By Josh Kaufman, Founder of Personal MBA, Author and Business Teacher

Whoever best describes the problem is the one most likely to solve it. –Dan Roam, Author of The Back of The Napkin

In addition to reading books, I was following several hundred business blogs. Some of the best business thinking was being published on the Internet months (or years) before it ever appeared in print, and I wanted to read it all as soon as it was available.

One of the bloggers I followed avidly was Seth Godin. A best-selling author (of books like Permission Marketing, Purple Cow, and Linchpin) and one of the earliest successful online marketers, Seth specializes in bold statements of big ideas designed to challenge you to do more, do better, question the status quo, and make a difference.

One particular morning, Seth was commenting on a recent news story: Harvard was rescinding the admission of 119 previously soon-to-be Harvard MBA (Master of Business Administration) students.

These prospective students had discovered an ethically dubious way to hack into the Harvard admissions Website to view their application status before the official acceptance letters went out. The story quickly became a media frenzy, devolving into a debate about whether MBA students were naturally inclined to lie, cheat, and steal, or if business schools made them that way.

Instead of being outraged at the bad behaviour of the applicants, Seth (unsurprisingly) had a different perspective: Harvard was giving these students a gift. By rescinding their applications, Harvard was giving these students a significant opportunity: the university was returning $150,000 and two years of their lives, which would otherwise have been spent chasing a mostly worthless piece of paper. “It’s hard for me to understand,” he wrote, “why (getting an MBA) is a better use of time and money than actual experience combined with a dedicated reading of 30 or 40 books.”

Holy cow,” I thought. “That’s exactly what I’m doing!

Over the next two days, I created a list of the books and resources I had found most valuable in my studies, then published it on my blog with a link to Seth’s post, so anyone interested in figuring out how to do what Seth suggested would be able to find it. Then I typed a quick e-mail to Seth and sent him a link to my post.

Two minutes later, a post went up on Seth’s blog directing people to my reading list, and a flood of readers from around the world started visiting my Website.

Popular personal development and productivity blogs like Lifehacker.com picked up the story, which then spread to social media Web sites like Reddit, Digg, and Delicious. Within the first week of the Personal MBA’s existence, thirty thousand people visited my little corner of the Internet to see what I was doing. Better yet, they started talking.

Some readers asked questions – where should they start? Others suggested great books they’d read, helping me with my research. A few told me the entire project was naive, and that I was wasting my time. Through it all, I kept reading, researching, and developing the Personal MBA in my spare time, and the business self-education movement began to snowball.

“The Personal MBA Manifesto”, an essay I created to help newcomers understand what the project is all about, has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times by readers all over the world and is still in the top ten manifestos published by ChangeThis.com after five years. The Personal MBA recommended reading list has been profiled by BusinessWeek and has been updated with the results of my latest research every year since 2005. Thousands of do-it-yourself business students from around the world help one another learn and grow every day in the PMBA Community forums.

In an amazingly short period of time, the Personal MBA grew from a one-man side project into a major global movement, and I left P&G to focus on building the PMBA and working with my clients full-time.

As much as I enjoyed leading the efforts of the worldwide PMBA community, I quickly realized that providing a reading list wasn’t enough. People read business books to solve specific challenges or to improve themselves in some tangible way. They’re looking for solutions, and a list of books, while valuable, could only do so much.

The books themselves aren’t as important as the ideas and knowledge they contain, but many of my readers were missing out because it took hours of turning pages to get to the good stuff. Many Personal MBA readers started enthusiastically, then quit after reading a few books–it took too long to reap the rewards, and the demands of work and family life inevitably intervened.

To help them, I had more work to do.

This is an extract from The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman (Portfolio Penguin, 2011). To order now, view The Personal MBA: A World-Class Business Education in a Single Volume for the paperback, for the Kindle edition, view The Personal MBA: A World-Class Business Education in a Single Volume [Kindle Edition] and for the iPad edition, view The Personal MBA: A World-Class Business Education in a Single Volume [iPad Edition].

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