Why study an MBA? Nothing is more practical than a good theory

MBA GraduateI have asked myself several times why I should drag myself through an MBA course as management is not the most invigorating line of study I can imagine. Only last year, I have completed my Arts degree, specialising in philosophy and sociology, with a smitten of psychology. As an elective for this degree, I studied one unit of Strategic Management and became very interested in the work of Henry Mintzberg, especially concerning his line of inquiry regarding the usefulness of formal planning systems as a sufficient or necessary means to improve company performance. In a recent book, he argues against the whole idea of an MBA as a prerequisite for senior management1.

Am I wasting my time? Is an academic education useful in managerial practice?

My philosophy studies have strongly influenced my thinking about good management and have moved me from a systems approach to a more human resource focussed perspective. Management is a social science through and through, and I am treating it as such. I have argued previously that:

“an organisation can not rely solely on formal systems to develop corporate strategy. Although empirical research points towards a positive correlation between strategic planning and company performance, these studies suffer from some methodological problems. Because strategic management is not an exact science, strategy formulation requires a great deal of intuition and company performance relies to some extent on serendipity. This does, however, not imply that strategic planning as a formal exercise is futile. Strategic planning is vital for good management of an organisation. Not as a means to plot the course for years ahead, but as a way to be able to anticipate the unpredictability of external influences”.

I think this sums op Mintzberg’s issue with an MBA—no education can teach intuition, creativity, insight and so on. But I hope that it will certainly help in shaping my ability to make better decisions. In the end, nothing is more practical than a good theory.

  1. Henry Mintzberg, Managers, not MBAs, Berret-Koehler, 2004 

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