The MBA Conundrum


A college on my MBA program here at the BI in Oslo questioned me somewhat aggressively the other week: "You seem very relaxed about the process of studying. Is this something you really want to do?"

Over the last few years, there has been a lot of skepticism surrounding the true value of MBAs once inside an organization. As the first term of my MBA program comes to a close, and I begin to look forward to a week absent of work and full of long Mediterranean dinners and hot evenings, I can not help reflect as I sit in class now on the validity Of all the skepticism. First of all, I am sympathetic to the cynics. For a long time I was a cynic myself of the validity of MBAs – after all, they are usually twenty-somethings like myself who think they know all the answers based on what has to be a fairly limited amount of real, practical experience.

From my experience on this MBA program here at the BI in Oslo, the skepticism is not unjustified but it is misplaced.

When I chose to study an MBA, it was predominately for the intellectual process of reasoning and studying that I wanted to do it. Unlike some, for me graduating in the top ten of the class is not an all-consuming goal – it is rather the acquisition of knowledge and the opportunity to be back in one of my favorite places, the classroom, again that is the pivotal reasons I am studying for this degree. It seems I am part of a minority, however. I may be competent in not finding the task of getting high grades overly demanding and actually enjoying the process of studying, but putting it diplomatically, there are certainly a number of less than congenial individuals on the program who are clearly studying an MBA for one sole Purpose: because they can not rise any higher in their careers without one. The problem with these individuals is that studying an MBA is not what they need: what they need is a lesson in how to get on with people. Most of the types I am speaking about ironically have quite outstanding qualifications already; It is certainly not for lack of academic kudos that they have encountered a limit to how far they can rise within their respective organizations.

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The problem is in the classification of "MBA's" as a general categorical statement. It is immediately evident on this program at least that those who are going to climb the ladder in an organizational context would do so anyway, without an MBA. All the program does is to sharpen the intellectual process so that those who have been "winging" subjects like accounting for the past four years, like myself, can now talk about it with a sense of meaning. On the other hand, an MBA will not teach those who have a personality disorder how to acquire a personality. Ironically, it is these students who are the most "grade" focused, and who there before immediately, at least, come across as the most ambitious: because they have found themselves in the unenviable position of having to be. However, once these individuals assume management positions, they quickly find themselves at square one.

Management is more of an intuitive process than an intellectual one. The problem with studying an MBA for the students who are doing it with the sole purpose of advancing their careers in mind is that, while being somewhat more intuitive than than most degrees, it is still predominately an intellectual pursuit. MBA's are great degrees, they are just being used for the wrong purpose.