Time to think …

There is an element of the MBA experience that gets lost in the noise of commentary on hours, deadlines, hand ins and team meetings. The full time MBA gives you back some time in your life to think. To think about what you want to do, to think about what you have done and to think about what makes you tick. Any perspective student should know the amount of hours required on the MBA programme is a often overhyped. MBA graduates you will meet remember the pinch situations where they had to work until the wee small hours of the morning for three nights in a row, or they remember a chronic three week period in semester 1 where they had 5 projects hanging over them. But the reality of the situation is that this is the exception rather than the rule. There is a steady flow of work that (if you keep on top of) is eminently manageable. The MBA experience gives you more time out then your current career. It is NOT like having a fulltime job and there IS an element of reliving that college experience where you used to have time to think, chat and pursue some new interests and side projects.

As an entrepreneur I find this time invaluable. In the “real world” It’s hard to get time to think about new business ideas and exciting innovations. In the MBA bubble you can find that time again and more importantly, when you do find that time you are far better equipped to turn day dreams into realities should you choose to do so. You start refining your ideas from the minute they pop into your head, what are the barriers to entry? Is it an attractive Industry structure? What is the value proposition? How easily would this be imitated? Do you have access to resources required? It also helps that you now have 35 new people in your life that you can bounce ideas off and develop some thoughts you have had on your career, or a business idea or even a further course of study after the MBA (God forbid!).

So don’t let talk of “surviving the MBA”, the “divorce course” and “say goodbye to your family for a year” influence your decision complete an MBA. It is challenging but doable, and if you are at a bit of a crossroads in life, the programme will give you the time and resources to figure out the grand plan for you. That plan will change daily by the way but at least you will be thinking about it….

Trevor Whelan

Full-time MBA 2014

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


How big is the “scroll bar”?

The scroll bar; it’s been present in life for many years without ever having noted its power. Now that I find myself in the world of pre-readings, further readings and case study readings I find the size of the scroll bar a key component in the equation of my life.

It works something like this; you receive an email from your lecturer that is suspiciously upbeat and conspicuously encouraging you to have a nice weekend or evening. The email finishes by telling you that the attached article is to be read before our next class which just happens to fall directly after your evening/weekend.

You download the article, double click on the icon and hold your breath………..it opens, it’s from the Harvard Business Review, “good it’s going to be relatively interesting” but, crucially, how big is the scroll bar? Is it so microscopically small that the article is at least 50 pages, or, is it wonderfully large, so large that the article is no more than 4 fantastic pages? On the rare occasion that it’s the latter you feel like you just won the lotto where the prize is some time to spend on yourself or your “personal stakeholders” (read – family or loved ones).

Cases and reading are a key part of the MBA learning process just as they are a key part of the undergraduate learning process that many will be familiar with.  They key difference for me is:

1) you can’t get away without doing it…but,

2) you do enjoy the reading.

The social pressures and social norms mean that many students considered their undergrad almost an extension of their secondary school education. You had to do it, you had to get through it and you really needed the end result as a minimum requirement in life, as opposed to enjoying the journey or the learning. If you have signed up to do an MBA you want to be there, you are genuinely interested in business and you will thoroughly enjoy the vast majority of the readings. It is a hugely different and vastly more enjoyable learning experience.

If you sign up for an MBA, you should have a thirst for knowledge and a huge interest in the business world. If you have both of these attributes coming into the programme, then no amount of “workload” or “grind” will phase you.

Notwithstanding the above, you will still dread the size of the scroll bar like the rest of us!

Trevor Whelan.

FT MBA 2014.