Business Management BS

Matthew Stewart recently posted a lengthy criticism of management theory and MBA’s at The Atlantic. He feels that most management theory is “inane”, and that one would do better pursuing a degree in philosophy (suspiciously, what he studied):

The strange thing about my utter lack of education in management was that it didn’t seem to matter. As a principal and founding partner of a consulting firm that eventually grew to 600 employees, I interviewed, hired, and worked alongside hundreds of business-school graduates, and the impression I formed of the M.B.A. experience was that it involved taking two years out of your life and going deeply into debt, all for the sake of learning how to keep a straight face while using phrases like “out-of-the-box thinking,” “win-win situation,” and “core competencies.” When it came to picking teammates, I generally held out higher hopes for those individuals who had used their university years to learn about something other than business administration.

I got an MBA, but it wasn’t a conventional program. It was a school with a combined online and in-person approach. Our instructors were people who worked in the fields they taught, so the program had a more practical emphasis instead of academic. The stated goal of the program was not to fill us full of theory, but to provide us with a “tool box” we could turn to in order to solve the every-day problems we would face as managers.

It’s helped. I don’t remember as much as I’d like, but I remember enough to provide me with a bit of a “business spider-sense” when faced with something we were warned about. I know enough to say “there may be more to this than we think”, and can then go and do the research to figure out what may be going on. It’s served me well on many occasions.

I’d have to say that my MBA program didn’t really get into management theory, so I can’t speak to Stewart’s concerns that much. I agree that there is some “bad science” out there, and that when it comes to solving business problems just about any degree can serve provided the practitioner has decent research, analytical and problem-solving skills. If those are not being taught in management programs they should be!

My career has largely been as a developer and systems analyst, though my degrees have been in music and business. Now I’m an entrepreneur running a video game store, as well as a consultant in a field that didn’t even exist three years ago. It’s my opinion that it’s not nearly so important what you learn so much as that you can learn. As the world continues to evolve, the successful ones will be those who can evolve with it.

I know Stewart gets long-winded, but give him a read. In the mean time, what do you think of the old “academics vs. practical experience” debate? Which side are you on? Leave a comment below!