Five Lessons from Five MBA Classes

A summary of the five lessons I learned from my first five MBA classes

Five Lessons from Five MBA Classes
Photo by David Travis / Unsplash

MBAs Challenge Us

Taking an MBA is an opportunity to grow as a human. It challenges the way you think about and perceive events in the world. These perception changes allow you to tackle problems in your life and turn them into opportunities. Many of us will not be able to take an MBA due to various reasons. However, crucial lessons from class can still be shared and learned by all.

This article is to share what lessons really stuck out to me, where I feel I grew most, and how I anticipate applying them. The hope is that you will find a nugget of wisdom here and be able to ponder or apply it yourself.

Class 1 - Organizational Behavior & Leadership

This class was focused on numerous case studies in which the organization in question was facing a dire situation. This ranged from a product manager whose product was to be sold, to a CEO brought on to shift a company out of its stone age into a new era. Each one implemented change differently.

The upfront challenge is creating a clear enough vision with a clear enough process

Aside from their various changes, I learned that change is hard. Hard meaning, the upfront effort required is large and sacrifices will be made; sacrifices most people do not want to make. The upfront challenge is creating a clear enough vision with a clear enough process to make it happen, a hardship for the creator. Then it shifts to a team hardship as they need buy-in.

Perhaps the hardest part about change is not the actual decision or even direction, but the fight against habits. People like patterns, even those who thrive in chaos. We see all over how our habits dictate our lives when we desire to "change" the way we do something (eating, drinking, sleeping). Those same habits are just as hard to change in an organization.

Lesson 1 - Change is sacrificial and demanding


Class 2 - Essentials of Marketing and Strategy

When thinking of marketing and strategy, it can be easy to relegate them as "simple and easy". Yet, we also know that to get somewhere, we have to know where we're going. Oftentimes, it is not easy to decide where to go so we skip over the decision and let life decide.

Imagine your CEO or boss stating "We don't know where we're going, but I'm sure the market will get us there." The confidence you might have had would be gone since your actions would have no direction or consequence. Every day though, many of us, as our own CEO and boss, let life go by in that way.

Leaders Must Decide

Within the EMS class, we discussed frameworks to help guide our decision process and ensure we don't forget things. Frameworks like the PEST model or 5 Forces. Both are helpful, but for our purposes, we can even find "personal" frameworks like the Decision Model.

https://www.decisioneducation.org/skills

All this to say, the main lesson from this class was that leaders must decide - smartly. While we may not be leaders by title, we can be leaders for ourselves. And to make decisions easier (and smarter), frameworks keep our thoughts organized and focused.

Lesson 2 - To Make Better Decisions, Use Frameworks


Class 3 - Critical Thinking

We all think we think well. Not because someone told us, but because our brain protects our ego and claims to be right; even when we're "wrong". Thinking this way keeps us narrow-minded. The world is too big with too many exceptions for us to fully comprehend. This means we have the "problem" of solving things too quickly.

Perhaps you tried the framework above and decided that "working out to experience weight loss" is a good decision. A fair assessment by most. However, Critical Thinking asks: Is this the best decision? While working out may be a "correct" option that does result in weight loss, perhaps a better option is to leave your house between 4:30 and 7 every night so you don't snack.

What Problem am I Really Solving?

Critical Thinking doesn't only ask for the best solution, but also if one is required. You've decided you need to lose weight, but do you? Is weight the problem or is there an underlying deeper issue such as finding safety from the world or being antisocial? Again, no right or wrong, but if you work out to lose weight, but really need to be social (so you feel safe and not overeat) by joining a book club, then working out is not the best option.

This class was a very insightful one for many of us as we learned to challenge our assumptions and go beyond the initial "problem". While not every issue requires an in-depth analysis, these questions and techniques allow us to get better at thinking and solving our issues. Frameworks are only as good as the problem they are solving. Make sure it's the right one.

Lesson 3 - Know Your Problem


Class 4 - Essentials of Accounting

Accounting is just that, accounting. There were a lot of good lessons around numbers and fractions that enable you to better understand the health of a company. While all good things, they can be tedious and don't need to be shared here.

However, one key concept is that even with the same numbers, people will reach different conclusions.

Numbers quantify the business and help to see a tangible understanding of the ethereal "business". They bring context to the questions and challenges at hand and allow for smarter decisions. Decisions though are still in the hand of people who understand things beyond the numbers. And to convey those decisions, numbers provide evidence, and stories provide a motive.

What Story Do We Tell Ourselves?

Tying in Critical Thinking though, if you start with a story, you can "bend" the numbers to your will. Similar to how the glass "half-full" is the same glass as the one "half-empty". Both have the same "number" but a story that changes the narrative and feeling.

While accounting may seem scary upfront, the reality is, it is another tool for smarter decision-making. Be careful to use the numbers wisely though as they can tell a number of stories.

Lesson 4 - Numbers Without A Story Are Meaningless


Class 5 - Japan MBA Experience

This last class was a brief one focused on introducing us to Japan and the Japanese macro environment. Japan breaks most rules economists have created to explain the global market. These "new" rules are ones that we may see in the coming decades as other countries are showing they may follow suit.

Aside from the global perspective, we also got to understand the Japanese lifestyle and what moves and motivates many of them. This understanding also helps to explain why Japanese businesses and people act so differently from Westerners. The biggest lesson I found here was the allowance of duality and lack of need to reach a decision.

This shows itself in a 2-hour meeting in which everyone walks away and says nothing about the lack of results. A strange reality for us who only have meetings to attain a result or direction. For the Japanese people though, this duality is common as their lives exhibit this.

From the lack of religion yet participation in religious practices, to the advancements of technology yet reliance on paper and fax.

Perhaps, we all need to allow for more duality as we embrace our human inefficiencies. Things don't always have to reach a conclusion, and not all battles must be won. Life is about winning and losing, but it's also about being in control and just as much not in control.

Lesson 5 - Allow For Duality In All Things


Final Comments

And there you have it. 5 Lessons from the 5 classes so far. I begin 7 new ones this coming week (Oct 3, 2022) and will share what I learn from them afterward. I hope you found something worth holding on to in this article! We never stop learning. Please share what stuck out to you from the article by emailing me back or what you found most helpful :) And as always,

Thanks for Reading!

Bradley Wargo

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