Lessons learned and advise for incoming MBA students

So you are getting a MBA, what should you expect?  And what advise can I give you after going thru a MBA program?


  1. Keep in mind why are getting the degree, your patience will be tested.  Unlike majors in college or professional groups, a MBA brings people of very different backgrounds together.  If you are artistic you can avoid engineers on a regular basis; the fact that they do things different doesn’t really effect you.  Well now it does, and it matters because your performance is measured based upon a result that you won’t agree upon.  This is the reason you are in the program, to learn in an academic setting how to get the best out of management, not just the best out of yourself.
  2. Compromise on your idea, but don’t compromise on your quality.  You come from a unique perspective but the best products can be seen in multiple lights.  If you just wanted your way you don’t need management, you need a dictatorship.  You are learning how to reshape ideas.  But don’t confuse reshaping ideas with quality work, if something looks horrible it probably is horrible.  This is a fine line of giving up control while mandating a quality product at the end.
  3. Realize some people just aren’t going to be interested, and that is ok, but fix it.  When you are dealing with such diverse backgrounds, as the students getting a MBA it should be expected not everyone is excited about every topic.  If you were a finance guy and get to do a project on a financial crisis you might think this is great, but why in the world would you read about marketing?  This comes to a head when working with others, and the goal is to find a way to find interesting elements for everyone to get the best out of them.  This is management, not your personal interest group.
  4. Grades matter, but so do a lot of other things outside of school.  I hate when the professors say grades don’t matter, so just don’t give them.  Oh wait you do give out grades, and not all of them are the same, so it means something.  Your performance matters, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, but it is only one metric.  If you make a connection that leads you to intern somewhere you always wanted to work and your grades suffer a bit you are ahead.  If you focus only on grades, you may not realize the material isn’t all that hard, and everyone is going to do well.  B-School is in the business of giving good grades.  You are there not just for academics but also contacts and opportunities.  Don’t forget that fact.
  5. Graduate school is different then undergraduate, kinda.  While some students go straight thru school, many have work experience before graduate school.  Family may have assisted you financially in undergraduate, but most students are paying for graduate school by themselves.  School isn’t just a right of passage, graduate school is work and be prepared for people to treat it as such.  On the flip side school is social, and there are class dramas, with people hooking up and talking about each other.
  6. Take care of yourself, and keep yourself healthy.  When starting something new it is easy to study while eating pizza, and not going outside for exercise.  You can’t let your healthy habits go by the wayside.  Make sure you take breaks, get your sleep and try and remain healthy.  You are paying for school, and missing it means you are paying for something you aren’t utilizing.  Also when people meet you as a MBA student they are expecting someone looking for a change, excited about the world and possibilities.  They aren’t expecting a worn down student.  You need to take care of yourself.
  7. Show up.  Showing up on time and being prepared is a big part of professionalism.  If you can’t do it now and you need someone to recommend you, all your recommender can say you are nice, friendly, etc.; all things that sound non offensive but not professional.  Employers want professionals, and you are training to be a professional, start acting like one.  You never know when you will need your new network of MBA students later in life, and you want them to think you respect them and yourself.
  8. Organize an event, any event.  Academia is a more supportive and an explorative environment then work; if you fail it doesn’t sting as long or as bad.   So organize something that is yours.  Whether it is a talk with a company, a discussion panel, socials; anything that you took charge of and do is something that identifies you.  You are that person who made it happen.  Going thru that process, where not as many people help out as you thought.  Fewer people show up, or maybe it is a great success.  You need to DO something.
  9. Try something you normally wouldn’t, in a professional sense.  So you are an artist, and you are in a corporate finance class and excel is not your thing.  Take it on, and try.  It is easy to do what you are best at, but this is school, not the real world.  Maybe you are better than you thought, maybe not.  But now is the time to learn from others with skills you don’t have.  Utilize this time to learn more than just the book material.
  10. Remember business is about connections, and that includes B-School.  You want to keep in contact with your class, this isn’t just a toolbox of skills you learn and go off and do your thing.  It is learning how to bring different people together with different skills to make better products.  That means you need to keep in contact.
  11. Ask for help.  Whether it is for a class, or to get an internship ask someone.  Maybe a classmate, maybe a professor, or whomever you can.  You are trying new things, and some of your trials will be ugly.  Ask for help and you will learn more than you would by yourself. 
  12. If you can’t schedule, learn.  You probably have more of a life than you did as an undergraduate; you have responsibilities outside of school that didn’t exist before.  Well you can’t let things slip, so you need to organize, organize, and organize again.  You can’t just do an all nighter at the end of the quarter expecting you can make it all up, the projects in B-School take time.  You have to wait for email responses, phone calls to be returned, stuff you just can’t do by yourself.  You have to plan ahead.
  13. You are a student; that is an advantage when speaking to people, use it.  Businesses are less apprehensive speaking to students about their business.  Want to meet with a C-level executive, as a normal person it may be difficult.  As an aspiring MBA, you can often get a meeting. 
  14. You network should explode during school, because business is making connections.  If you are thinking you will study hard and you will land a job due to your brilliance, think again.  Smart people hold management jobs, but that isn’t the only reason they are in management.  They know how to connect ideas together, and connecting ideas means connecting people.
  15. Enjoy yourself.  If you are complaining about the money you spent, the professors, or the students you are missing out on the big picture.  Put on your big boy pants and do the work, it actually is a lot of fun. 

Tragedy and Social Media

Over a decade ago I watched the twin towers fall from my roof top in New York.  My roommate told me to turn on the TV, and then we rushed around the city tracking down friends.  When the bomb went off in Boston my cell phone buzzed with twitter and facebook updates.

The difference?  A decade ago social media didn’t really exist.  We had instant messaging (ICQ for tech people, AIM for everyone else).  But now that is ancient history.  Our news comes from people we choose.  Instead of having your favorite reporter on ABC, NBC or CBS, friends and family update me.  Most of the time I don’t need their updates (sorry, but it is a fact not everyone needs to post everything).  But sometimes I want to know everything.  I want to know who is where, who saw what, and what is going on.  It gives me knowledge I didn’t have before, and one of the scariest feelings is not knowing.  Not knowing where my girlfriend (now wife) was on 9/11 was the only thing I really cared about.  It took a long time to track her down. I assumed she was ok, but the world is different now.  Now I could get an update from her, and if she was unable to further communicate I could relay the message via twitter or facebook to people who wanted to know.

Sometimes it is easy to see how much social media has changed our lives.

Social Media and Technology Communication

Fast and effective communication are distinctly different. During my MBA studies I had access to new communication electronic channels to faculty and students.  Rather than making time to meet with a professor or other students I email them.  But when I write an email the context of the message is slightly lost.  In practice concepts are reduced to short quips.  Complex arguments are both true and false at the same time unless care is used to deeply understand nuances; and few writers show both sides of an argument succinctly.  Hence interactive technology, social media, would seem to be well positioned to take education by storm.

Alas, the thing makes interaction such a great teaching tool appears to scare administrators.  Anything that could be used in an unflattering light is verboten.  So very few faculty members are willing to embrace blogs.  Fewer still make time for chat rooms, bulletin boards or anything that resembles sharing of ideas.  In short very few faculty members TRUST that their good intentions will simply be taken as a good intention.

The ease and speed of electronic communication has led to less access to faculty for me.  A typical faculty belief: want to reach me, email me.  That way I can respond in my time, when I feel up for it.

Rather than starting from a compromise where two individuals make an effort to communicate we are left with two one-sided discussions.

So, for all the promise of social media, the reality is disappointing.  It has disengaged interaction; as the implementation of social media technology saves time for the individual in the short term.  Coming from that mindset, it makes sense social media has disengaged civic engagement.  This is not the fault of the social media, but the users of media.  We don’t let kids drive without teaching them the dangers of speeding.  Similarly the dangers and benefits of social media need to be taught so social media becomes a tool rather than liability.