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How to avoid the MBA trap

Written By Sambasivarao on Wednesday, February 26, 2014 | Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Management education does not end with a certificate from a fancy B-school
Doing an MBA has become the equivalent of a passport or even a shortcut to success in our country. With over 3,500 business schools, it is also a money spinning proposition, if you have an empty piece of land in the outskirts of any city (as Chetan Bhagat’s book testifies).
What was an IAS to the post-independence youth, is now the MBA for the post-liberalisation generation. It guarantees a great job with a fat salary packet and may be a good dowry as well!
Yes, an MBA can be a huge leg up. If you do it from a good school and have spent the time well, it can put you on the right path. But you can very easily fall into the MBA Trap, as I call it. The MBA Trap is one which lets you believe that your management education ends with an MBA.
Fortunately, I did not fall into that trap. And you can avoid it too! Maybe some of my advice may smack of the earlier generation, but so be it.
Trap 1

The ‘day one’ job.
The day one job may be the wrong job for you. I find it rather strange that students start worrying about placement on their first day on campus. Instead, they should worry about what they are going to be studying.
Good jobs will automatically follow. As Mahatma Gandhi has reportedly said “Find Purpose, Means Will Follow”. Find your purpose in MBA education, is it to excel in finance, or in taxation or in consumer research or in training, the jobs will follow.
Trap 2

Change jobs every 11 months.
I have changed jobs and I don’t think it is so bad after all. But you cannot keep changing jobs every year for ten years. No job is perfect. In this imperfect world, you need to find your non-HariSadu mentor, someone who can coach you, guide you.
I was lucky I found such a person relatively early in my career. So, within a few years find the company where you want to work for the rest of your life, the boss you want to work under and the kind of job you want to do. Then keep working.
Trap 3

Education is over with an MBA.
This is a lethal trap to fall into. In fact I believe that “Management Education Starts with an MBA”. If you think that MBA is a degree that will have an endless life you are sadly mistaken. It comes with an expiry date. It depends on how you keep renewing it. This is probably true of any sphere, but it is most true of MBA.
There are so many new developments in management happening, that if we don’t keep track, we are going to be left behind. Organisations know this very well. There are executives who are at the cutting edge and there are those who still need a secretary to print out an email for them. I think our generation had to undergo the maximum learning, we had to adapt to the information revolution, the telecommunication revolution and more. Future generations will probably see the pace of change to accelerate even more. So, unless you are adept at keeping abreast, you are going to hit your ‘use by’ date pretty soon.
Trap 4

Management literature is all you need to read.
I remember a senior executive telling me that he never reads books of fiction. I used to admire him and was very surprised to hear his views on reading. I remember him recommending the book “On War” to me and so his categorical dismissal of fiction was strange. I think to be better managers and leader of teams, we need to develop a wider understanding of life around us. And nothing does this better than pieces of popular culture. So, I think it is important for us to read books of fiction, watch movies, both the popular ones and the art-house ones and the same would be true of television. This is all the more important if you are in marketing. We derive inspiration for marketing ideas from what we see around us.
Trap 5

That is not my job.
I remember someone who had joined a company and waited for a week to get his office stationery. When I asked him why did he not get a pen and paper from home and start making notes on his new job; he said that the company had to provide the paper.
That may be an exaggeration, but believe you me, it is a true story. Never ask if it is your job, if it is to be done, do it.
There have been occasions when you are thrust into a tricky situation and you can escape by saying that it is not your job, my advice is take up the challenge.
If the company transfers you to a remote location, take it. As you finish your MBA and get ready to start a career it is worth remembering the MBA Trap and ensure that you don’t fall prey to the trap. I think I managed to evade the trap and have continued to explore new areas, every couple of years.
My new book For God’s Sake – An Adman on the Business of Religion (Published by Penguin) is reaching the book stores as we speak. The book is loosely based on my PhD Thesis which explored many facets of religion and consumer behaviour.
Why did I do a PhD? Why did I write a book? Well, if I had not, I may have fallen into the MBA Trap. So for God’s sake figure out what you are going to do to stay out of the trap and start doing it today.
(The writer is an alumnus of IIT Madras and IIM Calcutta, and holds a PhD from Mumbai University. He served as the ED & CEO of Draftfcb Ulka Advertising for more than a decade before transitioning into the role of Advisor.)

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