Myths and Misunderstandings about the Personal MBA

In this post, I’m going to clear up some of the myths and misunderstandings about the Personal MBA and traditional business schools to help you get the most out of the your business self-education experience.

1: You Have to Read All of the Books

Most people believe that you must read every book on the Personal MBA Recommended Reading List in order to benefit. Not true!

While reading every book on the Personal MBA Recommended Reading List is a laudable goal, and you’ll certainly benefit from doing so, I believe it’s more important to identify a few books you believe will help you most, and focus on reading those first.

Consider applying the Pareto Principle, or “80/20" Rule, to the Personal MBA. 80% of the information you’ll find personally useful to your present situation will be found in approximately 20% of the books.

Instead of overwhelming yourself from the outset with a “to-read" list 99 items long, pick one book from the Personal MBA reading list and commit to reading it by the end of the week. You’ll be amazed at how much you learn, and you can then quickly move on to the next book you find interesting.

Another approach to working through the Personal MBA I highly recommend is called synoptic reading. Choose a single category on the list and commit to reading all of the books in that category in a short period of time. By the end, you’ll easily be in the top 10% of the human population when it comes to that category of knowledge, and you’ll have a very good understanding of the most important concepts and how they relate to what you want to accomplish.

What can you start reading right now?

2: You Can Learn Everything You Need to Know from a Book

It’s very tempting to assume that you can learn everything you need to know about business from reading books. Let me set the record straight right now: you can’t.

No matter how many books you read about entrepreneurship, you won’t really learn how to start a business until you actually start building one.

You won’t really learn how to write a business plan until you start writing one.

You won’t really learn how to manage people until you take on a few direct reports, and even then, it’s a constant learning experience.

Today’s lesson is simple: keep the books in their proper place, as a means of learning critically important skills and concepts that others have discovered through hard-won personal experience. Learn all you can from books, then use it to do something in the real world.

Your learning projects don’t have to be large. Start a small side business on the internet. Volunteer to help a friend or acquaintance write a business plan or conduct an analysis. Hire a part-time virtual assistant as your first direct report and practice your management skills on them. The options are endless, so generate a few ideas, then test them to learn what works and what doesn’t.

When you combine reading with doing, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you learn.

3: By Skipping the Classroom, You’ll Miss Critical Networking Opportunities

One of the comments I hear most often from critics of the Personal MBA approach to business education is the absence of traditional business school networking opportunities. “Isn’t," they argue, “the network the most valuable part of a traditional MBA program?"

Sure, having a large and diverse business network is extremely valuable. I simply question the necessity of spending six figures to build one.

Here’s the critical question: what is the best way to go about building a useful network?

Answer: make it a major priority (in both time and effort) to contact people you don’t currently know and spend time cultivating a real relationship with them.

The best networks are personally cultivated, not manufactured. If you take an active interest in meeting other business professionals, learning what they do, and connecting them with others, you can build a professional network by yourself in a very short period of time, sans the expensive sheepskin.

Pick up the phone; volunteer for a community organization; join Toastmasters or a local Meetup group; go to a conference about a topic that piques your interest. If you make it a priority to meet people and take a genuine interest in what they do, you’ll be amazed at the quality of the network you build.

You can even establish relationships with high-profile individuals, including CEOs of Fortune 50 Corporations, with the right strategy and enough persistence. (For more details, check out p161 in Tim Ferriss’ The Four-Hour Workweek.)

I have built a network of thousands of business professionals from all over the world, including the senior management of hundreds of companies, via working on the Personal MBA in my spare time. It’s been immensely fun and rewarding, and it’s a great example of how far a little personal effort can take you.

What can you do right now to start meeting other business professionals? It’s easier than you think.

4: Books Are Expensive

If you buy the entire Personal MBA Recommended Reading List from, you’ll spend about $1,400. To some, that seems like a lot of money. In reality, it’s one of the best investments you’ll ever make.

Tom Peters once remarked:

“If I read a book that cost me $20 and I get one good idea, I’ve gotten one of the greatest bargains of all time."

Benjamin Franklin wrote:

“If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest."

Ever since I created the Personal MBA, I’ve heard countless stories of people receiving a raise or promotion, starting a new business, improving their existing business, or expanding their areas of interest as a direct result of what they learned through the Personal MBA. Personally, I credit my ability to get (and quit) a job at a Fortune 50 to what I’ve learned through this program.

Purchasing and reading these books is not an expense - it’s an investment that will pay you back a thousandfold over the course of your career.

If cost is an issue, you can certainly borrow any of the books on the Personal MBA Recommended Reading List from your local library, but I highly recommend purchasing the books if you can. I have referenced my Personal MBA library thousands of times for ideas and information related to project I’ve worked on, and having my entire library immediately accessible has been a godsend. Nothing puts a hold on your projects more quickly than having to wait a week for a critical book to become available at the local library.

If you want to get the most out of your Personal MBA experience, you owe it to yourself to start building a personal reference library - the return on your investment is simply staggering.

5: You Can Do It By Yourself

The Personal MBA is a “Do-It-Yourself" approach to business education, but “Do-It-Yourself" does not mean “Do-It-By-Yourself".

Fact: your brain responds very differently to stimuli than it does to your internal thought processes. That’s why it’s useful to talk with a friend when you have a difficult choice or problem, and why you get a better workout when you work with a trainer at the gym. Your frontal lobe can only do so much to spur you into action.

If you want to get the most out of your time and energy, working with others pays massive dividends. I credit the quality of the Personal MBA Recommended Reading List to the hundreds of people I’ve discussed it with over the years.

For best results, I highly recommend that you work on the Personal MBA with a small group of other people. Establish a group of friends and colleagues to discuss what you’re reading and learning on a regular basis. Share your experiences and knowledge with others on a blog and converse with people who leave comments. Become a member of the Personal MBA Community and strike up a few conversations.

No matter how you choose to work your way through the Personal MBA, don’t go it alone. You’ll learn more, retain more, and have more fun if you share the experience with other people.

Read more essays by Josh Kaufman →

Published: July 6, 2010Last updated: July 6, 2010

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