Seth Godin (Stanford MBA, bestselling author, entrepreneur and also evangelist in my book [see my side links]) is trash talking the MBA degree, and it's quite entertaining. What I find hilarious is his comment (emphasis added by me):
An MBA has become a two-part time machine. First, the students are taught everything they need to know to manage a company from 1990, and second, they are taken out of the real world for two years while the rest of us race as fast as we possibly can.
Now as a Chicago MBA, I've hinted (with some tongue in cheek too), that there are ways my clients can bypass the MBA.
That said, I feel that I really should come to the defense of the MBA degree because it has become the butt of many jokes of bloggers and professionals I respect like Om Malik and Jeff Nolan (not to mention Seth).
For those that are considering the degree seriously, off the top of my head there are some areas of the MBA that are harder to bypass via book reading:
- finance and accounting (introductory through entrepreneurial finance, analysis, etc.)
Taking courses in these areas is generally much more complementary to both real-world experience and book reading than other subjects in the MBA program (IMHO). My mention of negotiations may be a bit of a surprising one, but negotiations may be one of the most underrated subjects in business schools. I can think of no other setting where you will have the opportunity to participate in controlled negotiations settings where you can find out your score and ability to negotiate in different situations. Many of the negotiation cases are built on game theory foundations, and there are measurably right answers, less right answers, and wrong answers. Anyway, if you want to bypass the MBA degree, consider taking courses in these areas (for example, I know a number of experienced execs that would feel more comfortable if they had more formal training in finance).
I think that it also noteworthy to mention that most people don't realize that many of the people who want to get an MBA want to switch careers. While it is debatable whether you need this type of degree for management consulting or investment banking from an actual skillset point of view (beyond just having the stamp of approval), many will have an easier time switching jobs with an MBA stamp as opposed to marketing oneself as having read 30-40 books.
Other things I'm only going to mention briefly are the importance of alumni networks and having additional confidence, endurance, and resolve on the job. Places like Harvard are known to be boot camps and the West Point of business schools. There's a lot said for practicing in the gym so to speak and defending business positions unto death in the classroom.
Now the MBA isn't for everyone. I've also hinted that there are some areas where you can bypass the degree. I've also been known to say that the MBA is no substitute for real work experience. But I'm a tad softer on this issue than Seth.
Update (3/15/05): Based on comment from Jeff, I want to clarify the commentary I made about Om, Jeff, and Seth above with respect to ragging on the MBA. In my haste to post, I should not have pointed at them specifically. To go further, I may have characterized their stance on the MBA inaccurately, and I am glad that Jeff clarifies below. The MBA is under a bit of heat as of late as I indicated in a prior post (here another Economist article I missed as well). Seems like little defense for the MBA degree has been put up to date (which is the real reason for my post).