Search for Elon Musk’s “MBA-ization of Corporate America.” Here, you’ll find an overwhelming number of articles regarding his stance on the (lack of) value of an MBA. Specifically, he argues that an MBA teaches students to create spreadsheets and presentations for board meetings. However, they don’t prepare students to excel in product innovation or customer satisfaction initiatives.
With only one semester left in my Kelley MBA journey, I won’t try to hide my bias for the value of an MBA. Creating spreadsheets that link across multiple tabs or presentations that are meticulously designed, formatted, and animated are part of being an MBA student. But those skills are only table stakes. That’s why I wanted to share my experience in case so you can see how product innovation and a customer-first mindset innovation are the categorical emphasis of an MBA.
TEACHING YOU THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
I have taken courses such as New Product Development, Design Sprint, Venture Strategy, and Corporate Innovation. Each class challenged us to conceptualize, test, and iterate products and ventures. For instance, in New Product Development, my team conceptualized an athleisure brand extension for Allbirds. The project included market sizing, price modeling, and brand positioning. But the most gratifying part of the project is that, a few weeks after the semester concluded, Allbirds actually did release a line of basics that mimicked our project.
An MBA doesn’t equip student with all the right answers. It’s actually the opposite in that you learn to ask better questions: What is the customer communicating through purchase data or voice of customer analysis? What does that customer journey map look like, and how can we create more effective touchpoints? What can be incrementally added, subtracted, or changed to a current product to make it exponentially more effective? How can we brainstorm with a team to actually achieve our goal?
To that last question, group work is a critical part of any MBA program. But innovation can often be muddled by group think, charismatic persuasion, and a preference for cohesion. That is why one of my favorite classes was Creating and Generating New Venture ideas – a class for learning about and designing Design Sprints. I was fortunate to be able to put this class to practice immediately as I participated in a Sprint representing the student body. For one week, I worked with the program office, career services, and faculty to ideate and strategize efforts to further elevate the Kelley MBA program, with results that have been implemented this school year.
A DIVERSITY OF THOUGHT
MBA graduates are expected to have the structure and polish of a management consultant, the global mindset of worldwide traveler, and the leadership skills of c-suite executives. If you are wondering how to best develop skills to be your most innovative self, ask yourself: is it more beneficial to remain in my current or a similar role or to make a change that is uncomfortable and unknown? For me, that answer was an MBA. The result has been two years to synthesize all of the ideas and concepts learned from a diverse group of people: the exposure to diversity of thought elevates a sense of curiosity and inclusion. These skillsets are directly applicable to understanding and delivering products and services that best fit customers’ needs in a world where innovative and equitable outputs are more important than ever.
Before attending Kelley, I may have agreed with Elon Musk’s call for the de-MBA-ization of Corporate America. But my experience has shown me that the customer is at the root of every classroom discussion and that product innovation is necessary for any role post-MBA. But if you do ever find yourself needing a spreadsheet formula or presentation design help, go find your nearest MBA friend!
Cait Hickey is a second year at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. Prior to joining Kelley, Cait had five years of experience in high growth start-ups, most recently at a health intelligence software firm where she managed strategic partnerships. She is studying Corporate Innovation and Marketing and serves as VP of Marketing and Communication for the student body, Hoosier Host, and research assistant for the Management and Strategy department. This summer, Cait interned at Humana. Working with the Digital Transformation program management team, she supported both the change and product management workstreams. Outside of school, she enjoys biking the B-line, working and studying at HopScotch, and planning her next trip.