I could have been a journalist – I wrote a sports column in my college newspaper. Indeed, some people would say that I've become a journalist – I know I have academic colleagues who think I write things (like my book Why I Hate Flying) that I have no right to because I am not an expert on the subject. But what has made me successful is saying what I believe rather than toeing any party line. But I shouldn't have been an academic. If I'd said to my classmates in high school that I'd end up being quite good at it, we'd all have laughed. I was not a great student academically and if they had been screening properly I'd never have got into Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
I believe in common sense. You could say I've built a reputation by saying that managers get interrupted a lot and their jobs are very oral – things that are obvious to anyone who's ever been in an office. But it's easy for people to lose their common sense. My hero is Hans Christian Andersen's little boy who points out that the Emperor has no clothes.
If you want to be a manager, get yourself educated in something that teaches you about the world – physics, philosophy, whatever – and then get a job in an industry you really care about, and prove yourself. The specialised MBA degree is great if you want to be an analyst or a financial expert; just don't pretend it will teach you to be a manager.
I ended up in the perfect place for me – if I'd tried to do anything else, I would probably have screwed it up. If you are good at it, the academic life is great – self-employed but you get a regular pay cheque; salaried but without the usual aggravation. But it would be much harder for me starting out today in the US – it has become so politically, sexually and socially correct. In England it might still be possible.
Henry Mintzberg is Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University, Montreal. He will be holding a Management Masterclass at the 2005 Leaders in London Summit at the Barbican, London, on 20 October