Can a MBA offer creative career paths for a right-brainer?
November 13, 2008 6:03 AM   Subscribe

Are there opportunities for creativity and non-soul sucking work at the end of the rainbow if I elect to get an MBA? Or does getting an MBA lock you into a certain career path that can't be escaped?

Context: I'm in my mid-30s and I have an opportunity to pursue an MBA (at no tuition cost) from a WASC accredited University with a program emphasis in green and sustainable design. I'm interested in the degree from an entrepreneurial perspective - but the fact that tuition is paid for doesn't hurt either. It would take two years and I can still work 3+ days a week.

My background: I've been a "creative" in some sense my whole life and whole career. My undergrad was a BFA with an emphasis in graphic design. I started in print and identity design and shifted to web and interactive design. I've started my own fledgling design studio this year and I'm also consulting and working with other design studios. In this capacity I'm doing more client interfacing, project management, scheduling etc. Right now I'm at about 20% design, 80% everything else.

My perspective: I'm relatively happy with what I do professionally, but design is frequently viewed by Business as a tool; not something that inspires real change. I think there is something deeply flawed with the American corporate ethos. I think it needs to be fixed. I see potential opportunities to 1) fix it from the inside and 2) jump into an emerging industry (green & sustainable) that I'm betting will be the Next Big Thing. I think my design background will actually be an asset.

My concern: My modus operandi doesn't seem to fit the standard MBA-seeking profile. Without intending to cast aspersions - I have no need to feed my ego, gain power, make a ridiculous salary or work 80 hour weeks. Sure, I think I will make a capable leader and I want a comfortable salary and to work hard. But I also want to leave this world better than how I find it. And do something meaningful with my brief time here.

The question (rephrased): Have others anecdotally found that an MBA offered them unique and creative career paths, or, did it force them into become a cog in the machinery? Can a unapologetic right-brainer with some moderate business sense make it in the world of industry and maintain a tempered altruism?

Put differently, can I get an MBA and still keep my subscription to Adbusters?

Anonymous because should I elect to get the MBA I may not want my future colleagues to know all these juicy details.
posted by anonymous to Education (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You mentioned your area of interest is more entrepreneurial. Well, I work in a business school and the entrepreneurship faculty (some with Ph.Ds, some only with MBAs and lots of experience) are definitely some of the most creative people I know. There's tons of opportunity for creativity and ingenuity in that area. If the MBA has the opportunity for an entrepreneurship focus, then that could be a really good match for you. Not all MBAs get their specification in management.
posted by zizzle at 7:01 AM on November 13, 2008

To me, the key here is that it is being paid for. If you, say, dropped 120k on a Harvard MBA and then decided that you wanted to take work that didn't pay very well, you'd be screwed. That money would still have to be repaid.
As that's not the case here, I'd say go for it.
posted by atrazine at 7:13 AM on November 13, 2008

Put differently, can I get an MBA and still keep my subscription to Adbusters?

Love it. Reminds me of a rather ironic moment I found myself in - catching a last minute biz class seat to Orlando for a management conference for the products (read: retail, manufacturing, etc.) division of the massive business consulting firm I work with. And I was reading Adbusters. The issue that caused WholeFoods to stop carrying them. Ahem.

Is there a way you can tailor your MBA to be around something that inspires you? Sustainable green design? Etc.? There are great MBA programs out there focused on entrepreneurship - my roommate is looking at those right now (I think Columbia in particular has a great one?).

I would say if you can get it at no cost (especially given the current economic outlook), grab that shit while you still can. Worst case you come out with an MBA in your pocket and decide to return back to the type of work you were doing before, but with more options.

The main reason I have decided *not* to return to school for an MBA (and I work in an industry where you absolutely have to have one to continue down the career path) is the money factor. Coming out of school with a couple hundred thou in debt would absolutely tie any normal person into that soul sucking work for another 5-10 years, and I fear that. You, on the other hand, don't seem to have that complication. Strike while the iron is hot, and all that.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:15 AM on November 13, 2008

For something significantly more offbeat, see MBAs Without Borders.
posted by patricio at 8:07 AM on November 13, 2008

It's a chance to get more education on someone else's dime - and you get to keep your day job - doesn't sound bad to me at all - if it turns out it sucks, well you really haven't lost anything - I don't count the time as long, because I'm sure you will have learned something useful even if you don't end up using the degree.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 9:55 AM on November 13, 2008

ugh - that's "I don't count the time as lost"
posted by Calloused_Foot at 9:59 AM on November 13, 2008

I agree with the others who have said that free education is always a good deal and no degree can make you do something you don't want to do :).

I keyed in on your comment, "... design is frequently viewed by Business as a tool; not something that inspires real change. I think there is something deeply flawed with the American corporate ethos. I think it needs to be fixed. I see potential opportunities to 1) fix it from the inside..." If you decide to stay in Business and try to change it from the inside, I think you will find a MBA quite useful to help you understand things from the perspective of Business -- which I think you will need in order to see how to frame the change. If you haven't come across the book Tempered Radicals, you may want to check it out. It's about how to change corporations from the inside.

If, on the other hand, you decide you want to choose path 2 (emerging industry), having a MBA will make you even more valuable to that company because you will have multiple perspectives to contribute.

I just finished my MBA -- the capstone project I worked on was to start a non-profit in the inner city targeting African-American teens at risk of not finishing high school. There are differences with non-profits versus for-profit organizations, but we were able to apply most of what we had learned.

Given the fact that:
- you don't have to pay for this
- the MBA program has an emphasis in green and sustainable design which is where your interests lie
I think you'd be crazy not to take advantage of it :).

Good luck and keep your soul no matter what you do or where you go!
posted by elmay at 11:36 AM on November 13, 2008

An MBA doesn't set you down a career path. An MBA gives you more tools for your internal toolbox.

Whatever you choose to do in life, an MBA can help you get there, especially when you consider that every single person in this world markets themselves every day to reach their own personal goals. I cannot think of a single career path that would not be in some way relevant to the education you will receive.

If it is free, and you are interested in it, go for it. Other than the time and energy you are putting into it, you lose nothing this way, and have the potential to gain quite a lot.

A Master of Busines Administration doesn't turn you into a capitalist drone, it helps you understand your own Business and the Business of others better, whatever that business may be.
posted by Nixie Pixel at 1:18 PM on November 13, 2008

Just take a close look at the courses you'll be taking, thumb through the textbooks in the store, and be sure you want to spend your time learning that material in those courses. If it doesn't sit well with you, look around for other MBA programs that might be a better fit for you.
posted by exphysicist345 at 1:21 PM on November 13, 2008

I have an MBA. I'm left wing. I read Adbusters. I shop at Whole Foods, eat organic, use cloth diapers with my kids, do extended breastfeeding, show up at nurse-ins, walk most places, write wingnut letters to various government officials and do a lot of stuff that my classmates would think is a bit hippy-dippy. I have a consulting and information products company. It's my mission in life to help other people create sustainable knowledge businesses that help move us way from a dependence on resource-based industries and that help people lead rewarding lives. When I'm not doing that, I do freelance writing and all sorts of fun stuff.

But it's not just me. It's certainly not everybody from my MBA program. But it's not just me. And it is rarely anyone who graduated $150k in debt. So, if you want to have the greatest flexibility with your career, a Harvard degree may not be the answer. That being said, an MBA is a tool kit. You can do many things with it.
posted by acoutu at 8:02 PM on November 13, 2008

The International Organisations MBA may be up your alley.
posted by divabat at 12:29 AM on November 14, 2008

Nthing the 'if it doesn't cost you anything, go for it' argument - there's also something to be said about what you're really learn in the process. My undergrad was in Business with a Marketing emphasis, and I'm an English teacher now. The Business major allowed me to see life from that perspective - and I've learned and/or seen many other perspectives since then. An MBA will be seen as impressive by most anyone not in the Business field (those in the Business field may see it as par for the course) - having a genuine interest in whatever field interests you may well push over the top for that job that interests you.

At worst, you've spent some time - but not money - attempting something that didn't fit with what you seek. Compare that to the millions of people who get a Master's in something they'll either never use or be underutilized and have student loans to pay back for the next 5-10 years. Make your MBA program work for you - and be willing to personalize it instead of simply going with the flow or 'norm'. I wish you the best of luck.
posted by chrisinseoul at 8:23 AM on November 14, 2008

nth-ing all the other comments--I'd say it sounds like a great opportunity to get a widened perspective, to learn, to gain some useful skills, and maybe to get creditials that will open doors for you later on, in lots of different fields. That said, if your deep-down feeling is that you don't want to do it, it's perfectly fine to pass up a great opportunity if it isn't really what you want.

Also, you might investigate social entrepreneurship. Some business schools (Yale, for instance) have SE programs, and they can be an interesting and fruitful way to combine the business worldview and the making-the-world-better worldview. Echoing Green gives out fellowships to social entrepreneurs; check out the descriptions of the fellows' work to get an idea of what the field is about.
posted by aka burlap at 3:49 PM on November 15, 2008

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