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The First Thing I Say: “Throw Away the Books!”

Mary Schmidt

Mar 07, 2012

dumpster full of booksWhen I’m asked to speak to MBA classes, my first words are often, “Throw away the books!” 

Whoa!  Regular readers of this blog know how completely and unashamedly addicted I am to books, reading, and learning.  Throw away a book? Heresy!

But, here’s the thing. Many of the tomes used in academia are - um - academic.  Years out-of-date. Boring to read (much less remember).  Designed for rote regurgitation of standard formulas and old case studies.

Nobody - and I do mean nobody - EVER, in time of a corporate crisis, says, “Wait! I need to go re-read my MBA textbooks!”   

The second thing I say: It doesn’t work that way in the real world.  Forget all that perfectly logical and sane stuff you read in your books.  If the CEO reads it in a magazine on a plane and has an EUREKA!  moment, you’re doing it.  Doesn’t matter if it makes absolutely no sense.  (Oh, and you may well be the one blamed when it doesn’t work. There’s always a ceremonial sacrifice.) 

The third thing I say: Forget the spreadsheets. (You know, those pieces of paper for which gonzo consulting firms charge a gazillion dollars… produced by their junior staff straight out of school.)  A customer isn’t a spreadsheet. You simply can’t put every single variable into the equation.  Sure, “run the numbers” but don’t live by them.

Look, I get it. We humans want THE answer. We want a system. We want to believe that all we have to do is put in the time, show up, learn the formulas, and we’ll be safe and successful.  The reality is that life (and biz) is messy, unsystematic and definitely not safe.  Especially not in today’s flattened, interdependent global economy.

So, if you want to start your own biz, don’t get stymied by thinking you first have to get your advanced degree. (There are many programs around that can help you with real-world, up-to-date knowledge.)  By all means, read anything you think will help you…but…

Book learning isn’t the same as learning to think. Books are where you start. Where you finish is up to you.

Read more:
Focus, Top 20 Reasons MBAs Are Overrated. “What’s common between Frederick W. Smith of FedEx Corp., Bill Gates of Microsoft, Larry Page of Google and Steven A. Ballmer of Microsoft? They knew better than to waste their time trying to get an MBA. Research has repeatedly proven that few executives who hit the very top have this all-important degree.”

Thomas Friedman, Average is Over “In the past, workers with average skills, doing an average job, could earn an average lifestyle. But, today, average is officially over. Being average just won’t earn you what it used to.”

David Brooks, The Talent Society, “...It’s more accurate to say that we have gone from a society that protected people from their frailties to a society that allows people to maximize their talents.”

Seth Godin, Stop Stealing Dreams.  “Our education system is designed to produce constant stream of compliant factory workers to the growing businesses of the 1900s. It continues to do an excellent job at achieving this goal, but it’s not a goal we need to achieve any longer.”

Related posts from the archives:
Why Getting an MBA is Like Driver’s Ed
Leaders? Or Just Pushy People with Pieces of Paper?

(With a HT to Michael Wagner for his post today on Facebook re Seth Godin’s new squidoo lens. Got me to thinking…again…)

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