Readers of my previous article may recall my sceptical view on MBA programme rankings. Now I would extend my scepticism further to argue that your professors’ expertise and knowledge should be given less weight than is commonly believed. A simpler argument is that a Nobel laureate may not be a good teacher, even though he/she is probably the thought leader in his/her field. As I learned from one Nobel Prize winner, a lecture can degenerate into a chaotic journey of the inner workings of his brain.No one will get anything from it. It is not an effective means of education.
However, the main reason I find lessons outside of classroom more important is attributable to the change in the business landscape in recent years. Through the years, I have learned a lot more about business and finance from reading on my own other than from the classes I took long ago. The business world we live in is evolving at a fast pace. Jim Collins spent six years writing Built to Last, in which he identified 18 visionary companies. Now, less than 20 years later, the landscape of the business world is no longer the same: Ford and Citi have faced near death; Sony, HP and Motorola are in disarray; Philip Morris has been restructured. Companies, even those “built to last”, are not immune to the fast-changing business environment, and neither are business philosophies and theories. Does anyone still remember Total Quality Management?
Textbook and business cases, however good, are historical events. Of course there are lessons to be learned from the rhythm of history, but history never repeats itself in exactly the same way. This is the very reason why many great companies do fail. Someday, great companies of today like Facebook, Google, and Alibaba will also become obsolete. Therefore, in order to remain competitive, it is of paramount importance to be apprised of the latest ideas and trends in business.
Am I suggesting that an MBA education is not important? No, far from it. On the contrary, a good MBA education will become an asset that is hard to replace. As the business cycle has become shorter, as competition has become much more intense, and as information has become much more readily available, the ability to dissect complicated issues and make quick decisions has become much more important. I see a lot of friends working too hard on business cases, trying too hard to regurgitate everything their professors said in class, working too hard on group projects. They are missing the point of the education: an MBA should be about learning how to think, exploring ideas and opportunities outside the classroom, and building networks of friends and professors who will continue to inspire you and assist you in your future careers.
Many MBAs meet their business partners at business schools. This is not a coincidence. Enrolling in business school is, for many, a first step outside of one’s comfort zone. It provides a forum for like-minded and aspiring young executives to exchange ideas. Group projects give MBAs the perfect chance to work with people with different managerial styles. Business school provides a platform to meet with people from all walks of life. As you get old and become more senior, this network of friends could be your most important asset coming out of business school.
So, step out of your classroom, my friends. If your classmates invite you to a house party, go. If your classmates want to get a coffee with you, go. If your classmates are going on a Christmas ski trip, go. You may be able to make friends – or business partners – who will transform your life.