Here’s a collection of interesting ideas from people who are talking about the value of business school:
1. Business school is not an effective means to self-discovery.
Most business school applications require that you tell what you’re going to do with the MBA. This is because most business schools think it is a waste to get an MBA if you don’t know what you’re going to do with it. If you don’t know what you want to do, you can’t rule out that you won’t need the degree. And business school is too expensive to use as a means to simply delay the real world.
2. Maybe you should try philosophy courses instead.
One of the most recent, and cogent critiques of business schools came from management consultant Matthew Stewart in the Atlantic (paid). “Most of management theory is insane,” he writes. “If you want to succeed in business, don’t get an MBA. Study philosophy instead.”
Stewart says that the three most important pieces of advice for business are also topics dear to philosophers:
Expand the domain of your analysis
Hire people with greater diversity of experience
Get good at communication
“As I plowed through my shelfload of bad management books, I beheld a discipline that consists mainly of unverifiable propositions and cryptic anecdotes, is rarely if ever held accountable, and produces an inordinate number of catastrophically bad writers. It was all too familiar. There are, however, at least two crucial differences between philosophers and their wayward cousins. The first and most important is that philosophers are much better at knowing what they don't know. The second is money. In a sense, management theory is what happens to philosophers when you pay them too much.”
3. Business schools are headhunters who charge a fee to the employee.
Stewart says the best thing that can be said about business school is that it is a way for companies to reliably outsource recruiting. McKinsey is a company built on this model. (But you can bet these companies don’t rely on middling business schools for this purpose.)
4. Common sense might get you further.
Charles Handy, a business guru who got way more press in England than the United States, eventually came down on the side of common sense — that business schools overemphasize academics and that’s not what you need to succeed in business.
5. Good networkers reach way beyond business school.
Many people say they go to business school for the network it provides. But be careful of becoming too dependent on that idea. Networking guru Keith Ferrazzi says that you need to be able to network independently of school if you are going to be good at it.
Certainly, there are good and bad things about going to business school. But think about this: If there were something you were totally excited about doing would you do it right now or would you put it off three years to go to business school? If you would do it right now, then you don’t need an MBA, you need an exciting idea.