Why The MFA Could Be The New MBA

Artists (and parents), rejoice! MFAs are more valuable than you think.

Code-cranking computer programmers. Contract-crafting lawyers. Number-crunching Wall Street analysts. That’s what our parents encouraged us to become when we grew up. Study something useful, they begged, like business. Get your MBA. Whatever you do, don’t waste your time on art.

Fear not, you artsy-types; there’s good news for you and your parents.

Although a U.S. News analysis of the Fortune 500 CEOs list shows that two hundred out of the five hundred executives hold MBAs, the business world is opening up for those who’ve always dreamt of getting an MFA. Each year, increasing amounts of left-brain-centric work — financial accounting, computer programming, routing calls — can be done more efficiently by computers or more cheaply overseas.

“That’s why the MFA,” says Oprah-endorsed author Daniel Pink, “is the new MBA.”

It’s time for our artistic right brain to take center stage.

3 Skills An MFA Will Teach You That An MBA Won’t


In a world fortified with abundance but disrupted by the automation and outsourcing of white-collar work, everyone, regardless of occupation, must cultivate an artistic awareness. While we may not all be Picasso or da Vinci, we must all be designers.

Why? Because design gives utility significance. First, Mr. Tech Whiz whips up an app that’s easy to use (which is no easy feat). That’s utility. But at its most effective, his app must also transmit emotion. That’s significance. Therefore, design — utility coupled with significance — is a high-concept aptitude that’s nearly impossible to outsource or automate, making it a competitive business advantage.

The takeaway? Getting an MFA in painting doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck behind an easel the rest of your life. Instead, it means you’ll think like an artist and succeed in ways only artists can. After all, Steve Jobs had his aha moment in a typography class.

Want to learn design while pursuing your MBA, degree in Culinary Arts, or even yoga certification? First things first: Learn to see.

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Somehow, Hollywood has given storytelling a bad rap: Stories amuse; facts educate. Stories divert; facts illuminate. But this view ignores how our minds actually work. If you minimize the importance of story, you minimize any importance at all.

Since facts have become widely available (think Wikipedia), each one becomes less valuable. Instead, what matters is the ability to contextualize these facts and deliver them with emotion. Story — context enhanced by emotion — heightens our understanding of one concept by positioning it alongside another. Therefore, as routine knowledge continues to be reduced to rules and carried out by fast computers, the more conceptual abilities embodied by story become increasingly valuable.

The moral of the story? An MFA in screenwriting might not be your ticket to becoming the next Steven Spielberg, but it will make you a better innovator, entrepreneur, and even human being.

Calling all cinephiles (MBAers included): Check out the Black List, which recognizes the year’s most-liked, unproduced screenplays.


Empathy is the ultimate virtual reality — delving into another’s mind to experience his or her world. Today, cheap and prevalent online access makes quantitative skills much easier to replace, obviously favoring irreplaceable aptitudes. The one aptitude that’s proven impossible for computers to replace? Empathy.

Research shows that healthy individuals respond empathically to art. In fact, if an observer sees a gesture in a portrait, he or she almost always imitates that gesture in his or her mind. As artists, we must learn to respond emphatically to what we think the sitter is experiencing in order to communicate our vision more effectively.

Empathy sells. In fact, an analysis of 1,400 campaigns found that purely emotional communications performed roughly twice as well as purely informational communications. As Google’s VP of Global Marketing Lorraine Twohill puts it: “If we don’t make you cry, we fail.”

MFAs sculpt empathizers, but so can MBAs, PhDs, BAs — you get the point. Seeking an artistic outlet but not sure where to start? Try blackout poetry, no expensive materials required.

MBAs, MFAs, or neither are all equally welcome here in the Patreon community. Thinking of joining the family ?