10 Lessons GMAT And Business School Don’t Teach You
The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is one of the primary factors that influence your ability to get in to a good business school. But while it may do nicely in preparing you for the MBA or a Master of Accountancy, there are some things it doesn’t (and can’t) teach you. For these additional lessons, you need to hear from the experts — individuals who have made it through business school and now have the wisdom of experience to guide them.
So what does the GMAT and business school in general NOT prepare you for? Here’s what the experts had to say:
1. A Plan B
Business schools have a tendency to focus on the simplest of plans without making allowances for the many moving parts and variables that you’ll have to deal with once you step out of the classroom and into the boardroom.
“Business schools, by virtue of their time and cost constraints, must also limit themselves to the most generically worthwhile content, leaving out significant amounts of contextualized learning that the student is required to discover for themselves in the real world,” explains Peter Baskerville, author and educational resource developer at Southbank Institute of Technology.
“One thing that a business school’s key points delivery generally misses is that in the real world, things take twice as long, cost twice as much, and produce half the returns of the ideal Plan ‘A’ model studied in the curriculum. This is not always the business school’s fault as a student pays the big bucks to learn the perfect theoretical approach or model rather than the more realistic or appropriate one.”
For Baskerville, the one thing that you don’t “and probably can’t” learn at business school is managing contingencies in contextualized contexts, “or as James Yorke, the distinguished University Professor of Mathematics and Physics discovered: ‘The most successful people are those who are good at Plan B.'”
2. Execution > Ideas
Schools — not just business schools — are often criticized for their ability to grow ideas but their inability to demonstrate useful application in real world scenarios. To this, self-described serial entrepreneur Nameet Potnis, one of the driving forces behind SellMojo.com, believes that business schools are guilty of this reality.
“Ideas matter, [but] execution matters even more,” Potnis said. “Entrepreneurship models would stress on the need for channelling creative processes to ensure ‘the Eureka moment idea.’ Working and building businesses, I have realized that you might as well have the same idea as the guy next door, it’s the execution that matters.”
To execute successfully, Potnis also recommends our next entry on this list:
3. How To Sell
“Every employee has to do sales,” Potnis adds. “Business schools gear you up for being a manager. They teach you how to delegate, analyze, and coordinate. They don’t stress enough on the fact that, in any organization, at one point or another, everyone must ‘sell’ the product.”
Another business school graduate, who chose to remain anonymous, agreed. “At the most fundamental level, getting someone to give you cash in exchange for a product or service [is key]. People treat sales like it’s some sort of three-headed monster, when in reality it is the basis for all other jobs.”
Makes sense. Without revenue, no other aspect of the business can stand. No matter how much value that you think you bring to a business, if you have to go into crisis mode and get rid of personnel, the last people to go will be the ones who keep the checks coming in.
4. Work Life Balance
Anyone who has ever started a business — myself included — often feels like the business is running them rather than the other way around. Unfortunately, it’s easy to lose sight of the need to make time for other things. According to an article in Inc. magazine, people who put in a solid 40 hours a week get more done than those who regularly work 60 or more hours. After a few weeks of the 60+ lifestyle, human beings have a tendency to hit burnout, and that’s not something you want to deal with when it’s your money and reputation on the line.
According to Potnis, business schools need to do a much better job of teaching this work-life balance. “Organization behavior was about optimizing processes [in business school] and ensuring a good work space to ensure employees can give their maximum on the job. You are encouraged to think that companies like McKinsey & Co. and others have the ideal work atmosphere and working six, sometimes seven days is the way to go. Whereas, taking a break from work has often helped me to get back to it stronger.”
5. Data Analysis
Business schools can give you scenarios to help you start thinking in entrepreneurial terms, but they cannot prepare you for the complexity of human behavior more than hard data. By using data analysis more effectively, you can be what your customers want you to be before they’re even aware of it. A theory or test isn’t going to prepare you for that.
“Data is as important as the customer,” Potnis said. “Multiple modules teach you the importance of the customer and his or her choices. Very often the customer may or may not know what he or she wants, and data analysis is the way to go.”
6. The Ability To Trust Yourself, No Matter What The Books Might Say
Too much theory can certainly be a bad thing if it’s getting in the way of you trusting your instincts. For a lesson in this, don’t look to business school or the GMAT exam. Rather, look at the real-world examples of individuals, who succeeded in business without ever earning their MBA.
Mark Zuckerberg is a great example of this. He could have sold Facebook for millions of dollars early in its development after having dropped out of Harvard to pursue the business. He used his own instincts in turning down what must have been head-turning offers at the time because he had the instinct to see Facebook would be worth more to him if he kept it. Mission accomplished. Today it has more than one billion users, each of which present revenue opportunities.
Potnis agrees that much of what you have to succeed is already in you whether you spend a day in business school or not. “I was already running two businesses before I went to business school,” he explained. “My experience there led me to realize that even without theoretical knowledge that I got during my courses I was doing everything almost right in running my business.”
7. Career Planning And Strategies For Getting It Done
For MBA graduate Brian Kane, he was shocked “at the complete and total lack of ‘real world’ workplace skills” he observed (or rather, didn’t) in business school. One of the major ones that his school left off the table was that of career growth planning and strategies for how to get it done.
Some specific exclusions Kane mentions relate directly to the basics of the hiring process (i.e. resume submitting online, keywords extracted from resume, recruiter calling small pool of candidates, hiring manager calling some of them, etc). “My resume was terrible out of my MBA program, I had no idea how interviewing worked, and I didn’t negotiate my offer at all,” he said. “I am not pointing fingers — but I am highlighting how little guidance was offered.”
Beyond this, Kane feels that schools should teach students how to develop a career roadmap (i.e. choosing industries, a linear versus matrix career path, basics of mentorships, etc).
8. Meeting Strategies And Conduct
The amount of time business types spend in long, boring, pointless meetings after they get out of graduate school is staggering. For Kane, it’s significant enough that his program, which he did not name, should have been prepping students for it.
Kane described himself as a “game theory strategist,” who “knew we needed to do a, b, c, etc., and we were going to get it done.”
“Often this meant doing more work than others, heavily auditing and editing others work, reassigning sub-projects within the team, or even removal of dead-weight,” he explained. “Did this help me when I got my first job? In some respects, yes. In many — no. No. No. No. In the real-world the saying is, ‘It’s a small world’ or ‘It’s not just what you do, but how you do it.'”
Elaborating, Kane said that many people end up spending over 50 percent of their time out of business school in meetings. “Why did I receive no education on the psychology of meetings, how to run a successful one, etc.? I work with Ivy league MBAs in my office and there seems to be no consensus or common knowledge around basics like: What a meeting agenda should look like and why it’s important; key roles in a meeting (i.e. facilitator, note takers, etc.); how to keep a meeting on topic (this is a hard one); common jargon, how to interpret it, how to approach it. I can’t tell you many times someone has said ‘Let’s take this offline’ for a 20-second conversation.”
9. How The Different Parts Of A Business Operate Independently And Together.
It’s so difficult for a test like the GMAT or for business school in general to prepare you for all the things that you’ll be up against when you enter the workforce. As a company, you are often working together and against one another. Kane calls it the “Internal Game Theory” and laments that it was non-existent in his business school.
“All of the case studies and projects we dealt with focused on external forces,” he said. “It was always the classic business school examples like: a competitor has made a pricing move — how should you respond; you want to enter this new market – should you; and you have a current product, it is not selling well, how might you increase sales?
“I get that. It’s great stuff. It’s the Wheaties of brand strategists. What they don’t teach you is that internal challenges can often dwarf external challenges in both size and complexity. Especially at large companies, the saying is that ‘There are rudders on the rudders on the rudders that move this aircraft carrier.'”
Kane suggests taking a class of 40 or so people and randomly assigning each student to a functional area of the company: management 10 percent, sales / marketing 20 percent, product management 20 percent, financial 20 percent, supply chain 20 percent, activist investors / board of directors 10 percent.
“Product management is given a problem they have to recommend a solution for. Ideally this is a real-world one like ‘sales are okay, you expect competitors might out-innovate you with a soon-to-launch product, but you want to make the move first.’
“Sales / marketing must come up with a marketing plan and a go-to-market plan for the product. Product, pricing, promotion, placement. The key measurables are revenue and market share.
“Finance will look at total investment dollars, gross-margin, and ROI. They will be measured on overall ROI.
“Supply chain will be measured on keeping weeks of supply, total suppliers, SKU count and inventory low.
“Management will look at the recommendations from each functional group in the ‘key meeting’ — each functional group will send one person — and then focus on prioritization based on budgets and other options, impact on overall financials, as well as some key industry reports from analysts.”
From there, each sub-group in Kane’s scenario would be evaluated on how well they presented what they are measured on with zero exposure to the other groups. The key would be the majority of class watching the key meeting and the remainder actually participating in it.
“Both being exposed to such a broad cross-section of the company as well as seeing the conflicting pressures (i.e. Supply chain will always want to reduce inventory, SKU count, complexity — they are a cost center — while Sales will always want to maximize the ability to capture opportunities — they are a revenue center,” Kane said.
In other words, businesses are comprised of parts that sometimes work against each other with the ultimate goal of working for the good of the company as a whole. It’s a complex relationship, and students need to be prepared for it.
10. The Fact We Are NOT All Created Equal.
Matt DiGeronimo radio talk show host with Salem Communications, believes that perhaps the biggest thing business schools fail to teach is the fact that we are all NOT created equally.
“B-school [business school] assumes that all people are equal,” DiGeronimo explains. “Every analysis, theory, process, and assumption that was presented in B-school made the unwritten and unspoken [statement] that the labor pool was ‘equal.’ Of all the variables in business, the quality of people is the variable that has the largest standard deviation and the most significance on results.”
DiGeronimo continued: “Give me a team of talented individuals and we will crush whatever is put in our path — even if we violate every B-school theory. A team/staff of mediocre talent cannot overcome this disadvantage by applying B-school theories.”
The GMAT and GPA are two big indicators of which business school you get in to, and while both the test and the school can prepare you for running a business or working within an organization, they’re only stepping stones in your education. And as business, technology, and the world around us lives in a constant state of change, that education must be ongoing to be successful. Good luck no matter where you are in the process!
[Image via Wikipedia Commons]