The Personal MBA

I stumbled across this link to The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman on the other day and put it on my ‘toread’ list. The idea of a Personal MBA program is one that I started on my own months ago with what I was going to call “Mike’s Bookshelf”. His name is much cooler though.

The concept I came up with was simple. Read a bunch of business books, and post reviews of them so that people don’t waste their time on the books that suck. There are literally thousands of business books out there. How do you separate the wheat from the chaffe? So that was my goal, and having not yet made it through all 12 books that I purchased, I didn’t think I had a good enough base of information to implement that section of my website so that it was usable.

Having looked through Josh’s list, I have to say that I think there are some gaping holes. ie: Crossing the Chasm, You can negotiate anything, etc. Crossing the Chasm is one of the best books I’ve read to date, yet it’s not on the list. Seems strange to me. Yet, if you look at his list, it’s really not that long.

Fog Creek designed it’s own management training program to help educate the managers of tomorrow using a list of books and applying their fundamental principles in the workplace as on the job training. This was an incredible idea, and one that will be very successful for them and other companies in the long run.

I think Josh’s list could use a few more entries though. As it is, there are 37 books in the list. An MBA program is roughly 2 years long, consists of probably 20 classes total, with anywhere from 1-6 books per class. Using middle of the road numbers, there should probably be about 80 books there. More than double Josh’s list. Fog Creek’s list is 75 books, which is in the right ballpark.

Josh’s list is a great start, but not every book should be used as a complete reference, nor is the whole of every book useful. Take the Negotiation section for example. Only one book. I’m fairly sure that’s not an objective view of negotiation tactics. In Crossing the Chasm, the usefulness of the book has dramatically fallen off after the first half of the book. If Josh expanded his list to be a bit more comprehensive, it would be far more useful because it actually talks about the content of the books, as opposed to the Fog Creek list, which merely lists the books themselves.

I went back to school for a Masters degree in Computer Engineering back in 2001 and near the end, I thought to myself that I wish I had gone for an MBA instead. No longer. I’m glad I spent the money on a Masters degree that made me even more technical and learned the business side on my own. Trial and error is the best form of teaching. Not the most efficient, mind you, but you certainly retain more by reading and then applying those principles than sitting in a classroom all day.

Most of these business books are fairly inexpensive, and you can pick up several of them for under $50, especially if you look for used books through or on eBay. If you’re really trying to save money, go to the local public library and request copies of them. That’s what they do. The only disadvantage of that is that you can’t reference them as easily.

If you haven’t started your own personal MBA program, I highly suggest that you do so. The rewards I’ve received in the past few months have been well worth the time and monetary investment.


  1. Parag Shah on October 25, 2006 at 12:56 pm

    While reading this post, I just had an idea. How effective would it be of someone created their own startup (as a lab) for their personal MBA? The books take care of the theory (maybe complimented by MBA podcasts from good universities) and the startup provides a lab for practice.
    Offcourse not everyone can do that. There will be a lot of people with day jobs too.
    Just a thought.

  2. Mike Taber on October 25, 2006 at 2:32 pm

    It sounds like a pretty good idea. The underlying issue that you need to overcome is the motivation to actually go through with the personal MBA program and do the work that’s necessary. The other problem that may or may not need to be addressed is the credibility of the program. Employers certainly won’t care that a candidate went through the program for anything more than seeing that the candidate is motivated to grow.

    After several years, if it’s very popular it would be a very valuable program to have started and would have the potential for a lot of money. But there’s always the chance that it could catch a grassroots tailwind and become extremely popular. It’s not as if adult education has any governmental prerequisites (at least not in the US).

    On the downside, online degrees from places like the University of Phoenix don’t hold a lot of weight. Your experience is more important than that degree.

    It’s got good points and bad points that I can think of. In the end, it would come down to implementation I think.

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