Discussion: How scientifically sound are MBAs?

by caffemacchiavelli 1 min read30th Apr 201438 comments


I'm finishing up the first year of my distance-learning MBA, which has been a very confusing experience.

I went into the course partially as insurance against "unknown unknowns", i.e., lacking concepts important to building or running a business because I didn't know about them or underestimated their importance.

The first surprise within the course was the relative lack of explaining the utility of the particular models presented. Apart from the section on financial reporting, which did explain how you'd be able to solve practical problems by using particular budgeting tools or costing methods, concepts where generally presented as "This well-known management thinker came up with this, why don't you play around with it a little". 

Analysis and (subjective) discussion of course material was also the main focus of student assessment, which consisted of marked reports on a subject of the students' choice, usually a problem they'd be dealing with in their current position.

There were no quizzes, case studies with objectively correct answers (except for, again, financial reporting) or other problem-solving exercises.

Essentially, students are handed a lot of maps for whatever territory they're trying to analyze, but don't really receive any tool to judge the accuracy, let alone utility of said maps. For instance, I'd consider "Concept useful for describing why A does B well" and "Concept useful for helping A do B well" to be fundamentally different, but the course did not explicitly separate the two. (I've heard similar criticisms of Michael Porter's failed Monitor Group, so this may be a problem of business academics in general)

I fear that there will be a risk of training the stereotypically smug MBA, who has gained more confidence in their management skills even though they haven't proven their ability of making sound decisions.

I'm also starting to understand why so many entrepreneurs are dismissive of MBAs. Manoj Bhargava has a whole talk on the issue and Elon Musk isn't a fan, either. I'm not willing to argue that they're right, but on closer inspection, the field hasn't inspired much confidence in me. Even though I think that business administration should be taught in school, I can't help but feel that we're not quite there yet.

I still can't get the fog to clear completely and this post isn't as lucid as I want it to be, so I'd be happy to hear more arguments on the issue.