Hurry-up MBA knowledge

The Life: A new breed of short courses and business books claim to teach the key elements of MBA courses in record time. But how much of a year and-a-half long course can you fit into a slim book?

John Knell, co-author of the The 80 Minute MBA, says certain things can be learnt quickly to improve ones financial literacy. Jeff Topping / The National
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Most of those with Master of Business Administration degrees spent a small fortune and sacrificed more than a year to be able to write the three letters MBA after their names. But could they have learnt all they needed to know over a long lunch break?

Absolutely, according to the authors of The 80 Minute MBA.

The book claims to cover all the essential elements of what is often seen as the ultimate business qualification. Yet its approach is anything but traditional. A sizeable chunk is devoted to the environment, and elements such as strategy are downplayed.

"Don't worry about strategy. We are aware that this is a slightly controversial statement: most MBAs spend months on strategy," the book says. "It's not making strategy that counts, it's putting it into practice."

The book is just one of many short-form takes on the MBA, a genre that includes The Ten Day MBA: A Step-By-step Guide To Mastering The Skills Taught In America's Top Business Schools. One company in the UK advertises a five-day MBA to "fast-track" senior management professionals, while another is pitching a three-day MBA specialising in telecommunications finance.

In what may be one of the shortest versions, The 80 Minute MBAreduces many areas of study. The finance section takes just 10 minutes and features four golden rules: a double-entry system involves recording the effects of each transaction as debits and credits; the left-hand side of an account is the debit side, while the right-hand side is for credits; total debits must equal total credits; and assets equal liabilities plus capital.

These rules may sound simple enough, but there can be limits to what people can learn about finance in such a short time.

"How can you teach finance in 10 minutes?" says John Knell, a co-author of the book with Richard Reeves.

"In a way, people need to sit with worksheets. The main thing we are trying to get across is … there are a few things you can learn quickly to improve your financial literacy," says Mr Knell.

Few may be surprised to learn that the book was not well received by everyone. How well does the book succeed?

"Well, not that well," one reviewer wrote in the British newspaper The Independent in October 2009. "Despite the eye-catching title and the claim in the introduction to contain 'the distillate of an MBA course' The 80 Minute MBA is not a boiled-down essence of standard wisdom."

The authors were also criticised by universities that were unhappy over their use of MBA in the title. Mr Knell says one of his responses to such criticism is to say: "Thank you for the feedback, but the market shows that there is a demand."

Indeed, the book was among the 25 best-selling business books in the UK in 2009.

Mr Knell was recently in Dubai to teach the 80-minute course at an event co-hosted by the London Business Forum and the executive recruitment company Stanton Chase. He insists the book makes no claim to be a comprehensive survey of everything you would learn on an MBA course.

Some MBA books offer a more complete summary but lack a sense of humour and a strong editorial voice on what matters, says Mr Knell, who does not have an MBA. He does, however, have two degrees, a PhD and once taught on an MBA course.

"We think it covers the key points that you would leave with if you did an MBA course, but obviously it's a treatment of that syllabus rather than a comprehensive view … and there's no harm with a marketing ploy," says Mr Knell.

What else does the book not contain?

A network, for a start, which many MBA students build during the course. And because the book is designed to be read in just 80 minutes, it does not go into detailed case studies - a key feature of many MBA courses.

Eighty minutes may seem astonishingly quick to cover topics on a course that many take more than a year to complete. But the authors also did a 30-minute version a couple of years ago.

"What scared us was how many of the key messages we could get into 30 minutes, so maybe it's too long," says Mr Knell, referring to the 80-minute version.

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