is the main text being used?