I saw this post from the head of admission at the Cambridge MBA, and it was a good reminder of why I chose to come to Cambridge rather than some of the top ranking schools. Cambridge is scrappy – there’s an element to being an underdog that I really like and a certain lack of refinement that reminds you that kind of reminds me of a startup. It’s sometimes amazing, sometimes chaotic, but always challenging.
I was hesitant to get a MBA coming from a startuppy background involving a lot of techies who ridicule MBAs, largely because they create a lot of intangibles (and expect a lot of money for it); in a startup, there isn’t much space for anything that doesn’t ship. As a student of management, you are constantly reminded to focus on bigger, broader things — competitive landscapes, value chains, strategic planning — and you avoid getting “in the weeds”. Which is possibly why MBAs are often the butt of management jokes like this Fedex ad:
But the reality is that it doesn’t matter how amazing your strategy is if you can’t deliver it properly and the “weeds” are what your customers experience. They don’t see strategy decks, financial models, or business plans, they just experience the end product, the service, and if you’re doing it right, the warm/fuzzy feeling for your brand. And none of the fancy Microsoft documents that you create come to life without having to get the dirty work of delivering done.
And I think MBAs get a bad reputation because in many programs, a lot of things are served to you on a silver platter. Whether it’s a case or a class project, the information is provided or relatively easy to access or derive. You can pull together an assignment the night before because everyone else has the same goal that you do, and you can muddle through a presentation because everyone in your group is relatively intelligent [at least by MBA measures].
But the Real World is significantly less forgiving, and you can’t always convince everyone to pull an all-nighter so that you meet your targets when there is a world of families, friends or [insert entertainment of choice here] to divert their attention. The technical bits you learn on the MBA aren’t exceptionally hard; it’s the soft stuff that makes management difficult.
So looking back at my experience with the Global Consulting Project in Brazil, I’m thankful for all the bizarro experiences that made it realistic. There were no taxis or hotels booked, just a whole world of chaotic reality that everyone else has to live in too. But the experience of creating a make-shift white board, cobbling together broken Portuguese to get around, and negotiating to shove 5 people into the back of a cab made us all the better at dealing with the Real World, which allegedly is where the jobs are.