We often hear about young professionals in their late 20s working for blue-chip firms and earning enviable salaries. They have already achieved a lot and, to advance further, decide it makes sense to have an MBA on their resume. The next logical step - as they see it - is to gain admission to a top MBA programme in the confident expectation they ace all the subjects as they did in high school and at college. That may require some extra effort, but it will pay off as the way then opens up to an even brighter future and, in due course, a spacious office somewhere in the C-suite.
There is nothing wrong with this approach. It seems to me, though, that if someone is already so sure about their future career path and so focused too, they may be better served by taking a specialised master’s programme rather than signing up for an MBA.
Top full-time MBA programmes are not intended to offer vocational training. They combine a wide spectrum of academic courses with group work, seminars and social activities and can provide a one- or two-year “gap” to weigh up a wider range of career options. Too many people look at this hiatus from an opportunity cost perspective, considering how much income they will lose and the promotions they may miss. Indeed, when I decided to take a two-year full time MBA, concerned friends and relatives most often asked about the real cost and the “risk” of further education. I could appreciate their worries, but didn’t agree. Leading executives have to build a business by seeking improvement and planning ahead, not just by minimising risk and avoiding costs.
In retrospect, I have been able to recognise the all-round benefits of a full-time programme. Taking two years off work means you don’t have the burden and distractions of daily workplace routines. This provides vital breathing for professionals to step back, learn and reflect. A period of introspection makes it easier to identify where your true passions lie and where your limits are. A two-year break from work also provides a chance to experiment, to experience real personal growth, and to fail in a “safe” environment. Lessons from failure are often the first steps on the road to success. In fact, IDEO, the celebrated design house, has even made “fail early and often” part of their management philosophy.
I still see too many of my peers living an unexamined life, as if in a bubble. Early success in a relatively narrow sphere has given them a large ego and arrogance. Their pride robs them of a useful mechanism – the reality check - and the “disease” of overconfidence can become chronic, ultimately harming their careers and meaning they don’t spot new opportunities or looming problems.
An MBA in not the only antidote for this, but it can go a long way to opening eyes, broadening horizons and changing outlooks, which alone can make it a worthwhile investment of time and money.
Posted originally on Education Post.