Why doing an MBA will change your business forever


Brexit. Coronavirus. What does ‘business as usual’ even mean in 2020? As the previous decade rolls over and we plough into the next ten years, businesses have to constantly adapt to new parameters.

Staying relevant has never been more important – it’s seldom been so difficult, either.

Here Neil Davidson, CEO at transformative communications agency HeyHuman explains that to stay relevant, you need to learn. And that’s a problem. We’re time-poor. We’re commuting. We’re answering emails outside work hours, finalising spreadsheets and decks over the weekend. Who has time to learn?

That mind-set is (justifiably!) prevalent in business, and it’s a problem. Because as human beings, we’re lazy by nature. When we hit a certain age and seniority in our careers, it can be all too easy to throw the proverbial toys out of the pram and say: ‘I’m done with learning now.’

That’s one of the worst things you can do. Honestly.

I’m about halfway through an executive MBA at Warwick Business School.

I’ve met more than 200 people on the course, and it’s just me from advertising. There’s senior names from retail, finance, IT, manufacturing and more.

But nobody from advertising. And that’s great.

It gives me ample opportunity to be told I’m wrong.

Change and disruption are both a given in a 2020 business landscape. Yet still, it’s easy to be a stick in the mud and just keep on keeping on, if it ain’t broke… you know the drill.

Studying for an MBA has given me the knowledge and tools to realise my business isn’t being as efficient as required, then enact change to remedy it. It provides an alternative view of how well you’re running your business simply by exposing you to out-of-industry thinking.

You meet people from a range of industries and roles who see things in a completely different light – the CEO of a manufacturing firm might look at how I run HeyHuman and think it’s crazy, hierarchical and restrictive (and vice versa). And that doesn’t mean they’re 100% right all the time. But it does expose me to that kind of thought – thought I’d probably never encounter in my day-to-day.

One thing my MBA has given a different perspective to is Lean philosophy.

Not particularly relevant to my line of work at first glance, I’m sure you’ll agree. Given it’s an old production philosophy, your mind strays more to something like the Toyota Production System – it’s all about removing waste that doesn’t add value for customers, and introducing elements of transparency and standardisation to ways of working.

That’s manufacturing. Nuts, bolts, wheels. It didn’t seem like anything I could use.

But then the more I thought about it, the more I realised how blindingly relevant it is to my industry. It’s all about bringing consistency to the grunt work involved in the creative process (standardising briefs, creative responses etc) so that people’s time can be freed to focus on the work itself. Sometimes that just involves little changes to how people work, but in some cases, it can mean entire new systems being rolled out.

This understanding means better value for clients.

Every day of running a business, you’re at risk of losing perspective. Of taking stuff for granted. This MBA has helped me tackle two massive challenges all businesses encounter differently: change and growth. It helps you approach your clients’ business challenges in new ways; and it gives you the know-how and confidence to speak to them as equals, and in turn challenge them on how they admit to and solve their own issues.

And honestly, doing the MBA just opens subtle little doors. Clients appreciate that you’ve invested the time to advance your continual learning and development. I hate to toot my own horn, but it is true.

For most of my career, like a lot of people, I’ve relied too much on my gut.  Now, I’m equipped with much more rigorous frameworks that have given me a better approach to decision making and analysis.

The MBA took me to Silicon Valley and taught me about failure: 8 in 10 Silicon Valley investments fall flat, so success in that world isn’t 100%. It’s often about failing, learning the lessons then nailing it the next time round.

Studying has given me the self-awareness, clarity and foresight that are crucial in anticipating and navigating the rough patches every business faces. Doing an MBA isn’t the only strategy you can use to achieve this, naturally. But it’s given me that rigour and dedication to invest my time in opening myself up to new thinking. It’s the same kind of thinking that lends itself to HeyHuman’s ‘Unusual Everyday’ approach to creative work: using something commonplace to slot into people’s thinking process, then hitting them with the ‘unusual’ to cement that memory.

And if you can’t pivot – if you’re dead-set in your ways, bound to old systems? That’s not going to be good for you, and it’s certainly not good for your clients nor your business.