It used to be that you got an MBA to punch your career ticket. To be admitted to a club. To differentiate your resume from the rest of the pile.
When I’m hiring, I generally look for traits like curiosity, proven ability to succeed in ambiguous situations, initiative, and of course, relevant experience. I don’t particularly care if, a decade or two ago, a candidate learned how to solve for x for any number of now-outdated manufacturing conundrums. Don’t get me wrong – business is both an art and a science, and someone with an MBA likely understands some of the science better than the average person. There is value in that.
As for me, I completed about 90 percent of the courses for my MBA over a few years early in my career. Despite continuing that effort through a full time job, night classes, a war, a growing family and a move, it was the high-travel job that finally did me in. Also, for most of my classes, and while working on most of my assignments, I had the vague notion that 90% of the content (and I’m being charitable here) was of limited value.
There may be no greater giveaway that the MBA is from another era than the “A”. Why do we insist on referring to our future leaders as being practiced in the art of “Administration”? Really? The term itself is as relevant today as 12 inch black-and-white televisions and President Eisenhower.
I am of the opinion that there are two groups of people (among many) in companies today: the “MBA Degreed” and the “MBA People”. The MBA Degreed are people who did little more than go, do the homework, get the grade and high-five their family when they graduated. MBA People are people who read the latest, listen to podcasts, ask questions, document answers, and demonstrate the ability to lead others through either their expert knowledge or their powerful influence. The MBA People may not have MBA Degrees. The MBA Degreed may not be MBA People.
If you have an MBA, and are not reading and internalizing interesting content, then the impact of your degree is probably negligible. If you do not have an MBA, and approach your career by interconnecting information you learn from the tactical aspects of your job as well as the strategic change that you observe (and document) in your industry, then you’re miles ahead of many of your peers. Our ability to lead with influence will have little to do with the degree we have. When employees are looking for someone to lead them as they storm the barricades, you’ll rarely hear them say: “Follow him: he has an MBA!”.
The world we live in is amazing. The greatest content and discussions are available to us all. The bloated, high-inflation academic industry will want to keep churning out the MBA Degreed, but true MBA People differentiate themselves by mining information with curiosity, organization, and passion.
The degree is optional.
Graphic created by Libby Levi