Josh Kaufman Personal MBA

“See the sad thing about a guy like you, is in about 50 years you’re gonna start doin’ some thinkin’ on your own and you’re gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life. One, don’t do that. And two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fuckin’ education you coulda’ got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the Public Library.”

– Matt Damon as Will in Good Will Hunting

**Important note: Today we’re talking about one of my favorite topics: practical education. Be sure to read to the end for two free tools I created for you all to download and use. They go hand in hand with this post and video. Enjoy!

To Go to Business School or Not?

It’s a question I used to ask myself a lot. And one I’m constantly asked by others.

About seven years ago Josh Kaufman was faced with that very dilemma. He felt like he wanted (and perhaps needed) to get an MBA in order to move his career forward. The problem was he didn’t want to spend two years and over $100k in debt to do it. He also doubted how practical such a solution would be.

So instead, he went Good Will Hunting-style and proceeded to spend the next two months living at libraries and book stores. In those first two months he read over 200 business books. Since then he’s gone through closer to 1,000. He then tested and cherry-picked the most fundamental and useful content.

He also estimates he saved himself about $150,000.

As a result, he created The Personal MBA and published a book under the same name.

It soon became the #1 International Business Training Bestseller.

I’m not surprised.

His material is now one of the more powerful tools available when it comes to creating your own practical business school curriculum.

I’ve written and ranted on this topic at lot at Live Your Legend. Aside from whom you surround yourself with, nothing is more fundamental to doing work you love, and unfortunately there may be no system more in need of fixing.

What I covered in The Self-Guided Education Manifesto (you can download that at the end of this post) and How Business School Killed the Entrepreneur, Josh takes to an entirely new level.

I’m thankful that a reader brought his work to my attention and even more grateful that he was able to spend some video time covering his solution to creating an education that actually empowers you to build a career around work you love.

For the hundreds of thousands of you out there facing the same dilemma Josh was, I hope this shows you that there is in fact a more practical and efficient option.

Take a few minutes to watch my video interview with him.

I warn you, some of his advice might be a little intense.

All the topics we cover are listed below the video. Enjoy!

Video Interview with Josh Kaufman of The Personal MBA

(if you can’t see the video, please click here to go to LYL or view it directly on Youtube)

Discussion Topics:

Here’s what we covered, in chronological order…

  • How The Personal MBA came to be
  • Realizing that all the well-educated business school grads around him didn’t know anymore about business than he did
  • What to do when intimidated by others’ credentials
  • How Josh got an MBA for $1.50 instead of the $150k people were paying at Harvard
  • Reading 200 books in two months
  • Sorting through the 11,000 business books published every year
  • Josh’s first real business in college
  • What working at Proctor & Gamble did (and did not) teach him
  • How a personal project turned into a movement
  • Stories of the people who did it on their own
  • Can a book and self-managed movement actually replace the traditional MBA?
  • A Stanford professor’s study on whether business school yields real results- this will surprise you
  • The only two jobs a typical MBA helps you get
  • The debt trap people don’t realize they’re falling into
  • Why it’s more beneficial to learn this stuff on your own than from a professor
  • The misunderstanding of what people will and will not get from a formal education
  • Why business school will not tell you want to do with your life
  • The qualifications trap
  • How opportunity cost kills entrepreneurship & The Sunk Cost Fallacy
  • Prioritizing doing over learning
  • Trading a law degree to become a personal trainer
  • The comparison to traveling the world and why buying the plane ticket is usually a better option
  • Contrasting the value of entrepreneurship vs. corporate employment
  • Creating a side-project
  • Josh’s upcoming book: How to rapidly acquire usable skills
  • Why the 10,000 hour rule is extremely misleading
  • Mental models and the most important first step
  • The danger of paying someone to tell you what to do & the 99/1 Principle

It’s on you – and always will be

When we’re lost, we often get desperate for answers and direction. We look for people to tell us what to do. The problem is, when it comes to ourselves, they know less than we do.

No one will give you the answers. No school will tell you what your passion is. No professor will give you the golden ticket. This stuff can all help, but not until you do your homework.

Spend the time on yourself to know what excites you. Then take it into your own hands to learn the things that you actually want and need to know to build a career around it. Josh’s Personal MBA site and book are powerful places to start.

Let the learning begin!


Two Free Tools to Start Learning What Matters: 

Not long ago I created a couple totally free downloadable resources for our Live Your Legend Community. I have added them to the Passionate Work Toolkit, that all email subscribers get access to.

The tools are:

1. The Full Self-Guided Education Manifesto and Poster (PDF) – The core tenets to teaching yourself anything, plus a fun poster graphic.

2. Self-Guided Education List of Online Resources (PDF) – A list of over 30 of the top online tools and resources for constructing your own practical curriculum.

As a thank you to our community, I’ve made these available for free. To get access and download the tools just enter your email below. If you are already a subscriber, you will not be double subscribed – you will just be taken straight to the download page. Enjoy!

(don’t see a form? – click here)

P.S. I’m off to the World Domination Summit in Portland this weekend. I’d love to cross paths out there. I’ll also be speaking on How to Connect with Anyone on Sunday afternoon. If you happen to be in the audience, make sure to come up and say hi!

  • Joel Zaslofsky

    Hi Scott,

    Normally I leave (what I think is) an insightful comment on LYL. But today, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the post headline and immediately thought of Good Will Hunting before reading this.

    I know you and I aren’t the only one who quote that line from the movie but there is serious truth behind it. I’ll watch the video a bit later but for now, thanks for brightening my day. And thanks for expanding into more video. Your message is even more powerful in words and pictures than it is in text…and that’s saying something.

  • Amit Amin

    Just shared this with a bunch of my friends. They need this. Thanks for the great info Scott.

  • George Mihaly

    I’ve made it a mission to read Josh’s book before WDS. I heard about Personal MBA from Derek Sivers and now getting your support is another reason to make sure this gets off my bookshelf and into my hands.

    Scott, thanks again for the consistent (& constant) delivery of quality content! Cheers -George

  • Ryan Ferrier

    Love the fallacy of sunk cost discussion. Great reminder for me to be willing to drop projects that I’ve spent time on if they are not going to yield a result. Thanks so much Scott and Josh!

  • Dolly Garland

    I’ve never stopped studying, and I’ve been out of college for nearly a decade. So I was totally inspired by your self-inspired manifesto. I recently bought Personal MBA, but haven’t read it yet. (So many books…so little time).

    Thank you for this…this powerful message will take my self-education to whole another level.

  • Blake Knebel

    I love this topic too! As the MBA becomes less and less powerful, I’ve wondered what that means for my business undergrad degree (which I’m currently working towards). Last fall, I lightened my course load and spent more time attending workshops and hacking away at my own reading list. For me, it’s still important to have some sort of post-secondary education as a support, but what truly defines people is the work they do in their spare time.

    I look forward to reading the book!

  • James Mathison

    “…creating your own business school curriculum…”

    Love it!

    In my 3rd year of university I finally realised the madness of allowing someone who didn’t know you or your goals to dictate your curriculum. I was learning things I will never use. Time wasted.

    It’s all about just-in-time learning.
    …which is something I like to think I learned just in time :P

  • Ashton Fourie

    I think the biggest challenge in today’s knowledge-overloaded world, is not to find the information you need, but to not waste many hours sifting through all the information you don’t need.

    And this goes for the web as well as for physical bookstores of which the shelves are groaning under the load of titles designed to make you want to buy THIS book because it has the answers.

    I just spent the equivalent of about US$ 15k on a Masters in Leading Innovation and Change through Robert Kennedy College, and I agree that I could have found all the material for much cheaper than that. But the challenge is finding the right material.

    So I think there is a balance. I do read a lot, and I agree with self-education. But I also think often there is a specific area for which someone has put together an excellent curriculum, which you can just pay the money for, to do, instead of spending lots of time reading books that are often anecdotal rather than based on good research.

    The challenge with Just In Time Learning, is that often, by the time you really need an indepth understanding of something, there is not enough time left to go and read 200 books about it – so you read three, often anecdotal books, and then experiment in a live environment with people’s lives.

    Better to study the stuff you love continually, regardless of whether it is through a formal curriculum or a self-built one, and thus becoming a specialist so that you don’t start learning when facing the real life problems.

    I think the bigger problem is not paying for a formal education, but paying for an education that doesn’t fit what you love doing. Before going for an MBA, ask yourself whether that is REALLY the Masters you should be studying.

  • Steve Baines

    I loved this interview as it is a subject I am passionate about and very familiar with. I just posted 4 of my most inspiring commencement addresses for 2012. The post tells a bit why I never participated in one.

    I am not against formal education, but I think people have to have a definite purpose in getting one – more than just “I want to be able to earn a good living and make more money”.

    It will be interesting to watch the secondary education system and how it decides to respond to the fact that knowledge is more accessible than ever through the magic of the internet and now mobile devices. Exciting stuff! Thanks!

  • Jeff Orr

    Great post and interview! The current schooling system isn’t working for many and Josh’s thoughts on self-educating is timely. I appreciate your honesty and vision to help others find their passion and pursue it. I share that same passion in my book, Succeed In The New Normal.

    Great material on both sites. I signed up for both sets of materials. I know it will benefit my clients and myself!

  • Jon Wilburn

    Scott & Josh –

    I cannot agree more. School IS right for some people in certain situations, but for many people its not necessary. I recently read an article that boasts some very recognizable names whom never completed formal education. It’s fascinating that it includes 2 US Presidents and 1 Founding Father.

    Here’s the link:

    It just proves that when you are willing to fight for what you believe in and are passionate about, nothing is standing in your way.


  • Oberon De Monet

    hi guys,

    I’m currently studying with the Opn University for my business degree. Been running my own businesses for 10 years, but i’ve made the heinous mistake of doing it without a piece of paper :-) i have learnt quite a bit kf useless theory, and the posh tems for the stuff I’ve been doing anyway, but I do favout the ‘suck it and see’ approach. However the piece of paper is somrthing I need in order to get my US visa, so suffer on I must!

  • Gemma D Lou

    Thanks for sharing the video. I’ve never watched Good Will Hunting, but thanks to youtube and good work colleagues, I’m well aware of the famous $1.50 line.

    You’re right about folks qualifying themselves. I’ve had to learn to just wanting to fail and fail fast so I can make progress.

    I’m only halfway into the video, so I’m’a watch on.

    Cheers Scott.

  • Fab

    Hi Scott,

    I read this book and I can say that it’s pretty good!

    Anyway, a useful integration is the following:

    In the introduction, they say that getting an MBA is almost a must and obviously I don’t agree at all, but there are some case histories which are really interesting and from a technical point of view is much more complete than Josh’s book!

    In conclusion, Josh’s book is really meaningful to frame general principles of almost any business, the Portable MBA is far more practical!

    All the best!


  • saltna

    Love the fallacy of sunk cost discussion. Great reminder for me to be willing to drop projects that I’ve spent time on if they are not going to yield a result. Thanks so much Scott and Josh!

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  • Financial Samurai

    Good stuff! I got an MBA and my employer paid. I loved it, and it helped boost my career for the next 6 years until I retired.

    Education is the most important, no matter which way you do it!

  • Steven Luibrand

    Wow! Thanks for that video. I can’t wait to pick up (both) of Josh’s books. This was very relavant for me to watch as I’ve been fantasizing about Stanford GSB lately. After watching this video, I’m putting the fantasy to rest. For a few years anyway. Wish I saw this right out of highschool!

    (btw, Scott, have you thought about working with highschool level clients at all? I think every parent would want to invest in coaching like this)

    Cheers gents!

  • Henry

    Although my enthusiasm for reading has been inspired by countless sources, two of the defining moments in my life were when I encountered Josh Kaufman’s The Personal MBA and Michael Ellsberg’s The Education of Millionaires. These discoveries helped me realize that I could pursue any profession, but to acquire that knowledge and skill I have a choice: spoon-feeding and a protective womb a.k.a. up to 150,000 dollars for a graduate school experience, or a self-starter attitude and guru mindset a.k.a. a 5 dollar library card, up to 5 dollars in late fees, professional networking, and a 17 dollar blog domain to showcase my learning and results.
    I wrote about this experience and epiphany in a post:

  • Online MBA List

    Thanks Scott this is all very intriguing so I subscribed and downloaded the free tools. The simple act of writing down your thoughts is the key to the success of the Weekly Planning Process and the best way to just get more done.

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