MBAs and the death of credentialism
In the internet age, I can't imagine still caring about arbitrary pieces of paper vs real case studies, experience and results
Picture this: two years. Two. Whole. Years. Toiling away in fluorescent-lit purgatory, mulling over the past while the world outside spins on its entrepreneurial axis. Sound like a guaranteed path to success? Maybe in the 1980s. Before you plunk down that six-figure tuition for an MBA, let's crack open the hood and see how shiny the engine truly is.
First, let's talk real-world experience. The kind you get by, you know, actually running a business, not crunching numbers in spreadsheets named "Market_Domination_Plan_v12.xls." The MBA curriculum might boast ‘cutting-edge’ theory, but the business and tech landscape now moves at lightning speed, while most theory is just that. More importantly, anyone can now go out and build, which illustrates both actual grit and eventual competence. By the time your textbook hits shelves, the disruptive innovation it espouses has been disrupted by its own obsolescence, or perhaps just AI. Want to learn strategy? Go launch something and fail gloriously. That's where the real education starts.
As for creative fields like marketing or media, MBAs are so lost they’re asking Seinfeld why he didn’t simply hire McKinsey. It’s so beyond parody, and also perfectly emblematic of the problem. Scarier when you consider it’s the same people who are managing companies that produce jets we all ride on.
Then there's the credentialism circus. In an age where anyone can build an e-commerce empire from their basement or launch an app with a few clicks, why is a fancy degree still seen as the end all be all? To me it almost feels like a reverse indicator, that you still need to be hand-held and coddled. In reality, the ‘MBA network’ you're paying a premium price for can now be replicated (and arguably surpassed) for free online. Want to connect with industry titans? Share your ideas and connect instantly with others who are actually building, not part of some private exclusionary club. Gatekeeping mindset is the antithesis of competence, and anyone doing interesting things just doesn’t care.
I’ll share a brief story to illustrate: my friend Eric Friedman previously worked at renowned Union Square Ventures in NYC, one of the top VC firms on Earth. He wasn’t hired due to pedigree, he was because they were able to read his thinking over many years online. As he shared in a post:
One of the things that stands out to me the most during a pivotal second round interview I had at Union Square Ventures. I sat down with one of the partners Brad Burnham, and presented my resume. He told me to hang on to it and he just wanted to chat.
When I pressed him as to why, he responded with something I will never forget which went something like this; “You can work really hard on crafting a well written, organized, resume with bullet points of accomplishments – but you can’t fake 500 blog posts.”
I was struck by this because I had never thought of things this way before. He was more interested in how I viewed the world (and subsequently the companies in it) rather than my list of things I think went well. Furthermore, he had already done his own homework seeing my previous employment history on the web.
And that brings us to the education elephant in the room: Is all that debt truly necessary? Guess what? The internet, our bastion of information freedom, has democratized knowledge in a way previously not possible. Top-tier business schools are now sharing course materials, often for free. Want to learn finance from MIT professors? Dive into their open lectures, it’s now all online. Marketing your passion project? My former team at Google built Analytics courses so you could similarly understand real-world application of data. So unless your dream job involves name-dropping your alma mater at cocktail parties, that tuition could be fueling your own startup instead, or simply compounding in an investment account while you work for a team that values competence instead of credentialism. I would personally choose that every time. It all feels like such a con, propped up by corporate recruiters who are going on a previous era playbook as they don’t know what else to do (or are simply too lazy to do it).
Now, don't get me wrong — there's value in structured learning and building connections. An undergrad degree before entering the business world is likely worth it (but might not be necessary). And for areas like medicine, graduate programs still make sense. But the MBA, as currently packaged, feels like a relic from a bygone era, when information was scarce and networks were built one overpriced handshake at a time. The path to mastery now lies not in ivy-league classrooms and dated status signaling, but in the messy, exhilarating trenches of real-world experience, fueled by open knowledge and intrinsic motivation. It’s now show me what you’ve done and how you’ve contributed, not tell me you passed a course. Since anyone is now able to do this with relative ease, it’s not only a better indicator, it’s far more meritocratic. There’s also countless people who have had success in life open to mentoring anyone with the ambition to ask, all without compensation, and easily findable. The world is generous here.
So the next time someone asks about your ‘career goals,’ forget the MBA pitch and unleash your inner Jack Bauer. The world doesn't need more polished bean-counting rule followers making everything lower quality to save a few pennies; it needs passionate, adaptable, curious humans who thrive in chaos and get things done. Forget the pageantry and closed sandboxes, build something and have your ideas challenged in the real world: the future belongs to the bold, not the beholden. Especially in a post-ZIRP world, where all the fake busywork and meetings are going away.
Hot Takes is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.