No MBA for Sheryl Sandberg

The Facebook CEO went on record recently saying an MBA is not needed at Facebook. Her tone may be mellow, but her message is in the same tune as the harsher notes of tech alpha males like Ben Horowitz and Peter Theil. These guys go the jugular of top MBA programs like Stanford. 

Sandberg herself got an MBA and says she had a nice time — like a restaurant or a movie that was okay at the time but one you wouldn’t recommend to friends. 

So I began thinking about this. One of the biggest surprises for me recently was to discover how many female entrepreneurs my mother has nurtured from her home over the years. These women have gone off to do their own thing management, medicine, art history, retail, etc.

While business schools and others — see the recent NYT article — are designing all these avant garde modules on entrepreneurship, my mother’s approach is entirely rooted in philosophy, literature, cultural heritage, and listening. What many entrepreneurs need most is not a primer on budgeting, but help understanding themselves and their inner drive to do their own thing. Only then can they put budgeting and market research and “business tools” in perspective. 

Business schools professors researching analyst forecast bias and optimal disclosure and investment policies are utterly useless for this purpose. You can have limitless money and buildings and chaired professors, but not much will come out of it unless they help the entrepreneur find herself (see my post on the literate billionaires). As Shakespeare said presciently about his own work, which has outlasted most buildings of his time:

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;

Instead what become crucial are factors such as race gender sexuality, because they help a female understand herself and others around her. But much of the arts and philosophy — the best way for us to understand ourselves — take a male perspective, leaving it entirely to females to extract whatever they can out of the male experience. And if the female is gay and woman of color, she is entirely on her own. Many men I have known have at some point openly disparaged such women and then have worked to crush them. 

Recently, I saw an amazing movie on a female entrepreneur co-screenwritten by the movie’s star herself; the movie is called Mistress America. It’s an entirely different perspective than Steve Jobs or Zuckerberg or whatever. But it is as gripping a commentary on innovation and creativity and stealing of ideas. 

Many years ago the Nobel committee gave its prize to a male author who excelled in writing about the female. Needless to say, no one reads him. But books like that are far more useful to business schools in getting the entrepreneur started than an expert on analyst forecast bias. 

From the Nobel Committee 1973:

White’s last two books are among his greatest feats, both as to size and to frenzied building up of tension. The Vivisector is the imaginary biography of an artist, in which a whole life is disclosed in a relentless scrutiny of motives and springs of action: an artist’s untiring battle to express the utmost while sacrificing both himself and his fellow-beings in the attempt. The Eye of the Storm places an old, dying woman in the centre of a narrative which revolves round, and encloses, the whole of her environment, past and present, until we have come to share an entire life panorama, in which everyone is on a decisive dramatic footing with the old lady.

One of the best entrepreneurial center for women was at Bryn Mawr. You can’t get anywhere in modern algebra (and, by extension, in modern physics and CS and cryptography and quantum chemistry and many other subjects) without Noether’s ideas. 

So, no MBA for Sheryl Sandberg. 


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