Very often I hear from young people who dream of being great business leaders that, since Bill Gates dropped out of University, they don’t need formal education either.
People forget that Bill Gates did not just drop out of school and have zero education. He dropped out of Harvard after two years of study to found Microsoft with Paul Allen, and in 2015 he even published a blog post about the importance of formal education.
Like many young people, when I was a teenager I didn’t quite value the importance of education. It was not until my 20s that I took it seriously and went on to get my Masters.
After graduating, I started to study law. I dropped out of law school after my company began taking up a lot of my time, but I had confidence among peers with a formal education behind me and, importantly, lessons that assisted me in building my company.
Recently, while waiting for a flight, I purchased a book called The Personal MBA, by Josh Kaufman. It promises to help readers master the fundamentals, hone business instincts and save a fortunate in tuition.
I would be incredibly concerned if anyone really believed that a book can replace years of formal education. I appreciate that formal education can often truly miss the mark in regards to teaching students some of the core elements they will require in business, but education is one of the most valuable paths to which one can commit, even after graduation.
I was also told that MBAs are now as common as wallpaper, and it is certainly true in our competitive climate that the bar has been raised regarding minimal educational requirements for those entering the market.
I believe that the best lessons I ever learnt in business, and continue to learn, have come from the daily grind of building a company. Not a single lesson I learnt during this process could have been replicated in a classroom, and I would not be prepared for business if I were not willing to learn along the way.
But that does not mean formal education, and in particular an MBA, is now redundant. The disciplines required in formal education allow us to unpack concepts and think critically, but what’s particularly interesting are the lessons that allow us to understand the pillars required in a business.
Clickbait headings may say “Read these five books instead of getting an MBA”, but there are reasons why an MBA should still be part of your strategy. If you have the opportunity to educate yourself formally, take it.
The backflip society seems to have done from “only the privileged are afforded education” to “formal education is useless” represents a scary and misguided assessment. An MBA does not replace the need to continue learning once graduation has occurred, because while the fundamentals of what leading a business means remain consistent, the ways to compete and understand your industry are changing daily.
A formal business education means exploring the theories and values that you might not apply each day in your business (or working within someone else’s business), but you will have a grasp of what many still believe is required understanding.
I would argue that currently popular entrepreneurship courses and degrees take elements of the MBA curriculum but make them seem cooler and more palatable. What I got most out of my education was less about the esoteric management side of things, and more about the financials and strategies.
You can certainly still learn elements of these things without a formal education, but the likelihood of having the credibility with industry peers diminishes, as does the likelihood of having a broader business mindset.
As a society, we are navigating complex and rapidly changing environments and one thing that is not clear is how competitive our industries will look in five years’ time, let alone 10 years from now. The idea that the opportunity for education is available and one chooses not to take it is staggering to me. This is not because I believe only those with MBAs can make great leaders (in fact, quite the opposite), but because I truly believe education does more for a person than simply opening doors for a job interview.