March 17th, 2008 Systems posted by dmerritts View Comments

MBAs and Categorization

People with MBAs are obsessed with sorting and categorizing. Every time you have a meeting with a person who has an MBA you should take note on how they try to group things. Now, I’m a big fan of set theory and often employ it. And, get somewhat frustrated when people conflate categories or sets. I come by this naturally. I’ve always thought in sets and categories. I’m just wired that way.

Recently, I attended an ideation workshop with one of the best ideation groups around – IDEO. Overall, the session was very good; it’s always interesting to see how other organizations and people brainstorm. We focused on creating ideas around bringing new sustainable health care services to rural India. We all came up with great ideas.

One of the comments from our IDEO facilitator struck me as interesting: “Only MBAs get caught up in categorizing ideas.”

And, it’s true – we do. In the midst of a flowing, post-it deluge I found myself putting like stickies together. Instead of building on one person’s idea, I started moving them in to categories. Mind you, my group was a little less set-happy than the rest. Everyone else seemed to be writing down categories and lining up ideas under them. To use a McKinsey popularized term: This was a truly MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) group. I mean who has more MBAs than McKinsey?

She commented further that human factors and technology factors people get frustrated when business factor people categorize during brainstorming.

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