What the MBA craze tells us about ourselves
Why are youngsters ‘crazy’ about management?
Is it, that as a child they loved being managers and decided they would like to do it all their lives? Did they play manager-manager creating sales plans or mortgages? Does management as a discipline represent the highest expression of their gifts? Is it a natural transition from engineering?
I would argue that an MBA is the easiest way to move into an upper middle-class lifestyle in India today.
Any reasonably smart person can make it to a top 20 B School and get started on climbing the corporate ladder. Compared to being a coding coolie, they can now command the lesser-fortunate non-MBAs to follow their company’s diktats.
Over the two years, they learn a specialized language that lets them opt into what is often an exploitative structure – the corporation. Very soon, they are a part of it, tweaking their passions towards what lets them rise in the ranks, make more money and rise even more.
How do we get extremely intelligent youngsters excited about biscuit packaging or equations that sit on excel sheets? How do we convince them that what they do counts? How do we make them sit for hours in boring meetings and keep work hours beyond anything considered reasonable?
We provide a lot of money to go with the work. But that isn’t enough. So we create an elaborate drama that helps these behaviours stay in place. We design ‘performance metrics’ that will go up if you skip meeting your old sick uncle and attend the company off-site instead.
All of this adds up – as fat on the belly, as strained relationships and as weekends where the only energy left is to shop and consume (mostly trashy) entertainment.
Sure, they are free to sneak in that odd music hobby or a trek – but for most parts of their lives they are to stay motivated towards the goals of the owners (shareholders) whom they haven’t even met.
Why would an individual work so hard to get an opportunity to do this work? Are so many people discovering their passion in these monoliths?
Or have we convinced our youngsters that the only life worth living is the ‘good life’? Have we advertised expensive homes and swanky cars just a little too much? Have we instilled a fear in them that if they don’t become a banker or a marketeer, they are destined to a life of misery and poverty?
Zoom into a CAT class and there sits a youngster working so hard to do a quant problem. He may hate math but this is what he needs to do to get ‘in’. He may have no clue what an MBA really entails, but continues to labour on. It is an expensive club to enter, and once he enters, he is going to have a lot of fun (it seems).
But many of these 200,000 children writing CAT every year may have found success and fulfillment on many other paths. We may be losing many artists, inventors, entrepreneurs and independent professionals to this machinery.
Some of our CAT-writers may even succeed because they are so bright. But that will still not change the fact that it was never their passion in the first place. Perhaps, it will be discovered in their mid life crisis.
The MBA craze tells us that we have failed to create other options. It reminds us of the existence of an overly rewarded courtier (whose life’s work is to support the power of the kings). The MBA craze co-opts some of our best brains to work on problems that are neither our most pressing nor the ones these kids may have a passion to solve.
Somewhere, we have messed this one up.
Abhishek Thakore is a full-time lover of life. He is a published author, leadership educator and a movement builder. He is the founder of The Blue Ribbon Movement. He is also a Gold Medalist and an alumnus of IIM Bangalore – Class of 2005 and. He contributed one of InsideIIM’s first stories in 2011. You can read other stories by Abhishek here.