This is a very special installment of my blog. This is my official review of Josh Kaufman’s book The Personal MBA. This is the book that I found after leaving the MBA program that inspired me to start this blog. So first off, big thanks to Josh Kaufman for proving that I am not, in fact, crazy and that most MBA programs are sadly lacking for the world we live in.
Just in case you don’t have time to read this entire post: This book is AMAZING and I think that anyone that even thinks about business should read. Everyone will find something in this book that will help them be a better person.
Now for specifics:
The most dramatic thing that this book does is provide a constant thread. When I realized this, it was an “a-HA!” moment for me. I had lots of complaints about my business education, but I always felt there was something else missing that I just couldn’t quite put my finger on. This constant thread was it! If you study business you will take lots of classes: accounting, finance, management, marketing, organizational behavior, operations management, etc. But I have never experienced a program where they show you how all these separate specialties weave together to create the fabric that is a business. Sure, most programs will have a “capstone” or something along those lines, that is supposed to accomplish this. But what ends up actually happening is that you take the ideas from eight classes and apply them all at once. You don’t weave it together; you just end up trying to apply all the skills you learned one by one.
You almost always miss the forest for the trees.
This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest failings in modern business programs. They train EVERYONE to be specialists and teach lots of “hard skills” but no one teaches students to be business generalists and to understand the whole picture, let alone be able to think critically about how and when to apply those hard skills. Josh (can I call you Josh? OK, thanks!), does an amazing job of taking you through all the major ideas in one narrative. Just the structure of the book taught even me (who has spent 7 years in business schools) something new about business.
This is the major thing that attracted me to this book and I was not disappointed. There several other things included that I was surprised were given so much emphasis. It wasn’t until I started thinking about my business and how critical these skills were to me, that I realized why they were given the emphasis.
There are very good sections on working with yourself (how your brain works, personal productivity, etc) and working with others. The section on working with yourself was extremely helpful and is something that is COMPLETELY missing from all business schools. Succeeding in business, especially in this “Flat” world we live in, is based almost entirely on personal productivity. Even in a technical business like mine (CPA and financial planning), we hire almost exclusively for work ethic and ability to think. Everything else is too easy to teach someone. Josh provides an excellent summary of the best ideas in personal productivity and controlling your mind to help you be a happier, better, and more productive person. If you want to be better at your job (or even better at life!) buy this book and just read those chapters. I especially like how this section was right in the middle of the other narrative about more technical business ideas. To me, it really illustrated how our personal lives and work lives can tend to overlap. A job is no longer something you can just show up to at 9 and walk away from at 5 (unless you live in a world VERY different from mine!).
I also enjoyed his chapters on working with others and on leadership. This is something that most business schools will tell you that they teach. What they mean, however, is that they just make you do lots of (excuse my French but b*llsh*t) group projects. In my experience, group projects are NOTHING like any of the interactions I have at work. Group projects are typically just breaking up a large assignment into pieces and then assembling the pieces again later. Even some of the better projects that require you to make a group decision do not truly mimic how decisions in companies are actually made. To make things worse, there are very few, if any, leadership skills taught. Unless you are specifically studying management, you will learn very little about how people are motivated and how to work with different personality types. Josh does an amazing job of covering these topics which, I believe, are some of the most critical skills people need to succeed.
To be fair, it is only one book. You will not learn all the “hard skills” that actually getting an MBA would. You could not read this book, for example, and be able to start using a manual general ledger system (you would need to actually study accounting). You also would not be able to actually calculate your weighted average cost of capital manually. But really, who cares? I have never used 90% of the stuff I learned anyways. And for every major topic, Josh provides a resource that you can read. So if you read something and you really want to learn the applicable ‘”hard skill”, you have an immediate resource to go to. You want to know a big secret? Most of the MBAs you know don’t remember anything but the jargon words anyways. So if you get the basics, you will actually know about as much as they do and be able to fool everyone like they do!
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the ONLY bad thing I could think of to say about the book. It will not actually cover everything that an MBA would, in the depth that it would. But if you seriously thought you could replace an ENTIRE MBA with one book that I have a bridge for sale…
It WILL however, give you enough insight, knowledge, and skills to put you ahead of 90% of your co-workers, bosses, and competitors.
So, the short version:
-Best overview of the purpose and methods of business I have ever read
-Covers everything an actual MBA would, in a better fashion
-Covers some VERY significant things that are utterly missing from MBA programs
-BUY THIS BOOK
Seriously, buy it and read it.