The Biggest Surprise on the MBA…

When you begin your MBA journey you are facing into the world of the unknown. You may anticipate some of the challenges and benefits that are to come but many will present themselves from the blind spot of your consciousness throughout the program. In the words of Donald Rumsfeld,

There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.

I have encountered many unknown unknowns during my MBA journey. One such example is the reality that everyone in your peer group has something important to offer and nobody is even close to being the definitive article. This was exactly the sort of fluffy MBA speak that I turned my nose up at before I drank the Kool-Aid myself.

I previously held the view that relatively few people in this world have something truly great to offer and the rest would make great employees. I also engaged in a very black and white mental grouping of the two demographics. I, like many other incumbent MBA participants reviewed the LinkedIn profiles of my classmates before the first day of the program. I made a mental note of the winners and losers and set off to be proven right. The fact that having that sort of outlook put me in the loser category early on was entirely lost on me. Over the next six months or so I was proved wrong on a daily basis. I began to realise that there was significant talent in everyone and everyone was a potential superstar given the right context.

I now firmly believe that you could give me any two of my classmates at random, be they engineer or marketer, red or green, extrovert or introvert and I could easily give you a scenario where one could deliver more value to a project than another. I’m not saying that there aren’t stronger and weaker candidates in the MBA world, of course there are. But every student can outshine everyone else some of the time and there is certainly no one who can outshine everybody else all the time. After you realise this you become more comfortable in your own flaws. You also realise that there may be one small area of expertise that you are truly great at, and you start trying to figure out how to make it a career.

If a company chairman had asked me one month into the program if there was anyone in my class I would recommend as a CEO for his company. I would have said, “yes, x y and z would do a great job for you” before even asking what his company did. Now the first thing out of my mouth would be, “Well what do you need? I have someone for every situation.”

Trevor Whelan

Full-time MBA 2014