Follow Elon Musk’s Advice and Skip the MBA. Read These 10 Books Instead

Jessica Stillman
3 min readMar 2, 2021


Getting a top-tier MBA has always been an expensive proposition, setting you back something like $200,000 between tuition and living expenses (not to mention lost income). This year there may be even more reason to think long and hard before going to business school.

First, you’ll face unusually stiff competition. Applications at top schools are way up as people look for shelter from the economic storm caused by Covid. Plus, the virus may continue to disrupt in-person instruction, so you could end up battling your way in just to study online.

But there’s another fundamental reason you might want to give business school a miss, this year or any other. For many, a biz degree is simply a waste of money. Just ask Elon Musk.

Skills beat degrees.

As my colleague Jeff Haden noted in a recent column, the Tesla and SpaceX boss thinks too many companies are run by MBAs. “There should be more focus on the product or service itself, less time on board meetings, less time on financials,” Musk said.

Instead of going to school to master back-office intricacies, he encourages would-be business leaders to focus on learning what it takes to actually make things. That belief is reflected in his approach to hiring — Musk focuses on skills not degrees, and isn’t bothered by candidates without formal credentials.

Could you save several hundred thousand dollars if you too focused on skills rather than credentials? There are tons of great resources, from online classes to recommended reading lists, out there to help you plug gaps in your business knowledge. And a new one might be of particular interest to those tempted by top-tier business schools.

Degree comparison portal DegreeQuery recently dug into publicly available syllabi from Ivy League schools to find the most assigned books in various subjects. If you’re looking to craft a DIY business degree, you could do a lot worse than starting with their list of most popular business books assigned at Ivy League schools:

  1. Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking by M. Neil Browne. This book “helps bridge the gap between simply memorizing or blindly accepting…



Jessica Stillman

Top columnist/ Editor/ Ghostwriter. Book lover. Travel fiend. Nap enthusiast.