altMBA — Field Notes

Pete Cohen
Mar 10 · 4 min read

In February 2019 I participated in the altMBA, described on its website as “an intensive, 4-week online workshop designed by Seth Godin for high-performing individuals who want to level up and lead”.

The Memes

There are a few memes seeded in the material which really resonated with me throughout the program and I think sum it up well:

People like us do things like this

Everyone involved was incredibly motivated and present, and to be honest, of a similar personality type — open, articulate, introspective, driven. The altMBA application process isn’t very onerous, so I’m not exactly sure how they manage to curate the group. However, I guess that the type of person who is willing to pay AUD$5000 for a learning experience with no formal qualification associated with it has something to do with it.

We make promises and keep them

The workload is intense, and there is no one grading the work or making sure it is done. The mechanics of the whole process (more on that later) rely on participants giving each other feedback. So there was a very strong social contract, and for the most part everyone stuck to it.

Trust the process

I have emerged in awe of the learning design of the altMBA. It somehow manages to keep you working at maximum bearable intensity, while moving through a series of topics which build on each other. They have done it nearly 30 times now, and it feels like something which has been iterated on and refined.

The Material

In terms of the actual material, I don’t want to (and actually have agreed not to) give too much away in case anyone reading ends up enrolling. But to describe it at a high level, I would say these are the main themes:

Self awareness — goals, personal narrative, fears etc

Empathy — really understanding and listening to others

Pushing through — leveraging constraints, shipping work

The workshop is not prescriptive about which tools or approaches to use. I managed to weave in some practice using tools that I was interested in exercising (e.g. decision trees using Essy, and goal trees using Flying Logic Pro), but unlike what I would expect from a traditional MBA, there was next to no focus on this type of thing.

The Process

The whole workshop is conducted on Zoom. There are three assignments per week, and learning groups (4–5 people, rotating every week) meet for 3 hours Wednesday night and Friday night, and then all day Sunday. Outside of those contact hours there is plenty of work to do.

I had hoped to get some reprieve from my work to be able to dedicate more time to the altMBA. In the end I had a hectic month on both work and home fronts, but was still able to keep up by doing the required minimum amount of activities. For people who had more time and energy to dedicate there was plenty more depth to explore with scores of suggested readings, and the opportunity to engage with and provide feedback on as many other people’s work as you like.

There are no ‘teachers’ and Seth doesn’t actually get personally involved in real time (just pre-recorded videos). However the ‘coaches’, who are altMBA alumni, are very engaged (I assume they are paid for their time) and supportive of people going through the program, offering 1:1 sessions as required.

One observation and word of advice for anyone considering doing the altMBA is that it is quite important to have a goal in mind to work towards through the program. Some people went in with super tangible goals, like to write a book. For others (like me), their goal was a bit less obvious and focussed. That said, I was able to identify some goals and make great progress towards them during the month. But the key point is that all of the learning is attached your personal experience and context — its not like a traditional learning environment where you are spoon fed lessons or case studies to work through.

My Takeaways

- I have learnt and practiced a broad framework for unpacking a goal and progressing it. The altMBA put the meat on the bones of Seth’s Shipit Journal.

- With a group of very like minded and invested strangers, I explored and was challenged on aspects of my personal narrative, which has helped me grow as person and as a leader. The altMBA creates a psychologically safe environment where feedback loops occur in a direct and immediate way that just doesn’t happen in work or home life.

- I’ve made invaluable friendships and have gained access to a powerful, global community of people. The group is simultaneously a very diverse, but also likeminded, and I am positive we will continue to exchange learning and professional opportunities.

So, would I recommend the altMBA? Absolutely. For the right kind of person, at the right stage of life, and with the time and (emotional) energy to invest, I think it is a unique and powerful experience.

Pete Cohen

Written by

Systems innovator, collaboration strategist

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