“It’s just something you gotta do”

A guy called James Somers, student of Ross School of Business at U/Michigan, Ann Arbor convincingly takes B-Schools apart by a telling post. Excerpts –

“…..It was clear from the first few minutes of lecture that the business school got what it asked for: friendly, busy kids with mediocre math skills. The accounting class was like any other, though it crawled along, and exams were simple rearrangements of the practice tests;

We learned what took 45 minutes in my Econometrics class in an entire semester. We spent three weeks discovering that flipping heads with a fair coin three times in a row has a probability 1/8.

There was no rigor – for instance, when we learned the basics of optimization we were told to visually solve problems by moving a sloped line away from the origin and note where it hit the other lines, rather than tackle a system of equations or (aha!) do simple calculus. All the while we were told that what we were doing related to business through oversimplified case studies where we served as consultants to Firm A. Using the word “Science” in this course’s title is insulting.

If you’re rigorous, answering not just the how but the why, you can get even remedial kids to do great things; if you only hit the surface level, if you only teach procedures, you make everyone a monkey.”

I’ve read this bookWhat they don’t teach you at Harvard” by Mark McCormack… But Mark just stopped at filling some of the gaps – the gaps between a business school education and the street knowledge that comes from day-to-day experience of running a business and managing people. 

I know Mark’s been a lawyer and did not go to Harvard.  Good that he didn’t.  If he had, he would still be writing….



6 Responses to ““It’s just something you gotta do””

  1. Shefaly Says:

    For an undergraduate student in business (which begs the question, did someone at his school not advise him that it is better to know something about the real world before attending even under graduate b-school, but I digress), he seems to know an awful lot already. I think he should quit instead of wasting his time!

    What else in any case would one expect from a programme that lets students in on the basis of poorly defined criteria? In B-schools (read: graduate programmes), much emphasis is placed, beyond GPA, on experience and relevant contribution one can make to the group’s learning.

    Of course, much learning comes not from the lectures (which as a pedagogical tool MUST really be supplemented by practical work or at least case studies and hands-on workshops, which is how most good schools do it for their MBAs) but from from your peer group, team work, reading beyond just the recommended list, being able to interact with successful business leaders, working on real-life projects (which many do, depending on what subjects you choose) and learning to take responsibility for your own path and success in a highly competitive environment.

    It may come as a surprise to this young man but most of the significant business decisions – as well as larger societal policy decisions – are not based on pure rationality or ‘econometric’ modelling. Human beings’ intellectual limitations, imperfect information, power games etc all stand in the way. Real life prevails where aims and choices often develop together, muddling along with imperfect data with occasional course correction applied.

    He says his programme aims to “build professional managers”. THAT truly is the part that is bullshit. Ever wonder why managers need no certification like accountants? That is the difference between a ‘professional qualification’ and an ‘occupational one’.

    When he gets a real job sometime, he will realise that all his management education was about giving him a tool kit, not about teaching him how to use every tool in that box; giving him curiosity, not telling him all the questions he must ask; giving him a network that he can draw upon, assuming he has the humility to know that he, on his own, will never know everything he will ever need for business success and that a smart person hires smarter people.

    As a story of his experiences, the post is ok. As a statement of how rubbish his UG programme is, it may be sufficient. But as “proof” that b-school in general is crap, well, frankly, it disappoints with its childish tone and is too far a stretch in inductive reasoning.

    There is a great tendency at present in the US esp of denigrating formal education in general. This is another one of those commentaries.

    It remains to be seen if he will make as much money as McCormack RIP, because it does not matter what label you graduate with; it is what you do with it that counts.

    I am surprised that you considered it worth linking on your blog…

  2. Krish Says:

    Oh yes, managing expectations is not for all. Yet I loved his cheek to have posted it even as he’s an insider. May be, he was far too seduced by the glamour of a PE practice that he was aiming at and expected to earn his spurs and didn’t quite get that. The rant lets out a lot of steam.

    What must have presaged that not so charitable attitude towards formal education? The savage institutional gouging that passes off as tuition/facilities fees even as alternative channels of free knowledge that drive down the relevance of a degree that just signals. The famous dropouts that made it to the billion $ club doesn’t help either.

    Why did I link it? Liked in particular the way he ribbed the Zingerman deli presenter. I enjoy ribbers. I rib a lot and enjoy getting ribbed too….

    Get my own version here…


  3. Shefaly Says:

    Krish: Thanks. I think some expectations can be ill-founded too. It would be hard to match those expectations.

    About the attitude towards formal education: There is an interesting thread about this on Ben Casnocha’s blog. (http://ben.casnocha.com/2007/08/thinking-like-a.html#comments). I asked a question about his examples and I suspect it is true in his case too. Those, who are slating education, are privileged enough not to bother with it. Sometime the privileged – even when undeserving – get what they want (e.g. See Dubya’s education). Education in western societies is still, for many, the first chance at social mobility. So let’s not just ask WHY they denigrate formal education; but WHO denigrates it too.

    As for the drop out billionaires, I think people are missing even bigger tricks. Of all the examples – with the exception of Larry Ellison, whom Ben does not mention – I do not see one who made it without his privilege, which stemmed from his parents’ connections. So one has to ask if these people, who can really afford the fees etc as chump change, are really inspired by some other motive?


  4. Krish Says:

    Remarkable insight, Shefaly…. That could be pretty much it. But the colleges can sure do a few things to spruce up their image.

    – The well endowed dropouts catalyzing this brainwave, it’s time the grad schools begin to introspect, rejig their grad programs by building in sufficient *you-won’t-get-it-outside* features so that the guff flames itself out.

    – Knock off a couple zeros from their fee schedules as well since the programs don’t need a rock star faculty – in that students are anyway expected to architect their own future.

    – The huge corpus of Harvard, Yale and Stanford sucked out of student loans find its way into hedge funds that lose it all in subprime and other hellholes. It indirectly means they have too much money to throw about.

    And If they don’t, let them be ready with free BBQ invites for students to roll in 🙂


  5. Shefaly Says:


    For more on how privilege can also lead to impaired judgement – despite college education – see this on Penelope Trunk’s blog:


  6. Krish Says:

    Thanks for the lead. But that lauds the trend of kids moving back with parents after college to get a firmer grip on life and a daub on chopper parenting. While we were munching on the general irreverence towards formal education as a trend that gets amplified by the misplaced expectations that one has from college.

    Perhaps aided by pedigree and privilege as you were suggesting, some dropouts become stars, those below just drool over their sheer velocity; and read the outcome as a fallout of their insolent and heretic tendencies. That is dangerous.

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