Well, the ‘Hare’ here is my new born self from the fast paced MBA life, and ‘Turtle’ is my slow and analysing inner original self. I have been thinking of writing this blog for a while, but then again the ‘Turtle’ wouldn’t let me. Ever since I have started this journey of MBA, and it has been one semester already, I have been trying to fight a constant battle with my procrastination. For someone like me who has an engineering background, proactive behaviour just does not come naturally (unless of course if it is to do with something technical or related to problem solving), and last minute pressure situation or ‘Emergent Strategy’ as some of you would like to call it is circumstantially the best suited.
On one hand, the ‘Turtle’ inside would invariably force me to critically analyse the details, take one step at a time, know all the facts, and not to move on until I grasp the concept. On the other hand, the newly born ‘Hare’ wants me to change my habits and get on with things at a fast pace, plan in advance for everything and the most dreadful of all, multitask.
Last three months or so have been a ride for me, trying to balance between the ‘Turtle’ and the ‘Hare’. And, boy oh boy was it fun.
When I took the decision to leave a stable and secure job, to devote one full year to my MBA journey at Smurfit Business School, I never thought that it would have such a life-changing impact. I think all my classmates would be echoing the same feelings.
Though we used to have quite a versatile work profile during our jobs; however, now I realize what actually versatility means in practice. Life is much bigger and there is lot to do and achieve. All the components of MBA right from Classroom Lectures (they are not just lectures but a completely participative experience especially during lots of Case Studies and class discussions), Individual and Group Assignments, Literature Reviews (I never thought that there would be a component of PhD thesis also in the MBA, which would refine my literary and research skills and some day may even inspire me to write a book), simulation games (to have real world business experience), PowerPoint presentations, MBA Clubs, Speaker events (we had quite inspirational and entrepreneurial speakers to interact with us during last 3 months), Network immersion week (the week seemed to bring almost the entire world to a single Smurfit classroom), Coaching Sessions (which have helped us to define our objectives and aspirations more clearly), Career Sessions (which introduced us to wide range of career options, which we never could have explored during our regular jobs), Sessions on Leadership and Communication skills, and so on. Careers sell has always been guiding us for attending more and more Career events and to do a lot of Networking, which again has helped us to reach out to people from various industries, sectors and fields and keep on continuously expanding our network. So, our learning does not end in the Business School premises, it extends much beyond that.
As soon as I start wondering is there anything left to experience, we are presented with entirely new event or a new dimension of Smurfit MBA program, which helps towards further expanding and widening our horizons and enable us to become not just a world class manager but also a complete human being.
I have always been inspired by the quote “One cannot discover new oceans, unless one leaves the fear of losing sight of the shore”. Smurfit MBA reinforces my belief that one year taken out of work is well spent on exploring new opportunities, widening your horizons and finding a new meaning for your Career and Life.
A glass one-quarter full or three-quarters empty? I argue my MBA study is a now a quarter of the way. I wanted to use this blog as an opportunity to reflect on where I am, what I have learned – as quite frankly I have not had the chance to do so since the beginning of term. Strategy, operations and supply chain, finance and organisation behaviour all mixed together is truly the stuff of fantasy.
As expected, the last eleven weeks of term has been intense and feels like a revolving door of assignments, reading materials and reports. Combine all that with a busy full time job commitment – it truly has felt like a sprint now approaching the finishing line of first semester. Indeed, it has been an interesting journey. The lecturers have been great; my team members have been remarkable making the whole experience much more enjoyable. Coming from a Mathematical Science background where I hardly had any reason to put together a report, I have successfully written one report and collaborated on a few more.
What have I learned in the past few weeks? It is like being thrown in the deep-end, I realise time management is a critical skill for any MBA student. There is ample study material and it is important to prioritise and effectively manage reading, otherwise a candidate may sink quite literally. Organisation behaviour has truly opened my eyes to my soft side; I am now genuinely conscious of respecting how other people feel. Also, I was able to identify strategic and tactical areas of improvement for my company and articulated ideas to the senior management team. The result, more work as I have now been added to a project team to assess and implement opportunities for growth in the organisation.
On the horizon is my exams – I have not done an academic examination in five years so I am sure it would feel like a trip down the memory lane, my old college days. Going to an exam hall with hundreds of other students not knowing what to expect will be interesting. There is one thing in sight that keeps me going, the Christmas break; the much needed lifeline before we go at it again January next year.
Ask any of the Year 1 Executive MBA students this week what it as the forefront of their minds and most of them are likely to respond with an answer relating to the pairs project on the Organisational Behaviour (OB) module of the programme! That will be the case anyway for the weekend EMBAs, who are scheduled to submit the project later this week.
The OB pairs project makes up 60% of the grade for that module and represents the largest body of continuous assessment work in Semester 1. Working in pairs, it requires you to undertake an applied research project. Choosing one of the organisations you work for, you carry out an organisational assessment of an OB related topic or issue. The aim is to carry out a meaningful study and deliver some useful recommendations to the organisation at the end of the process.
For me, the OB module has been one of the more interesting modules of Semester 1. Much of my education to-date has consisted of subjects in the areas of engineering, science and maths. Some people from a similar background may view OB as one of those “softer” or “fluffier” subjects. However, I have found it to be one of the most relevant modules and one that you can immediately start to apply in any work environment. It has been fascinating to learn more about organisational topics such as: employee engagement, motivation and dissatisfaction, dysfunctional teams, power and politics, and leadership.
During lectures you often find yourself thinking of real life examples, from your own organisation, of the topic under discussion. You start to believe you have the solution to all of your company’s OB related issues! However, you also develop an appreciation for the complexity of these issues and how they vary from organisation to organisation, and from individual to individual. Unsurprisingly, there is no simple answer! Nevertheless, what you learn on the OB module gives you some tools to analyse and understand why people behave the way they do in work.
I was never much good at maths. Richard Mitchell’s mathematical blog dated October 1st inspired both my awe and a nervous skin rash. I wonder whether the labels that are slapped on you at primary school (‘satisfactory’ or ‘could improve in this area’) accompany you like an imaginary friend into adulthood. A duplicitous buddy always ready to tap you on the shoulder and whisper in your ear: Do not get ahead of yourself. Maths is not your thing.
That same old pal accompanied me into the GMAT exam and chuckled in the corner while I tackled all those blasted quadratic equations. That was the first day of my MBA journey, when I dug the ear-plugs in deeper and drowned out the nay-sayer in me. We all have one lurking somewhere in us which we will need to learn to ignore as the pressure mounts during our studies.
Confidence is key on the MBA programme. The pace is frenetic from the outset and there is little room for self-doubt. The demanding admissions process is dual purpose: to prove that you can reach the requisite standard for the school and equally, to remind you that you deserve your place amongst your accomplished peers. You have earned your foot in the door.
Now that the door has long since shut behind me, I am still wary of numbers. Perhaps my clever classmates can explain to me how it is that 10 short weeks of study can feel like 6 months? How about my feedback to friends and family that I have learned more in this short period than I have in a year of working life?
Many of us have made these financial and personal sacrifices on a wing and a prayer to some degree. I spent months during the summer agonising over whether the hardship would be worth it and fretting about comments from a small group of (real life) nay-sayers. Everyone has an opinion about MBAs. One was that a chartered accountant doesn’t need one. Another person commented that surely I had already accomplished enough in my career and didn’t need the bother. My father asked if I might be joining the family for Sunday dinner wearing a Margaret Thatcher badge! Revenge is sweet Da.
The truth about an MBA is that you are unlikely to ever find yourself surrounded by a less homogenous group of people in a professional setting. This is never a bad thing. So far I have heard the varied views of engineers, medical and sales professionals, supply chain managers, business owners, army officers, journalists…and me. Extolling values and opinions that I never even realised I held. One classmate tells me she is proud to be able to demonstrate to her three sons that learning is an important part of life. And that they have now learned where the hoover lives in their house.
The gamble is paying off. Each week, we are offered additional courses and seminars which are above and beyond the curriculum we signed up for: presentation and interview skills courses, Excel training, personality profiling etc. I am delighted by the fact that the school – like every well-run business – strives to deliver at every turn, inviting the students’ feedback on a regular basis.
Two things I need to improve on before I report back here in Semester 2:
1. To feed myself wholesome food instead of reaching for any old fuel.
2. To learn to be less cheeky to lecturers. I don’t know what’s come over me. I must have been sleeping more as an under-grad.
Best of luck to you all for the rest of the first semester. Eat well. Rest well. Exercise. Stay positive.
And guard your good manners with ferocious intention in the absence of all of the above.
You hear a lot about measurement when you sign up to do an MBA. ‘You get what you measure’ and we’ve been learning how to measure performance, variations from expected outcomes, and the strategies we can use to plan and then measure a company’s success.
I was lucky enough to be in attendance at a special two day conference by Prof. Robert Kaplan, Baker Foundation Professor at Harvard Business School, when he was in Ireland earlier this year.
Not only is Prof. Kaplan a widely acclaimed academic rock-star, and adored guru of MBAs everywhere, but in person he is truly an inspiration. At 74 years of age he is bright eyes, tan skin and lean physique. He exercises daily, clearly looks after himself, and still loves to travel.
His mind is sharp and inquiring; he asked lots of questions, was happy to chat and was evidently interested in understanding what was going on in Ireland, the challenges we face and what we are doing about it.
He remains passionate, interested and excited by his academic work. And he he’s not nearly done yet; there is so much more to learn and understand he says. That to me was inspiring.
Meeting him got me thinking about how we get to be like that. What’s the secret of the successful septa- and octo-genarians whose energy levels could put many half their age to shame? Michael Smurfit; UCD Smurfit Business School founder, Rupert Murdock and Warren Buffet are all still very engaged in their respective fields in their 70s and 80s.
As I edge further into year two of the MBA, I can’t help but wonder if the decisions we make now and in the months ahead will shape what we’ll be like when we reach that life stage.
If we’re lucky, given increasing life expectancy and extending ages of retirement, most of us will have at least 30, and maybe 40, years of career ahead of us post-MBA. Chances are you’ll only do an MBA once and so surely this is one of the best opportunities we get to reflect on and plan what we want those 30 or 40 years to be like.
In addition to the academic learning we are steeped in, this is the other part of the MBA experience. That we are actively encouraged to think about who we are, how to be the best version of ourselves and how to bring out the best in others. This applies not just in our careers but in all parts life.
If you need a framework (yes, we talk a lot about those on the MBA) for further examination of this you could do worse than read Clayton Christensen’s ‘How Will You Measure Your Life’. Another Harvard stalwart, we can learn a lot from Christensen’s reflections on his life post-MBA and the direction his classmates, and later his students, have taken over the course of their lives. The book is based on a final session he conducted with his Harvard MBAs each year and, while aspects of his personal values may not be to everyone’s liking, there are some really interesting observations and theories in this book that I think most MBA students will appreciate.
Christensen reminded me that you chose the life you want. You work hard at it and you need to measure it regularly to identify any deviations from the plan. But also that in reappraising your progress you may find that deviating from the course may be where the most exciting opportunities lie. Whatever happens, the MBA is providing us with the tools we will need to put in place strategies and action plans that will serve us well for the journey.
So we have arrived at the mid-term ‘break’ following our first eight weeks of the MBA programme. I use the term break loosely as it really isn’t so much a break and is more like some breathing space, extra wiggle room or a chance to come up for air. I feel like the boxer who is sitting in his corner after 8 gruelling rounds. As he takes his breather the boxer must ensure that he takes on much needed water, massages his aching muscles and absorbs the tactical wisdom being offered by his trainer. Just like the boxer I will need to use the opportunity to take the wise inputs from the supporting people around me. In particular those that I haven’t seen in a while.
When I set out on the MBA I knew I was going to be busy so managing the expectations of friends and family was important. ‘I’m going to be pretty busy for the next while but I’ll catch up with you at mid-term’ I would say to many people who were asking if I was about for a pint, to watch a match or attend other social events. It was a genuine promise made at the time that I now have to attempt to keep. I also promised my body that it could regain some of the lost hours of sleep it has had to endure over the last eight weeks. The fact of the matter is that there just isn’t enough of a break to squeeze eight weeks of socialising and lost sleep into. So I will need to be resourceful and get the best bang for my buck in the time that permits. I have become quite adept at squeezing more out of less time in the last eight weeks and if nothing else my ability to effectively manage my time has improved. It’s a key skill that I will require in the next week if I am to keep those promises to family and friends.
The mid-term break has come at a good time and provides us all with an opportunity to take stock on what has taken place so far and plan for what is yet to come. The volume of material that has come at us has been intense. Like trying to take a drink from a fire hydrant is how one of my classmates described it. The issue with this is not that there is so much material coming at you but more that the thirst for learning is not satisfied by only absorbing some of it. For me the break also provides an opportunity to catch up on some of the supplementary material that I missed out on during the first eight weeks. Again, I know that it will be almost impossible to catch up on all of the material in one week but I do plan to satisfy some of that thirst for learning by revising the material.
So as the bell rings and we prepare to come out of our corners for rounds nine, ten, eleven and twelve, it is important to consider that whilst the first eight rounds have been gruelling, they have also allowed us to grow and develop character. The next four rounds of the MBA promise to be as demanding as the previous rounds but it also promises to offer just as much opportunity to develop and grow. So it is with optimism that I look forward to the remainder of term but let me enjoy my breather first!
When I first started working with Médecins Sans Frontières and was asked how willing I was to travel, I said I’d go anywhere so long as there were no snakes. Of course, within a few months I found myself shrieking and waking the entire compound in a remote South Sudanese village having brushed my bare toes off what turned out not to be a slippery, moving branch. The guards thought it was hilarious and got great entertainment out of mimicking my running away in flip flops for days after. (It wasn’t a great start when I was supposed to be their manager; I’m pretty sure no one dared laugh at Indiana Jones.)
My feelings about snakes are similar to how I feel about spreadsheets. It takes every ounce of strength not to run screaming from them. My job is based around words: beautiful narratives and use of language to convey feeling, meaning, and empathy. In first year, everyone else in the class seemed to detest a long-winded Ethics text book but I found it quite comforting. If it’s in words, I have a chance of understanding it.
However, an MBA is all about getting out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself. Achieving a B in Corporate Finance last semester was a huge boost and I began second year thinking, “Okay, maybe I can do numbers.” All things considered, room N204 is a relatively safe environment in which to overcome your fears. This year we all know each other better, we share mutual respect having survived first year, and the classroom sparring has grown even livelier. One could argue that we’re strongly incentivised to engage in debate as class participation counts for between 10% and 30% of each overall grade this semester. Whatever the reason, I really enjoy learning from my classmates in this manner. I love listening to the different perspectives and being part of an argument as it spirals to a conclusion that we definitely don’t all agree with but we’ve had good fun bashing out. I look forward to a meaty debate each week and hope someone will throw something controversial into the mix, just for the hell of it.
As we approach the mid-term we’re well into the thick of things and an Investment Management project is looming. It’s impossible to avoid spreadsheets in this one. Luckily I have a crack team again this year and I’m confident we can do a good job. It’s not so much about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Its feel the fear, feel the rolling boulder of terror, through teamwork feel empowered, and through classmates feel inspired. It’s all part of the MBA adventure.
In week six of our Organisational Behaviour & Decision Making module we explored some of the concepts behind work groups and teams with Dr Paul McGrath. We looked at Gersick’s punctuated equilibrium model, Belbin’s team roles and how group cohesiveness influences performance. One of the key takeaway messages was that while many organisations may claim to take team based work very seriously, they don’t. This is because they don’t offer team based rewards; rather they reward individuals within the team, typically financially or with a promotion. I thought about this on the way home in relation to my own study group and I realised that actually, UCD Smurfit is offering us team-based rewards. If we work well as a team, we will get a good grade for our team assignments. We don’t get graded for our individual contribution within the group assignment; we get graded as a team. We all sink or swim together.
Little did I realise that the next day my five month old daughter would be rushed to Crumlin Children’s Hospital in an ambulance prompting me to drop everything and rush from an MBA event organized in Google to go to her bedside for the next four days. Both work and study were off my radar for the foreseeable future. Then the strong group cohesion that we established in the local watering hole kicked in so as to drive group performance. Graham, Colin and Marius stepped up and reorganised our workload and schedule in order to take the pressure off me. Help with assignments was given, roles in presentations were reconfigured, and strict pre-agreed timelines were pushed out to the detriment of teammates who were already under severe time constraints themselves, notwithstanding having their own partners and families. Now that the crisis phase has passed and I’m beginning to reemerge as an actual contributor to the group, I look forward to paying back the favour and taking on some extra work at the first opportunity. Well, maybe after midterm! The results are in, group sevens strong cohesion and performance results in optimal productivity on the quadrant chart. Perhaps the colleges team-based reward structure is correct. My definition of an effective team? Greater than the sum of its parts.
Oh yeah, my daughter is fine. Fortunately it turns out that it was just a nasty tummy bug. All is well that ends well. Thanks guys.