Is getting an MBA worth it? It's a fraught question with passionately argued cases on both sides of the debate. But whether you think a stint at a top-tier business school is overpriced and creativity dulling or a golden ticket to success, everyone would have to agree that getting the knowledge of an MBA without the huge price tag or two-year time commitment is a great deal.

Which makes a recent Medium post by Ellen Chisa a must read who for anyone who is unlikely to make it over to Boston to attend HBS any time soon.

A current student, Chisa generously walks readers through the ten courses every first-year MBA student must take and reveals the most mind-blowing insight she took away from each. Some of her course descriptions will be of interest only to those in certain industries or roles, while others resist summarizing (but are still well worth a read in full). Here, however, are those that can be boiled down for entrepreneurs, along with several case studies (purchase required) that Chisa recommends if you want to do further reading.

1. On leadership.

You might think leadership is all about putting your best foot forward and honing your talents, but according to Chisa, one of HBS's central insights on leadership is that you need to focus on what you're bad at as well.

"One of the best things I did this year was answering these two questions honestly for myself: What is my worst self? When does my worst self come out?" writes Chisa. At her worst, she reports, she's "critical, impatient, stubborn, cynical, and sarcastic." But at least now that she knows that, she's quicker to catch herself when she's falling into this pattern and correct for it. (She suggests this case study for further reading.)

2. On operations management.

A supply chain or workflow can appear incredibly complicated, but HBS teaches you to cut through the confusion and hone in on the one thing that's limiting your ability to work faster or smarter.

"Figuring out what the limiting step is and why is like a math puzzle," reports Chisa. "The best thing about it was that sometimes a simple problem delays an entire operation -- the slowest step is the one that matters, but it screws everything else up. Being able to figure out what's going wrong is important." (She offers this case study for those looking for a deeper dive.)

3. On compensation.

Discussions of compensation were Chisa's favorite part of her accounting class, she reports, particularly those related to the idea of an "entrepreneurial gap."

"My favorite was the idea of 'span of accountability' -- what an employee is responsible for -- versus 'span of control' -- what the employee can dictate based on their job... When an employee has more accountability than control, this is considered an 'entrepreneurial gap,'" she explains, adding you generally want to (thoughtfully) create one that encourages employees to reach beyond their "span of control."

"Before, I wanted to hire smart people and pay them 'fairly.' Now, I want to hire smart people and give them an entrepreneurial gap with an incentive system that works well for them and for the company," she concludes. (Here's the suggested case study.)

4. On pricing.

The difference between cost-based and value-based pricing was an eye-opener for Chisa. "In cost-based pricing, you figure out how much it costs you to provide a service. Then you add a mark up and use that price to sell to the customer," she explains. "The idea behind value pricing is that there's actually a much wider wedge between the two things: First, there's the amount your product costs to make. Then, there's the amount your product saves the other company (or how much more it allows them to sell -- but basically the financial impact your product has). You should charge somewhere between those two points."

While Chisa remains leery of setting prices too high, she now knows to at least write down these two points to ensure she's not undercharging. (Her favorite illustrative case study? One on pricing the London Olympics.)

5. On politics.

Whether you love politics or hate them (like Chisa), you have to concede that the larger political climate in which you do business affects your organization. So how can you learn what you need to know about politics as a business leader without spending loads of time boning up on tons of specifics? Chisa offers a helpful cheat.

"Doing 20 cases on countries and politics taught me one important thing: there's a lot of similarity between different politics situations. It's not too hard to brush up on the basics so you can maintain a conversation about international affairs," she reveals. So what should you study? "The GUIDES indicators that focus on some overall macroeconomic indicators," Chisa recommends, plus "a few other topics that get you a lot of bang for the buck: British Colonialism, nations versus states, Dutch Disease (resource curse), Sovereign Wealth Fund, import substitution, current account balance, fiscal deficit, IMF austerity measures, and the 'trilemma' of free-capital flows, independent monetary policy, and fixed exchange rates."

"These topics came up throughout the world: from Iceland to Indonesia to Nigeria. They're worth learning, even just to avoid staring in silence during dinner parties," she concludes.

Published on: May 26, 2015
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