You don’t really use what you learned in your MBA

You don’t really use what you learned in your MBA

In the late 1990s, I studied marketing and advertising in business school. And I loved the concepts and case studies that I was learning.

While I was yet to graduate, I landed a dream job as an account executive in one of India’s hot-shot ad agencies. I was eager to contribute to making great ads. Putting all that I had learned into practice.

Then I joined the agency. And for the next two years, I drowned in learning the process of the ad business. I was working breathlessly for days on end.

By the time I became senior enough to start impacting the business of creating ads, I had only a vague recollection of the concepts I had learned.

Sure I could use the terms and appear intelligent and seem confident. But in my heart, I knew that my knowledge wasn’t deep enough.

This journey isn’t unique to me or to the advertising industry alone. It is the same story as anyone graduating in marketing, market research, and allied disciplines.

After we spend two years imbibing the concepts and the theory, we are raring to go. Only to be met with the brick wall of process.

Finally, when we reach the stage of practicing the craft, we are spent. And now fear our subordinates who come from business school who may know the theory better. And we’ll get caught for being superficial. So we, in turn, bury them with the process. And this dysfunctional cycle goes on.

Our learning of the craft is meant to be “learning while doing the job.” But this does not allow for the time needed for deep thinking or reflection. How can you?

When you are engaged in the day-to-day work of fighting fires, the learning becomes the muscle memory of what you did on the job. Not the reflection, crystallization, tinkering with concepts, and evolving your own world view that is needed for true wisdom to emerge.

And in business school, you had the time and space to do this. The organization gave your the real-world experience to layer on top of it. But somehow, the leap to gravitas has become short-circuited.

We spend too much time in our early marketing and advertising careers postponing brand thinking and learning operational processes.

By the time you get to a leadership position, all brand thinking has atrophied.

Navin Narayanan is a partner at Centre of Gravity. He leads HumanWorks, the school of Centre of Gravity where we teach the philosophy and method of Human-Centered Thinking and its allied skills.

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