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Thinking MBA? Work on your MPA first!

Twenty years of teaching and studying with graduate business students at several universities has convinced me that an MBA can be a valuable way to recast or rejuvenate a career. But earning an MBA is expensive, and over the past decade the degree’s worth has diminished — a lot.

So before earning an MBA, consider a do-it-yourself “MPA” — a Master of Personal Administration. Unlike an MBA, which purports to train you to manage organizations, an MPA encourages you to understand yourself and manage your own career. Here are some differences between the two:

1. Organizational business plans versus personal business models

Even though the dotcom meltdown demonstrated more than a decade ago that “business plans” are a lousy basis for entrepreneurial action, MBA programs remain wedded to “business plan” thinking. The MPA, on the other hand, calls for individuals to seek meaningful work by designing and testing personal business models.

2. Big/stable/predictable versus small/chaotic/ever-changing

The “A” in “MBA” assumes a need for administration — people to manage large, stable, predictable organizations. In contrast, the MPA approach acknowledges that work today is messy, unpredictable, and constantly changing — and that small businesses employ half of all private sector workers.

3. Greed versus contribution

The U.S. financial meltdown has exposed greed at its worst — and the dangers of the kinds of financial engineering taught in MBA programs. The MPA calls for learners to do good things for others while helping themselves — the essence of ethical business.

4. Commoditization versus differentiation

MBA degrees are increasingly common and therefore an ever-weaker differentiator in a tight job market. But the candidate with a sound personal business model linked to a clear purpose stands out. As Josh Kaufman writes in The Personal MBA, “Skip business school. Educate yourself.”

So, are you tempted to start studying for your MPA? Where should you start?

Well, there’s no formal curriculum, and no diploma at the end. The first step is to develop a personal business model — a concise definition of your Customers and the Value you provide them, all driven by a Purpose that binds work and personal life. You do this with a Business Model Canvas, which looks like this:

You can find the Canvas and more at Business Model You, where 276 work life wizards from 37 countries are developing the personal business model methodology (thanks to personal branding expert Andres Perez Ortega for his inspiration on the MPA acronym, which I’ve rendered in English).

At Business Model You you’ll also find other resources and experts to help you make the MPA honor roll. Now, that doesn’t mean working on an MPA is easy: One member who uses our methodology in business courses says that “students think making up strategic plans for business is easy, but creating a strategy for yourself is hard — because the personal strategy matters more.”

In fact, I’ll be the first to admit that none of us has actually earned the MPA credential yet. We may never graduate! But maybe that’s the biggest advantage of all. While an MBA costs tens of thousands of dollars for two years of classes, an MPA is free — and the learning continues for a lifetime.

Why not enroll today?

6 Comments to Thinking MBA? Work on your MPA first!

On Aug 19, 2011, Bob Fariss commented:

The Young Life Organization teaches that God’s Calling is “seeing a need and feeling responsible for it.” It’s a comfort and an inspiration to know you’re there; but most can’t achieve that. Understanding your personal value proposition and how that helps your personal customers is a re-statement of the same principle. Giving us the opportunity to enroll ourselves and others in an MPA opportunity is a wonderful gift. Thank-you.

On Sep 12, 2011, Hank commented:


Given your deep immersion in academic study and teaching, I truly appreciate your perspective on this. Our challenge is achieving sufficient personal differentiation to stay profitably engaged with whatever our chosen market is. And more and more, I see that my path to unique selling propositions is simply becoming more of who I am. There are thousands of people who have my competencies, but no one is doing it quite like I am. No one can achieve the same 1:1 relationships that I can. And like you, I don’t really expect to complete the MPA degree, but it’s a perfect path of study.

On Sep 12, 2011, by Tim commented:

Bob, it’s been a gift to me, and the process is just starting. Looking forward to your continued guidance and support!

Hank, well said — as Kadena wrote on the BMY site, “authenticity has no competition” (!!)

On Sep 13, 2011, LifeAfterLiberalArts.com commented:

This is a great article. With your permission, I’ll post it on my site and link back to you!

On Sep 13, 2011, by Tim commented:

Sure, Justin, thanks for stopping in :-)

On Feb 29, 2012, Jutta Jerlich commented:

Dear Tim,
what you write kind of puts my thoughts in words and really resonates with me.
I am looking for people sharing my vision http://kulturimpuls.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/sharing-my-v-i-s-i-o-n/ to collaborate to make it happen.
I definitely would think that we share visions.
Would love to hear back from you,
best regards from Nagoya, Japan

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