MBA? Check.

And so it begins: the post-MBA era. I completed my final obligation to the MBA last Wednesday evening, capping the 15-month experience with a presentation on Managing Change. It’s quite a fitting way to end the program, now that I think about it. After all, there’s no bigger change that needs to be managed than the transition from school back into the work force.

So, what did I learn in the MBA? To be honest, I’m not really sure. It doesn’t seem that I learned anything that I didn’t already know. Oh sure, things got a bit more formalized, what with all the two-by-two matrices favoured by business folks, and the dull edges of thoughts I’d had in the past were somewhat sharpened. But nothing genuinely new, per se.

On second thought, that’s not exactly true. I did learn one valuable thing: other people aren’t like me. They’re bad with computers. They’re disorganized. They’re bad at spelling and grammar. I didn’t think that was such a big deal before, but now I realize how much those differences play a part in creating all of the other problems encountered in both business and the world at large.

While that lesson certainly wasn’t what I anticipated learning when I entered the program, I guess it’ll have to suffice. I always seem to expect more from education, a more direct lesson that can be delivered in a distilled, encapsulated form. But growing big, fluffy dendrites is hard work – and maybe the important stuff you learn comes in more intangible packaging.

Maybe true learning really is about the journey, rather than the destination.

The MBA Patch

When I originally applied for admission to MBA programs at UBC and SFU last year, I had to produce a number of essays in response to the universities’ “interview” questions. Looking back on my answers to questions, I can’t believe how naive I was about the MBA program. Consider my essay answer to this question: “Discuss your career plans and how the UBC MBA will contribute to your achievement of these plans”.

My career goal is to start a successful venture that addresses a current social need using technology, thereby combining my passion for improving our world with my expertise in high-tech. I believe that we, as a society, could be doing a better job of leveraging our technological expertise to reduce our society’s impact on the environment, and improve the lives of people outside of the First World. Instead of wasting our intellectual capital on inventing the next high-tech gadget to temporarily occupy our attention, we could be addressing the real problems our shortsighted society has created.

I’ve always admired the pioneers of new technology with the capability to change the way we live. These people aren’t empire builders, like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, but are true visionaries, like Ray Kurzweil and Bill Joy. These are people that have an idea, build a team to grow the idea into a business, execute the idea successfully, and then move onto their next big idea. These are people that get things done, fast and effectively. But the ability of these leaders to make a difference requires not only technological savvy, but business expertise as well.

A successful business can’t be built on technology alone, something I know from the three start-ups I’ve been a part of during my short professional career. Though an innovative technology may be enough to start a business, by itself it’s not enough to sustain a business to profitability. Many of the problems I observed within each start-up were due to inadequate business experience on the part of the management team. Founders and executives focused on the “gee-whiz” factor of the technology, the thrill of being “in business”, or on petty ego-based battles for control, instead of addressing the more important issues of cash-flow management, competitive analysis, market penetration, or sales strategy. In the heady “dot-com” days, the business plans for these companies were nothing more than promises of “if you build it, and they will come”, something that anyone with an MBA would have recognized as foolish (though perhaps many MBAs recognized this foolishness, and chose to cash in on the dot-com frenzy anyway).

I believe what I need at this point in my career now is an MBA program that will allow me to examine the experience I’ve already gained, thereby gleaning further insight into how to build my own profitable venture. Though there’s no substitute for real-world “battle” experience, I’ve learned more in three years with start-ups than I would have at a traditional, well-established company. But this experience has been expensive, costing the most precious resource of all: time. I believe the UBC MBA program will accelerate my progress towards my goal by providing me with the formal framework to analyze my existing experience and the tools to tackle the challenges ahead.

Wow. Painfully bright-eyed, bushy-tailed optimism, eh? You can almost see the sun rising in East, gleaming off my eyes as I stare to the West to a brighter future in the MBA program. Sucker.

The truth of the matter is the MBA is a rubber stamp degree. It’s like those patches in Boy Scouts which, oddly enough, you can buy on the Internet: Foul Weather Camping! Outdoor Cook! Patch Forgery!

The MBA isn’t a guarantee of anything, except possibly that you possess the ability to be punctual and remain conscious for an extended period of time. And even those guarantees are to be taken with a grain of salt.

Was I wrong to expect some quantifiable, identifiable results from the program, or was I just expecting too much? I’ve always suffered from high (some would say unrealistic) expectations. If there’s one thing the MBA has taught me: caveat emptor.

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