The start of a new business education model?

Over the last few months, I’ve spoken to quite a few friends who are or were considering doing an MBA, that magical degree that used to enable students to start earning over twice what they previously were. But that was in the days before banks started collapsing like a house of cards all around us. Most of these people are now being very practical when they say that spending over $50,000 a year just for fees (leave alone living expenses) cannot be justified when there is no longer a guarantee of even getting a job, forget one that pays sky-high salaries. 

A couple of days ago, Seth Godin wrote about the results of his SAMBA program (Seth Godin’s Alternative MBA, if you’re wondering), a 6-month course he ran where 9 students (selected out of 350 applicants) had rigorous, in-depth, on-the-ground training in business methods and leadership. It was unaccredited, free and residential. These students worked on a range of very interesting projects, which you can read more about on their blog
Anyway, there are a few things Seth Godin, a Stanford graduate himself, said in his post that stood out for me as making particular sense:

The educational lesson that I found the most striking is that the book knowledge was easy to transmit and not particularly essential. Once you get this far, it’s sort of a given that you’re good at school. We read more than a hundred books, and the book learning happened quickly . Our culture has done an amazingly good job at teaching talented people how to learn concepts from books.

I taught for five to twenty hours a week, and very little of it was about the books. So, if concepts from books are easy, what’s hard?

Doing it.

Picking up the phone, making the plan, signing the deal. Pushing ‘publish.’ Announcing. Shipping.

We spent a lot of time on this area. Every morning, each person came in prepared to push someone in the group to overcome the next hurdle. This is what growth looks like, and it was energizing to be part of.

We didn’t do this at all at when I was at Stanford. We spent a lot of time reading irrelevant case studies and even more time building complex financial models. The thing is, you can now hire someone to build a complex financial model for you for $60 an hour. And a week’s worth of that is just about all the typical entrepreneur is going to need. The rest of the time, it’s about shipping, motivating, leading, connecting, envisioning and engaging. So that’s what we worked on.

It amazes me that MBA students around the world aren’t up in arms. How can schools justify taking $100,000 in cash and teaching exactly the wrong stuff?

So the young people – my peers that I’ve been speaking to, are almost echoing what Seth says in some ways. Whether it is Harvard or Stanford, business schools today are teaching the wrong material. Students do not feel confident, nor do they feel particularly more knowledgeable when they come out of it. Attending business schools, especially the Ivy League ones, is all about becoming part of a world-class alumni network. But if that network produces people who are struggling to stand on their feet, how valuable is the network itself? This is not a blanket rejection of all business schools or all MBA students. When I was leaving university, doing an MBA was considered the path to a great career. I never did one, and used to listen in mild jealousy as I heard about those who did do one and got exactly the kind of career they wanted. 

Those days are over now. What IS needed are training grounds like the SAMBA or W+K Platform that give people on-the-job training and recognises their inherent talent and skills. 

Maybe this is the start of a new business education model.