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Whether or not to get an MBA depends on the kind of person you are

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/
You’ll be fine. Probably.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Half of you might make a terrible mistake: getting an MBA. The other half of you risk making an equally terrible mistake: not getting an MBA. Unfortunately, I don’t know which half you’re in, but chances are you do—or will by the end of this article.

Well-meaning advice on whether you should get an MBA is really a reflection of the speaker’s world view. You might as well ask them the best restaurant in the world—something we all recognize is subjective to the person dining out. We know there is no best restaurant in the world, only personal preferences, but because an MBA is such a serious, weighty topic we’re inclined to believe there is a “true” answer to whether or not it’s a good choice.

What you need to do is ask yourself what kind of person you are, and what you would enjoy doing in life. Somewhere, the world needs your unique talents, but those talents aren’t needed everywhere.

A personal story is appropriate here. My current business is a bootstrapped tech startup. We’re a small, agile company that, like most startups, have to make it up as we go along. Pivots are frequent, and creative solutions are needed. There is no book to read, or guide to follow. When I hire, I avoid MBAs like the plague. In my experience, their thinking is too traditional. Their training has given them a world-view poorly suited to the often chaotic and incoherent world that is the daily life of startup.

You might thing that my aversion to hiring MBAs means that I have a low opinion of them, but far from it. Like all entrepreneurs I hope to sell my tech start for bajillions some day, and when I do those earnings will be entrusted to a conservative asset management firm filled with suit-wearing level-headed experts. The last thing I want to see in this company are the traits I looked for in my own staff. I want their people to be traditional, risk-averse, and deliberate—and I want everyone to have an MBA.

This contrast is equally exemplified by the word creative. Search Google News for “creative product design” and you’ll be inspired and amazed. Search for “creative accounting” and you’ll read stories of deceit, bankruptcy, and prison terms.

For the sake of a concise story I’m focusing on the polar opposites—in reality it’s not a binary choice. There are all sorts of jobs and careers in between tech startup and asset management. And there are a range of business schools, with different courses at each, and among your classmates you’ll even find different groups of friends with different appetites for risk.

But the first step is looking inward. Do you want to make a good salary, or are you willing to live on ramen noodles and stock options? Like the feel of a crisp laundered shirt, or only take your suit out for weddings and funerals? Do you value a benefits package more than the ability to work from Bali for a week?

Ask yourself enough of these questions and you’ll have a clearer picture. You can and should seek advice, but if you frame your MBA questions with a description of your ideal job, career, company, and vertical, then the pontification that follows just might be relevant.

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