The Personal MBA
I once dabbled with the idea of getting an MBA. After a life avoiding any work in a business, I wanted to start one of my own and knew zero about it. Like many folks, I thought a heavy-duty school program would cure my ignorance and inexperience. But an official MBA degree can easily cost $100,000. I figured out I would learn more spending $500 in self-education. So I devoted $200 for books and the other $300 actually starting a small mail-order business (the fee went for an ad). In two years I learned more about how business really worked than any MBA graduate I had met. No matter what they tell you, an MBA is not essential for landing or handling a good business job. The chief “skill” you’ll come away by your degree is a diploma, and a network of indebted friends in business. The latter is actually useful.
There is another option to an overpriced degree, which is the self-education path outlined above. Pursue your own Personal MBA in tandem with actual experience doing some kind of business. Josh Kaufman has put together an excellent and very hefty reading list which forms the core of his PMBA course. It is downloadable as a free PDF. The recommended readings are wide, deep, holistic, and very good. You could purchase all of these easily available books for $500, and if you combine study of them with actually trying stuff, you’ll be far ahead in the business game.
If you go this route, you need to supplement your self-education with a network of live humans engaged in business (the only part of a certified MBA you’ll miss).
Kaufman has recently updated his annotated recommended reading list. No PDF yet, but his website is chock full of the new material.
The Personal MBA is not:
A credential. If you read these books, you won't have corporate recruiters beating down your door, and you won't have a pretty certificate to hang on your wall when you're done. You will, however, have an understanding of business that's comparable to completing a traditional business school curriculum, along with the pleasures of not having to mortgage your life for that understanding. You do not need a certificate to be able to understand, use, and hold an intelligent conversation about advanced business topics. (Employers do, however, respond well to portfolios. If you build a portfolio of notes to capture what you learn through the Personal MBA, you'll have a tangible asset to prove your hard work and dedication during the interview process.)
A stand-alone venture. You can't learn about business solely from books (or sitting in a classroom); you have to be willing to go out and learn by doing. Whether you're working full-time for a company or building your own business, a great deal of your knowledge will develop as a direct result of your day-to-day work experiences, which provide the necessary context for understanding what you read. Reading books is not enough; application of what you read is essential.
(This post was originally part of Cool Tool's Five Good eBooks. — editors)