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Test Yourself: Are You An MBA Clone?

Mar 16, 2008
In our hyper-competitive markets, MBA clones pose an imminent and tangible threat to the competitiveness of the companies they work for. Many executives today attend the same MBA programs, study the same books, read the same newspapers and magazines, and go to the same conferences and workshops. Standardization in MBA programs results in a similarity in the professional approach and managerial thinking of their graduates. It also shapes the vocabulary and agenda of all the business media and training activities. Thus many executives today turn into "MBA clones."

What's wrong with MBA-graduate managers who apply the professional knowledge and skills they have learned? All those managers who are supposed to compete with one another and create that very differentiation which gives consumers a good reason to prefer one brand over another, end up using the same data; they conduct the same focus groups and draw conclusions from the same surveys using same methods; they analyze the same data with the same tools, and use same concepts and approaches in order to create products and brands. The result? Inevitably, most products, and even most brands, eventually evolve to appear as "same" to the consumer. These managers are not even playing me-too. Without consciously imitating each other, they achieve the same results, simply because they think and act the same way.

Not every MBA graduate necessarily becomes an MBA clone. But MBA graduates definitely constitute an at-high-risk population. What about you? Do you have the symptoms? Let me reassure you that being an MBA clone is not a condition beyond cure.

De-cloning is possible and rather painless. But first please take this short test to assess your situation. All you have to do is answer with candor, courage and integrity the following 10 questions with a "Yes" or a "No". I promise not to tell anyone if you won't.

Question 1:
Do you often use concepts such as "striving for a sustainable competitive advantage", "segmenting the market", "assuming a niche strategy", "fostering customer loyalty", "developing a corporate vision", "adopting brand values"?

Question 2:
Do you prefer courses of action that already worked for others?

Question 3:
Do you focus on blocking competitors from gaining an advantage more than on attempting to achieve one yourself?

Question 4:
Would you agree that both you and your competitors segment the market in a similar manner and then focus on the same attractive groups?

Question 5:
To gain a competitive advantage, do you strive to be better than your competitors in providing clients with benefits that are known to be important in your market?

Question 6:
Do you consider strategy to be an analytic process of research, analysis, setting objectives and planning?

Question 7:
Do you address mostly direct competitive threats, while disregarding other product categories in which future competition could emerge such as substitutes?

Question 8:
Do you try to think outside the box and consider out of the box thinking as an important capability for managers?

Question 9:
Do you think that customers generally know what they want and where their preferences lie, and consequently if you keep them satisfied (even delighted) they will remain loyal to you?

Question 10:
Do you believe that all brands are created for the long term and become stronger as they stand the test of time?

If you gave an affirmative answer to more than 5 of these questions, I am sorry to inform you that you are, at least to some extent, an MBA clone. I hope that it is of no consolation to you that many of your colleagues and competitors alike suffer the same condition. De-cloning yourself will not only set you free but also do wonders for your ability to thrive in competitive markets. You might even be able to take advantage of MBA clones' biases and achieve an "unfair advantage": the successful differentiation that your customers will be wild about - and your competitors will not imitate, ever!

So how do you go about de-cloning yourself? The process entails becoming fully aware of the typical MBA thinking and subsequently realizing and accepting that is not the ultimate truth but just one way of interpreting business reality and operating in the marketplace.

The popular "think outside the box" imperative (the 'box' being in fact typical MBA thinking) will not help you much. You will need to coach yourself in alternative concepts and tool up accordingly. Doing that you will soon discover that your view has broadened and you managerial capabilities will have improved dramatically.
About the Author
Dr. Dan Herman, a globally renowned strategy consultant, an author and a lecturer, is the author of "Outsmart the MBA Clones: The Alternative Guide to Competitive Strategy, Marketing, and Branding"
( http://www.outsmart-mba-clones.com ).
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