The irrationality of an MBA

Education is utilized as a social elevator by communities all over the world and education has thus resulted in education creating attractive resumes than carving thinking minds. Every era has a flavor for social elevation. It was engineering 40 years back, moved to IT about a decade and a half ago and now it is the era of the grad school business degree. I am talking from a south asian/south east asian pragmatic perspective. Any degree not marketable to an employer is not worth time being ‘invested’. The present World Bank President’s father was a Korean Scientist who asked his son, what does he want to do and he said that he wishes to major in Political Science or Sociology in College and thus came the stark reply that he want his son not only to have the ability to think but also to do. This sentiment is shared by most parents across the developing world.

I started writing when I was a teenager in whichever small platforms i had access to, and wanted to major in history. The proposal was shot down in favor of a more ‘workable’ alternative. I majored in engineering and went on to be an environmental engineer, but have pursued grad school research in sociology and public policy as well. The World Bank President is a Medical Anthropologist with a PhD in Social Anthropology and and is a trained medical doctor. Pragmatism and Passion can go hand in hand.

The rush for grad school is insanity in India, everyone is an MBA degree aspirant or holder. I cannot meet a full techie anymore. IT is more knowledge based service economy oriented. All Engineers can be a beeline for Business School to get a pay hike. Some attend B School fresh out of undergrad. Many of whom i have spoken to, do not understand the fundamental nuances of business and simply wish to join the ‘bandwagon’ through group-think.  A MBA degree is not a panacea, it is a platform for networking and connections as other other grad school option is. A MBA for the sake of a MBA is not smart.

Starting and Managing a non profit will teach one more business skills than an MBA. Most of the MBA text book knowledge can be learnt via business literature. I have not attended B School but have learnt my accounting and corporate finance on my own. Innovation is my pet research area. I dont need a MBA to run my job, i would probably require it more for connections to scale up than for its content. In an emerging growth story with ‘Breakout Nations’ as Ruchir Sharma conveys, we need more hard skills of an engineer, architect and operations guys than media planners and market researchers. We are not a service economy yet, the agri based sector is still our backbone. Real value still comes from Brick and Mortar industries. It  is manufacturing which creates jobs and wealth, the service sector reduces net jobs.

In a recession the fluff economy guys are shown the pink slip first. Lets get our Educational priorities right. Do things that create value and make sense, and not to join the rat race.


7 thoughts on “The irrationality of an MBA

  1. Agree with you on the irrational MBA craze across India. But the good thing is that Indian businesses are smart and are starting to understand that they actually dont need MBAs in every nook and corner of their offices. This recent TOI article talks about this :

    But I believe that the rot runs deeper. India used to be a highly creative economy before the Europeans arrived. The british managed to uproot indigenous educational institutions that churned out skilled labor and instead put in place a school system that was designed for Industrial revolution era Britain with a constant supply of laborers. Well, the British left this system behind many decades back but we still continue the legacy. Linear thinking, rote learning is promoted and the ones who show creativity and ingenuity in solving problems are not rewarded and worse, are punished. This goes on from the school system to the university level and seeps into most major institutions including the govt, military, judiciary, police, IITs. What India needs now is a complete revamp of the education system and we don’t have any time to lose. The world of tomorrow belongs to the makers. Machine learning, robotics and related disciplines are advancing at an exponential rate and every job that is repetitive will get automated. Most of these IT jobs wont be there in a few decades and the slight advantage in manufacturing will also disappear once manufacturing moves back to the US and Europe. I honestly dont think our govt has the interest or the capability to solve an epic problem like this. As ever it is left to the individual Indian to come up with solutions with his Jugaad spirit =)

    Further reading :
    This article in the Atlantic was an eye-opener : It talks of the resurgence in manufacturing in the US and also how highly automated it has become. One of the most important articles I have read the past one year.
    Also check out The Economist’s special on the next industrial revolution :

  2. Thanks a million Unni for your deep insight and researched inputs. I am quite fed up with B School candidates, i know more than a B School Grad! We can work towards being a part of a think tank!

  3. I know I’m deviating a lot from the point of your article but here is another thought on innovation and industry in India. Indian manufacturing should learn from Germany’s Mittelstand industries. Whenever we talk of manufacturing we celebrate bigger factories, bigger exports etc which is good enough but we dont talk about the fact that all these factories will be moved to a lower cost country (I’m sure we will see this happening across African nations once stability come in) the moment some financial analyst finds the calculations unfavorable to manufacturing in India. Now the German Mittelstand industries show that an emphasis on niche high quality manufacturing can help tide over major recessions. In India and the US what we see now is that the govts run around like headless chickens wondering who the hell fucked up with the economy… and to their credit they do come up with short term solutions. Look at the Chinese, they have build up an excellent logistics network for electronic components that they will have a monopoly on electronics manufacturing even as their labor costs go up (also Foxconn is planning to induct a million robots by 2020) & they have build up a formidable capability in solar cell manufacturing. Short terms interventions by our govt wont matter until the fundamentals are cleared up i.e proper education across the spectrum with a strong emphasis on STEM and high end vocational education. The US will get manufacturing back but never the jobs. The agro based economy in India will stop needing so many field hands once automation becomes cheapers. And unlike the time of the industrial revolution the surplus of agrilabor wont be absorbed by the factories. This is a disaster waiting to happen. And as you said the service industry is simply not the answer.

    1. Higher Technical Education Reform is indeed the need of the hour instead of bickering on IIT JEE Entrance exams, Quality and niche as u have rightly said have to be the way forward. Why dont u author a idea paper on this issue and post it online, it would be a decent conversation initiator

      1. Indian industry is very interested in educational reform particularly in vocational training. I know this because my lab is in talks with two leading construction companies [cant name them =) ] and they already have huge training facilities across India and spend a LOT of money on it. They say that the ITIs and ITCs simply dont produce enough trained man power. So what these companies do is they partner up with NGOs and just young people from rural areas, train them from scratch in their academies, give them stipends and at the end are easily absorbed into their various projects. But they still have a lot of difficulty in keeping up with the demand and so they are interested in high quality e-learning for vocation education. But I dont know why the heck the govt is not listening on this!! They give out huge subsidies to crap like Akash tablets (god I feel like vomiting whenever I see that shit) but dont do enough in reform in technical education. And what they do have (IITs, NITs) they are making it worse by needless interference. Look at the ISI, IISc, they used to be one of the best in the world some 30 years back (Mahanobolis era) and look where we are, IIT proffs have become paper producing machines and the students only think about going to the US (when they can make a hell lot more money solving Indian problems). And dont even get me started on funding for research :-/ Maybe we should just outsource our security to China or the US and put all the money in education =)
        PS : Its not like the govt is all that bad (they pay for my lunch 😛 ). There are a few stars still shining like Dilip Chenoy the chairman of National Skill Development Corporation (he came down here last year) who has a lot of power and is starting a lot of activities to reform technical training :

  4. Ha ha. Well I may do that one day! Ok so Moni you are interested in social innovation. Have you heard about the work of Neil Gershenfeld? He is a proff at MIT and the head of the Center of Bits and Atoms there and runs this really interesting project called Fablabs.
    Links [his famous TED talk]

    And also check out the whole maker revolution slowly spreading across the US :

    Hope you get inspired and maybe you will have some interesting ideas in these lines =)


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