Hello aspiring MBA students and world changers!

Does getting an MBA from US and changing the world go hand in hand? As aspiring MBA students and future business leaders you are soon going to be exposed to the most potent answer in your arsenal of responses: “It depends!” And in the real world, it truly does. There are no straight clear cut answers to business problems, unlike the highly comforting math and physics problems with definitive answers that most engineers are used to solving. For starters, internalize the following three most important lessons:

  1. In Business (and life) get comfortable with uncertainty
  2. Business (and life) is about making choices and decisions at every step
  3. Recognize that you will have to make decisions with partial or incomplete information

Now what does all of this have to do with US MBA admissions? You may wonder, “Why doesn’t this guy tell me all I that I need to know so that:

  • I can get an admission into a top business school
  • Get that high paying dream job once I graduate

Lao Tzu had famously said: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Let us take that first step, but backwards! Yes, it is important to take a step back and first understand the big picture of this very involved journey to get a US MBA admission. Through my subsequent articles, I will answer the “how” of this journey, but only you can answer the “why”. This article is meant to make you think about the “why”.

In my opinion, and I would love to be proven wrong, the way many MBA aspirants from India approach an MBA education is very myopic. I say this because I have myself been a part of this process and have been a victim of what behavioral scientists label as “social proof”. We face many situations in life where we can’t make decisions and we take cues from others to arrive at what is the best course of action. Now this best course of action may not necessarily be the best for us, but we still do it, because others are doing it and they seem to be fairly well off as a result of their choices! Everyone who gets an US MBA degree ends up with a high-paying job, so maybe that’s the right thing to do. Of course the assumption here is that a high-paying job is correlated with personal happiness and personal happiness is the end-goal. Maybe that other person with a US MBA and a fancy job is extremely content. But the right question is: Will that work for you as well? Is getting an MBA from US the right path to achieve your happiness?

While growing up in India, one is subjected to many social pressures and the intense competition for limited opportunities inflates these pressures even more. At times we are so focused on achieving and winning that we forget why are we doing it. And hence it is important to explore this question: Why do I want to do an MBA? ‘To make more money’, ‘to lead a large company’, ‘to meet smart people’ and others like these are perfectly valid answers provided you have thought through them. But getting charmed by the urban legends surrounding MBA graduates and wanting to be an MBA like them is not the right motivator. Instead, you should probe further to find out how these MBAs are making use of their education to do something novel and path-breaking that affects not only their own life but also thousands of others. A classmate of mine from Stanford started a non-profit straight out of business school that is tackling extreme poverty in Kenya, while another classmate is working in the US Department of Energy to evaluate and fund renewable energy projects. The point I am trying to make is that maybe they didn’t plan beforehand on doing this, but they knew that they could use their MBA education to do something like this. Have you thought about your MBA education in the same way?

My attempt at raising these questions is to help you view your MBA education from a different perspective. Besides the usual spoils of a lucrative salary and a fast-track career that an MBA education brings, you should also think about how it can bring you personal satisfaction. Alain de Botton, a contemporary philosopher interestingly notes that in our current society the worth of an individual is measured (wrongly!) by how much money one makes or what job does that person do. Most business school aspirants think of an MBA degree as a way to improve their societal worth and possibly self-worth. But don’t fall into this trap. An MBA degree is only a milestone, not your destination. Needless to add, some of the most successful businessmen of our times never even completed college leave alone an MBA from US.

So coming back to my original question, you can be both an MBA aspirant and a world changer depending on how you view your MBA education and what you intend to get out of it.

That’s it for the MBA philosophy. In my next article, we will get into the gory details of MBA admission process.


© 2011, Tanmay Saksena | Stanford GSB. All rights reserved.

Tanmay Saksena | Stanford GSB

Tanmay Saksena did his MBA from Stanford University and B Tech from IIT Kanpur. Tanmay currently works as an Executive Producer at Playdom, a Silicon-Valley based social games development company which is now part of the Walt Disney Company. Before Playdom, he worked with start-ups like Trippert and Jambool in the social gaming and payment spaces respectively. Prior to Stanford, Tanmay worked as a Production Manager at Unilever and was later involved with the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, India.