Photo of Tin Man Wizard of Oz

Giving to the Tin Man

Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man, that he didn’t already have.   – America

I originally published this post in August 2009. I stumbled across it recently when doing some updates and was struck by the fact that the altMBA has now been going for nearly a decade – just one of many signs that it has been a tremendous success.  Struck me as something worth sharing.

A while ago I remarked upon the “alternative” MBA program that marketing guru Seth Godin had announced. Coincidentally, as I was posting recently on Henry Mintzberg’s criticisms of the traditional MBAs in To Learn, To Lead, Seth offered an update on his program that I would recommend to readers here.

The quick background on Seth’s program, is that it involves a small group of people spending six months in New York with Seth to engage in a lot of reading and discussion and learn from various guest experts and field trips. But most of all, it involves spending time working on actual business projects and learning by doing.

Seth’s post describes the various activities in the program along with some of the lessons he and participants have learned along the way

Maybe the most important thing you’ll learn in this program is that you don’t need this program. There’s not much I’m going to tell you that’s not in my blog posts or books. What this program will do is give you the structure and support to encourage you to do what you already know. But you can do that by yourselves. (Emphasis added.)

Yes, we can – in theory – but as often as not, we don’t. We hold ourselves back, don’t make ourselves truly available for learning, fail to exercise discipline, and in general, don’t realize our own potential when it comes to learning and life. I certainly believe it is within all of us to overcome these hurdles, but…

But, of course, it’s usually not a trivial matter to find, develop, create “the structure and support to encourage” us in our efforts. Traditionally, we’ve manufactured and relied upon institutions – schools, universities, training departments – to help us with this effort. But that reliance has evolved into a dependency that is a very often a poor fit for our current era. And as Seth’s example suggests, some of the institutions on which we have relied traditionally may not be up to the current task.

Given the learning opportunities – and the potential to be overwhelmed, misinformed, or misled – that are now possible in a hyper-connected world, I think we increasingly need people who can play the sort of role Seth played with his program. Not purveyors of content, or traditional stand-and-deliver instructors, but curators of experience. People who can help orchestrate a context in which we realize our own potential.

And perhaps more than ever, we also need to learn better how to do this for ourselves. It’s a matter of discipline, of asking why and what, of continually developing learning habits. Of learning how to tap into the networks that may be of most help to us – and to which we can add value in the process.

How are you going about this in your own life and learning? Have you participated in anything akin to Seth’s altMBA (or in the altMBA itself)? Please comment and share your thoughts.

Jeff Cobb

P.S. – See also Harold Jarche’s much more recent (2018) critique of traditional MBA programs.

P.P.S. – Here’s the classic scene from the Wizard of Oz in which the mysterious Oz distributes gifts to Dorothy and her gang.

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