This year there may be even more reason to think long and hard before going to business school.
First, you’ll face unusually stiff competition. Applications at top schools are way up as people look for shelter from the economic storm caused by Covid. Plus, the virus may continue to disrupt in-person instruction, so you could end up battling your way in just to study online.
But there’s another fundamental reason you might want to give business school a miss, this year or any other. For many, a biz degree is simply a waste of money. Just ask Elon Musk.
Skills beat degrees.
As my Inc.com colleague Jeff Haden noted in a recent column, the Tesla and SpaceX boss thinks too many companies are run by MBAs. “There should be more focus on the product or service itself, less time on board meetings, less time on financials,” Musk said.
Instead of going to school to master back-office intricacies, he encourages would-be business leaders to focus on learning what it takes to actually make things. That belief is reflected in his approach to hiring — Musk focuses on skills not degrees, and isn’t bothered by candidates without formal credentials.
Could you save several hundred thousand dollars if you too focused on skills rather than credentials? There are tons of great resources, from online classes to recommended reading lists, out there to help you plug gaps in your business knowledge. And a new one might be of particular interest to those tempted by top-tier business schools.
Degree comparison portal DegreeQuery recently dug into publicly available syllabi from Ivy League schools to find the most assigned books in various subjects. If you’re looking to craft a DIY business degree, you could do a lot worse than starting with their list of most popular business books assigned at Ivy League schools:
Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking by M. Neil Browne. This book “helps bridge the gap between simply memorizing or blindly accepting information, and the greater challenge of critical analysis and synthesis,” according to Amazon.
Organizational Culture and Leadership by Edgar H. Schein. A classic textbook on, you guessed it, organizational culture and leadership.
Essentials of Organizational Behavior by Stephen P. Robbins. This textbook is now in its 14th edition, so it must be pretty useful.
The Management of Innovation by G. M. Stalker and Tom Burns. Published in 1961, this is “one of the most influential books about business organizations ever,” Amazon claims.
Business Finance: Theory and Practice by Eddie McLaney. Save yourself even more by checking the older editions of this one — the price drops from $75 to $3.
A Theory of Human Motivation by A. H. Maslow. Heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? This is where the idea comes from.
Critical Analysis of Organizations: Theory, Practice, Revitalization by Catherine Casey. This doesn’t look like a light read at all but it tackles an interesting theme: new, critical takes on the subject of organizations and how people behave within them.
Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right by Joseph Badaracco. A discussion of navigating those moments when your business and values are in conflict.
Business Intelligence and Analytics: Systems for Decision Support by Efraim Turban. “The only comprehensive, up-to-date guide to today’s revolutionary management support system technologies,” says Amazon.
Corporate Finance by Jeffrey F. Jaffe, Stephen A. Ross, Randolph Westerfield. Another classic textbook, now in its 11th edition.
There’s lots of evidence that a huge percentage of most work days are wasted. One recent study found that almost half of employees could do their jobs in five hours or less. It’s the latest of many similar studies.
Then there are the handful of companies (and whole towns in Sweden) that have cut their workweeks significantly with no fall in productivity. Or you could look at the psychology research that shows our brains simply don’t have more than four good hours of work a day in them.
But if you accept the reality that most of us could probably get the same amount done in much less time, that raises an interesting question. How should we distribute these fewer, more concentrated hours? Should we work one day less? Start later? Take siestas?
Why you should leave work at 3 p.m. every day
On LinkedIn, star Wharton professor and best-selling author Adam Grant offered a thought-provoking answer to this question (hat tip to Quartz). In response to an Atlantic article detailing how the school day ends two hours before the end of the workday, creating a frantic scramble among parents to find childcare to fill those hours, Grant commented:
It’s crazy that the school day ends two hours before the work day. But instead of making school days longer, let’s make work days shorter: they should finish at 3 p.m. We can be as productive and creative in six focused hours as in eight unfocused hours.
This is an intriguing suggestion for a lot of reasons. First, parents will absolutely love it (particularly mothers, who studies show shoulder an unfair percentage of childcare duties).
But there’s a second reason Grant’s radical-sounding idea is actually a stroke of genius. As Daniel Pink outlines in his book When, the vast majority of us experience a dip in energy levels late in the day, right around the time Grant suggests we should all knock off work. In fact, research shows that we are effectively 20 percent stupider in the afternoon.
Most of us fight this “afternoon slump” with caffeine and white-knuckle determination, but despite our efforts, these hours are still far from our most productive. Cutting them from the work schedule, then, would give us the biggest bang in terms of improved quality of life at the cost of the least lost productivity.
Leaving early would also free up time for the sort of hobbies, reading, exercise, and social connection that a raft of studies show make us not only happier and more resilient but also more productive workers when we do hit our desks.
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