Book Reviews: The Personal MBA and What They Don’t Teach You at HBS

Josh Kaufman’s book The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business was just published. It is an exhaustive overview of the concepts and vocabulary that make the business world go round. If you’re new to business or early in your career and want to freshen up your grasp of some of the key words and ideas in systems theory, sales, marketing, and psychology, I recommend it. Josh’s skill is distilling complex topics into easily understandable chunks. It’s not narrative, easy reading — as he notes at the outset, it’s a skim, scan, and reference type of book to keep on your bookshelf and consult as needed. Also check out Josh’s library of the 99 best books on business.

Mark McCormack’s book What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School has been around for almost 30 years and has sold hundreds of thousands of copies. It’s a classic, and I only now got around to reading it. It has nothing to do with Harvard Business School. McCormack was the first “real” sports agent (founder of IMG Sports) and the book is 14 principles of business delivered via his personal stories and experiences. The book engaged me all the way through, and I learned a lot. However, it’s a little cutthroat at times and the advice on how to “deal with” people might be a turn off to the less aggressive among us. Highlights, direct quotes and paraphrases:

  • The importance of reading people and studying body language. Be wary when someone strikes a pose or when their casualness is a little too studied.
  • The most important question of all when assessing a person’s ego: How secure is this person?
  • People often reveal their innermost selves in the most innocent of situations. (E.g. dealing with a waiter.)
  • Business is a constant process of keeping your own guard up while encouraging others to lower theirs.
  • If I am presumed to be knowledgeable about a situation, I will often say something within the first minute or two of a meeting that might indicate otherwise. At the least it’s disarming; and generally the less knowledgeable one appears the more forthcoming and revealing the other party will be.
  • When a crisis occurs or is in the process of occurring, don’t react. Just say you’d like to think about it.
  • Once you’ve sold, shut up. And don’t try to dot every i and cross every t. Confirm the understanding later in writing but don’t dampen the enthusiasm once deal closes in person or on phone.
  • In sales, people have a need to say no, so let them say no to a few (trivial) things. A few well-placed no’s create the environment for “yes.”
  • Ask when we can meet and how soon — and then show up. The farther you have to fly, the more impressive it is.
  • A large group is more than one. Sell to one person. Find the key guy and sell to him. If you try to sell into more than one person at the same time, you are introducing into the sale the dynamics of their interrelationships, which can do nothing but detract from your purpose. The key guy will know how it sell it into the organization.
  • A woman approached Picasso in a restaurant and asked him to scribble something on a napkin, and said she would be happy to pay whatever he felt it was worth. Picasso complied and then said, “That will be $10,000.”  “But you did that in thirty seconds,” the astonished woman replied.  “No,” Picasso said, “It has taken me forty years to do that.”
  • 99% of the world should be working for somebody. Not everybody should be entrepreneurs.

9 Responses to Book Reviews: The Personal MBA and What They Don’t Teach You at HBS

  1. Agree 100% with that last bullet. The blogosphere often ignores that not everyone is built for entrepreneurship. And there’s nothing wrong with that…

  2. If you like McCormack’s book then you should read another classic, Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.

  3. Shefaly says:

    //99% of the world should be working for somebody. Not everybody should be entrepreneurs.//

    Everybody works for somebody. Even an entrepreneur. That somebody is called a “customer”. It would do well especially for entrepreneurs to remember it. Because entrepreneurs do not have salaries regardless of how well or badly they served the customer today. Cliched perhaps but true.

  4. Ben Casnocha says:

    good point.

  5. Shefaly says:
  6. Ben Casnocha says:

    Good post.

  7. sudan says:

    I am thinking about purchasing this book but i am not sure will it be relevant for me or not. As i am doing my Post graduate in Management with specialization on HR. Could you please suggest me?

  8. I love the second to the last bullet! It’s amazing that simple situations like that can have a deeper meaning. 🙂

  9. I’m super impressed with your goal, and this blog. PersonalMBA was a very cool experiment, and actually gave me a nice tight review of college. I think a full diet of great business (and other) books is more worthwhile though. In fact, so does Josh Kaufman.. whose blog is fantastic.


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