Read These 10 Books and Follow Elon Musk’s Advice and Skip the MBA.

Read These 10 Books Follow Elon Musk’s Advice and Skip the MBA.


A top-tier MBA has always been an expensive proposition, costing upwards of $200,000 in tuition and living costs (not to mention lost income). This year, there may be even more compelling reasons for thinking twice about going to business school.

First and foremost, you will face unusually stiff competition. Applications to top schools are skyrocketing as people seek refuge from the economic storm caused by Covid. Furthermore, the virus may continue to disrupt in-person instruction, forcing you to fight your way in just to study online.

But there's another fundamental reason you might want to skip business school this year or any year. A business degree is simply a waste of money for many people. Just ask Elon Musk.

Skills beat degrees.

As my Inc.com colleague Jeff Haden pointed out in a recent column, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO believes that too many businesses are run by MBAs. There should be more focus on the product or service itself, less time on board meetings, less time on financials, Musk said.

Instead of going to school to master back-office intricacies, he encourages would-be business leaders to focus on learning what it takes to actually make things. That belief is reflected in his approach to hiring — Musk focuses on skills not degrees and isn’t bothered by candidates without formal credentials.

Could you save hundreds of thousands of dollars if you prioritized skills over credentials? There are multiple excellent resources available to help you fill gaps in your business knowledge, ranging from online classes to recommended reading lists.

Degree comparison website DegreeQuery recently combed through publicly available syllabi from Ivy League schools to find the most frequently assigned books in various subjects. If you want to make your own business degree, you couldn't do much worse than start with their list of the most popular business books assigned at Ivy League schools:

Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking by M. Neil Browne. According to Amazon, this book “helps bridge the gap between simply memorizing or blindly accepting information and the greater challenge of critical analysis and synthesis.”

Organizational Culture and Leadership by Edgar H. Schein. A classic textbook on organizational culture and leadership.

Business Finance: Theory and Practice by Eddie McLaney. Save yourself even more by checking the older editions of this one.

Essentials of Organizational Behavior by Stephen P. Robbins. This textbook is now in its 14th edition, indicating that it must be quite useful.

The Management of Innovation by G. M. Stalker and Tom Burns.  According to Amazon, this is “one of the most influential books about business organizations ever,” Published in 1961

A Theory of Human Motivation by A. H. Maslow. Have you Heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? This is where the idea comes from.

Business Intelligence and Analytics: Systems for Decision Support by Efraim Turban. “The only comprehensive, up-to-date guide to today’s revolutionary management support system technologies,” - Amazon.

Critical Analysis of Organizations: Theory, Practice, Revitalization by Catherine Casey. This doesn’t look like a light read at all but it addresses an interesting theme: new, critical takes on the subject of organizations and how people behave within them.

Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right by Joseph Badaracco. A discussion of how to deal with situations where your business and values clash.

Corporate Finance by Jeffrey F. Jaffe, Stephen A. Ross, Randolph Westerfield. Another classic textbook, now in its 11th edition.

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