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MBAs don't want to unlearn

Anil Gupta | March 09, 2005

Anil Gupta, Havell's India Joint Managing DirectorAfter graduating from the University of Delhi in 1990, I joined Babcock straightaway. Joining an MBA programme fresh out of college is considered a negative in most countries; that point of view is gaining currency in India as well.

And rightly so. When you enroll for a management degree without any work experience, you end up being spoonfed information to which you can't relate. Rather than imbibing vital learnings from the course, you end up treating it as part of your basic education.

But essentially, I believe that what you learn in B-schools isn't as important as how to relate to it. Most of us tend to overlook the fact that an MBA can't give you readymade answers.

Consider the 4 Ps of marketing taught in most MBA courses. If you provide the same environment and the same 4 Ps (price, product, place and promotion) to different management graduates, they will all come up with different ideas. That's because B-schools don't teach the fifth P -- people.

An MBA is all about analysis of structured situations; and therefore, it helps you structure your thoughts. But sometimes, you get stuck within the structure.

But in real life, some times, you need to "re-form" the box -- change it to meet your requirements.

This is especially true in large organisations. Typically, what happens is that a  person who is at the helm of affairs creates more managers who "manage" situations.

But what a growing business needs is people with the skills to become "entrepreneurs" and, perhaps more importantly, "create" entrepreneurs within the organisation. Unfortunately, most management institutions foster managerial thinking rather than entrepreneurial thinking.

Of course, to be fair, only people who have within them the drive and passion will become creators of managers. And B-schools can't create that drive and enthusiasm in their students. That's not a subject you will find in any textbook.

The trouble with MBAs is that it is difficult to make them unlearn. Most MBAs feel there are rules to deal with situations and that is the only way to work.

What they don't take into account is that only about 5 per cent of most work-related situations call solely for managerial expertise -- in 95 per cent of the situations, the existing values, cultures and history of the organisation are critical.

I, too, learnt this the hard way. When I came into the family business, I tried to make changes, doing things by the book. I didn't take into account the culture of the organisation because what I hadn't realised then is that a good entrepreneur gets into the culture of an organisation and only then creates a different path.

He becomes part of the organisation and works from within, rather than act as an external, disruptive force.

It is necessary to first understand why an organisation has been successful for so long. Most fresh recruits tend to forget that the company was in existence long before they joined and there's a reason why it is run the way it is.

Also, it is easy to give up after a couple of years, throwing up your arms and saying the organisation is not ready for change. What many management graduates don't stop to consider is, did they go about the right way in creating change? If you are in a position to drive change, make sure you do it the correct way.

Again, this is something you learn from instinct and experience -- no MBA course can teach you those.

That is why I believe that only a part of the education a management institution imparts is in the classroom -- 80 per cent of it must come from interaction, with peers, faculty and the industry. After all, the real education still comes from getting your hands dirty, that is, from experience.

Which is why B-schools should impress upon their students that their degree may be a launch pad for the first break but, there's a long career ahead of them. They shouldn't depend on their degree to pave the way for them.

Which brings me to a related issue. Today's graduates appear to believe that the best way up the corporate ladder is to hop, skip and jump. What they fail to realise is that longevity in any particular organisation and stream of business is critical for professional development.

Even in today's MBA-dominated environment, non-management graduates rule the roost in several organisations -- this is primarily due to their commitment to learn their way to success.

Spending a longer time in any organisation allows professionals to imbibe the organisational culture, ethos and also equips them with immense industry knowledge, which enables them to take quicker and smarter decisions.

Then, running an organisation is also about managing egos. B-schools emphasise teamwork, but its critical importance in business is not taught explicitly.

I believe that an entire course on "ego" would not go amiss. Not just managing others' egos, but also how to subdue your own should be taught. After all, most MBAs have bloated egos themselves.

Anil Gupta graduated in 1992 from the Charles H Babcock Graduate School of Management, Wake Forest University.

-- As told to Meenakshi Radhakrishnan-Swami

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Number of User Comments: 4

Sub: Good articles- an eye opener

Dear Sir, I ran through your entire article, and learnt that it's all yours experience reflecting in the article. The article is more over an ...

Posted by Swapnil Shah

Sub: enligtining article

this is realy great,such articles will help MBA'S enlightened and make them learn more

Posted by bhaktiyar b sindgi

Sub: Comments on MBA dont want to Unlearn

Sir, It's Been a great delight to go through this column, I myself being a Manufacturing engg graduae(2004)see the world with the same passion as ...

Posted by Nasim Nazar

Sub: A Noble Thought

It was a noble thought by Mr. Anil Gupta.Such articles should be continously at your website. Monish

Posted by Monish Malhotra


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