I’ve been reading a bunch of stuff lately in all the quietness that’s settled on this blog, but one of the better (work-related) ones I’ve seen is this one. It’s sort of inconspicuous and given title and subtitle it’s also easy to disregard it. Not sure when all our books ended up being permutations of 10 catchy titles, but once you get past that it’s good.
My take is that if you don’t learn anything new from it, it’ll at least be amusing and not a complete waste of your life and time. I wanted to blog it under my ‘what university doesn’t tell you’ section because it’s interesting to two types of people:
a) students who are in a business school or thinking of going to business school (any) — if you’ve ever wondered what the deal with business schools is and why some guest speakers charge £20,000 for a lecture. Not quite ‘what are universities for‘ but close.
b) agency people who have worked with clients that are in complicated relationships with corporate/brand/management consultants or ‘growth coaches’ and what have you — it will make you laugh and cry and definitely recognise painful scenarios.
Buy it. Read it. Weep a bit.
The book basically goes through a history of modern management theories: your Taylor, Ansoff, BCG, Gantt theories of this world. All the things they teach in a business school, but actually revealing how they came into existence and what the cultural context for each of them was (an industrial America mixed in with some class and Communism anxiety). The author’s conclusion is that you should study anything but ‘business’: that’s easy to pick up along the way. He should know, as a philosophy graduate turned ‘management consultant’.
I’ve gone through the motions of ‘business school’ – many interviewers have reminded me it wasn’t a particularly prestigious one, thanks – by going to all my seminars for a while and then going to more interesting things outside my course or reading books from our arts campus because they felt like a better use of my time. If you’ve taught me throughout the ages and I didn’t turn up, oh well. I think I came out of it well-rounded and well, look at the title of this blog. No kool-aid was had, clients amazingly trust me and people still employ me. That’s nuts in itself.
Maybe it’s extreme but in my interviews I was always asked ‘how did you find university?‘. Double-edged blade: will you say it was amazing even though it wasn’t or say it was shit but put a positive spin on it anyway? People I know who have been to more famous and expensive places than me are generally far more miserable because they slowly became aware of the fact that it’s a choice they were nudged towards. If their only explanation is ‘I suppose I’ve always been interested in history…’ it’s bound to be a stinker. Yet they feel compelled to say ‘brilliant, yeah’ – so how do you answer the question of ‘what brought you to this industry then?’
Until I found the right employer, I just said it helped me figure out what I didn’t want to be doing: hating some things passionately means deeply caring for other stuff and trying to make it better. It’s not a senseless narrative I use to help me sleep better at night, it’s just how it is. I made a choice based on a feeling of what I wanted to do – it didn’t show me ‘the way’, the skies didn’t open, but it showed me the other routes to avoid.
The right employer likely doesn’t want to hear their own biases played back to them or a soft lie. You can still love learning, but hate universities and that’s fine. The best people know that talent is that genius combination of aptitude and opportunity – and that’s probably another thing they don’t teach you in business school.