Saïd Business School presents the astounding blockchain of the future! And not the mundane one of the present

The blockchain hype is such that business students are actively seeking out courses on “blockchain” — and business schools are duly providing them.

The question is what they teach — and the risks involved in close liaisons with dubious industries, who are often desperate to buy credibility.

Times Higher Education ran a piece on this sort of university-blockchain liaison a couple of days ago.

In July this year, Saïd Business School at Oxford University “accepted a donation from Stewie Zhu, chief executive of blockchain firm Distributed Credit Chain, to create a fellowship position that will ‘specifically focus on the regulation and governance of cryptocurrency and the application of blockchain technology in the banking and finance industry’.”

The Oxford Blockchain Strategy Programme

But Saïd has been on the blockchain bandwagon since last year, when they launched the Oxford Blockchain Strategy Programme:

While blockchain exploration was initially reserved for firms operating in the financial industry, the potential of blockchain technology is being realised by all sectors, including the likes of energy, telecoms and pharmaceuticals.

Recognising the need to adapt corporate strategies to deal with the impact blockchain technology will have on the future of business, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford has launched a new digital open enrolment programme on blockchain integration and regulation, the Oxford Blockchain Strategy Programme.



The programme is an online six week short course, offered through GetSmarter.

The prospectus is an 11-page PDF, design-heavy and content-light. Page two features a quote from course co-convenor David Shrier:

When the internet was born, people used it to email one another. Things like Amazon and Uber were inconceivable. Blockchain is a revolution of similar proportions, with unexplored potential, ramifications and opportunities.

I’ve had blockchain people not believing that other blockchain people really do market blockchain with comparisons this simplistic and egregious.

What you learn

The course teaches you the Oxford Blockchain Strategy Framework, which is six broad questions:

  • Is there a predictable, repeatable process that lends itself well to automation?
  • Is there an ongoing or long-running transaction or process, rather than a process that occurs only once?
  • Are there multiple stakeholders in this process or value chain?
  • Is the role of reconciling disparate data usually played by one party or a limited number of parties?
  • Remembering that value is not only monetary, is there an element of value transfer?
  • Is there value in an immutable record? Or is an immutable record a requirement?

The prospectus doesn’t contain this list — but student Alexander Danson posted the list and what each item means.

What you don’t learn

There is no coverage or mention of the big problem with blockchain — that there’s a lot of utter snake oil … and it’s packaged a lot like this prospectus.

They completely fail to mention that literally all the real-life business use cases are in the future — there’s mountains of hype, but a notable lack of production systems.

I mean, the strategy list is fine. But I’d add — from chapter 11 of Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain, and my April presentation to the sort of upper management this course targets — my six questions for your blockchain salesperson:

  • Are they mixing up “might” and “is”? Does their software do all the stuff they said?
  • Will the system scale to the size of your data? How?
  • How do you deal with human error in the “immutable” blockchain or smart contracts?
  • If this is to work with people you trust less than the ones you deal with now — what’s your threat model?
  • If it’s to work with people you already trust — why blockchain?
  • What does this get you that a centralised database can’t?

SBS just need one unit on watching out for the hype …

The course doesn’t mention GDPR and blockchains either — but it’s not as if senior business managers operating in Europe are going to need to know about the GDPR at any point, is it?

Should you sign up?

I didn’t see anything horribly wrong about blockchain in the prospectus, or in students’ online discussion of what they’d been taught. But it’s very thin on detail — and unrealistically optimistic, enthusiastically presenting future ideas as if they’re current production systems.

(When I filled in the form to get the prospectus, it asked for my phone number. Three hours later, I got a call from GetSmarter’s outgoing telemarketing, asking if I was ready to sign up. They’re enthusiastic too.)

I can’t say I’d recommend the course, but — going by the syllabus — what it teaches you won’t be completely wrong.

But you’re likely to end up confused between “blockchain does,” and “blockchain could” or “blockchain potentially” — the second and third being alternate phrasings of “blockchain doesn’t.”

The course packages extruded blockchain hype for middle and senior managers — to make them feel as if they’ve learnt something, about something terribly important. Neither is as true as the course makes out.

Thanks to Chris Sherlock for the tip.

Update: GetSmarter don’t stop once they have a phone number! They followed up in email Sunday morning at 8:09am too.

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2 Comments on “Saïd Business School presents the astounding blockchain of the future! And not the mundane one of the present”

  1. Shouldn’t “What does this get you that [existing technology] can’t” be the *first* question you ask, rather than the sixth?

    1. arguably, but I was preserving book order 🙂 Also, they tend to answer it with a list of things that “blockchain” can’t actually do in reality. So getting reality sorted out first can be useful.

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