MBAs share the most valuable lessons they learned in business school

Graduates Tossing Caps in Air
Relationships matter. Flickr / Evonne

Ask a group of MBAs what they think the most valuable lessons business school provided them and you’ll get a myriad of answers.

At least, that’s what we found when we sifted through the Quora thread, “What are the top five most important business lessons learned in business school?

From basic financial principles to timeless life lessons, these grads offer insights into what business school truly offers.

Here are 10 essential lessons these impressive MBAs will carry with them forever:

1. People matter most.

“Every single guest speaker, and most professors, stressed that at companies themselves, specific people make and carry out decisions, not some ‘invisible hand’ of a faceless company.

“Skills such as empathy and listening become far more pivotal to success than model-building or SWAT analysis. This means that ‘easier’ classes around leadership and organizational behaviour have proven much more useful than the more ‘rigorous’ ones around advanced finance or operations management.”
James Raybould, Class of 2008 at Harvard Business School

2. Relationships are important.

“This directly connects to the idea that people really matter, but is specifically focused on establishing a small network of trusted relationships, as well as a far larger network of less well-known connections. On an almost weekly basis I’m in touch with my classmates, making or requesting an introduction, or helping each other recruit for specific open roles. These relationships really matter to my professional success.” — Raybould

3. The time value of money — money available now will be worth more than the same amount in the future, due to interest.

“It underlies virtually everything in business, is non-intuitive, and completely reorients your perspective on a wide range of issues.”
David S. Rose, Class of 1983 at Columbia Business School

4. Negotiation basics can take you a long way.

“Once you understand the three critical components of your negotiating position — the overall market, everyone’s alternatives, and your true bottom line — negotiating anything becomes a piece of cake.” — Rose

Negotiating tips

5. Business is a team sport.
“Most business schools assign more than 50% of the workload to team or group projects. Why? You need to rely on others to succeed. You need to understand their strengths and weaknesses, and vice versa. It is one thing to have the technical knowledge, and even the solution, and quite another to compel a group to pursue it.” — Charles Hilliard, Class of 1990 at University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross School of Business

6. Never use yourself as a focus group.

“My strategy professor said this several times. Not only is it a handy saying to remind yourself to validate your assumptions with data, but that in life, your opinion is just that — your opinion. Remember to look outside your own assumptions and prejudices. You’d be surprised how many people don’t.” — Eugene Song, Class of 2004 at Columbia Business School

7. Remember where you came from.

“One of the great things about business school is making a few hundred new friends all at once and then getting to work and play with them for two crazy years. But I had an incredible (and patient) group of friends and family that kept me grounded during all the insanity. Keeping those connections were critical to maintaining my sanity throughout school, but also having a place to land once all the craziness was over.” — Song

8. Work-life balance is hard, but it’s worth maintaining.

“Being engaged, and then married, during business school taught me the value of putting the effort into juggling and maintaining both work and ‘life.’ It is incredibly difficult sometimes, but you must learn to find balance. Be there for your friends and family and it will pay off.” — Song

9. What “strategy” really means.

“‘Strategy’ is arguably the most overused B-school word or concept. At it’s core, strategy is about tradeoffs — and making integrated sets of tough choices. It is not about being ‘best practice,’ or mission, vision, or values. The value MBAs can bring to organisations is critical thinking and evaluation of real tradeoffs. Only then can an organisation be ‘strategic.'”
Mac Hodell, Class of 2004 at The Wharton School

Harvard business school classroom

10. Incentives matter. Think through the behavioural economics.
“While people are not strictly speaking, totally rational, their behaviour is often very logical. What at first seems puzzling can become very clear once one considers the incentives. Whether one works in sales, operations, finance, etc., the ability to not only understand people, but to create incentives that encourage the desired behaviours is really valuable.”Hodell

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