Can a Personal MBA be just as good as the real thing?

After earning two degrees and wondering if a master’s degree is always worth it, I’ve searched and considered many other alternative options for learning.

And that’s where The Personal MBA (PMBA) comes in.

What is The Personal MBA?

The basic idea of PMBA: learn everything that you would with an MBA without actually earning the MBA itself. How to do that? Read, study, practice.

The Personal MBA itself is a book. I enjoyed it (I’d give it a 4 out of 5), but you don’t even really need to read this book to get started.

The most valuable part to me: The 99 Best Business Books list that the author, Josh Kaufman, has meticulously assembled. You’ve likely already read and heard of some of them, like How to Win Friends and Influence People and Your Money or Your Life. But I guarantee there are several you haven’t heard of.

Since reading PMBA earlier this year, I’ve been on a reading tear. I’ve read 13 books so far this year (about one a week now), many of which have been on this 99 Book list. A couple of examples:

1. Spin Selling by Neil Rackham. I was first turned onto this by Michael Ellsberg and how highly he spoke of it in his Mixergy interview. So I grabbed this book, and, damn, he’s right! I’m not a master salesman by any means (and I always though selling was sleazy before), but I think these are skills that everyone should at least be aware of and even use where possible. In the book, Rackham explains the difference between a feature, advantage, and benefit of whatever you’re selling. He teaches how to ask the right questions when on a sales call. It’s all very useful stuff, as just about all of us must “sell” at some point.

2. Rework by Jason Fried and David Hansson. I found this to be an quick read that kept me interested the whole way through (I read it in one sitting). The authors focus most of the book on how they disagree with a lot of the strategies for creating businesses and startups these days. A few of their messages: focus on how to be profitable from the start, don’t concentrate on how you’re going to sell out, and that you don’t have to put in 16-hour days to succeed. They’re business model at 37signals is definitely not one to ignore.

Those are just a couple examples that I’ve learned a ton from already, and I’m eager to keep crossing off books on the list until I read all 99.

How the Personal MBA is Better

Obviously, a PMBA is not going to replicate the real deal. But there are plenty of benefits to taking this approach:

Huge money savings. An obvious advantage. I’m not really interested enough in getting a real MBA, and I definitely don’t want to spend the money to do it. Instead of shelling out all that cash on classes, you can spend a little money on books.

The potential to learn an even wider range of subjects. A traditional MBA doesn’t cover all the topics that the PMBA does. Yet, I would argue that the wider-range of topics is essential to understanding what you need to succeed. From reading just a few books on sales, it’s possible to may have studied more than an MBA student would while earning their degree.

Can do it from anywhere. I read books on my couch, during lunch at work, and even while I’m on vacation. I love just soaking this stuff up, and I’m glad I can do it from anywhere I choose.

(Obvious) ways that it won’t ever be as good

I’m not arguing that the PMBA will replace every part of a real MBA. Here’s my short and obvious reasons why it can’t (at least not in 2012). But just about all of these downsides can be overcome in some way (which I’ve noted):

You won’t get a real degree. You won’t be accepting any diplomas for reading all these books, that’s for sure. Instead: apply your new skills such in a way that the piece of paper doesn’t matter. Don’t tell me you can’t! Many of the best and the brightest have done it before.

In turn, companies won’t recognize the PMBA. While you’ll know a lot more of the concepts, it’s probably not going to be a resume booster to simply say you read the books. Instead: Impress business in other ways. Apply what you’ve learned, and turn your experiences into something that you can talk about and show on a resume.

You won’t get that networking interaction.  Unfortunately, there’s not a PMBA community to read and study with. Interacting with other students is definitely an advantage, but I’d still argue that there are a lot cheaper ways of doing so than getting an MBA. Instead: Read the books with others, and talk over what you’ve learned. Create your own classroom of sorts.

You won’t have professors to ask questions. You won’t have access to someone that will be there to answer questions. Instead: seek out those who can answer your questions online (that could even include professors or other famous authors). Doing that in our age is much, much easier than it has ever been.

It might not be as fun. Some people just like going to school and taking classes. It’s a fun experience, no doubt. Instead: Find other fun ways to interact and learn, like through Meetups. With the tens of thousands of dollars you are saving, don’t tell me that you can’t find a fun way to spend some of that if you choose to!

Okay, okay, maybe I didn’t talk you completely out of the value of getting a real MBA. But I hope that I did convince you of the power of a Personal MBA! I recommend checking out the book and at least see what you think about Josh’s viewpoints on the program. Then, move on to some of the amazing books he has on his list.

What do you think about replacing an MBA with a PMBA? Have you read any of the Personal MBA books?

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photo by: aafromaa


  1. I haven’t read it yet, but just placed it on hold at my library.

  2. moneycone says

    Interesting concept for personal enrichment.

  3. WellHeeledBlog says

    It depends on what you want to use an MBA for. For many folks, an MBA is a way to break into an industry that they have very little experience in. For example, Peace Corps volunteer to strategy consultant, or financial analyst to brand manager. Also, an MBA is pretty much expected at some companies to advance to the next level. I think you should never stop learning. Depending on your goals a “Personal MBA” can be just as good as an actual MBA (cheaper a lot cheaper!). Or it can be grossly inadequate.

    •  @WellHeeledBlog Yes, it’s clearly not going to work for me to go knock on investment bankers’ doors touting my Personal MBA (haha!) But if we’re just talking about having business knowledge and applying it in your current position, PMA can be a great alternative. 

  4. I have been going through the PMBA as well, I am through 9 of the books. I started it as a way to see if I would even like the real MBA. I am not fit for sales, so if it all about pitching and sales, I wanted to drop that off from my consider list. So far, I have not made any decisions, except to get more attracted to behavioural analysis.

    •  @Suba That’s great, Suba! I’d recommend trying at least one sales book. First off, it will help you figure out when you’re being sold to. Secondly, almost all of us are involved in selling to some degree. Do you sell advertisements? That’s still selling, and even a few tips might help you out.

  5. I’ve thought about getting the MBA, but I already have a B.Comm and I’m not that interested in sitting in classes for hours on end again…

  6. financialsamura says

    Honestly, it’s not even close…. might be worth 5% of a full-time MBA.  It’s all about the massive network and connections, besides the great relationships.
    If you highlight a PMBA on your resume… it will be detrimental imo from an interviewer with a real MBA.  Trust me on this!

  7. I have been going through the PMBA as well, I am through 9 of the books. I started it as a way to see if I would even like the real MBA. I am not fit for sales, so if it all about pitching and sales, I wanted to drop that off from my consider table.

  8. This sort of goes along the same lines as online certificates through Coursera, right? I’ve just not seen the rigor in these types of self courses as with actual masters of business administration programs.

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