Letter To An MBA

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Dear MBA Student,

These are my thoughts as a 2007 Stanford GSB grad after sitting on a career panel at The Columbia Graduate School of Business. Let me know what you think.

This has not been checked for grammar. It’s a freewrite. Thanks for reading.

MBAs are risk averse.

Business school students are among the smartest and hardest working, but they are some of the most risk averse people in the world. Many of us were driven by fear of not having, not succeeding, and not “making it”. We’re running as hard as we can, but we’re not necessarily sure where we’re running to. Sometimes it’s best to just stop, be still, and listen to your voice within. The greatest risk in the world is not taking any risk at all.

(Most MBAs wouldn’t do this with their career unless a lot of other MBAs were doing it too.)

MBAs are some of the most underemployed people in the world.

Underemployment is the biggest issue facing MBAs and the world. Underemployment is when you’re working below your full potential. Anyone who has said they hate their job is likely underemployed. Underemployment has nothing to do with income. It’s about how passionate you are about your daily work.

Imagine having a sample economy of 100 people where 10 are unemployed and the other 90 are only 50% engaged or underemployed. 90 x 50% ~ 45 people being unemployed which makes it 4.5 times bigger of an issue than unemployment. In addition to being some of the smartest and hardworking, MBAs are equipped with an amazing set of leadership and business skills that position them to building teams and solve the world’s greatest problems. The sad part is that most MBAs don’t seek professional paths that tackle the world’s greatest problem. If not us, then who?

(Underemployment has nothing to do with income. It’s about passion.)

MBAs make you money, not happy.

I even have classmates who are unemployed right now, but it is because they would rather be unemployed than underemployed. Their self-confidence gives them the strength to hold out so that they can find the perfect opportunity instead of potentially missing it because they are caught up somewhere else. Whenever someone is underemployed, not only are they unhappy, but the what they produce is not top quality, therefore the customer is unhappy, and then the company is unhappy. Everybody loses. Full employment means the perfect alignment of your passions and purpose with your profession. In a recent US job survey of 7.000+ workers, researchers found that:

  • Only 45% of workers say they are satisfied (33 percent) or extremely satisfied (12 percent) with their jobs.
  • Only 20% feel very passionate about their jobs; less than 15 percent agree that they feel strongly energized by their work
  • Only 31% (strongly or moderately) believe that their employer inspires the best in them.

Your purpose and passion are too big to fit into a single profession or job title. Your career is just one avenue to exercise and fulfill them. Underemployment, unemployment, or full employment. You choose.


(These guys probably think their job is the $#!+)

MBAs should focus on creating value.

MBA programs, even online MBA programs, focus more on capturing value (business models) than creating value. Whereas leadership is the process of taking smart risk and creating value, management is the process of sucking risks out of a business and capturing value. Keep in mind that entrepreneurs don’t love risk—they actually hate risk. True entrepreneurs are just willing to take the risk necessary to achieve a larger purpose. The Masters in Business Administration (MBA) should be changed to an Masters in Business Leadership (MBL) or Masters in Value Creation (MVC). This would change the focus of the curriculum, students, and programming. Though most people go to business school to change careers, it has the power to change the world.

Do you realize that if you figured out how to create and capture 25 cents ($0.25) worth of value every minute of the day for a year, you would earn $131,400. That’s more than the average starting salary of a recent business school grad? What if you just focused on increasing this number instead of working like crazy for someone else for 40 years?

MBAs are taught to believe in the law of scarcity.

I think MBAs get it from economics which is based on the law of scarcity. Scarcity of natural resources. Scarcity of jobs (Get in where you fit in). Scarcity of great talent (the whole premise of business school). Scarcity of idea (someone’s going to take my business idea). The perception that things that are scarce are more valuable (i.e. MBA admssions) is killing us…literally. Mother Earth produces more than enough food for everyone in the world to eat, yet there is still starvation. Why? If the world is abundant, but everyone believes that it isn’t, then people tend to hoard or capture what they can get. People take more than they need and others are left without.


(Is that water in the background?)

MBAs should learn to value time over money.

The only scarce resource that really exist is your time, thus making it your most valuable resource. You choose how to spend and invest it, not your company, not your parents, not your family or friends. Anyone not in control of their own time is a __________________ (I’ll let you fill in the blank). You probably know exactly what’s in your bank account right now, but nobody knows how much time is in their time account. Whoever said time is money was all wrong. Time IS LIKE money in that you can spend it, lose it, waste it, invest it, and run out of it, but Time IS NOT LIKE money in that you can’t get it back or make more of it, or measure how much you have left. Even Bill Gates can’t buy another second of time. Everything costs time (not money). An iPhone priced at $300 cost the CEO who makes $100/hour 3 hours, but it cost the entry level employee who make $30/hr 10 hours. The CEO and employee are paid based on other’s perceptions of their ability to create value. We should embrace the law of abundance given our capacity to innovate and create value.

(Time is NOT money)

MBAs can create value by saving others time.

You can’t really save time as in store it, but if you can help people “save” time by getting them to where they want to go faster, safer, and easier, you can create extreme value for others and capture some of that value in the form of money. The reason a personal trainer is able to make a living doing what they love is because they can help someone move from 300 lbs. (point A) to 250 lbs. (Point B) faster than the person could have done it on their own. The reaon the iPhone is doing so well is because it helps people navigate their music, the internet, contacts, and other data faster and easier than the individual could do it on their own. It’s pretty simple. I call this your professional velocity. Your professional velocity is your ability to close the distance between point A and B for other people and organizations. The higher your professional velocity, the more value you will create and capture.


(Save time and create value)

MBAs shouldn’t seek jobs, they should create them.

Instead of focusing on job loss, lets focus on job creation. It’s a little known fact that more millionaires were made during The Great Depression than in any other time in U.S. history when resources are supposed to be most scarce. How is that? Value creation! Billion dollar companies like Microsoft and Google grew out of free ideas. But you can only get free ideas when you believe they exists. But capturing value only last for so long and that’s where scarcity applies. Once a leader creates value through innovation, then the focus shifts to capturing that value and that’s where management comes in. Management’s job is to suck all of the risk out of the business. Entrepreneurs aren’t risk lovers—it’s just that their vision and sense of purpose transcends the perceived risk. Fearlessness doesn’t mean having no fear, it means having less fear than courage. Yet, they respect all of the people like Phil Knight, Bill Gates, Sergey Brin & Larry Page, and Steve Jobs who took risks to develop and create major value. Together, these 5 people have created $666,000,000,000 in value and created 175,000 jobs. Imagine if Bill Gates followed the rest of his classmates to McKinsey or Sergey and Larry worked as engineers at HP. None of this value or these jobs would exist today.


(Squeeze the world’s sourest problems)

Passion is the GMAT of Success

You’ve probably heard of Good To Great and Built To Last, but have you read Success Built To Last? In the book, Success Built to Last, Jerry Porras (coauthor of Built To Last), Stewart Emery, and Mark Thompson, interviewed hundreds of “successful” people—including some of the names mentioned above, many Nobel Laureates, government and community service leaders, teachers, scientists, and Olympians, as well as Pulitzer, Grammy, Peabody, and Academy Award winners—to identify common characteristics among them. Success was defined as having at least two decades of impact in one’s industry, field, or lane.

They discovered that successful people don’t obsess over what other people may think about their work. They also found that enduringly successful people are more concerned with doing what they love than being loved. They don’t treat their passions like a trivial pursuits or low-priority items. Successful people focus on being good at what is meaningful to them, and do that—not “whatever” just comes along. They understand their unique passions and allocate their view of the right amount of time to each, according to their own individually chosen preference. In summary, excelling at your passion is a pre-requiste to success in the same way that excelling on the GMAT is a pre-requiste for MBA admissions.


(Take your passion as seriously as you took the GMAT)

So how do I find my passions?

First and foremost, I don’t believe that you don’t know your passion. It’s an easy excuse. You’ve likely been using your passion all of your life whether you know it or not, but you’ve probably never thought about it in a professional context. For example, I think Bobby Fisher, one of the greatest chess players to ever. But what if chess was only a manifestation of his true passion for strategic thinking? Lets say he didn’t want to become a professional chess player. What else could he do with that passion? I think he would make one hell of a strategy consultant, sports coach, or military general. Why? Because the same mind set required to be a great chess player is required to be great at those other things. If he could see those careers as one big chess board, the transition wouldn’t be that hard. In the same way, there is no difference between someone who is passionate about bargain shopping and someone who does mergers and acquisitions for a living. It’s the same game on a larger scale.

List all of your favorite activities, projects, books, movies, TV shows, and discussion topics from childhood to now. After that, ask yourself what part of this thing did I love. For instance, lets say that you used to want to be an archeologist when you were younger. That may indicate your passion for digging for information, studying history, or comparing cultures. Once you complete this list, you’ll be able start to see patterns and uncover your true passion because all of the things you engaged with.


(Sir Richard Branson, Founder & CEO of Virgin at work)

Can I make money with my passion?

You can monetize any passion if you’re passionate enough and (you get) other people (to) love it too. It’s more of marketing question than a money question. Tony Sheih of Zappos has monetized studying happiness. Ben & Jerry monetized their passion for ice cream. Walt Disney monetized his passion for art and animation. Herb Keller, CEO of Southwest as passionate about injustice, but law wasn’t the only way to manifest that. He saw an injustice in the airline industry that the average American could fly so he set out to create the lowest cost airlines ever. Ivan Chounard’s passion for rock climbing has become Pategonia. Phil Knight monetized running and athleticism. He didn’t have to be a professional runner to pursue his passions. The deeper you delve into your passions, the more business opportunities you will see. Don’t expect to put your big toe in the kiddie pool and expect to find hidden treasure at the bottom of the sea. Immerse yourself in your passions.

(Ben & Jerry sharing their passion for ice cream)

So if I follow my passions, the money will come?

Not quite. You’ve probably heard the saying “Follow your passion and the money will come.” They skipped a step. It’s follow your passion, get great at it (meaning crystallize it into a skill), and then the money will come. The only difference between a professional athlete and an amateur is that they are able to replicate success at a given activity more than an amateur. Do you realize that you be great at almost anything you want if you commit to it? Unfortunately, many millennials are non-commital and self-discipline is a scare resource. But, the worst thing you can do is get great at something you hate. In Hollywood, it’s called typecasting. You take a role that don’t like and you do well. All of a sudden, those are the only roles that come your way. Breaking out of that mold is 10 times harder than starting off on the right path.


(Murder mediocrity and sharp shoot for your dreams)

How do I crystallize my passion into a skill?

Since finding your passion is all about exposure and the recruiting process only exposes you to a limited menu of options, you can start your own 30 Day Do It group with classmates. This will help you crystallize your passion into skill during school. We have structure and accountability at work and school, but for some reason, we don’t have them for our personal goals. A 30 Day Do It is a group meets every 30 days to set goals and hold each other accountable to last month’s goals. The self-discovery process needs structure just like school has structure and work has structure. That’s why I wrote The 8 Cylinders of Success and Good Excuse Goals. Together, both books will show you how to answer the life questions school doesn’t ask and setup structure and accountability to find answers. Imagine if you and 4 other classmates spent your first 6 months of schools doing deep dives into different career paths. At the end of 6 months (around February) you would be open to 30 (5 people x 6 months) career paths that you never considered before.

Once you find your passion, you have to commit to greatness at it. As Malcolm Gladwell states in his book Outliers, to become an expert at almost anything requires at least 10,000 hours of practice. That’s 20 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, for 10 years. Luckily, you’ve probably already accumulated time toward a particular passion, but despite classes and other activities, you have to create at least 20 hours of space in your week to practice your passion. Since, we’re not playing a sport, practice can be hard to define, but it can include anything related to your passion such as additional reading, networking with people who share your passion, meeting with professors who are experts, conducting passion related research, creating a company related to your passion, leading a student group, or interning among other things. Ask yourself, what can I do today to be the best I can be at my passion tomorrow?


(What do you love doing and why?)

What about on-campus recruiting? Avoid it!

Avoid on-campus recruiting. It creates career tunnel vision and the time line is screwed up. Have you ever been in a crowd an experienced everyone just start running. You’re not sure why people are running, but you figure that you better run too. That’s exactly what on-campus recruiting is. Just because the companies are ready to hire doesn’t mean you’re ready to be hired. A successful on-campus recruiting season is not measured by the number of offers you get. It’s actually measured by how FEW interviews if takes for you to find your fit. Since business schoolers like to golf, you understand that hole-in-ones are better than bogies. There are more jobs in the world where you could create (and capture) extreme value than the limited number of ones that come to campus. Get off campus and go find them.

Don’t be recruited by a company. They will never know you the way you know you. All they are really look for is a huge ball of clay talent to mold. You can try to fit in, but you are who you are. Therefore, recruit the company you want. Find the company that will fit you by thoroughly researching opportunities (usually off-campus). I would recruit like an archer instead of machine gun. Rather than shooting everywhere hoping something hits, I would take my time, take aim, and release. You save a lot of rejection, inauthenic conversations, and stress that way. When I went to business school, I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. When I failed to position myself as an entrepreneur post-MBA due to some poor leadership choices, product delays, and lack of funding, I knew myself so well that I interviewed with one company and got the job.


(Don’t be recruited. Recruit the company you want.)

Won’t business school help me find what I love?

Business school is simply a space for you find yourself and what you love if you choose. Most people come to business school or grad school in general to hide out for two years because they hated their previous job and don’t know what they want to do yet. Everyone is hoping that business school will help them find IT, but in reality, they must find IT using business as a time and tool. What sucks is that recruiting starts right after mid-terms as if the student has had time to do real self-discovery between the time they left their previous job and started school. The problem is that grad school buys you more time, but it doesn’t guarantee self-discovery. Most people graduate from grad with a masters degree but no mastery of self. If you know who you are and what you have to offer, you will always be able to find a place to fit and a way to contribute and create value. If you simply know your options, but don’t know who you are, the likelihood of you finding a fit is a shot in the dark.

A masters degree doesn’t mean self-mastery. You have to make time for that just like you would a class or else you’ll end up in the exact same situation you were in after undergrad in a new company and perhaps industry with a new title making more money. I repeat, school does not promise to help you discover your passions, purpose, or profession. Maybe you’re okay with that. How is that hundreds of the world’s best and brightest all want to do the exact same few jobs? consulting, banking, and brand management. Do you really know that that is what you want to be? Why? How do you do know?  How many people have you talked to that do that? Do any of your mentors do that? How did you decide on this? What other (non-traditional) career opportunities did you explore? What made this one the best? Don’t lead on a an employer who wants to get married when you aren’t even “engaged”. They will find out. You can only fake love for so long.


(A master’s degree doesn’t mean self-mastery)

So what should I do in business school?

Do everything you couldn’t do if you weren’t in business school. Fail BIG. Travel EVERYWHERE. Create VALUE (from scratch). Be GREAT.

Finish unfinished business.

First and foremost, do what you didn’t do in undergrad. If you’re in a good business school, you likely did well in undergrad, but if you could do it all over again knowing what you know now, you might flip undergrad a little differently. Check out this list of 66 things every college student must do before graduation. Though it was written with undergrads in mind, you may have some unfinished business to handle in graduate school. The list was designed to help you maximize your personal, intellectual, social, and financial capital while in school using the school’s intellectual, social, and financial capital as well as your time outside of class. Since I finished undergrad in 3 years, I didn’t get a chance to study abroad, so that’s one thing I regret. Business school affords you the time to travel all over the world—some even require it.

Fail BIG while trying to create extreme value.

Usually starting a company is the best way to fail. When I say fail big, I don’t mean fail intentionally. Try to succeed. But do something that you’re not sure you can do. Stretch yourself. Even if you fail and you don’t get the outcome or income you expected, you will still have stretched and expanded your idea of what’s possible. I failed at two businesses while in business school—an online green products store and a people-based search engine. These were the greatest leadership lessons I could ever have. The process of trying to create value from scratch and building a team challenged me in a way that a classroom couldn’t. Most people in the world, even MBAs haven’t made more than $1,000 on their own outside of a company. Try to create value (innovation) and capture it (business model) whether you intend to be an entrepreneur or not. People who have an entrepreneurial mind will lead in the 21st century because they know how to identify problems, develop iterative solutions, and execute. The world is evolving too quickly for you to think you’re going to be able to hide inside a company and take an elevator to the C-level suite without solving a major problem. Any company not solving a major problem in the world will not last and likewise, any employee now solving a major problem for a company won’t last either.


(Escape the cubile. Dig within. Smell freedom 🙂

Declare your greatness.

Like I said before, you can be great at anything so why not get great at the thing that you want to be great at. Declare what you are committed to being the world’s greatest at. As talented as MBAs are, if I asked everyone in this room the question, “What is the one thing you are committed to being the world’s greatest at?” many people wouldn’t have an answer. We’ve become comfortable with “good enough”. We were good enough to get into b-school. We were good enough to get that grade or GMAT score. We were good enough to get that job or internship. But what are you great enough to do?

Take a second. Think about it. If you had to choose one thing to be great at, what would it be? If it immediately comes to mind, then write it down. If not, then write the question down until you choose an answer that resonates with you. with the exception of biological feats like the world’s tallest person, nobody in the Guinness book of world records got there by luck. Everyone made a conscious choice as some point in their lives to be the best. And no matter how obscure the thing they chose, most of them are making a living doing what they love. Now keep in mind that I when I say best, I don’t mean better. This is not a competition with anyone else. This all about you. You can be your best without being the best and your can be the best without being your best.

Is entrepreneurship the only way to find the perfect career?

No. I’m confident that if I wasn’t an entrepreneur, I would be perfectly fit for a leadership position in HR at a company I cared about or student life and admissions at a major university. How many people MBAs do you know would even consider that as a career option? Too many people are looking for the sexy jobs when the ones they should marry are right around them. There are more companies than the 50+ that recruit on campus and there are more paths out of business school than 5.

I’m not saying that you have to be an entrepreneur. You can also be an intrapreneur. Instead of trying to fit into a job description on a company’s website, you can propose an entrepreneurial idea that will solve a huge problem in their company or industry. We do it in our case studies in class all the time. After railing on an entrepreneur for decisions in the past (even though their company is worth billions today) we come up with these great ideas for companies that we could actually propose as jobs, not just ideas. Dissect the company or industry you want to work for and make a proposal. As long as you can demonstrate that it will create more value than the cost of your salary, you’re a go. But again, most people haven’t gone through the process of creating value and capturing it on your own. That’s why I highly recommend taking on a project or entrepreneurial venture that will allow you to explore that during business school.


(Understanding how to create and capture value will make you forever rich)

What if you hate your summer internship or first job out of school?

Look at your all of your work experience thus far like it was just more school (with a scholarship to cover living expenses). But here’s the catch, you have to set your graduation date. When you set a graduation or departure date it will force you to maximize your experience by building relationship and developing skills. I call it a bridge job. A bridge job is a time-constrained career move you use as a stepping stone to get to your next job that doesn’t take up more that 50 hours/week. It’s almost impossible to build a bridge if you spend all of your time on one side fo the career river. You commit to leaving the bridge job at the 18 month mark or once you’ve saved up 6 months of basic living experense—whichever comes first. This keeps you from not get too comfortable in a situation you don’t want to be in. Knowing that this is just a bridge job forces you to keep your living expenses low so that you don’t trap yourself. Increasing your living expenses, is the worst thing you can do (no matter how much money you’re making) if you’re in a job you hate. I have friends who hate their job but bought houses. Now they are stuck because they have to “pay the bills”. Hold off on that stuff into you find something you love. I took a bridge job after school when my companies didn’t work out and 17 months later I saved up and started a new one. I gained some invaluable intellectual, social, and financial capital while there and created extreme value while I was there.

(Sometimes bridge jobs are necessary to get where you want to go)

At the end of the day it comes down to this. If you were in an abusive relationship, but they were paying you $10,000/month to stay, would you? Leave! It’s your time and your life. Don’t believe the lie that work sucks no matter where you work so you might as well just stay where you are. Keep in mind that there are known possibilities, options, and unknown possibilities. Up until this poin, you have been operating in the ream of known possibilities and your options within those possibilities. There are literally 100,000s of possibile career paths and companies, but they are only available to you if you’re open to them.

What do you think about making money and then giving back?

I don’t believe in philanthropy or charity as a solution to the world’s greatest problems. I believe you are the solution to world’s greatest problems. Philanthropy and charity are nice-to-haves, but how many charities or foundations do you know have obviated themselves because they solved the particular problem they were created to address?  I’ve heard the quote “I can’t give back to the poor if I’m one of them.” That’s B.S. Has it every cross your mind that it’s not money that the poor need—it’s actually financing for all of the million dollar ideas they’ve thought of because they’ve been undercapitalized (not poor) for so long. (Shout to my classmate Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva.org). Gandhi proved you don’t need money to make HUGE impact. Bill Gates proves that even with a lot of money impact isn’t guaranteed. The world needs you now! As stated earlier, your time is your most valuable asset, not your money.

In his book The Monk and the Riddle Randy Komisar talks about the Deferred Life Plan in which there are two steps 1. Do what you have to do and then hopefully 2. Do what you want to do. According to Komisar, most people stay in step one unaware that they can freely move to step two (or even skip step one) once they’ve discovered their passion. In avoiding the Deferred Life Plan, he makes a clear distinction between passion and drive. “Passion pulls you toward something you cannot resist. Drive pushes you toward something you feel compelled or obligated to do. If you know nothing about yourself, you can’t tell the difference. Once you gain a modicum of self-knowledge, you can express your passion. But it isn’t just the desire to achieve some goal or payoff, and it’s not about quotas or bonuses or cashing out. It’s not about jumping through someone else’s hoops. That’s drive.”


In conclusion…
In closing, I hope that I’ve created life changing value for you. Though you’re reading this online and accessing it for free, it cost me to create this. I’ve invested years of disciplined study, spiritual practice, self-evaluation and reflection to produce this insights for you. I believe that the wisdom I’ve shared with you will bring you abundance personally and professionally, otherwise I wouldn’t have written it.

I’m trying to create my 25 cents/minute worth of value in the world. If you found this valuable, please help me get there by purchasing one of my books at:


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