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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Want to succeed in Business? The Management Myth

"'Most of management theory is inane,' writes our correspondent, the founder of a consulting firm. 'If you want to succeed in business, don't get an M.B.A. Study philosophy instead.'"

While there may be more than a little cognitivie dissonance here (I have an MBA), Matthew Stewart's article in the most recent Atlantic Monthly is a great read. He casts aspersions mostly, it seems, at management consultants and authors of many of the books one might find in the 'Business' or 'Management' section at the local Barnes & Noble. It's a very interesting, and entertaining read, especially for anyone with an interest in business, consulting, business school, etc. What he doesn't point out, of course, is that there is bias on both sides (here comes the cognitive dissonance). I once had a manager who, like Stewart, frowned upon MBAs and their value. He, like Stewart, had his own reasons for doing so, though Stewart does not go into his own extensively.

I do concur with Stewart on a number of points:

  1. Too much of what is passed off as 'management literature' is little more than common sense repackaged -- and many of these authors are making a buck off readers' willingness to read something they intuitively already know
  2. Depending on what your business' needs are, you may not necessarily be well served by hiring a large, white-shoe management consulting firm (again, I have my own biases)
  3. A strong liberal arts education (he recommends Philosophy) is always going to serve you well in management (there's my bias again -- though I might go with History or Political Science or Literature)
  4. There is too much esoteric, silly, and mostly gramatically-incorrect "business speak" that gets used in business circles (think "incent," "out-of-the-box," or "leverage" -- I see this, as do we all, every day at work -- I'm probably even guilty of it myself)
  5. Business school is often an important recruiting screen for many companies. In Stewart's words: "For companies, M.B.A. programs can be a way to outsource recruiting...." The schools do much of the work of selection and screening and then allow companies a strong candidate pool from which to draw. This is well-known, and even discussed in business schools, as MBAs are often there to "self-select" into a certain profession or set of opportunities.

I don't agree that an MBA isn't wortwhile. But again, I have the degree: how could I?

It's a great read. Enjoy.

The Management Myth


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