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Epitome of Education?

Nelson Mandela, PresidentThe elegance of MBA programmes all over the world lies, among other things, in the fact that they are designed, marketed, and taught by great storytellers, super orators, impressive performers; illusionists par excellence. In a wonderfully crafted way, they sell to millions for millions the world over, the idea that, with an MBA from an internationally accredited university, you can snap a finger here, snap a finger there, and the earth will dance under your feet. Works for some. Disastrous for many. MBA programmes can produce boundless visionaries, eternal dreamers. And that may be as far as it goes for many.

In a pre-MBA course I got into a lifetime ago, I learnt that in much the same way Doctors- and Lawyers-to-be are trained, MBA education is about teaching the candidates information management towards sound, effective, and, ultimately, profitable critical decision making in business, big or small, i.e., where to find information, how to identify useful and relevant information, which parts of the information are relevant for which decision making processes at which level and when, how to distribute information according to intended audience or recipient/ -s, how to store information relevant to its value in the organization, how to discard no longer useful information.

I guess the super enthusiasm and passion many an MBA professor will exhibit during the teaching of the various prescribed courses during the programme may be based on the assumption that the candidates are either highly educated from before, and/ or are very intelligent. If that’s not the case, then, they will graduate with their prestigious MBA degrees very highly educated, and extremely intelligent business leaders and technocrats, ready to rule the world. However, many an overly ambitious, petty ego driven MBA graduate misses the plot; and fails to make any significant impact as practical, result-oriented business leaders, or entrepreneurs. They will, of course, see and understand how things work. They will be top experts at drawing and writing superlative business plans and all that goes with it. They will sell their illusions to non-suspecting potential business partners held in awe of the apparent superior knowledge and skills of the MBA graduate with, in a lot of cases, international exposure and experience. But they will always fail to get things off the ground, thereby disappointing many people who would have been promised lifetime riches, success, and influence in both big business and society in general. Many would have invested either or both large amounts of money and vast amounts of own time in the formation of the new business, which will in the end fail to be realized, leaving everyone with loads of paper and broken dreams of wealth and fame. Many an MBA graduate lacks real world people skills.

During the often intense and demanding studies during the programme, involving much compulsory reading and group work, it seems many an MBA candidate forgets that the real world of real entrepreneurs, big or small, does not comprise of regulated tutorial groups. In the real world, real people’s behaviour can be extremely difficult to influence, direct, and control in line with an MBA study group recommended text prescriptions. Here, the loser MBA graduate demonstrates that they have not understood the essence of education.

Education is not about how many university degrees a supposedly learned person has attained through so many years of hard work at university. Degrees simply confirm that we have read and written about this and that at a certain level of knowledge, skill, competency, and expertise, as well as academic sophistication and excellence. Congratulations on a job well done!

Education is about how we bring, and apply knowledge to life: Wisdom. It is about how, in co-existence with others, we can harness forces in our never ending pursuit of making life and living better for all on earth. The personal state of an educated person is about being able to see and appreciate relationships between and among things. From this, an educated person can predict behaviour and, therefore, likely outcomes. A more educated person will go beyond this level, wanting to study more closely the nature of the outcomes, as well as their components. How do these components behave in different conditions, for example? It is a sign of even higher level of education to enquire about what the behaviour of these components tell us about how they can be applied to existing knowledge in order to improve existing methods of performing certain processes leading to certain outcomes: Innovation. Subsequent enquiry into the nature of things beyond this level will be a reflection of an even more refined higher level of education. E.g., how does the new knowledge affect the established order of things? What are the consequences over the broader ecology? Will this be the new norm for doing things, a paradigm shift, then? Is it sustainable? Will/ does it have global acceptability? Affordability? Who gains, who loses what, to what extent? What next? Repeatable?

People skills is, therefore, related to education since it is also about the ability to answer hard questions from those you aspire to work with, lead, and inspire. The real world is bigger than any academic or professional training manual or text by far. It, as such, goes without saying that a delusional MBA degree holder’s prospective business partners will ask questions outside the book. An educated mind is trained to see connections and relationships between and among things, the structure and logic of things. Herein lie many answers. Herein lie the secrets of success for many a leader, with or without an MBA, in business, politics, and other areas of human endeavour. As given concepts, wealth, influence, power, as well as fame, are only what they are as they are as per their respective linguistic definitions. In practice, however, they may mean different things to different people. That being so, different things and different approaches will motivate different people in different ways with respect to whether or not they will want to be part of a business venture, new or established and running. Deal with it, Mr MBA.


Simon Chilembo
South Africa
Tel.: +27 717 454 115
July 28, 2014






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