Alternatives to the MBA: Innovation in Entrepreneurship

In a recent article for Quartz, author Jay Bhatti tackles the finicky issue of the MBA. Regarded as a step on the ladder toward corporate greatness, the MBA has long been considered a necessary degree for hopeful entrepreneurs.

Lately, though, industry players have begun to question the true benefits of the MBA. Bhatti is one such skeptic. He claims that rather than honing the skills for entrepreneurship, the MBA degree restricts them. He cites a talk by Karl Ulrich, the Vice Dean of Innovation at Wharton and a core team member of the Mack Center, for alternative methods of learning entrepreneurship.

Bhatti praised Ulrich’s talk about identifying opportunity, and expands on Ulrich’s ideas by recommending five books that offer valuable insight to MBA students: Innovation Tournaments; The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Business Law; Founders at Work; Getting More – How to Negotiate in the Real World; and The Lean Start-up.

Each book offers an alternative perspective to traits and behaviors that are considered staples of the entrepreurial realm.  Getting More – How to Negotiate in the Real World, for example, emphasizes the importance of understanding others’ interests and goals before striking a deal for yourself.

Bhatti’s recommendations are clear and sensible. The concepts in these five books apply not only to MBA candidates, but undergraduates as well. I found the ideas in Getting More – How to Negotiate in the Real World and Innovation Tournaments particularly striking. The former’s emphasis on building a fluid rapport is essential in maintaining successful business deals, because leadership necessitates an affiliative approach. Both parties need to mesh.

The latter’s concept stresses the importance of remaining open. In Innovation Tournaments, authors Christian Terwiesch (also a Mack Center core team member and professor at The Wharton School) and Karl Ulrich made an astute point: too many MBAs lock themselves into one plan, shutting out potential successes. Undergraduates risk this as well – narrowing their options to one major or business concentration that they lose out on others. Part of this is due to some schools’ demand for a major and fixed trajectory very early on.

To counter this, students – both undergraduates and MBAs – must welcome all possibilities. Terwiesch and Ulrich argue that the inclusion of all of these possibilities provides students with the opportunity to better analyze risk, screen out weaker options, and narrow down those of exception.