Saturday, February 14, 2009

My reply to Josh Kaufman on PMBA

This article is the follow up of an answer made by Josh Kaufman to my first post “Reasons against PMBA. Personal MBA is not an MBA

Dear Josh,

Thank you very much for your response. I'm glad and surprised that you were able to read my original post. Regardless of our opinion, I think the discussion and the arguments outlined here and in the first post will give more information to readers about the PMBA and regular MBA’s in general.

Because your answer was very interesting and comprehensive, I’ve chosen to answer it by quoting your phrases in italics and giving my answer to each part below.

Here it goes…

“Thanks for your thoughts. It's clear that you place a high value on your own MBA - I'm glad you got a lot out of the experience“ (Josh Kaufman)

That’s right. Just as there’s a lot of people that didn’t find the MBA useful, too expensive, too long or not interesting, there are also people like me, that consider ourselves very lucky to have had the opportunity to undertake an MBA. Of course this isn’t something that could be generalized, but my MBA experience has been one of the most enriching experiences I’ve had so far in my life.

A few things to consider:

1. Books essentially allow you to learn directly from some of the best teachers in the world, regardless of your geographic location or your income.

Here you’re right, learning from books gives you access to some of the best teachers in the world; no argue with that. It’s one way to learn with advantages and disadvantages, being the most important advantages the ones you mention above.

2. MBA programs are not necessary or good uses of time for everyone, particularly entrepreneurs - sometimes it's best to focus on gathering ideas you can apply in the real world immediately.

Completely agree. MBA Programs are not for everyone. There are lots of other ways higher education: Post graduate studies, Masters in Marketing, Finance, etc; short courses; doctorates; online MBA’s, Part Time MBA’s, PMBA’s, etc. It’s also funny that you mention that MBA’s are not necessary good uses of time for entrepreneurs. Being and entrepreneur myself (I’m starting my Second Online Start-Up next month) my experience, which of course isn’t applicable to everybody, was that within the first 8 months of work to set up my company, I used and applied about 80% of the stuff learned during my MBA. I remember I was amazed by how useful and quickly applicable were most of the things I’ve learned.

3. You don't have to be a genius to self-educate; all it takes is interest in a particular subject and the desire to learn more about it.

4. Self-education in soft subjects like psychology, human resources, etc. is entirely possible - the key is to isolate the key concepts, then apply them in the real world to what you're doing. Books like "Influence" and "Hiring Smart" are very self-learning friendly.

Here is where with all the respect, we start disagreeing. I honestly don’t think self education is for everyone. Everybody can read a book and learn but comparing that with the learning that you might get in an MBA is going too far. To really learn something, is not true that all it takes is “interest in a particular subject and the desire to learn more about it”. To really learn something (not just read about it) takes much more than that. Takes working on a project about the subject with your classmates… takes doing exams, getting some things wrong and learning from that… takes a teacher to explain certain things that you by yourself can’t understand… and takes a classroom filled with bright people discussing about the subject. That for me is learning vs. reading about something.

5. I agree that a major part of learning is applying what you learn in the real world - that applies to classroom knowledge just as much as reading. You don't really understand something until you try to do it, which applies just as much to MBA-holders as it does self-educators. In my experience, self-educators internalize this relatively quickly, while many MBA-holders assume their degree has prepared them for more than it actually has.

Here you have an important point. It’s completely true that lots of MBA-holders assume their degree has prepared them for almost everything. We tend to have the “Graduate’s syndrome”: you learn so much theory and cases that after graduation you think you know everything and you’re prepared to lead any organization right away. That’s true and it also happens (on a different scale) to University Graduates.

6. The disadvantage of modern classroom learning is that you're very likely to focus on the professor's academic interests - which may or may not be practically useful. What is interesting to a professor is often not useful in the real world - the incentives in industry and academia are *very* different.

That argument, I’d say depends on the business school: It’s true for some Business Schools and not true for others. Not all business schools focus on things that aren’t applicable to the real world. You need to do your research before choosing your MBA and dedicate some important time to it. Does your future school focuses on business cases or lectures? In which proportion? Who are the teachers in your MBA? Do they come mostly from an academic background or are ex managers of real companies? If you do your research well, you’ll find the school with the right mix between academics and “ex-manager” teachers that suits your needs.

7. I agree that discussion is a major advantage - that's why I recommend finding like-minded people to work with as you continue your studies, either in person or online.

This is the biggest advantage of an MBA over Self-studying: you have 60-70 people (most of them very intelligent and from very different backgrounds) every single day to discuss every single business case. The learning you can get from these discussions is in my opinion, one of the best things you can get out of an MBA. Self-studying, if you’re really applied, maybe you can discuss some cases… with two or three people vs. every case every day with 60-70 people in an MBA.

8. Re: humbleness - in context, the quote you mention has to do with how people learn and retain information. If you're not interested in a subject, it's highly unlikely that you'll retain any meaningful information about it, whether you're reading a book or sitting in a classroom.

What you say in your reply is completely true: you retain information that is meaningful to you; but that’s not the point that I wanted to highlight. What I was trying to say is that How can you know what you need to learn and what you don’t? People with more experience might tell you to learn things are very important and that if you were just reading by yourself, you might have discarded as meaningless.

9. It's funny that you mention P&G - I worked there for 6 years in marketing. It's entirely possible to grasp the basics of marketing (and other subjects) via self-study, provided that you focus on key principles vs. getting caught up in the "sexiness" of things like advertising. Discussion with practitioners is always valuable, but in the case of MBA programs, the direct and opportunity costs of those discussions are often extremely high.

The direct and opportunity costs of an MBA are not the point here. They are valid arguments but not the point in discussion here. The point being discussed here is the value of recommendation/guidance by experienced people vs. what you can get from a book. I would prefer ten times to discuss a marketing case with you, learn from your P&G experience and hear your opinion than just reading a marketing book. That’s exactly what an MBA gives you: access to lots of professionals in different fields that bring along their experiences.

10. Even MBA-holders can reap huge benefits from dedicated study after graduation. Many of the people who follow the PMBA have MBAs - they use the reading list as a way to decrease the chance of spending time on not-so-good books.
Hope this helps!

The whole point behind my initial post was not to go against the underlying principles of the PMBA, which I consider in general OK, but just to stress that those principles and guidelines to self education don't really compare to what you learn in an MBA.

Self education is a great resource, you actually can learn a lot of things and the fact that there’s a group of people that recommend and have made a reading list of selected business topics is not per se wrong. That’s one way to learn and it’s perfectly valid. What I’m against is that this way of learning has been named “PMBA”, implying with that name that what you can get out of a PMBA is the same that you can get from an MBA. That my friends is just not true at all. Self-education by itself isn’t wrong and I’m not against it. As you mention, even MBA-holders can reap huge benefits from dedicated study after graduation. Self-studying can be a very good way of learning, but it has nothing to do with a real MBA. As I mentioned in my first post, the learning experience is totally different:

  • We need interaction with other people to learn, we need to discuss, we need different views from people with different backgrounds coming from different countries and we need to learn from personal experiences as well as much as we learn from books. And finally, we need experienced people to moderate these discussions and teach us what we, by ourselves can’t understand.

Believe me, the outcome of learning things one way or the other is completely different.

Copyright MBA Internet Marketing Manager


Beth Robinson said...


You have some good points, but there is something in your word choice and organization that is confrontational and negative.

Despite your disclaimers about self-education being valuable, the bulk of your text is written in a way that seems to put it down, not convince your reader of the power of a traditional MBA.

For example, in your original blog post the section on Humbleness is basically telling the reader that they are incapable of deciding what to learn. You seem to be disregarding your audience. They have already expressed an interest in self-education by joining the group.

In my experience, people don't react well to decisions they have already made being negated. You might get more people thinking about investing in a traditional MBA by approaching it as - the list is great, but just think how much more you can get by picking the brains of ... and discussion... Maybe this is what you think you are doing, but it's not what I feel when I read.

Of course, if what you're after is controversy then your writing is definitely provocative.

There is a continuum of what you are able to achieve with money and time. I am almost done with an online MBA. I appreciate the guided learning, simulations, and discussions, over pure self-education and find the effort worthwhile but also know that I am missing out on some things that I would get with a traditional MBA. This fit my budget, plans, and goals.

Due to your identity choice, my signature link will not direct you to my primary blog, which is at

I've also posted this comment on the discussion board at the PMBA community.

Pedro Neira said...

Dear Beth,

Thanks a lot for your comments; honestly, they do add a lot to the discussion.

You're right: maybe I wrote a little bit too confrontational and in a negative tone. It's true, no argue with that. Going back to my original post and thinking what drove that article, maybe it was the natural response and the natural way of writing when answering to a Manifesto that starts with a phrase "You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for a buck fifty in late charges at the public library."
Honestly I didn't think about the tone too much but I think it was a natural response to a way of thinking that in itself, starts undermining other educational forms, in this case, the full time MBA.

On the other hand, the aim of this, and my past posting, wasn't to highlight the benefits and advantages of a full time MBA, that could be material of another posting. The objective was and still is, to highlight that both experiences are not the same...they are not the same at all and the PMBA puts them at the same level. When comparing PMBA to a full time MBA you're comparing apples with oranges.
AS I mentioned before, there's nothing wrong with the views of PMBA itself, what I think it's wrong (or I don't agree with) is to say a PMBA more or less the same as an MBA, but cheaper.

NOr was the aim of my postings to put the full time MBA above everything, as the absolute best way to get a Business Education. The full time MBA, like everything, hast its benefits and its disadvantages. There are lots of other ways to get a valid education and which one you choos will depend on your budget, how much you're earning at your job now, if you want to change careers or not, if you wan to work in another country, etc, etc.

Once again, thanks a lot for your comments. Critics and suggestions like yours are always welcome.

Vinay Rai said...

Must say that you are quite straight forward and honest while answering the questions. A lot people say something and mean the other, I am glad you are different from those. Honesty is the best policy.

Russel said...

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