Do MBA programs really cause gains in salary?

Most MBA earnings calculations look at pre and post MBA salary comparisons, but they do not consider the talent or other factors that may influence salary increases.  In their study on Education and Self Selection, Robert J Willis and Sherwin Rosen find that there is a self selection bias in education.  People who perceive themselves as having a higher likelihood of increased income are more willing to take on the additional time and financial debt to obtain a degree at the next level.   Willis and Rosen found several other factors that influenced earning potential, including parental education levels current employment levels (management vs. clerk).  Some of the job titles may be a bit dated, but the hypothesis still rings true.  The assumption that the incremental lift in salary garnered by MBAs ignores the self-selection bias of program applicants.  Is there a correlation between MBA completion and an increase in salary?  Most definitely.  But I wouldn't be so quick to assume causation.

online business education - aka Mortal Kombat?

I remember when Mortal Kombat was released on Nintendo.  My friend, Joe, and I spent hours battling each other in an effort to hear those wonderful words, "FINISH HIM!!"  I kicked his ass.  You see, I could press the Y and A keys with blinding speed.  So that's what I did over and over again.  He didn't stand a chance.  He was using the other buttons and arrows like he thought they mattered.  Sucker.  As my Raiden pummeled him, Scorpion danced around in a drunken state like a frat boy at a cover-band gig.

Then Scorpion harpooned me and I just couldn't recover.  It should have occurred to me what he was doing since he had so thoroughly thrashed me in Street Fighter II just a few days before.  I found something that was a minor success (hitting and kicking) and used it over and over again.  Joe, on the other hand, didn't worry about the short term success.  Instead, he focused on gaining the harder to acquire skills (spear throwing).  My focus was winning, his focus was learning.  The effectiveness of basic hitting and kicking skills rapidly diminished at my friend learned more moves.

This same scenario plays out in business all of the time.  Corporations focus on the immediate success and ignore the longer term learnings.  It's most common to think of the big examples, like American car companies in the 80s failing to skill themselves in production quality or Microsoft being late to the game on mobile, but this happens just as frequently for small businesses and at an individual level.  Musicians play the same licks over everything instead of learning to improvise.  Coders learn and ride the wave of a programming language only to find themselves stuck when that language is replaced by something new and companies no longer need their skills.  Small consulting companies find a client that pays well enough and go all in with that client instead of focusing on the bigger picture of growing the agency.  (By the way, these are all mistakes I have made myself.) 

This is common.  We are always told if it works, do it again.  If it doesn't work, do something else.  Unfortunately, we often stop there and fail to ask if something else might be more effective.  To combat this trend, we need to shift the focus from the results to learning.  Instead of looking at the reports and saying what happened (how many people visited, how much money did I make, etc.), ask yourself what you learned.  Then write it down.  

Online businesses are a perfect laboratory for experimentation and education.  They cost next to nothing to get up and running (low risk), operate across a wide sector of industries (flexible) and the results of your experiments can be easily tracked (rapid feedback).  This is a fantastic environment for rapid education.  I have started businesses for the sole purpose of learning.  How do affiliate sales work?  How can you build revenue from advertisements?  How do you license a product?  How can you sell a licensed product? What is the easiest way to start a business?  How can you build an audience?  How does social marketing work for small B2C companies?  How about B2B services?

Even if you are content in your current job, have all the money you need and perfect teeth, I recommend starting an online business just for the education.  You don't need any programming skills.  Ask yourself a business question, or choose one of the questions above, then think of an online business and head to squarespace, weebly, or shopify and get cracking.  Then as you take a marketing course, read a blog, or a book, you have an environment where you can immediately test the ideas.  Some will work.  Some won't.  Even if you don't make a cent (although you probably will), you will get a fantastic education and new skills to apply in your current or future job.  So start a business and go learn something before you end up like Raiden.


How to complete online courses

I am a huge fan of Coursera.  I'm taking the Machine Learning course right now and it is thoroughly kicking my butt.   In any of the more challenging courses, there comes a time about midway through where you really just want to quit.  The work has become more difficult.  The end is not yet in sight.  These are some things I have found helpful for sticking with it.

  • Set a regular schedule - Setting a regular schedule is the best way to ensure you do the work and don't get too far behind.  The more you lag behind the class, the more insurmountable the backlog of work becomes.  Pretty soon it is just a big mental burden.  I do my best braining in the morning, so that is when I schedule my time.  It's not hard to wake up half an hour earlier each day.  And let's face it, you'll feel way more satisfied after working on the class than you would from checking the previous nights Facebook posts.  A friend of mine prefers to lump her work sessions into 2 nights per week.  The best schedule is the on that works for you.
  • Group Therapy - Take the course with a group of friends or colleagues.  Barring that, participate in a local group of students who are taking the same online course.  A little encouragement from a smiling face can go a long way.
  • Reward Yourself - This came about from trying to motivate my kids, but there is a lot of behavioral science behind it.  Set yourself micro-rewards for completing the assignments or doing the work.  For each day I do my work, I get 15 minutes of playing guitar.  For every week I turn the assignments in on time, I buy a new album.  My reward is something I enjoy doing, doesn't cost too much, and is only received after I meet the conditions (e.g. "on time").
  • Auditing - If all else fails and you just can't make it through the class assignments, don't stop completely. Watch the videos and read the materials even if you can't complete the assignment.  Yes, you're only getting half the value of the course, but half is better than nothing.

Good luck and stick with it!  You're half way done.