The MBA And The Cult Of Ignorance

A couple of decades ago I had thought about pursuing an MBA degree thinking it might be helpful.  Understand that an MBA is a slightly different animal than a regular masters degree.  One might want a masters in finance or banking or insurance or international business.  Back in 1968 when I came back to the states and was thinking of attending the local four year statue college, I got myself to current catalogue and read it almost cover to cover.    The old catalogues were full of good and interesting  and useful knowledge.  I particularly enjoyed the course descriptions.  So I had my wish list, pick and choose a variety of courses that struck me as areas of great interest, how exciting it all gets.  Except I was still in the service and was stuck on the graveyard shift.  Graveyard is a hard shift for most people, most of us are ready to fall asleep long about three am and grab an hour or two nap.  My other problem was lack of money, I was assigned to a base that had no housing and the best that Uncle Sam would do for me was a quarters allowance and a meal allowance.  I needed almost double that to live in the area and report for duty every day.  And I needed transportation.  The next two years were a waste of time except for my reading habits.  Meanwhile, I was reading books on management, one of the first being written by Peter F Drucker.  Then there were the volumes of histories by Durant, Churchill, and many others.  One of my favorite haunts was a used book store named Twice read Books, a veritable treasure trove of used books, many were great bargains as well.  By this time I was also reading IBM manuals, starting to learn a little about computers and programming.  So there I was, reading about business management, business organizations, a few Fortune magazine’s, some corporation histories, and the occasional biography of some business magnate.


Meanwhile we return to the course descriptions and look at the differences between upper division and graduate courses.  If I am going to pursue a masters in history I have already had the basic two course American History, the introduction to a general study or survey, if you like.  If I am going to obtain that masters degree in american History then I would need to take courses that are more in depth on specific eras and locations.  Maybe something like reconstruction era in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.  Or I might want the diplomatic history of pre-war Japan.  But if I have taken basic finance, what more is there to know?  There are upper division courses on investment that cover the basics of stocks and bonds.  One can take an upper division course on banking that covers the Federal Reserve System.  So what more is there to learn at the masters or MBA level.  Actually, quite a bit if one is going to do mergers and acquisitions.  These are more “how-to” type of courses.  How does one structure a corporate takeover?  For all the advanced status of such courses, the answer is really quite simple.  One needs control of 51 percent of the voting stock.  You could buy all the outstanding corporate debt but that won’t give you control of the company.  How do you obtain the controlling interest?  But it, borrow it, convince enough shareholders to vote your way.  Not what I would call rocket science.  I mean, if you want a masters in chemistry one must take the advanced courses in chemistry.  Upper division would include organic and inorganic principles of chemistry, but at a much higher level, there is much more to learn than these principles.  One might want to learn more about steroids, but not just any steroids.  Where one might want advanced topics in organizational behavior one would do well to study the behavioral sciences.  The MBA is an inflated degree, its subject matter suspect.


So what does an individual who spent a great deal of money in obtaining an MBA do when no job offers are coming his way?  Well, if one is shane Parish one starts a blog about something that may catch one.  Shane is a devotee of Charlie Munger, a rich man but something of a self made idiot.  The wit and wisdom of Charlie Munger is a ghost written tome of less than stellar wisdom.  One is much better off reading the original sources.  Shane wants to discover and present the best of what other people had discovered so we don’t have to.  Except, if one never does one’s homework, original research, then how does one learn from one’s own experience?  To my sorrow, I read an except of such wisdom from the book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building A Business When There Are No Easy Answers.  Actually, more bullshit because the author does not question his assumptions.  The set up is that Ben Horowitz was the CEO at a startup created by buying a few other start ups.  So the story is that he created the course for his management team down to what we may assume is the second level manager.  The course is about management expectations.  The expectation is that excellence is achieved by multiple meetings of managers with their subordinates.  The idea is that the manager in meeting one on one with each employee periodically will discover the problems that keep the employee from achieving a superior productivity.  If one believes that then one believes little green road apples are a true fruit.  This is based on the idea by those professors in Communications studies that channels are opened between speaker and listener and so information flows freely back and forth.  Personally, I have never seen a communications channel unless it was a teletype circuit or a fiber optic cable.


People will listen to and hear what they wish to listen to and pay attention to despite all our efforts at opening “channels”.  Of course the story revolves around one individual manager who holds no formal one on one meetings and thus is out of sync with the CEO’s directive.  somehow the “formality” and the documentation must be observed, otherwise we might ascertain that no communications is taking place.  But formality be damned.  Formality does not build trust between manager and subordinate.  A manager who walks around and spends time with his subordinates talking informally is holding one on one and even one to many meetings without benefit of formal proceedings.  The other part of this subject is that the employee must not only trust his manager but must also receive feed back as to the status of the problems/complaints he has issued.  This was suppose to be an article on leadership but I see no leadership, only ire that commands were not carried out.  Leadership is not the issuance of commands, particularly in civilian life.  Had Shane Parrish actually held jobs reporting to a supervisor for a few years he might have seen through the bullshit.  But he believes he can be a management consultant in leadership and decision making without benefit of prior experiences.  that is akin to believing that one can land a jet passenger aircraft without benefit of having ever flown any aircraft.


Another of his picks for inclusion into his blog was one from the New Your Times: Are college Lectures Unfair.  this written by a journalist of dubious intellectual achievement.  People, the original purpose of a lecture in a university setting was to impart information to the students because there were no textbooks available.  Often lecture notes were sold to new students and one bought a set at one’s peril.  Note all lecture notes were created equal.  But for the average college or university course, lectures don’t mean a thing.  I still recall many professors in the eighties and nineties informing the class of prospective students that he expected each student to read the book before coming to class.  Any  notes taken would be on subjects or items not covered by the text but would be on the tests.  No shit Sherlock!  The assertion by the author is that white male yuppies have a distinct advantage in class because they know automatically what to write down and remember.  What a crock of crap!  I was never a white upper class male with money and yet I achieved a 3.9 GPA (I am embarrassed that it was not 4.0).  How did I do it?  I not only read the book multiple times while working forty plus hours a week, but I outline the chapters and put the crucial parts on three by five or five by eight cards so that I could pull them out when walking for exercise and study (remember) the facts, the principles, and the reasons.  In order to learn the material, one must pay attention to the material presented, one must memorize the facts, the principles, the formulas, and then one must think or put that material into one’s own words.  If you can’t do that, you might be able to graduate with that gentleman’s C average.  But it has nothing to do with culture or background or “learning strategy”, we learn what we set our minds to learn.  Well, so much for the new wisdom.


The one really dumb presentation was by Nir Eyal on Un-Hooked: Increasing Focus In the Age Of Distraction.  If ever there was a man with out a clue, this guy is it.  A word to the wise: Behaviorism.  People, the Internet is not addictive, we create our own habits through repeated behaviors.  These behaviors become habits through reinforcement schedules.  Read Skinner, damn it!  This author is trying to reinvent behaviorism and doing a horrid job of it.  Gamboling “addiction” is all about the intermittent reinforcement schedule.  But, But, the endorphins…  We had the problem of the sony Walkmans, the ghetto blasters, television, radio, and the like.  This is nothing new and the inability to do the research is not new, either.  Is this what passes for intelligence these days?  This is ignorance personified.  Back when radio was the newest thing for the general public there were complaints of individuals spending too much time listening to the radio.  Then came television with four channels.  Same complaints again.  People, it comes down to choices in life.  That is what discipline really is, a choice to either stay focuses on the task or the choice to deviate from it.  If we develope the habit to focus and complete a task then we are said to have discipline.  All this internet addiction is nothing more than the failure to develop a good habit, it is the giving in to instant gratification.  I have to check my cell phone for messages, texts, etc.  I have to check my laptop for emails and whatever else is popular.  I swear, I am living in a land of fools who haven’t the presence of mind to do research to original sources.  I can understand that kind of laziness before it was all computerized.  Going to the library and looking up references in journals and books so that one could follow that trail back to the original publications was hard work.  But now we have the ability to search databases of journals and books that specialized in subject matter.  So what do we do?  We get lazy and google everything.  How pathetic, how down right pathetic.  Oh yes, the present generation is suppose to lead the way and show us old fogies how to access information.  As for Mr Parrish, yes, he is an idiot.  Oh, he reads voraciously but indiscriminately and really doesn’t profit from his readings.  For every book he recommends to his readers I can recommend two better.  He is more of a superficial thinker, he misses so much in his search for wisdom.  Just as the focus of his retelling of the story first mentioned above misses the point about what makes a good business or corporation, he does this with almost every book or TED talk or magazine article.  He never questioned how one “manages” expectations one has as the CEO or the lowest employee.  All too often expectations are “My way or the highway” affairs.  They discourage any reports of problems, any seeking redress of real or perceived injuries.  God, what idiots.


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