I think business school is marketed as if it’s a panacea for everything. I stopped in Oakland, CA, and saw three enormous billboards telling people they should go get their MBA. They can choose from Davis, Berkeley, or Stanford. But do all these people really need an MBA?
In most of my department, there are no MBAs. We do have a few in finance, but not in sales, and I don’t think you need an MBA to be successful in sales. It’s an innate quality, like musical talent. Unless I’m missing something, I don’t know one great sales representative who learned it in business school. Actually, I can think of one, but he’s a genius and his MBA led him to become a CEO.
I don’t want to be misunderstood as saying that the whole thing is a big fake, but it does have a very specific purpose, and it’s not for everyone.
In the foreword you say that the book’s course “will not take anywhere near the two years and up to $250,000 involved in those offered by well-established, time-consuming and tedious ivy-covered institutions…” Do you think the book could be a substitute for an MBA?
For some people I think it would be, and for others it wouldn’t. For instance, it wouldn’t necessarily replace the MBA for someone going into finance. But not everyone going to business school is going to do that; they’re going to be entrepreneurs or just looking for a job. A lot of what’s in the book is common sense and a certain way of looking at things.
My first chapter is on not appearing stupid. I firmly believe that it’s more important to not appear stupid than to have a deep understanding of finance. Unless I’m the comptroller, I don’t need to know everything about finance. I fully recognize that you need know what EPS [earnings per share] is so you can understand how your company is doing from a shareholder’s perspective, and you’ve got to know certain jargon – these are things you need to function.
But I can also tell you that every senior officer I know is faking it about 30% of the time. A significant chunk of the time they’re going to look it up later, and they don’t want to appear ignorant. There is a time you can ask stupid questions, but that’s after you’ve established an aura of intelligence. I think that’s extremely valuable.
The next chapter deals with the business persona and the idea that you bring a slightly, or sometimes not so slightly, different persona to your job. It’s really critical. Everyone does it, but do you understand it, do you take a strategic approach to it, do you think about it?
I know many, many people who have MBAs who operate on my curriculum. They got their MBAs, and now they’re just as driven and cuckoo as the rest of us.
You use humor and tongue-and-cheek observations, such as drawing correlations between “business effectiveness” and hair. What’s the strategy behind your approach?
The book is funny, but it’s not silly. This idea that truth and insight can’t be conveyed to someone if it’s funny or that it’s somehow less true is an interesting development in our society. There was a time when if someone was funny, that made it more true. Apparently now we’ve got to be dead serious and slightly boring to give people good advice.