More thoughts on the MBA

At the end of last year I graduated with an MBA from the University of Queensland (UQ).  I previously wrote an article about what I’d learned at the halfway point, this is part 2.


Don’t do it full-time, or remotely.

While the lecturers have PhDs, much of the value is in peer learning, and you only get that when everyone’s in the same room sharing knowledge.  Doing it in a vacuum, without the opportunity to work with your peers face to face, is just nuts.  Doing the degree full-time means you’re taking yourself out of the workforce (where you would have been able to apply your knowledge day by day), and then need to find a job after you complete from a standing start.  Right now in Australia that’s a more challenging proposition as many of the usual employers (Management consulting firms) don’t have the same levels of intake.


Complement your degree with some outside learning (books, Coursera)

Course coordinators should prescribe at least a dozen quality autobiographies along with the program.  Coursera is also a great way to fill in gaps, or make up for a poor lecturer (they are often a mixed bag).  The UQ program is pretty light on Competitive Strategy, and I regard the concepts as critical in management, particularly in large firms or industries which are oligopolistic.  To complement my MBA, I did a course of Competitive Strategy on Coursera, which gave me the background on game theory and competitive strategy I needed.  Coursera has a range of quality business courses you can do for free, to broaden your knowledge and fill in the gaps.


Do Toastmasters in parallel

Toastmasters should be compulsory for MBA students for the duration of their program, due to the amount of presentation required, and also for their personal development.  It should not be done via a club at the school, but at mainstream clubs in a student’s local area, so that they have to work with different people from a broader cross-section of society.  I’ve attended several clubs (again, they can be a mixed bag), most meetings are a good combination of a social evening with personal development and peer coaching.


Do a broad course.

Some programs allow you to specialise, mine was common with no electives.  I think this is the better model, and discourages accountants from building an accountant-specific program, for example.  You’re supposed to build a broad knowledge base for management, and tailoring a program to focus on your current skills is not going to achieve that.  I liken the 12 courses of the MBA to 12 different lenses you can look at a business through, and understanding different perspectives will help you make better decisions.


Continue to educate yourself

The idea that you might be able to do an MBA, instantly walk into senior management, and never continue your education again, is a complete joke.  Completing an MBA is like doing a Black Belt (Shodan in Japanese), which means “beginning degree”.  You have the foundation, but the real education begins.  I plan to (and am currently doing) the following:

  • Taking courses on Coursera (not just in Business but topics I find interesting.  I just completed Terrorism and Counterterrorism, which is run by Leiden University in The Hague.  Just because the content is in a different domain, doesn’t mean concepts can’t be applied in business)
  • Reading business books.  I’m currently reading Treacey & Wiersema on Value Disciplines which will be the foundation of another personal project I’m working on.
  • Online resources: I’m doing a lot of reading about Startups at the moment, and the best resources for this is reading contemporary content about new and recent startups like Tesla.  Some of what I read include, and Kevin Rose’s Foundation podcast.