em Be ay or not to Be

My first attempt at a post of some intelligence value…how about I start with a big question running through the heads of several twenty-somethings? I find I’ve gradually shifted out of asking for advice to the one being asked for advice. I have been impromptu counselor for several younger friends or siblings of friends, daunted by the uncertainity of the future. MBA or not to be….okay that’s a sad joke…booohooo…obviously one thing the degree cannot do is instill a sense of humour where none existed! I guess that’s it in a nutshell…the program doesn’t automatically make you a better manager, a leader with a greater following or a salesman with more impressive numbers….all it does is polish some existing traits.

Let’s start again…here I am, a 25-year old in possession of a MBA degree as well as the before and after experiences as an employee. Were the two years worth it? What did I gain? What did I lose? Would I recommend the program?

I’m tempted to go at this in the ‘typical MBA fashion’ as I like to call it…..separate into pros and cons, bulletted top 5 arguments for and against and follow up with the zinger that is the ABC of the b-school lingo…”Depends on so many other factors, such as …1..2…3…”. But since I’m currently in the process of breaking out of the mould of my qualification, I will attempt to stay as close to my original expression as possible.

I know MBA for sure has given me a good deal of confidence. I don’t know if that would have anyway come with age. It probably would have…but I guess the program made it quicker and more structured. When you have to stand up in front of a class and make a presentation, answer questions, defend your theories and watch them getting shot down…when you do this at least 3 times a week, you sort of develop a resistance to the common human fear of public speaking.

Somewhere down the line….I don’t know if this happened to everyone, but it sure happened to me…there came the realization that I did not always have to be right….that I would not have sure-fire guarantees of anything…and that no matter how much effort and planning went into something, there could a million things that were not thought of, or which just turned out differently from plan.

Most certainly the course was a formal initiation into the corporate world….from learning the jargon to experiencing the reality of politics in groups. There were several times I had a chance to think, “This is so obvious. Why do I have to read a book to know that a colourful cover attracts more attention than a bland one?” I sometimes wondered whether it was really worth spending two years just to learn such terms as packaging, branding, goodwill, motivation, conflict and supply-and-demand. In my first job after the course, I believed for quite a long time that the only value-addition (another bit of jargon!) had been my learning the language of the corporate world. Sometimes I thought it was like a doctor saying “I can’t cure you but I can tell you the name of what’s going to kill you.”

But I differ now….I think what the MBA course did do is provide structures for my thinking. Analytical skills and logical reasoning are things that people get tested on in aptitude tests and I don’t think these can be learnt overnight. But it is not enough to be able to analyse if one is not able to satisfactorily translate the analysis into results and moreover communicate both the thought-flow and the end to other people. Yes, there has been a definite advantage in this area….I could think coherently and read and write and speak fluently earlier but my communication is certainly more effective now. I am able to look at a situation, focus on the most important aspects, examine them in isolation and totality and reach conclusions faster. Add to that the power of being able to share the whole process with another person…it is a tremendous leap forward in any interaction with other people, certainly a plus point for any activity to be performed.

Another thing I gained from my two years was a much clearer understanding of myself. It starts with preparing for the entry interview questions. There just are no textbook answers to questions like “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”, “Why do you want to study management?”, “Why are you changing fields?”, “Where do you see yourself 10 years from today?”. Coaching classes and counselors are in heavy demand….I was most annoyed to find that even with access to some of the top people in the industry, I wasn’t getting the answers. All the coaches, counselors, teachers and mentors could offer was “There are no wrong answers. You have to find that out for yourself”. I don’t know which other formal educational course demands such relentless soul-searching. During the program, I sat through role plays, discussed case studies, argued various human isssues. And through each of these…I found no answers, only even more questions. What drives people? What makes one person buckle under pressure and another excel? How do you allot roles in a group? How do you plan and designate? Finally…how do you things will get done as they are supposed to be done? Moreover, what do you do if they don’t? I remember having a major show-down with a classmate over some unfinished work on a project. When I poured out the entire story to one of my mentors and wailed “HOW DO YOU GET PEOPLE TO WANT TO DO GOOD WORK?”, he just smiled and said wisely, “If I knew that for sure, I would be a millionaire today.”

Certainly there was the exposure….to so many new ideas…in the books, in the minds of people from varied backgrounds, in the very concept of a classroom discussion which most of us had never experienced in our education system before. There is also that solidifying of one’s real self that comes only when one has spent a good deal of time thinking “Who am I?” Having a degree does give me some confidence in my ‘employability’ in the industry but all that self-dialogue has also made it possible for me to risk trying out things I wouldn’t have before.

Aside from these, I won’t also deny the more tangible benefits of having a degree to your name. This is after all a world that works on brands and a b-school is nothing if not a branding stamp on every student who passes through its roster. When It comes down to it, I still have to fall back on “It depends. You have to decide whether you need the program or not.” I am a MBA too after all.

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