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You Do Not Have an MBA

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If you’re John Doe, there are a lot of hoops for you to jump through if you want to become Dr. John Doe.

Between Jane Doe and Jane the lawyer, there are hoops, too. In both cases they’re pretty important to go through a certain way.

This is not the case with an MBA. But they’d like it to be. It isn’t the case for almost any degree at all. But they keep offering them anyway.

There is no single institution in the world which will go away willingly. Even if they were 100% useless, you can bet they would stick around as long as they could siphon us of our money and let us whittle away our years in exchange for their continued existence.

There is no institution in the world that has the one true path to the Answer (or the Truth, or Salvation). But all of them will convince you they will, as will your parents and mentors.

You do not have an MBA, and you do not need one. No one needs to give you permission; you need to take it.

Unless enough of us do this, these same institutions will be around siphoning your children, and their children, and so on until eternity. They will convince you that you need to read their newspaper, or their buy overpriced textbook, or follow their useless path. But none of those things are necessary at all. Many never were.

Oh, by the way, who is it that goes through hoops? Not people, just animals… and clowns. Are you either of those?

* Filed by Julien at 9:50 am under clear thinking, random, rant


Hi, I’m Julien Smith. I'm the founder and CEO of Breather.

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23 Responses to “You Do Not Have an MBA”

  1. Kyle Says:

    I love blog postings like this. As someone without a university degree, but a growing bank of experience, my blood boils when the glass walls are mounted around me – the “you can’t have X” or “don’t merit X salary” because you don’t have the credentials.

    There’s more than one way to skin a cat, but our world is just too lazy to accept anything other than what is considered “standard”.

    I’m not knocking education or the educated. We’ve all got a shot at making things happen, and often being clever and resourceful outstrips being book smart. In fact I’d say it almost always does.

    So for someone to hold another back because they don’t a piece of paper on their wall, that irks me.

    To your other point that “we” don’t need “their” permission, you’re right. It’s up to everyone to create their own game and make it work for them.

  2. Tamsen McMahon Says:

    Hey, now! I do, too, have an MBA! (No really, I do.)

    I love where you’re going with this, but I think you miss a key point: some of us jump through hoops to gain more information about the hoop itself. It’s not because we’re not capable of recognizing that the hoop is there, nor what the hoop is designed to do (and to be fair, there *are* some great skills that pursing a degree, and even an advanced degree teach you–they just aren’t usually the ones built into the curricula), nor that we’re ignorant of how said pursuit may actually amount to two, or four, or eight years of wasted effort if we’re not of a mind to really figure out the utility of it all.

    Some us jump through that hoop because jumping through it gives us a cloak of invisibility. (Or as my high school studio art teacher would often advise me: you have to know the rules before you can break them.)

    You’ve met me. Do I strike you as a typical MBA? I think not. Can I go all financial statements on your ass if I want to? Yes. Can I get all MBA-y with other MBAs when I need to, when it serves my purposes to help me get through to them? Yes. Does the fact that I have not only that degree, but a master’s as well mean that I’m seen differently, ex facie, but those who value that? Yes, it does.

    But on the other side of thing, do you know from looking at me that I spent four years working in nightclubs with people who never went to college? That I have tattoos? That I’m a voracious consumer of information of all types, totally unrelated to my fields of study or my career? Also no. Do you know that I’ve spent virtually every Saturday morning of my live for 11 years helping people make massive personal changes–something for which I never studied, other than through my own personal experience and observations over that same time period? No, no, no.

    I put all of those experiences into play at different times, and as appropriate. The more knowledge I have–of anything–means the greater my ability to connect with people on whatever level is most likely to create that opening for action or change.

    The power of knowledge is power. Full stop.

    Get it where you will and understand that certain paths of gaining it will open some doors and close others. The point is to pursue it in as many forms as you’re comfortable with and capable of. And then, USE IT.

    The only permission you need is your own.

  3. Jeff Goins Says:

    I agree that there is not one institution that offers a path leading to truth, salvation, etc. But I do believe, nonetheless, that those paths exist and that there is such a thing as universal truth. That is to say, while an MBA program doesn’t offer all the answers to business, there are still, nonetheless, ANSWERS.

    While we may forge our own paths to success and self-discovery, we need to recognize that not ever path we forge will necessarily lead to success or truth.

    This may be a bit too philosophical for this post (I hope not), but my point is that truth, I believe, is not something that we merely make up, but rather something we discover. And that has all kinds of implications for business and our own personal development.

    The alternative is that every entrepreneur would succeed merely because of the fact that she is an entrepreneur. It doesn’t work like that.

  4. John McLachlan Says:

    Without taking anything away from someone who goes through the process of getting an MBA and the things they learn, I’m so with you on this. I’ve seen many people not get jobs because they don’t have the letters.

    The good news, as someone in the second half of his life, the older you get, the more value is placed on your experience than whether you have letters after your name.

  5. Alex Greenwood Says:

    “I am a fully rounded human being, with a degree from the university of life, a diploma from the school of hard knocks, and three gold stars from the kindergarten of getting the shit kicked out of me”.
    — Captain Edmund Blackadder, Blackadder Goes Forth

    Kills me.

  6. Nathan Blair Says:

    This is an insightful post. For me, pursuing an MBA was a wonderful learning experience. I learned many lessons from a business-smart faculty, formed valuable relationships, and had a lot of fun. You correctly state that an MBA isn’t necessary, but it’s nonetheless true that it has value in many organization’s eyes. Value can be found in many places. I decided that the MBA path offered enough value that I wanted to be part of it. I haven’t regretted it yet.

  7. Yuval Says:

    I am an MBA student. I like it. Meeting new people, learning new things…. I don’t think you must have it. I also think having professional experience is more important.
    BUT, I am doing it in order to change my profession.
    I just think it’s a better way to make this change.
    I might be wrong, but hope I’m not :)

  8. Ben Says:

    I am totally living this. I have only taken three college courses, and basically said screw it. I graduated high school in 2007 and during my entire senior year I spent most of my time after school watching hundreds of videos on youtube that actually interested me and taught me something worthwhile. I have since created my own small business that basically supports my current lifestyle while slowly building up the business.

    In my area, unfortunately the really tiny colleges or trade schools are supposedly recruiting more and more people to apply for their programs year after year with this year being record numbers.

    I definitely think that right now, most of college is unnecessary at least for the things I am passionate about.
    There are so many ways to learn, and I don’t understand the logic behind the fact you need to pay hundreds/ thousands of dollars just for a class or text books when you can get so much more just by following your own direction and your own will.

    Ben Kafton

  9. John McLachlan Says:

    Heck, why stop at MBAs? My friend Tom thinks all school should be abolished: http://tdurrie.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/one-of-ten/

    A little radical perhaps and I’m waiting to hear how we get children to be literate, but I wonder, maybe he’s right.

  10. Jeff Sutherland Says:

    Interesting timing: having just spent last weekend in a room full of phd’s, finding one that wasn’t straight-up weak (across many facets) was a treat. (I was “best man” in a buddy’s wedding, who is a phd … the exceptional kind.)

    It was disconcerting (I fear for our nation’s future), and I’m not yet sure how to process this in light of the educational decisions my children will be facing in 10 years. Hopefully, the new reality we live in will have sorted some of this out by then.

    The best education I’ve ever received, was the first two years of trying to support my family of 6 on a 100% commission income as a commercial real estate agent, in a new city. Talk about school of “harden the fuck up”.

  11. Mitch Joel - Twist Image Says:

    Two distinct/differing opinions.

    1. I have many friends with MBAs. The last books they read were in their final semester. The lesson? Education doesn’t end because you got a degree. Education is a constant and life-long pursuit.

    2. You don’t get a MBA to be like everyone else (or to be accepted). A MBA doesn’t teach you anything. A MBA demonstrates that you took the time, energy and effort to learn how to learn. To take the time to collaborate, study and think differently. I don’t think this has to do with whether or not it’s a textbook or iTunes U or what the degree “gets you”. It has to do with taking the time to learn how to think critically, debate it, write it, test on it. It’s invaluable.

    Julien, let’s not forget that the majority of people aren’t like you. They’re not going to see learning and experiencing new things as a part of life, so giving them a MBA (or a Black Belt or a job title or whatever) helps push them and gets them to strive for more.

  12. Ruthann Swain Says:

    I got an MBA, but “I did it my way”. I went over seas, didn’t really care what sort of scores I got, and I focused on what I wanted to learn. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I came back to the US (kicking and screaming) a more well rounded person. In theory I agree with you, Julien, but I think it is more in how and why you are doing it rather than in what you are doing. If your getting an MBA just to get to the next step on the ladder, your only shorting yourself.

  13. Alan Rae Says:

    I don’t have an MBA – I have a DPhil in Biochemistry.

    I never used it to do more biochemistry but I’ve used what I learnt about how to find things out and do mental ju jitsu every day of my working life.

    I’ve done all kinds of things I’ve had no training for because the metadiscipline of the scientific method has seen me through. That plus the well guarded secret that you get a doctorate because of adequate brains and unrelenting persistence. I lived with that stuff without a break for 6 months when I was writing up. It’s not toughening the way that commission only selling is toughening – but it does toughen you up.

    I agree with the thrust of your argument though – qualifications are a very poor substitute for having the drive to find out for yourself. On the other hand understanding what the formal structures are has a benefit too.

    It’s like Jazz – you can play by ear or you can follow the dots. But the best musicians work one against the other.

  14. Andrea Meyer Says:

    I think Mitch raises a very good point: degree or not, education should be a life-long pursuit. I have my undergraduate degree in Organizational Behavior and so I took 6 courses in the graduate school of business. I think there is much to be gained from the varied life experiences that those students brought with them to the class room and/or study groups. That being said, many people get overly impressed by degrees and that clouds their perceptions. I’ve worked with plenty of people who managed to get masters degrees that do not seem to be intuitive nor do they collaborate well. So which path is better? I think it is all up to the individual. You can gain much of an education or the workplace, it all depends on how you apply yourself.

  15. Sophie Davis Says:

    The most important thing to realize is that school and regular education doesn’t make or break you.
    You should be free to decide which path to choose. And you shouldn’t be blamed or “punished” if you’ve chosen the unconventional path.
    Whether the MBA-ers like it or not, having a degree and then an MBA is the conventional path.
    But are you worth something because you have an MBA? Or are you worth something because YOU are worth something? Is it YOU or the title?

    I would rather be successful because I chose to be successful, than be successful because I have a title attached to my name.

    Abolishing school is not a good thing either. It’s extreme. Teaching future generation to embrace education and learning in WHATEVER FORM they encounter it is crucial. Also, giving them the backbone to be courageous enough to choose what’s right for them, not for mommy or daddy, is so important.

  16. Marjorie Clayman Says:

    This is a funny post as I read it in the context of my life. No, I don’t have an MBA, but I do have 2 other Masters Degrees in things that have very little to do (directly) with what I do now. So, I jumped through hoops, just maybe not the right kind of hoops.

    Some of the most brilliant people I have met haven’t been able to do the school thing. It’s too regimented and they need to run free. It’s too confining. They need to let their minds soar.

    Some of the other most brilliant people I have met have degrees like some people have wall paper, and they are able to use them. That’s great too.

    Always dangerous to paint with a broad brush, but at heart, I agree with you 100% :)

  17. Jackson Wightman Says:

    AInteresting, if somewhat misguided, rant against formal education in general and the MBA in particular.

    Yes, I have one.

    You have neglected to mention or account fora few the main benefits that accrue to an MBA (and formal education more generally):

    1) It brings a network of business minded contacts (this is particularly true if one does and Executive MBA wherein everyone is a practicing, mid career manager). Can/should you actively seek biz contacts in other ways? Of course. But the MBA is good for this.

    2) Your words allude to a tacit – and wrong – assumption (perhaps because you are a business yourself) that everyone can be an entrepreneur or a biz themselves. They can’t. The MBA is a great degree for people who are not entrepreneurs but do wish to practice management. Again, can you learn to be a professional, big firm manager without an MBA? Absolutely yes. But it does not hurt getting one.

    3) As Mitch Joel mentioned, not everyone is you. Actually few people have your capacity for self directing learning. Formal education – including an MBA – exposes people to things they would not find on their own.

  18. Hoops McCann Says:

    I have a special delivery for you. And it’s not an MBA. After the lie about “real estate never goes down in value”, getting your MBA is the best investment you can make is in solid second place. Well said my friend. Oh, and of course the banksters want you to borrow money for this over priced “asset”.

  19. Mike Handy Says:

    I am not getting my MBA right now, I am actually still working on my B.S. degree. I don’t think much of the education I have received has been useful. Certainly I have picked up some technical skill but I think the piece of paper is way overrated.

    I know far too many college grads that are just messes, companies hire them because of the paper and fire them quickly because they need to have their hand held. I see some value in the hoop but I think your real lament is in the way the business community has overrated the piece of paper.

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