30 Second MBA

August 31, 2009 · Print this post

I don’t have an MBA, so I don’t have direct experience of the programs; and I’m sure most of them deliver a great education in business, finance, analysis, operations, and all the trimmings. But I’m not a fan of the idea because of my personal experience with so many of the MBAs who came out of their programs in the 80’s and 90’s.

The irony was that most of these folks were straight out of biz school when I knew them, and they didn’t know anything about how business really worked. They only knew how it was “supposed” to go. They’d been taught that business was something that could be managed utterly by numbers, and that the end results justified the management means. Some of them were the dumbest smart people I’ve ever known.

I had plenty of conflict as an executive: it’s part of business, and most of it was straightforward and quickly resolved. Good conflict — effective and productive. The bad conflict I had was always with those MBAs who answered human needs — for respect, for communication, for collaboration — by pointing to the numbers and saying Look how well we’re doing, that’s all the answer you need. And a lot of times that’s all the answer our company looked for: having an MBA gave those inexperienced people more credibility than the advice — and the results in engagement, loyalty, productivity and retention — of the experienced managers.

But I think MBA programs are changing. I think there’s attention paid to the subtleties of managing people as well as the subtleties of process improvement and evidence-based decision making. And there is so much we can all learn from experienced people about how to manage them all together.

That’s why I’m glad to see the 30 Second MBA at Fast Company. Every day, a business leader or expert delivers a thirty-second distillation of his or her advice and experience on a particular topic. They’re not all great, but that’s part of the lesson — using your own instincts to tell you what tips make sense is the only way you’ll ever refine those instincts. The 30-second limit means there isn’t a lot of depth, but that’s also fine: the point is to give you simple and effective ideas, insights and techniques. (And one of the things I’ve already learned: if you have a 30-second limit, don’t go over it. It makes you seem either unfocused or arrogant; either way, people stop listening).

I don’t think this is a substitute for either education or experience. But if you can spend 30 seconds a day evaluating someone else’s advice, and perhaps putting another small piece of your own management style into place, that seems a pretty good return on investment.

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