The Personal MBA

"Don’t worry if you’re a complete beginner. Unlike many other business books, this book does not require any prior business knowledge or experience."

- The Personal MBA, page 3

The majority of business books published today are topical in nature and content. They deal with a single discipline within the total business framework. This is great if you are looking to educate yourself in a specific body of knowledge or you are looking to increase your exposure to a given discipline. What if you want a total emersion in the main disciplines—an exposure to the total body of knowledge? What then? Josh Kaufman’s The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business provides us with the opportunity to review each of the main business disciplines in relationship to the whole of business. We can think of this book as a complete foundational introduction to the world of commerce.

Josh Kaufman’s The Personal MBA is about pushing the curtain back on business and exposing what you can expect. Josh wrote this book for those new to business, but there are concepts in this book that any seasoned business person will find useful. Josh’s book and associated website: were started as a project to see if we could get a world-class business education by reading a carefully culled selection of business books. The history behind The Personal MBA is a fascinating story and well documented in chapter one where he discusses how the project came about and developed.

The biggest obstacle to implementing a self-study reading plan is having a starting point and recommended reading list that expands on a foundation. That’s the value of Josh’s book. We get the foundation and a reading list that expands that foundation. The Personal MBAtakes us through the hard and soft side of business. Since a sound vocabulary is important in understanding business principles and concepts, Josh has done us solid by introducing major principles and concepts that side-step jargon with clear and concise definitions and examples.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Mental Models

"To improve your business skills, you don’t need to learn everything there is to know—mastering the fundamentals can take you surprisingly far. I call these foundational business concepts mental models, and together, they create a solid framework you can rely on to make good decisions."
- The Personal MBA, page 4

Everybody learns in different ways. We all have our own best practices for how we learn. Some of us have a handle on this and some don’t. What Josh introduces with his “mental models” is a universal framework for learning business concepts.

Through the understanding and application of Josh’s mental models,  we build a solid foundation – a framework of business thinking that produces clarity of understanding for tackling the more complex business disciplines. Building a solid business mental model framework is the subject of chapters 2 thru 6 in The Personal MBA. These chapters discuss the five core disciplines of every business.

The five foundation models are: (1) Value Creation, (2) Marketing, (3) Sales, (4) Value Delivery, and (5) Finance. Josh provides a brief outline of each model and how other models interact with the given model under review. His discussion of these five models focuses on vocabulary, principles, and concepts. Each model peels back understanding so we come away with the concepts and principles that govern how this model works in the real world. Also discussed is how the model under study impacts, and is impacted by, other models. We see how none of these models are independent.

The mental model framework is a good aid for understanding this material. It helps us develop a solid foundation in the five core disciplines; disciplines that factor into all business.  The models also help us to better frame our thinking around the soft-side disciplines as well. This way of distilling complex principles into a usable format will be helpful to most.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Our Brain

"Understanding how we take in information, how we make decisions, and how we decide what to do or what not to do is critically important if you want to create and sustain a successful business venture."
-  The Personal MBA, page 184

As mentioned earlier, Josh also covers the “soft side” of business in The Personal MBA.  Here we learn about how our brain’s function with a focus on business disciplines and the processes and systems we have at our cerebral disposal. This is about how our brains operate – how we can better utilize our mental faculties through a deeper understanding of how the brain functions.

The key to brain function is what the author calls your “Gas Tank”. We need to keep this gas tank full to function at our optimum level. Your energy level is directly proportional to your gas tank. Josh has offered up some good advice for maintaining and boosting our energy levels. As a side note, his study program is pretty rigorous, so these recommendations should come in handy if you choose to pursue his program.

Josh recommends we eat high-quality food, which seems a no-brainer. Are you eating high-quality foods? Do you scrutinize what you put into your body? Me either. For exercise he uses a fourteen-pound sledgehammer which I think is a great idea (see In addition to food and exercise, Josh also discusses sleep and our need for 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep a night. Another no-brainer, except few of us get the proper sleep. His solution: set an alarm as a reminder to go to bed. He goes on to recommend you get some direct non-filtered sunlight daily. About 10 minutes in the morning is his advice. It works too. I’ve been doing this daily for the last couple of weeks and it’s amazing. Give it a try.

To implement these recommendations takes willpower. The problem is, willpower depletes. Josh states that willpower is useful, but has limitations. One of these is tied to our reserves, and reserves are limited. He says the best way to use our reserves of willpower is to employ a Guiding Structure to change our environment instead of trying to alter or change our behavior. His example of ice cream is on point. Instead of trying to not eat ice cream, just stop buying it. In this way, we do not change our behavior, we alter our environment. We still want the ice cream, but there’s none available. We altered the structure of our environment in spite of our behavior and depleted willpower. Josh says: “Save your Willpower: focus on using it to change your Environment, and you’ll have more available to use whenever Inhibition is necessary” (pg 211). Where could you apply a Guiding Structure to circumvent your Willpower Depletion?

(For more on behaviour change, check out our Actionable Summary of Switch, by Dan Heath and Chip Heath.)

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Working With Yourself

"In today’s busy business environment, it’s easy to get stressed about everything that needs to be done. Learning how to work effectively and efficiently can be the difference between a fulfilling career and a draining one."
-  The Personal MBA, page 228

Before we can work effectively with others, we must learn to work with ourselves. This is a little more involved than you might think. For example, Josh describes the concept of “Monoidealism” as focusing your energy and attention on one thing, and doing it without conflicts. Have you ever tried this? It’s not easy. This is being in the “zone”, or as the author states, being in a state of “flow”. He elaborates by saying “There are no distractions, no interruptions, no self-judgments, no doubts” (pg 229).

The first step to a Monoideal state is to eliminate all distractions and interruptions (which, around my place, is virtually impossible). Josh says it can take from ten to thirty minutes for your mind to get in tune with what you are doing. He goes on to state that eliminating distractions is priority number one. He offers up the suggestion of ear plugs and disconnecting the phone and internet as ways to prevent interruption.  Another valuable tip was the idea of the “dash”: Spend anywhere from ten to thirty minutes in a burst of focused work.   “Dashing” (and knowing that you’re only committed for 30 minutes) can be a great way to maintain focus.  Meditation, and focusing on our breathing can also be excellent tools for achieving a Monoideal state.

Once we have prepared to “do”, what next? Here the author outlines the four methods of completion. This is interesting in that “completion”, as defined by Josh, may not entail us having to do the task. An example would be deletion, or just eliminating the task altogether. What about delegation? He includes delegating as a form of completion as well. You could also defer the task to another time—thus, conserving your energy and maintaining focus. Finally, you could just do the task. I really like the idea of deletion. What about you? Do you have tasks on your list that keep resurfacing but never get completed? Try deletion.

We can start with what Josh coins the “Most Important Task” or MIT. He recommends creating a daily list of two or three MIT’s. He offers up the suggestion of creating artificial deadlines as a way to stay engaged to completion. The “Next Action” mental model will help keep you progressing. Here Josh outlines David Allen’s Getting Things Done method for moving a project forward. (1) Write down the project, (2) describe your ideal outcome in a single sentence, (3) write down the Next Action necessary to moving forward, and (4) Collect the answers in a trusted system. Do you have a trusted task management system?

All this stuff is no good if you don’t put it to work. I especially like Josh’s idea of a Personal Research and Development account as a way to budget the cost of acquiring new skills. First, he discusses R & D in relationship to personal development and acquiring new skill sets. Second, he recommends you establish a monthly set-aside (say 5%) of your income for purchasing the tools, books, classes, and seminars necessary to your success. In his words: “New skills create new opportunities, and new opportunities often translate into more income” (pg 271). What new skills would be worth you setting aside a portion of your income to acquire?

Josh Kaufman’s The Personal MBA is high on my “must read” list. This is fundamental business reading and will go a long way in helping you better understand the world of business. Josh speaks of the Growth Mind-set, and this book embraces everything that implies. What aspect of business fundamentals would you most like to better understand? The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business has you covered. As a solid foundational text on the fundamentals of business, this is an excellent volume.

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Davey Moyers

ABOUT Davey Moyers

Davey had been married to Lali for 27 years. They have a 17 year old son Matt, and a 12 year old daughter Meredith. They live in Jacksonville, Florida where Davey has spent the last twenty-five plus years working in sales, sales management, and marketing...
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