How Different Is MBA From Other Degrees?

How different is MBA from other degrees?

How different is MBA from other degrees?

While sitting in a management class, I get this eerie feeling that many students don’t really understand how the course they have chosen is so different from what they have been studying so far.

The difference is when you study law, medical science, or engineering, or for that matter even literature, history or geography, you are essentially reading about things that are proven to be right or true or simply, things that don’t change much with time. There is certain finality to these courses and your assimilation isn’t much dependent on how others in the class are reacting to the course. Discussion in the class might help you understand a certain concept (e.g. the flow of current in a circuit) better, but the reality doesn’t change.

One more observable trait is that in non-management classes is that you deal with inanimate things or things that behave almost in the same manner all the time. A human heart with always pump blood in the same manner, time and again. If it doesn’t, then it’s a disease which will also manifest itself in a manner most likely observed previously.

Therefore it’s easy to apply rules, theorems, laws to situations studied in these courses and figure out the course of action with a relatively high degree of certainty.

Not so, in case of a management problem.

A management problem can be primarily attributed to actions of the people. How will I market this product so that customers buy it? How should I hire this time so that employees stick with my firm longer? How will I roll out this new Technology implementation so as to cause minimum disruption to work? What features should I build into my product so that it’s more user-friendly?

Hence all the above questions indicate the involvement of people to a large extent. And people are difficult to predict or apply laws/rules to. And that’s where the biggest difference of Management Education stems from. Secondly, management education is not a fundamental stream of knowledge. It incorporates the elements of a large number of faculties including Technology, Psychology, Cultural Studies, Sociology and Economics.  What this means that Management Study is in a constant state of flux.

In short, this means that we cannot compare Apples with Oranges. What works in USA may not work in India. What worked with company A may not work with Company B. What worked for CEO X may not work for CEO Z.

However, in all fairness, some aspects of Management Studies have certain degree of finality. For example, in Finance, given all required information, the value of a firm might be calculated with a high degree of accuracy. Because even if you practice Finance, a lot of your decisions are going to be based on people. When you make that financial product, you need to know how and whom to sell the product, and what kind of people with what risk appetite will buy it.

In such as case, how do you get finality to your studies? How do you take a call on what is right or what is wrong? How do you take a decision objectively? How will you decide if Marketing Plan A is better than Marketing Plan B?

I will try to answer these questions partly after putting down the myths perpetuated by students year after year. And these myths are based on the previous school/college experience that they have (and has worked for them mostly!).

  1. I understand what the teacher says. So I don’t need to interact or ask questions in the class.

Management education is about perspectives. Most management problems have multiple angles and unless there is a healthy discussion in the class, students’ minds don’t get trained to think in various angles while solving a problem. For example, a problem which looks entirely financial may have a human angle to it; a problem which looks predominantly a marketing issue might have a financial angle.

When students interact with each other and with the teacher in the class, perspectives evolve. For the same question, answers may vary based on the students’ experience, behavioural traits, attitude, world-view and many other factors. Discussions enrich the learning and produce mature managers.

  1. It’s all there in the book. So I don’t really have to listen to the lecture.

Books teach concepts. However, unlike machines in engineering, people don’t necessarily follow all concepts. Or putting it in another way, most concepts taught are either over-simplified or are developed in a context. When you face a real-life situation, the context might change or it’s too complicated to fit a single concept.

Therefore, experience matters. A teacher most often brings into the class an experience which makes you understand the nuances of a concept so that you know how to use that information better.

  1. Let me focus purely on academics. Extra-curricular activities are for those who are not focused on studies.

Unfortunately, there is no Lab in Management where you carry out practical studies and see things happening; like you do in Engineering or other courses.

In Management studies, the Lab is your everyday interaction with your peers. You will notice that assignments are predominantly Group Work and not individual submissions. Group discussions are a part of admission process. When you work in teams, you understand people better, you learn about team dynamics, and difference in opinion. When you participate in extra-curricular activities, join clubs and organise events, you start to learn task prioritisation, leadership, time management, conflict management and much more. You put to use your marketing skills to sell an idea to students, your human resource skills to motivate others to join you, your finance skills to manage in a tight budget and technology skills to seamlessly coordinate between various organising groups.

Participating in competitions, making business plans, doing field research and visiting industries are also vital to assimilating management studies better.

  1. Studying the night before the exam is good enough. It has always worked for me.

While this never really works because of the limited retention capacity of the brain, it’s worse in case of management studies.

A good manager isn’t someone who only knows all the financial formula or remembers all the P’s of marketing. The study demands that you constantly juxtapose your book and classroom learning with what is happening around you. Does the failure of the recent product from a large company adhere to what you have been taught? In hindsight, why did the product fail if so many heads had been put together to launch it?

A continuous learning process enhances your perception about things. It makes you ask relevant questions and helps form opinions. Studying just the night before the exam doesn’t make you learn much. 

  1. I want to specialise in Marketing. I don’t need to spend much time and effort on other non-marketing courses.

Management problems don’t come segregated in specialisation buckets. A single problem always has multiple facets, as I had discussed earlier. Therefore, at least in the first year, a student must pay equal attention to all the subjects.

To take the example of a recent event, that is the Maggi issue, the problem that now stares Nestle in the face is not just financial. It’s a human resource problem, keeping employees motivated to stick to the company and keeping senior management morale high. It’s a marketing problem, winning back customers or ensuring that customers don’t desert other Nestle products. It’s an operations problem, ensuring that the Maggi production line doesn’t go waste.

Even as a manager, on a much smaller scale, you will be solving problems that have elements of various areas of management. MBA is meant to make you a master of business administration, not just human resource administration or financial administration. 

  1. As long as I focus on what is taught in class, I don’t need to be updated on current affairs.

The myth is partly dealt with in the Maggi example above. Only when you read about the world of business can you have questions popping up in your mind, seeking an explanation. Learning only concepts without a business context is like learning to swim without water.

The more you read about current affairs of the state, the economy and business, the more you understand the environment businesses operate in and the more you appreciate what you learn in class.

It’s pertinent here to also mention that Management Education is truly boundary-less. It’s not just meant for the conventional corporate managers who run businesses. It’s equally relevant for a doctor running her clinic, a lawyer running her law firm, an entrepreneur putting all resources together to get the start up off the ground, a fashion designer wishing to launch her own boutique or someone wanting to run her NGO more professionally.

Keeping an open mind is important as is the desire to ask contextual questions based on the interplay between classroom learning and environmental experience.