Love Letter to Silicon Valley MBA’s #1


I know it’s tough out there. Sometimes it seems like the engineers can do no wrong and you can do no right. It’s tempting to retreat to a functional role like finance. But you’re not about that. You got an MBA to make things happen and that’s what you’re going to do.

It’s not just you: the community of practice around digital development has gotten really, really good at building software (CB Insights says four orders of magnitude1), but the community of practice around digital products still has a ways to go. By some accountings, 64% of new features fail as do 90% of new products and 50-70% of IT projects2.

If you were looking to follow a well-established script, that’s bad news. But if you’re looking to pioneer what business means in a new and evolving operating context, it’s pretty exciting. It’s not like there aren’t outposts of good practice out there. We’ve learned a ton about what makes startups and new products work:

  1. Design thinking has made the tools of that profession more broadly available to help us discover what users think and want
  2. Lean Startup has showed us how to accelerate innovation by minimizing waste
  3. Agile has provided a practical foundation for working with purpose even when you don’t have all the answers about what the user is going to want

Using those tools to do your job well is primary- help your dev. team build less software for a larger impact and you won’t have trouble finding enthusiastic collaborators. How you apply this in a particular role will vary, but in general I think you’ll know it’s working if you’re seeing the following:

Delegating Designing Collaboration
Planning Prioritizing and Creating Focus
PowerPoints Prototypes
Hopeful Decisions Hypothesis-Driven Development
Asking Engineering for More Output Avoiding Useless Features

If you’d like to hear me rabbit on about all that some more, see also this video: Digital Product Management.

All that said, there’s still this whole thing of bringing your ideas to life. Building software without validated learning on what’s valuable to the user is wasteful, but there’s no magic without the software. Why are so many successful startups founded by engineers? One of the main reasons is probably that they have the ability to bring their ideas to life.

What does that mean for the MBA who wants to get in the game and bring their ideas to life? In my second career as a ‘professor’, this question is my focus. I’m kind of obsessed with creating more of the technically-literate, creative generalists who were the big producers at the companies I ran. What I’ve learned so far is that between being a career coder and ‘non-technical’ there’s a meaningful fluency, digital literacy if you will, that I’ve seen consistently help MBA’s engage more successfully with their digital collaborators.

This is something you can do for yourself over a few nights and weekends, and getting there is probably a lot easier than you think. I’m going to write you a second letter where I’ll tell you more about how to do it, but basically you should find a specific idea you want to code and then go do that. There are a lot of great tools that make getting started easy and a lot of free tutorials that make it pretty easy to pick up the basics.

Best Regards,

P.S. If you want some fellow travelers in learning to go from idea to code, join Laura Klein and me in May for this live, online class: Coding for Designers, Managers, and Entrepreneurs.

P.P.S. The second letter is out now.


  1. CB Insights: