My guide to completing an MBA

At the end of 2013, I’ll have finished my MBA, and I’ve learned a number of rules to succeed in the MBA and maximising your return on investment (dollars, time, etc).  The MBA is really a bunch of different lenses you can look at management through, whether it be HR, Internationalisation, Finance, etc.  By immersing yourself in each lens you can learn how to apply them in day-to-day business decisions.

 

Don’t come in cold.

Before I decided to do the MBA I read a few books that compressed the core principles into a single volume.  10-day MBA, The Personal MBA are both good starting points.  Peter Drucker’s Essential Management is another complement.  So much of what you learn is the useful but obvious stuff that you can easily pick up by reading $100 worth of books.  Getting that learning out of the way helps for 2 reasons:

  1. You might decide you don’t need to invest the time and money to do an MBA
  2. You can focus on applying the principles you already know rather than learning them from scratch.

 

80-20 rule

If you’re working full-time, you’ll soon realise doing an MBA is like having a second full-time job, that you’ve got to do really half-assed to keep your life on the rails.  There’s no shame in taking shortcuts, the reality of the real world is you’re going to need to prioritise your life to get the important stuff done, and some things are going to slip through the cracks.  I’d be more embarrassed to be wasting my time on something that isn’t important.

Most academic papers can be summarised in 50 words or less.  It took me a year to learn to make notes of the key points for each reading so I had a handy word doc with an entire class worth of study in a couple of pages.

 

Contribute to class

You know that dork who wouldn’t shut up in class and wanted to suck up to the teacher?  Most MBA classes are full of those people.  Fact is you have to participate in class to get value out of your investment.  My only advise is to phrase contributions as a question rather than a statement, so you don’t look so conceited, and if you’re responsible for more than half the discussion in class, people probably think you’re a nob.

 

Network as much as you can

The time you save by only doing the 20% of the work that will give you 80% of the results gives you an opportunity to work on your professional network by connecting with high achievers across industries.  At least half the people in your class are going to be pretty big hitters, and can help you in your career, so you’d be mad not to know them well enough to get a character reference on your next interview.  I only get 4s or 5s but one of my group regulars has offered me a job.  Who’s focused on the wrong things?

 

Learn from your peers

One of the tragedies of MBA programs (at least the one I’m in) is that most lecturers are too academic, and so have massive blind spots in their thinking.  Taking their word as gospel is the kind of mistake that Lehman Brothers risk analysts made, relying on spreadsheets and confusing the map for the territory.  An analogy would be reading martial arts theory and then expecting to survive in a street fight.  You’re better off doing some street fighting, learning some theory (while still streetfighting), and then progressively applying the theory to become a better streetfighter.