Where There Is Smoke…

You are not quite sure what you want to say about this week.

At its face, the story of how an MBA program was affected by the worst wildfire in California history feels small and any focus on it insignificant at best and disrespectful at worst. Even the obligatory cover photo of a man in a mask feels trite – this is about so much more than masks.

Yet, there is a story there, and in the experience of the week, you think important and valuable lessons for the “beginner’s mind.”

What began with a surprise on the morning of the 13th to find out classes at UC Davis were canceled, led to a conversation on your class’s Whatsapp group about how by doing so, the university shot itself in the foot. If the weather did not improve the next day, or the day after that, they would have set precedent that they would cancel and open themselves to liability. Sure enough, after the initial announcement that classes would proceed they reneged on that promise the following morning. And they canceled the next day. And the day after that.

UC Davis has been closed for over a week now, leading into your Thanksgiving break.

And, to be honest, at first, it felt like a snow day.

Snow-day

This little inner child screams with glee about the ability to be irresponsible and un-adult. A day to just play. You make plans in the evening with friends. You take that trip to San Francisco for a meet-up and you do so with a lot less reservation of being sleepy the next day for classes. Your international classmates joke, rather darkly, that the air quality causing said cancelation is no worse than an average day in Beijing or cities in India. And they aren’t exaggerating. Which really, truly makes you think. Only when you live it, does the reality of what that means actually set in.

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Shortly, however, reality sets in.

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As one class after another, one club after another, one program after another, gets canceled, you start actually connecting to the inexorable truth that you are, in fact, an adult. You have paid for an opportunity to learn, one that you have placed all bets on to open up new doors of fortune for your life. You are “all in” as the poker players put it.

all-in

You start wondering if you actually had a winning bet, or maybe you did, but the hand is going to have to be played over due to a freakin’ technicality. Sure, you and your classmates are graded on a curve, but will you now be penalized for being an aural learner? Will you lose your scholarship at the end of the year based on the fact that you couldn’t go to a class and learn the material as fully as you can? You are in a quarter system, so each class only has ten meetings. You have now missed two for accounting. This is not a small percentage.

Meanwhile, your professors are canceling homework, and you find yourself using valuable time looking into informational interviews and internship applications, and you are actually grateful for this added opportunity, perhaps, arguably, to do what is really, truthfully the most valuable thing you do in an MBA. Job search. You discuss the tragedy with a couple of people, and it makes you sound smart, informed and caring. Did you just use the tragedy to sound like a better person? Are you that ruthless about getting ahead?

You are also starting to recognize that the air… is getting worse. This is no longer a joke about Americans freaking out over an everyday occurrence overseas. Your family is texting you about wearing masks, and you know you should, but perhaps you are in shock, or maybe it’s your Beijing-resident classmate warning that masks themselves cause danger. You have come around to the idea that UC Davis did the right thing. Being here isn’t healthy.

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Inextricably though, you return to campus one more time. To the annual “Friendsgiving” celebration. You bring your “spare change” coin jar to the event after it is announced that donations will be accepted for the victims of the Campfire. It is completely full at the end of the night, and some of that “change” is in the form of $20 bills and gift cards. There is a low turnout – many have chosen to not come back to campus now that classes are canceled. But, then again, the turnout isn’t as low as you expected. Despite the fact that is now, at times, even hard to breathe INSIDE the building, everyone gathers, mostly people from countries outside of America, and a tradition is held.

You catch up with a few people from adjoining programs you haven’t spoken to in weeks. Who somehow now feel like old friends.

And honestly? You just feel lucky. Some absent classmates have relatives who have lost their homes. Others are absent due to being busy volunteering in Chico. You and your classmates are using the Whatsapp group to reach out to check on the former and reach out to support the latter with pride.

You hit the road the next morning, leaving the eerie grey calm of a near-empty campus behind you. You can’t help but think this all feels a bit post-apocalyptic.

You will be back next week. The journey continues.

You are, indeed, thankful for that. Whatever happens next.

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Reflections on Human Capital and Social Impact in the 21st Century

“Organizations are no longer judged only for their financial performance, or even the quality of their products or services. Rather, they are being evaluated on the basis of their impact on society at large—transforming them from business enterprises into social enterprises.” – Deloitte Insight, 2018 Global Human Capital Trends

I recently returned from the Net Impact Conference, and for the first time since I started my MBA 2+ months ago, I have returned with a bit of an outline of a career pursuit plan. This, combined with the flexibility of a long weekend mixed with just finishing mid-terms, allowed me to return to some notes I had taken from some wonderful informational interviews I’ve had since beginning my program.

From Brooke Brown-Saracino, I had a note to read Deloitte’s report, as quoted above, to explore my interest in organizational development and human management (basically, HR for the 21st century.)

I was not all-together surprised (but still pleasantly so) that this year’s report was at the intersection at the three of my chosen career/intership pursuits, which I had spent this weekend refining different resumes in to highlight my abilities in each: Corporate Social Responsibility, Human Centered Design Consulting, and the aformentioned Org Development.

I next went to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, as recommended by Cleveland Justis.

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From there, I linked to this interesting article, which I found on the homepage though it dated to 2007… seems like it might have some current relevance I’m guessing?

So, if as Deloitte puts it, if orgs in 2018 are being transformed from business enterprises to social enterprises, what does that mean?

“We define social entrepreneurship as having the following three components: (1) identifying a stable but inherently unjust equilibrium that causes the exclusion, marginalization, or suffering of a segment of humanity… (2) identifying an opportunity in this unjust equilibrium, developing a social value proposition, and bringing to bear inspiration, creativity, direct action, courage, and fortitude… and (3) forging a new, stable equilibrium that releases trapped potential or alleviates the suffering of the targeted group, and through imitation and the creation of a stable ecosystem around the new equilibrium ensuring a better future for the targeted group and even society at large.”

Wow.

Is this even possible in our biggest corporations, existing, as they are, to make money for their shareholders? Deloitte notes that in a recent survey a whopping 65% of CEOs rate “inclusive growth” as a strategic concern, while only about 20% cited “shareholder value.” The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer reported that people worldwide placed more trust in business “to do what is right” than the government.

Of course, this definition is over a decade old so I went to the most recent issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

I found an article on Mastering System Change. The writing wasn’t directly focused on this issue of thinking about human capital and social change as a primary goal of a company, but it had some profoundly applicable points.

“Organizations are increasingly turning to system change to tackle big social problems. But systems are complex, and mastering the process requires observation, patience, and reflection.”

Two of the primary suggestions offered to master the process were “do things right before doing the right thing”, i.e., in this context, learn how to function as a social enterprise even if you don’t quite know what the perfect fit for your organization’s identity is yet, and “hire and nurture people with a commitment to learn”, urging away from the impulse to go with prior expertise and knowledge, and instead hire for curiousity and desire to learn.

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That made me think of Phil Balagtas, and the amazing role he is playing in bringing together futurists to engage online and in person.

So I decided to sign up for his event on Tuesday in San Francisco. Road trip!

Because clearly this is a question not just for the present, but perhaps more vitally, for the future. For, as Phil puts it, futurism is not about prediction, but about possibility.

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Wrong kind of Futurism…

And, as Deloitte puts it, “Foundational to behaving as a social enterprise is to listen carefully to the external as well as the internal environment—not just business partners and customers, but all parties in society that an organization influences and is influenced by.”

Music to my ears.

As I did last week, I’ll end by once again recommending Imperative, with its outgoing and hard-working CEO Aaron Hurst. You can request a 7 day trial of their purpose accelarator, and it is well worth it. It addresses, on an individual level, an interesting complement to what Deloitte is investigating on a multi-organizational level.

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Imperative Office (I’m assuming, it’s from their website)

I don’t want to give much away of what it goes through, as I urge you to try yourself, but I wanted to leave you with something I was very touched by in its assessment of my personal potential. It’s comething we can all strive for.

“You may already recognize how frequently you visualize the outcomes that work has on real people. You look beyond the “how” and focus on “what we are trying to achieve” for a certain target group. This is how the best impact-driven leaders show up at work. You bring this gift to everybody that you work with on projects, in strategy sessions, and in meetings. It’s where you feel in the flow, what gives you your edge, and what helps you to create breakthrough solutions.”

If that is not a reflection on human capital and social impact in the 21st century boiled down to its very essence, I don’t know what is.

Reflections on the 2018 Net Impact Conference (warning: inspiration ahead)

I want to keep this short and let my links speak for themselves. My attempt here is to share some highlights and inspiration with you, and allow you to take them in, as best you can, as if you were living in my shoes at the conference. Hope you take a little time to do so – enjoy what took me three days in maybe one hour? Seems like a good deal.

October 25

Opening Keynote speakers highlight – Antony Bugg-Levine, Nonprofit Finance Fund

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He convened the meeting that coined the term impact investing. How freaking cool is that. That was only TEN YEARS AGO.

October 26

Opening Keynote Speakers highlight: Stephen Ritz, Green Bronx Machine

This guy broke every rule in the book in his talk and in his life. He’s lost a lot of weight and made a lot of world-changing progress since this talk but it’s still enough to get you close to the inspiration.

Then there was this:

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Yup, that was my great addition to the conference. Some aluminum foil and some Play-Doh.

In a breakout session titled “Designing with Empathy at the Base of the Pyramid”, Pact‘s Michelle Risinger took about fifty of us on a journey towards taking the growing “design thinking” movement in the private sector and moving this unique brand of human-centered research, empathetic listening, and prototype building based off building off the needs of a client or customer to those most in need. This was my attempt to provide a better waiting room experience for my partner, including a dance floor, a board game area, and a private booth to facetime with family. She revealed the true project that Pact had covered in the end, which was to take a plain and lonely hallway where patients awaited teenage circumcision as a form of STD prevention, while hearing the screams of the patients in the room right next door, after walking for hours to get there and with no recovery area.

We redid our assignments and thought about simpler needs, placing ourselves in shoes (or lack thereof) very different than our own. Ear plugs, slippers, blankets, going through the procedure three at a time for support, and more

October 27

It was hard to hear about the Pittsburgh shootings, but I was inspired to be able to watch this woman speak immediately after.

Opening Keynote Speakers highlight: Gina McCarthy, C-Change

She reminded me how much I miss President Obama, to say the least, he just had a real knack for finding amazing people to place in important positions, but McCarthy, as former Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, also gives me such hope for the future. Even the future of politics. Please watch.

And next was actually the final keynote I saw, but it was, rightfully so, a bit of a downer. So I’m jumping to it now so I can end on an up note. It’s a downer, but it’s among the more powerful messages delivered in a powerful way that I’ve ever seen. He is the first speaker I’ve ever seen stop the audience from cheering for his success, because he believes, like so many of us in the room, his success was only possible by winning the luck of the draw while others are deprived opportunity.

Closing Keynote Speakers highlight: Adam Foss, Prosecutor Impact

Finally, I am extremely interested in utilizing my MBA to address, well… work. Particularly how low America is in terms of the average happiness of our citizens, and the lack of fulfillment we get from the workplace.

Here are two wonderful resources I learned in great detail about at the same time in sitting in my final session, led by Aaron Hurst of Imperative and also attended by the equally compelling Jeff Hittner of Project X.

Click on these links. The first if you work anywhere or plan to work anywhere, to understand your role in the “purpose economy.” The second if you study anywhere or plan to study anywhere, you can find a way with this “purpose company.” You will be glad you did.

https://www.imperative.com/blog

https://www.yourprojectx.com/sec

Hope you enjoyed your conference via blog experience! See you next year!

A Response To Harvard Business Review’s Ideacast: The Power of Curiosity, an interview with Francesca Gino

I’m going to do something a little different this week. I’m going to use the entire blog to give a blow-by-blow response to a podcast I listened to a couple of days ago that was tremendously inspiring and triggered many ideas within me.

First, a direct link, for those who would like to listen along: https://audio.hbr.org/ideacast/20181009152347-episode_651_gino.mp3

0:22

In 2011, Clara Ma won a competition put on by NASA to name its third Mars Rover.

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“People get annoyed by how many questions I ask”, the then-11-year-old says.

This reminded me of another idea I had heard earlier this year. That as we grow older, in school, we are rewarded more for having answers than for having questions. I recalled memories I hadn’t really delved into in years, in studying the trees in my backyard with my mom. As a person who became an artist, I like to shock people by telling them my parents were scientists. But then I quickly follow up with stories of my grandmother taking me to Broadway plays, of my mom changing careers mid-stream to design jewelry. That’s why I turned out so creative, I tell people.

But not one minute into this podcast, I have a realization that ties my art career to my MBA experience and my professional desires more clearly than ever previously. Maybe I wasn’t just creative.

Maybe I was curious.

1:48

Let’s introduce this person. Francesca Gino.

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She wrote this article.

2:22

She notes that curiosity peaks at the age of 4 or 5 but then declines from there. She talks about her children and how the questioning never ends. “Why is the sky blue?” She tells a story about how she encourages, rather then shuts down, her children. 6 am in the kitchen – opening up cabinets, making a mess. But now she joins in, in the exploration, asking them questions.

First, of all, way to parent Francesca! But secondly, I have yet another epiphany. What a tragedy this is. What a challenge we have as humans that the thing that advances our society, that makes us special, is something we start losing so young. I think about how I have been interested in trying to help others be better empathetic listeners, at various points in my life, most recently in developing a prototype for a worksheet in my class with Ideo U. I think about an exercise we had at the orientation for the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. How we were supposed to listen to our partner and only respond with prompt questions of “Who, What, Where, Why, and How” to help them dive deeper into a topic.

And it hit me. The only word that matters (OK slight overstatement but go with me here) for an empathetic listener is… WHY. In my own frustrations in conversations in which I don’t feel listened to, I was never able to put my finger on what would bother me. It’s WHY. Why helps us understand. Why gives the gift of allowing a person to dive deeper. Why allows them to explore uncharted territory. Why encourages the thing we are slowly losing. Curiosity.

If you are someone who would like to be a better listener, try something next time. Be a three year old. Just keep asking why.

4:00

She aligns her fear that her children would make a mess with the worries leaders have that they will make a mess. “You have to be willing to clean up the salt”, Curt Nickisch responds. New life quote. Thanks Curt!

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5:00

We are learning about “opportunity costs” in my Microeconomics class taught by Brett Saraniti. In essence, this is the loss of a potential gain in other alternatives when you choose to invest in something. Gino talks about how “costly” it is to shut down curiosity. She talks about Intuit, and how it gives failure awards that give important learning opportunities to the team. The employees even get a failure party. It made me think of Intel (come on, they are similar names, easy jump) who came in and gave us our first “case competition” during orientation. I can tell you first hand that they had inquisitive, satisfied employees. We were abuzz with dreams of interning there after they left. If you measure the cost of lack of curiosity by whether or not MBA students are excited about working at your company… well, I think it’s a halfway decent measure, is it not?

7:30

She points out how curiosity is not talked about as often as creativity and innovation. Bingo. But it is KEY to creativity and innovation. So instead of fostering creativity and innovation in your organization, foster curiosity. Not everyone can just be innovative. But we can all be curious. I wonder, if you have been worrying about this in your own MBA journey, what would happen if you boil it down to asking “why” more often.

8:45

“I’m much more likely to ask questions” is an outcome she mentions. Bingo. But she crystalizes it further. “I’m much more open to a different view on the same task or problems”, she notes. Curiosity allows us to have a more open mind towards finding a solution. It makes us better at taking others perspectives and encourages us to see how someone can have a different viewpoint. It improves our decision making.

Putting on my “systems thinking” hat here, which I am prone to do, Gino is not just proposing a solution to making companies more effective, she’s got the world on a string. I get my progressive education now. Wow. Thank you Park School of Baltimore. Thank you all my teacher friends fighting to encourage better citizens of humanity. What would happen if we were all encouraged to see how people can have a different viewpoint?

 

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This is where I got to go to school every day. I am so grateful.

10:15

There is no evidence that when you allow curiosity to stay alive in organizations, efficiency becomes an issue. The notion of “curiosity killed the cat” is raised, or more accurately the embarrassing humorous image of a cat with a tissue box on its head is pointed out.

 

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Not exactly a tissue box on a head moment, but couldn’t resist an excuse for a cute kitten photo!

As I’ve noted in my podcast previously, we had an opportunity to decide what animal we were in orientation, and what animal a partner was. Cats were often mentioned for their laconic-ness, their even-keel, independent nature. For being hunters and going after what they wanted. Curiosity was pretty much ignored. Small but powerful nugget there about what we are encouraged to value in each other.

11:15

“Yes, and.” OK, Francesca. You have my heart now. For anyone from a performance background, those words ring loud and strong. It’s what you learn in your first improv class, the core concept of creating a new world from scratch.

The idea is that to build a world you have to accept and agree with whatever your partner decides to be true. Disagreement becomes immediately confusing. If I say “that was a good game of catch, Dad” and you say “but I’m not your dad, I’m your sister, and that wasn’t a baseball, but a penguin”… sure that’s funny at the moment, but what the heck do I say next. If you say “thanks, and I’m so glad your Mom finally mowed the lawn so we had room”, that sets up some funny potential for my partner as to where the scene could go next and gives more information to play with.

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But what she points out about all of this is it starts with a point of acceptance. Then she brings up Pixar. One of my dream organizations. What are you doing to me Francesca!! She says they call it “plussing.” Build on top of each other’s ideas. Don’t shut down exploration before it begins.

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I also like to refer to improv as we experiment with working in teams at the GSM. I brought up an idea a few weeks ago about choosing team leaders, and whether you should have a top-down approach in teams or a collaborative approach. The thing that I love about improv is that every choice that is made is in service to the team. Someone has to step out first. But you don’t do it because you think you are the best or you deserve to lead. You do it because… in order for the team to succeed, someone has to. And then someone has to step out next because, in order for the team to succeed, you need someone to talk to. Every step, including leadership choices, are in service to the team.

 

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Ha, I totally had this hat as a kid!

 

Aaaaannnddd… I’m going to leave it here. I have homework to do. And if you have read this far, I applaud you and imagine you probably are interested enough to listen to the podcast now, if you haven’t already. I left about half of it for you to take in on your own.

Thanks, Harvard Business Review, and Francesca Gino. Hope this blow-by-blow wasn’t a little much. I appreciate you all helping me process my thoughts here, and do also hope it was useful to someone out there in good ol’ cyberspace.

 

 

How I Had Ten Informational Interviews In One Week

Spoiler alert: I didn’t.

Not in the traditional sense at least.

But if you would allow me a humble brag this week, to veer away from my usual outward-facing style of blogging, I would like to take you through something I think I do pretty exceptionally well. It is my “designing my MBA” expertise if you will. And I found that the majority of my classmates have really benefitted from seeing my approach so I want to pass it on to whoever else may be reading this.

OK, let’s begin here. What are the desired outcomes of informational interviews? I can simplify what would probably be a long list into two buckets.

  1. Make a good impression on someone who you may want to hire you.
  2. Learn something about a potential job or industry that is of value to you (the often overlooked informational side of the interview.)

Why is this the most important and effective way to get jobs in America? Because bucket #1 allows people to be invested in you and #2 allows you to be invested in them. And it’s also, not this…

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So, without further ado, my week of 10 informational interviews…

October 1

-I released a podcast I started in which I interviewed a different classmate every week. Yup, your classsmates. Do they fulfill both #1 and #2, at least in the long term? You bet they do. And podcasts also go out into the world, where potential employers hear your informational gathering, analytical, and listening skills.

-An email follow-up exchange with a couple of students on another campus that I had visited when considering where I wanted to go for my MBA, led to an offer to add me to an inter-campus collaboration conference call on design thinking, a topic I’m extremely interested in. That’s right, did you consider following up with students and staff you met at schools you weren’t accepted to/decided not to go to? That’s, I believe the industry technical term is.. a “baller move.”

October 2

-I listened to Learn, Educate, Discover. What a world we live in! There is a podcast that does the informational interviews FOR US! Their mission is literally:

Podcast with interviews of people from different professions. Learn about different careers, what each is all about and how to get in if you wanted to.

This one was titled “How I Got My First PM Job in 5 Weeks” with Nitin Julka, Group Product Manager @Linkedin. Which was based on…

This post on LinkedIn. That’s right if you are more a reader than a listener, info interviews can happen that way too. You aren’t getting to “impress someone” but you are learning. But also… what happens when you do sit down with a Product Manager or someone at LinkedIn. It’s perhaps quite impressive if you can reference Nitin Julka and this post. It’s now in your “toolkit.”

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I come to all my informational interviews with a little something in my pocket that clarifies that I’m out there gathering information outside of this. The great news is that often saying “I met so-and-so at so-and-so and they said” is an outcome of an informational interview that helps you make an impression in further informational interviews. In other words, they feed into each other. Don’t see them as happening in isolation – it’s a snowball rolling downhill.

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October 3

-Meeting with a professor. Discussion about a topic I (and in this case, a couple of other students) want to learn more about. Note, how five “info interviews” in, none have been the traditional “hey person who works at company X who I know through person X, do you have half an hour to chat?”

-“Hey, person X who I know through person X”… finally, I do a thirty-minute video chat with an alumnus recommended by my career development staff (shout out, Elizabeth Moon), in the rooms at the Graduate School of Management set aside for these types of things. But here’s the unique element of this. I actually was notified earlier in the day that another informational interview scheduled for that time was going to have to be postponed, which allowed me to schedule this one and leads me too…

-A “postponed” info interview is an info interview unto itself. Or at least half of one. Did you learn something about the industry? No. But did you make a good impression if you are gracious…? Actually, you get a two-for-one deal here often. Not only are you gracious to the info interviewer, but you are gracious to their scheduler. Don’t think that matters? Have you never had a casual chat with your co-worker about how you liked the energy of the person who just came by the office? That matters too.

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October 4

-I go to meet with a professor (in another department outside the business school by the way, which opens up a whole new world of potential resources for you) during his office hours and guess what? The student who has arrived at the same time I have, I graciously let him go first, and what do I overhear…? He’s an entrepreneur with really interesting ideas. I end up joining their conversation. Put yourself in the position and info interviews can happen at any time in any place.

-I go to San Francisco in the evening to attend “Inside The World of a Tech Entrepreneur”, hosted by WSJ+ (Wall Street Journal Plus). Check out their world-wide calendar. I find out about this event through a classmate. I am NOT a tech-interested person, but I am, on the other hand, NOT NOT at a tech-interested person so why the heck not? We have a fun road trip on the way there and back, so what’s to lose (OK it cost $ but other than that.) I end up asking a question to the panel about organizational culture, which I am very interested in and get a wonderfully complex answer. I go up to the panelist after and ask to LinkedIn connect.

I also want to say, because it’s just a lovely thing you can offer your classmates, if you DO have a networking instinct, I have found myself literally pushing my classmates forward to talk to people when they are confronting their own shyness in these situations. My classmate who I pushed, in this case, was beaming the rest of the night, having made a big breakthrough to find the courage to approach.

October 5

-I have another more traditional phone informational interview. A key note on this one – this person never replied to my original email. I reached out again two weeks later. THAT DOES WORK. Not every time, but a lot of it comes down to busy people sometimes miss or forget things. That makes them human. And, again, if you follow up, politely and empathetically, well it actually can cast you in an even more worthy light than if you had just gotten the interview on the first try.

Ten

That’s ten, one bonus for good measure?

-I attend a club happy hour. My efforts to engage myself and my classmates have been noticed by a second-year-student. Without my asking, he tells me he has someone he would like me to meet and does an email-intro over the weekend. I respond with some dates for this week…

And the cycle starts all over again.

Introducing My Podcast

Check out my new podcast!

There are some technical difficulties to be worked out (like discovering I have to sign up for the business version of WordPress for my host, PodBean, to have an embeddable player… any sponsors out there???) :-).

It’s not on iTunes yet, or Stitcher, or “any of the places you get your podcasts” as Ira Glass puts it.

But I am still devoting my entire blog this week to it because I have started a new accompanying weekly podcast also called Designing An MBA (you will notice a theme this week if you click on any of my links).

Here’s the idea. As I “put my beginner’s mind to work” to design my MBA over the coming two years, much of my opportunity to do so comes from co-learning with my classmates. So my hope is to interview as many of the “other 43” as possible this year, and then, interview them AGAIN next year, to see how they have grown and changed and their understanding of the MBA process has developed as well.

First up: Yuan Cheng.

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https://www.linkedin.com/in/yuan-jonathan-cheng/

Chosen randomly amongst my classmates, I was so fortunate that Yuan came first. Our thirty-minute-conversation found its way to unexpected places, from the work-flow of ants to the inspiration of Philadelphia Eagles great Brian Dawkins to the lessons learned from studying to be a pastor which include “serving my internal & external customers.”

 

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This is the guy that the guy above idolizes. I know, I was a little surprised too. Take a listen!

I’ll leave it there.

Did I mention I hope you listen????

Meditations on a 4-Week Orientation

Our four week-long orientation (technically three, but I am counting the aforementioned “Communication and Culture Boot Camp” week at the top as part of it) came to a close yesterday as the Davis campus failed to defend its inaugural title in the 2nd Annual UC Davis Graduate School of Management Olympics, losing to the part-time students in Sacramento.

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I had a feeling the Sacramento campus brought in ringers… just saying… didn’t realize Usain Bolt was enrolled at UC Davis…

FOUR WEEKS. You heard that right. Each time I mention that to friends who have been through graduate school, the response is very jaw hits floor. I get a lot of “I had one day” back to me, which they admit is perhaps too little, but they are quick to jump to the conclusion that four weeks is too much.

Which it is. There was repetitiveness to the curriculum and a serious burn out factor at the end for its participants, who struggled mightily at points in the final week to be attentive audiences (cover photo notwithstanding, an excellent panel on the sustainable energy sector).

But I am choosing, I guess to focus on positives in this blog, in part because I know and am grateful to the fact that members of my class, faculty, and staff read this, but also, honestly, because I think the lessons of the positive are often overlooked.

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Here’s a takeaway that I think is a meaningful and powerful MBA lesson. How many of us have started jobs, and found ourselves so knee-deep in actual responsibility within 24-48 hours that any hope of getting “oriented” flies out the window? Perhaps even more direct of a lesson, how many of us, by losing this opportunity, lose a chance to get to know the members of our team in a way that is integral to our mutual success? Do you even know the names of everyone that you work with and interact with on a daily basis after years in the office? How unfortunate is it, on both a personal level, one of human connectivity and mutual appreciation, and on a professional level, one of trust, inspiring innovation, and co-mentorship, that we allow this to happen so regularly?

When I was a boss at my non-profit theater company, this is a lesson I profoundly wish I had made more room for earlier and with more frequency. Note I don’t say it’s a lesson I profoundly wish I had learned but something even worse, in fact. I knew it but I didn’t utilize it. I facilitated it all the time for others, but when it came to my own work… I was busy. I was stressed. I was too awkward or shy or not wanting to step out of place, even as a leader, to value social interaction that didn’t focus on output, and it had the effect, over time, of wearing on my personal enjoyment of a craft whose very success is heavily based on the openness and empathy of its performers.

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OK, for those who know this movie, perhaps not the best example of a professional environment, but still, I wonder if this is how your first few weeks of work felt, what it might contribute to your long-term productivity, loyalty, and personal stake in your company’s success.

Because while our orientation ended with the lovely group event of the Olympics, the weekend also featured the following “events”. Friday, from 6:30 pm until late in the evening, many students stayed after the official celebratory end-of-week happy hour, and un-officially celebrated the end of an intense case competition, reminding each other of how much we liked and supported each other despite going head-to-head earlier that day. Saturday, a couple of students announced dinner plans and half of our class ended up going, to the point where we ran out of tables and chairs for our party at the restaurant. Sunday, a classmate held a potluck and once again, a solid block of our class turned up with home-cooked recipes and relaxed chat in the beautiful night breeze.

This, all before our first class has even begun. What is going to happen because of the trust we have in each other during team homework? What will our morale be in the coming year as a whole? How will we handle it when inevitable fractions and fissures amongst our group come our way? How will we work together to manage stress that might inhibit our productivity and the quality of our education?

I have no idea.

But I think, we will look back at this time, even on the parts where we were perhaps coming together by groaning at a presenter we felt was under-qualified or a session we felt was unnecessary, and remember that the school gave us the greatest gift of all. Time. Time to learn how to trust each other, to work together, and to establish our community. And I know nearly every corporation does volunteer events for its employees, parties, and more. But I’m talking about thinking big here. I’m talking about every group of new employees, across departments, having weeks of activities together when they start their new jobs. An interesting thought experiment, at the least.

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Excited to see how looking back on photos like these will provide meaning and context moving forward. Ruminating on how infrequently life provides room to build up this level of trust.

But… also… pretty glad orientation is finally over ;-).

And finally, an interesting thing I’m thinking about this week for further research…

This is actually pretty connected to the ideas I’m suggesting chewing on in this article. How to do something that is pretty far from the norm and create a movement behind it. How to take a relatively unique idea of four weeks of orientation, and move it beyond just one innovative campus like UC Davis (saying this with full disclosure that I have no idea how long other full-time MBA programs do orientation).

Anyway, this is the shortest TED Talk anyone will ever suggest you view, so do yourself a favor and take a look…