An MBA In Fewer Than 400 Pages?

Curriculum coverCan you really pack a two-year, $250,000-curriculum in a single book? Author and longtime Fortune columnist Stanley Bing sets out to do exactly that in “The Curriculum: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Master of Business Arts.”

If the concept strikes you as preposterous, a peek inside will do little to dispel these doubts. From the accreditation body, the National Association for Serious Study (“dedicated to a number of serious studies”),  to a core curriculum that includes “Not Appearing Stupid” and “Crazy People,” the book offers a satirical take on an overly staid subject. Think Stephen Colbert meets B-school – with infographics.    

The humor, though pointed, is not what’s surprising. Rather, it’s the truth behind Bing’s bold, irreverent approach. Just as “The Office” and “Dilbert” magnify the absurdities of the 9-to-5 grind, so too Bing uses humor to poke holes in accepted business pedagogy. The glossary, for instance, defines marketing as the “art of creating demand for a product or service nobody knows they need,” while mergers are compared with insect marriage: “one spouse, and all its bodily parts, will be eaten as soon as intercourse is done.”

For all its flippancy, the book has valuable lessons: write short emails, don’t sound stupid, learn how to bullshit effectively, be respectful but not servile, and ditch the Bluetooth. The book is particularly useful for lessons you can’t get in a classroom: Few B-schools will tell you, on record anyway, that you’re likely to get docked a few points for sporting a hipster ponytail or that sipping a happy-hour Sprite instead of scotch could result in subtle shunning.  Academic institutions fail to explain that your boss could very will be a raging psychopath, or that your coworkers will display at least one type of crazy – much less how to deal with them.

Without the strictures of academia, Bing throws political correctness to the wind and offers his readers a crash course on business boiled down to what it really is: interactions between humans for money and all the complications that invites. While the book is not likely to replace an MBA, it’s certainly a solid guide for navigating the nuances of business.

Stanley Bing is the author of The Curriculum: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Master of Business Arts

Stanley Bing is the author of The Curriculum: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Master of Business Arts

In a wide-ranging interview with Poets&Quants, Bing lays out his motivations for the book, where B-schools are missing the mark, and his top advice for business students.  

What prompted you to write the book?

I’ve written a lot of books that straddle the line between whimsy and advice. In “What Would Machiavelli Do?” I explored why mean people do so well in business and in “Crazy Bosses” I explored the idea that pathology, which would be liability in any other venue, can be an asset in business. So I’ve been thinking about these things and working in corporations for a long time, and I wanted to aggregate a lot of these ideas in a course of study that would explore the irrational like a classical MBA explores the rational.

I’ve always seen business as being more irrational, emotional, personality-driven, and humorous than how it’s portrayed in business writing. I looked at what people study when they get their MBAs. I reviewed the curricula of top business schools, including Kellogg, Harvard, Stanford, and Stern. Much of it didn’t speak to me or the skills that deliver success to people I’ve known. So I did an alternative curriculum.

  • JohnAByrne

    Thanks Tom for catching those. I often think that running a digital operation is a lot like practicing journalism without a net. Wish I had my old copydesk at BusinessWeek. We obviously edit and do light copy editing but at far too quick a pace.

  • Tom Groenfeldt

    Copy editors needed: ” I firmly believe that it’s more implant to not appear stupid”
    ” A significant chuck of the time…”

  • Matt

    Yea, I haven’t had an alcoholic drink in about 4 1/2 years, and after-hours gatherings are always a little awkward for me. I am constantly amazed at how acceptable it is in our culture to get hammered at social events, especially considering how we look down on recreational use of other drugs. Shrug.

  • GyanOne

    Spot on for the most part. So much of business school education today is focused on skill-building that the behavioral aspects are often ignored. Even courses on power and politics within organizations take a much too theoretical approach when addressing the softer aspects of what it takes to be truly successful in corporate organizations. The part on drinking is real-world – most people know it/realize it after a bit of experience, but not too many B-schools would be willing to state it like it is.

    In terms of brand building, though, having the name of a top B-school on your resume definitely helps if you are looking to go into corporate positions, but maybe not for other things in life in general, including entrepreneurship. Perhaps a brand can be built on things one is good at outside that context, but the big name definitely helps getting that initial foot in the door in the corporate world…..

  • JohnAByrne

    We’re working on it!

  • Matt

    I have this problem as well. Never able to actually log in.

  • devils0508

    Can you please fix the random “Register/Login” page that comes up. When I
    try to send people articles on this site, it occasionally goes
    directly to that page, and they don’t read the article I want them to
    read. Furthermore, it doesn’t even work right. I have a username, but I
    just get stuck being permanently re-directed/logged out. It also doesn’t
    seem to work with the comments system, so what’s the point? You’re losing
    so many page views because of this…