The best career decision I ever made was going back to school and earning my MBA degree.
At the time, my employer footed the entire expense of that education but even if it had not, I had every intention of paying for it myself. Here's why.
My undergrad degree had been in journalism, which was the job I had for the first 10 years of my career. When I transitioned to corporate communications, I realized that there was a lot I still needed to learn about business. Earning the MBA degree has been an invaluable investment to me as a corporate professional.
The education I received gave me a solid grounding in quantitative coursework such as statistics, finance, accounting and operations management. It also provided wide exposure to qualitative courses, such as organizational behavior, business ethics, project management and business writing.
While many of the details for those classes have dimmed from my memory over the years, there are five major lessons learned from business school that I continue to use on a daily basis since completing that degree.
1. Teams make better decisions than individuals
Almost every MBA course at the business school I attended required team projects and group accountability. This was during the early 2000’s, when the concept of teams within the workplace became the norm, and it has continued through today.
Coming from a solo news reporting background, the “team concept” was a new experience for me. However, every team interaction since has reinforced this lesson that teams make better decisions than any individual in the group.
2. Correlation is not causation
Prior to my graduate courses in statistics I had thought that correlation (a mutual relationship) was the same as causation (the cause of a thing, event or effect). For example, I knew that houses with larger square footage tended to have higher prices. The strong correlation between those two variables seemed to describe a causal relationship, i.e. square footage drives price, but it’s not that simple.
My professor used the example that there’s a strong, direct correlation (relationship) between larger foot size and reading ability. However, just because there happens to be a nearly perfect correlation for those two variables doesn’t mean that large feet will make (causation) you a better reader. That was an “aha” moment for me understanding the difference between those two important business concepts.
3. Fast, Cheap, Good - you can only have two of the three at any given time: in graduate school, several of the professors reiterated time-and-time again that half of what we’d learn would be from our fellow students. This particular gem was one of those instances.
During our capstone finance course for the degree, the class was broken into teams to start a company and launch a product in the midst of changing market conditions that the professor would introduce to our respective business models each week. Each team would discuss and agree on the best course of action in response.
One of my teammates rattled off the aforementioned quote during a heated group discussion. We were debating about three aspects of our fictional business, namely speed, quality and cost. If you think about his statement above, it is genuinely a profound insight that resonated back in that classroom years ago as well as the boardroom today.
4. Reducing ambiguity requires rich information and abundant information
Everyone in business realizes that ambiguity and uncertainty are common companions of the marketplace. Communication is one of the best ways to minimize the impact of that doubtful duo, but it’s important to recognize that not all manner of communications is created equally.
I’d been a writer my whole career prior to business school, but it took a business writing course to introduce me to the concept of “rich information.” Simply stated, face-to-face communication conveys the richest and most meaningful form of information. The richness of the information devolves correspondingly with each alternate step-down method including: video conference, a phone call, an email and a text message.
It’s common sense but when a business is in crisis or is facing an uncertain future, this is a useful lesson for leaders to understand. Leaders need to know that their employees need to hear from them face-to-face, because that form of communication provides the greatest mitigating impact on ambiguity.
Additional, the rich information needs to be coupled with an abundant stream of ongoing information to fend off uncertainty and ambiguity. Without that steady communication cadence, the information vacuum will be filled with rumor, speculation and innuendo. Regardless of the business situation, this combination lesson of rich and abundant information works well when it’s applied correctly.
5. Nearly every business activity can be distilled down to a project
This insight was gleaned from an elective course that I took on project management.
Understanding the concepts behind Gantt charts, a critical path, as well as Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) diagrams has been extremely useful in untangling a wide range of complex business issues, processes, relationships and practices.
I can’t think of a single business function that wouldn’t benefit from a basic understanding of project management.
I can honestly say that I have used at least one of these lessons every day that I’ve been employed since earning the degree. I firmly believe that these lessons have contributed to my professional success as much as any other factor in my career. The bottom line is that my MBA degree was worth every dime.
Related: To MBA or Not to MBA