You must be prepared to wander in order to wonder

Alan BelniakMTIE2 Comments

I attended my last class session of my MBA last night.  I’ll have to admit that it was bittersweet.  On the one hand, I’m looking forward to having one (or more!) night/s a week spent at home with my family or friends, as opposed to reading cases, working on projects, etc.  On the other hand, though, I really liked the entire process – all 32 months of it – because it taught me to or helped me think in new ways.  And the exposure to new material, good guest speakers, and great classmate viewpoints was a great benefit.

Early nostalgia aside, the professors last night structured the class around an entire discussion.  No cases, no projects, nothing.  We spent almost the entire session talking about what we learned in the past two semesters in the Babson MTIE cohort (a three-class component of the overall MBA program).  So, as the conversation set out, we tracked what some of the challenges, opportunities, and suggestions for moving forward.  Then we talked about what we could do, as a sort of personal development plan.  You’ll notice quickly that the ‘opportunities’ section is short, but that’s not because there are so few!  Rather, the class conversation meandered in different directions, and we happened to spend more time discussing the challenges, suggestions, and development plan, and less time on the opportunities.  I listed below (in bullets) the items that were mentioned in class by some of the 38 students.  Below that, I offer up some of my own additional commentary (hey, it is my blog after all!).

Challenges

  • Being able to effectively bring the perspectives learned back to our companies
  • Convince others that the approach required or learned might seem foreign or unproven, yet has merit
  • Essentially, getting the “buy-in” from others that what we as MTIE-alums are offering is valuable
  • Communicating with/understanding/managing different stakeholders in a global context
  • Nurturing and harvesting the ecosystem

I agreed with these challenges, and think the entire section can be summed up in the “buy-in” line.  In some companies, co-workers will hear “MBA” and roll their eyes.  At times, though, the eye roll is warranted!  The challenge is clear, then: participate with enough initiative, speak with enough conviction, and follow through with enough fervor that, as MBAs, we truly do bring something to the table.  As a value-added resource in an organization, we should all be doing this anyway, irrespective of an MBA (or any other letters that follow a name).  But this challenge is twice as difficult, since we will often be in the position of trying to disabuse our co-workers that anything associated with “MBA” is negative.

Opportunities

  • I now better understand the linkages between different functions
  • This skill set allows/enables me to be proactive
  • Understanding the relationship between social ‘pull’, science and technology ‘push’, and policies that enable the enterprise

I wrote about seeing the links between different areas before, so I won’t go into that here, but I will say that I agree with the comment whole-heartedly.  Being able to see the larger system allows me to be more proactive, because I can see a bigger, broader picture, with more clarity (and sooner) than I did before.

Suggestions (or, making sure that in tomorrow’s world, despite the plate tectonic shifts, these skills will allow me to be an “intentional manager” versus an “accidental manager.”)

  • Don’t throw around buzzwords or phrases
  • When given “vague” material, make sense of it
  • Don’t get intimidated by unfamiliar landscapes
  • Develop and  be comfortable with a broader perspective
  • Be more adaptive
  • Seeing “stuff” before it’s obvious to others
  • Seeing the whole picture; purposely (temporarily) adopting a contrarian view to an argument/situation
  • Think “multidisciplinary”
  • Not staying confined within a “box”
  • Purposefully not conforming

Using MBA terms will only get you the eye rolls that I mention above.  Sure, there may be a time and a place.  But getting an MBA (or any degree for that matter) isn’t about using the jargon for the sake of using it.  It’s learning skills that one can apply in their job, their career, their business, their life… to succeed.  So, learning skills like being more adaptive when a project takes a twist, or making sense out of disparate and seemingly random data, looking at spotty data and finding a trend early on…  these are the kinds of things that will set us apart from others, as well as give us something of value to bring to the table.

The conversation then shifted to a different topic.  A handful of the 38 members of the class were graduating (as opposed to finishing the three-class cohort), and the professors posed a scenario: Picture yourselves in 12 months, 18 months, 36 months from now.  How are you going to address the challenges, exploit the opportunities, and heed the suggestions that we just spent time capturing?  What are we going to do to prevent the atrophy of what we just learned? We then set out to develop items for an action plan/development plan moving forward.

  • Similar to Solution Selling, a classmate suggested that we pick a specific task or objective or goal, pick a short time frame, and intently focus on that goal within that timeframe.  That is, spend all of that time to execute, improve, and perfect that one area.  Repeat with a new objective.
  • Seek opportunities to pick a topic that we learned in class and apply it in the workplace.  One classmate recounted a tale of helping another co-worker with something outside of his direct responsibility.  Instead of watching his co-worker flounder, he offered to step in and help, and applied specific concepts from class, as a way of testing them out and honing them.
  • Continue to seek alternative perspectives and ambiguous situations.  Another classmate had said that she is inherently uncomfortable with ambiguous situations, so as a way of becoming more comfortable with them, she was going to try to put herself into those situations or wrestle with that kind of data more often.
  • Use an active network to maintain current interests.  I suggested that what I will miss from these sessions is the exposure to real-time management challenges in the technology arenas, and having a good discussion about it with 37 other professionals, plus two long-time practitioners (the professors).  I thought it would be great is if we stayed networked to each other and other members that join the MTIE cohort to stay current with news stories, topics, management issues, etc.
  • One classmate suggested that the professors push out a quarterly reading or paragraph or two as a thought exercise to keep our minds sharp.  We could even do so through a forum so that we could read and comment on it, and continue to share thoughts long after the conclusion of our ‘official’ schooling.
  • Surround yourself with others that think in a similar way, so you spend less time explaining some of these core concepts in everyday speak, and more time thinking strategically and staying a step ahead.
    • I jokingly suggested to a classmate afterward that, for motivation, all one needs to do is get married/find a partner, and pay for this education themselves.  After going on and on about classes and absorbing second-hand stress, as well as seeing the education debt increase, the spouse or partner will surely constantly remind you that you need to put that hard-earned (and expensive) education to good use!

It was great to see some of my classmates (and me included) offer up what is listed as a challenge.  As the person spoke in front of the class, you could see a smile begin to come across their face, because as they were listing the challenge, they were also describing how they might get around it.  A handful of people in the class admitted that they wrestled with the ambiguity of the class content, and at times struggled with the assignments.  The professors replied that real life isn’t packaged into 90-minute business school cases, with a 60-minute follow-on topic.  I like the nice wrap-up of class this way, as it summed up not only this one class in the semester, but our three-class cohort, and the learning journey that all 40 of us set out on together.

What do you think?  Can you add anything to this list?  Do you disagree with any of it?

p.s.: The title of this blog post is not original, and alas I cannot claim credit for it.  One of our professors said that in a previous MTIE group, an MTIE member named Conrad (or Konrad?) had said this line when reacting to the question about moving forward after concluding the MTIE cohort.  After reading the above post, I hope you, too, see that it is an apt description and summary of what’s here.  And if you are reading this, Conrad (Konrad), please post in the comments section.