It’s About Who You Are, Not What You Say

I have never considered taking an MBA program, but an argument by Vivek Wadhwa made me almost wonder if I had missed the train to greater-career-ville altogether. This is his life story unveiled, centered around an MBA program.

  1. A young man invests in an MBA program to increase his career potential.
  2. He questions his choice after getting a programming job at his first post-degree career.
  3. He nevertheless persists, and climbs up the corporate ladder step by step.
  4. Along the way to the executive level, he finds out that the business skills he acquired during the MBA era are quite handy.
  5. Now as a successful entrepreneur, he is convinced that getting an MBA degree was the best investment he has made.

The story doesn’t exactly offerrefreshing insights, but is nevertheless encouraging and persuasive. The secret of his persuasiveness lies not in what he says, but in how he builds his argument, highlighted by his recollection of a debate with an anti-MBA celebrity: Guy Kawasaki.

In email exchanges, Kawasaki explained that his issue with MBAs is that they are “taught that the hard part is the analysis and coming up with the insightful solution”. In other words: implementation is easy and analysis is hard. “But this is the opposite of what happens in startups. Implementation is everything in a startup.” Kawasaki believes that MBAs aren’t a good fit for startups, and engineering graduates are.

I agree that engineering degrees are important. They provide a level of technical depth and analytical capability that is invaluable in the tech-startup world. But not everyone needs to be an engineer. You need smart people coming up with creative marketing campaigns; managing finances; and selling your products. And the CEOs and CTOs need to master all domains.

It doesn’t matter whose opinion, Wadhwa’s or Kawasaki’s, is right—chances are, both are correct. After all, they both made their names following their own voices. What matters is how gracefully Wadhwa handles this topic.

  • He gives proper credit to his opponent’s position and praises its merit; he does not end up in finding fault with Kawasaki’s argumen.
  • He admits his success story is not applicable to everybody, and even implies that Kawasaki is right in some degree
  • He understands that the whole argument should ultimately benefit the readers, not the debaters, and tries to share as many valid viewpoints as possible

While reading this article, I thought: I still don’t know the reality of getting an MBA degree, but if this guy says it is valuable, it might be*. If this article were his speech in an MBA showcase event, I would be signing up to a program afterward.

We used to spend a big chunk of our time in a decision-making process for collecting information. No more. Thanks to Google and its news aggregator service, we can get 100 opinions on a single subject in a matter of hours. Now we spend more time in finding useful information while surfing through the tsunami of texts, images, podcasts, and videos.

We are like speculators during the Gold Rush, relentlessly digging dirt in order to hit the jackpot. Guess who made the most money in that period? The tool suppliers. In the MBA degree case, it is the information filter that matters.

And what filter is more trustable than authenticity? We can find a million people saying having an MBA works and ten thousand people getting (or having gotten) MBAs either online or offline. But how many people are out there who claimthey are who they are because of an MBA? That’s authenticity. And that’s what we should all aspire to, if we want to persuade others on a big subject.

*I must confess that I felt exactly the same when I first read Guy Kawasaki’s argument against MBA programs.