The Personal MBA Book Cover

Buy on Amazon | Buy on Waterstones

Our review: 4/5

Josh Kaufman’s, The Personal MBA is an excellent and easy-to-read precis of a Personal MBA program that contains 11 main chapters (value creation; marketing; sales; value delivery; finance; the human mind; working with yourself; working with others; understanding systems; analyzing systems; improving systems) as well as over 254 concepts that are taught in a professional MBA curriculum.

Each concept is a sub-chapter within itself and consists of a quote, a definition of the term, a story to provide an example, and a conclusion to sum up what it means.

In this summary, I’m going to touch on the most useful concepts that I believe you will find interesting and insightful.


“Continue to offer something new, and people will pay attention to what you have to offer”

Page 259

Novelty, or originality, refers to something that is new, different, and unusual. Novelty is a great way to increase the amount of attention to something.

For example, people can spend hours on one social media application because of the freshness and constantly changing images, videos and commentary.

Another example where novelty is used is in business offerings. Look at how food and drink brands come out with new flavors or look at how many iPhones Apple has produced. If you want to attract and maintain someone’s attention over time, offer something new consistently.

Confirmation Bias

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Mark Twain

Confirmation bias is the general tendency for people to pay attention to information that supports their opinion and then easily ignore opinions that go against it.

This is one of the reasons why you might see one political party member or voter never look for reasons why they could be wrong from the opposition’s news sources. They already know that they disagree, so what is the point?

Those who argued that the world is flat are also subject to confirmation bias. Once their theory was disproved in the 2018 documentary, Behind the Curve, their response demonstrates a great example of this concept:

“Wow, that’s kind of a problem … We obviously were not willing to accept [the results], and so we started looking for ways to disprove it …”

Looking for disconfirming evidence is difficult, because we naturally steer away from disagreement, and never like to admit we are incorrect.

However, the practice of looking for ways to disprove what you believe to be right is the best way to know more and understand the world. Indeed, if you come prepared to a debate with your opponent’s points at the ready, then you will be even more prepared to defend your own.

Hindsight Bias

“With hindsight, I should never have gone”

Hindsight bias is the act of thinking or saying you should have known better after an incident has occurred.

The reason that this is a bias is because we aren’t omniscient and therefore cannot have the complete answer to every decision we choose to make. It can be very easy to feel down after something bad has happened to us.

Instead of falling into a downward spiral of dwindling self-doubt, we must instead try to reinterpret past mistakes constructively and then focus our energy on the here and now. Yesterday no longer matters, it’s what happens from now on.

Performance Load

“If not controlled, work will flow to the competent man until he submerges”.

Charles Boyle

In order to stay productive, one must set limits.

When you have a highly productive individual completing some tasks, he will be able to complete those very well. However, if you spread that individual across more tasks than he can carry, he’ll be slow and those tasks will not be completed as well as could be.

Take a juggler as an example, when a juggler is told he has to juggle nine balls (one more than he is used to juggling), how competent will the juggler be? The juggler will struggle, and will likely drop the ball because he has been spread too thin.

In the workplace, the solution to too much is either or all of the following:

  1. Delegate: Push less important tasks to others in your team (particularly if you are in a more senior position).
  2. Defer: Push the task back until a later date when the workload has been reduced.
  3. Eliminate: Inform your team that this task will be scrapped because there simply isn’t enough time in the day.

Energy Cycles

We all have times when we think more effectively, and times when we should not be thinking at all.

Daniel Cohen

Have you ever felt really productive at a certain time in the day, and then really lethargic at others? These are your body’s natural rhythms, and Kaufman describes them as energy cycles.

We have energy cycles because we have a circadian rhythm (an internal biological clock that regulates the timing of periods of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day) as well as a homeostatic sleep drive (the body’s natural drive to go to sleep as the day grows long).

The issue is that when our energy is depleted and we lack focus, we label this as a problem and that should be fixed. Some people, therefore, try to hack this by working longer hours to make up for the productivity loss.

The right solution, however, is to accept that our energy cycles are biologically necessary and that it is imperative to rest. When you are in a down cycle, it is better to step away from whatever work you are doing and rest for greater productivity in your upcycle.

A way to increase the amount of time spent in your upcycle is to live a healthy life, eat the right food, and get enough sleep.

Set an alarm an hour before bed to remind you to get ready for bed (get a fruit tea, turn down the lights, read a good physical book).

We all have the same 24 hours in a day; though not every hour is created equal.

Is the Personal MBA a good book?

The Personal MBA was a superb read due to its simplistic approach to the MBA curriculum that is both easy and fun to learn. While at times the book did feel like a large encyclopedia, with short chapters and a repetitive style (definition, story, conclusion), Mr. Kaufman did a terrific job distilling so many terms into what is a useful, engaging, and indeed an important array of facts, that, with further reading from other non-fiction works, can help one get up to speed with one’s MBA graduate peers.

Should this book be replaced with an actual MBA?

It depends on what profession you would like to pursue and how much capital you have at the start of your career. An MBA qualification, costs aside (MBAs can cost up to $224,948), is better than a 446-page book that simply summarises the key concepts taught in an MBA.

This is because you have the luxury of being in a classroom, with a professor to ask questions to, colleagues to debate with, and assessments to test your understanding. Doing an MBA is like hiring a personal trainer to help you as opposed to a paperback workout program. You will improve because there is a greater focus on you to improve, but it will come at a cost.

I personally haven’t done an MBA because my profession (marketing) doesn’t require me to have one, and I read well over fifty non-fiction books per year, which puts me at a great advantage to do good and be good to the world. I may do one in the future, however. Never say never.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *