The Values of Daniel Student, Inc.

It’s been percolating, and as I sit here diving into my final quarter, I wanted to at least put down some words to paper. So, without further ado, here we go…

Draft One. I would love your feedback!

The Values of Daniel Student, Inc.

1. Curiosity

curious-george_main

I seek not to find better answers, but to find better questions. I love asking why, particularly of people. Our curiosity peeks as toddlers, who ask why so much it can honestly get pretty annoying. But looking at the world with such wonder creates opportunities for growth and, I believe, is the source of creativity and innovation. That’s why we must try to bring it back even as we are growing farther from our most curious moment, when we are not taking the way the world works for granted.

Being curious also allows you to be expansive. I joke that I can “see both sides” or the value of “seeing both sides.” Curiosity enables you to see all people as humans, and your desire to understand them draws you into making connections between different worlds and different perspectives, out of which births something perhaps new to you and new to the world. This is creativity, to me.

A great way to embrace curiosity, from my background in the dramatic arts, is to say “yes, and…” This improv tool teaches us that taking someone else’s idea and rather than denying it, building off of it, can take you to unexpected and imaginative places.

2. Helping Others

iStock_000063294013_Medium-1080x675

I find this one difficult to write about because this value by definition is supposed to be selfless. I am culturally Jewish, and one of the things that I value most about that religion is the idea that you are supposed to give to charity anonymously. It is the act of giving without expectation of any praise or reward that brings you closer to God. Or something like that.

That said, if you seek greater value and meaning in your own life, you can end up in an endless spiritual circle, or even worse, a downward spiral. Helping others can lend clarity to your existence, (or as much as you are going to get anyway) and, perhaps more concretely, asks that you see the best in people and their actions, which is, simply, just a nicer way to live in this world. In a more pragmatic sense, helping others accomplish their goals can enable voices and actions which might not have happened otherwise, making for a greater possibility for you, and others, to find the path forward.

3. Joy

Io_Joy_standard2

For years and years, I would tell people to stop wanting the “then”, and start finding satisfaction in the “now.” I absolutely never practiced what I preached. I, like most of the performers around me, wanted to make a full time living in theater and film. If we got that, we then wanted to be a lead role. Then to be nominated for a local award. Then a national award. Then win an award. Then win a lifetime achievement award. It never stops, looking outward for other’s approval.

I now subscribe to the movement that wants to measure nations’ wealth by Gross Domestic Happiness. I recently ended a vacation by saying “back to real life” and my girlfriend responded, “this IS real life.” To paraphrase Winnie the Pooh, “wherever you go, there you are.” It is no surprise that Benjamin Hoff wrote the “Tao of Pooh.” Eastern religion tells us to embrace nothingness, and in none of it having any particular value, you can find that it all has value. Or something like that.

Embracing joy puts you in the right now. It is a choice to be happy. Even when you are not. I like to tilt my head back and fully laugh. You can have an external joy or a hidden, internal joy. I would never tell you how to experience joy. But, as a leader, I would ask you to find it.

4. Learning

82

Well, needless to say, I have embraced the whole idea of the importance of a “beginner’s mind” towards being a leader, as it is in the title of this blog and its accompanying podcast. I am a lifelong learner, and the things I am interested in learning about our infinitely expansive. I believe everything can be learned and the investigation of something, even if unsatisfying or challenging, is never time wasted. I learned to ride a bike in my 30’s – it was embarrassing and hard when you actually know your limits and pain points. I now am an avid bike rider.

It is in the act of learning where we perfect the skill we are being taught, but subtly, it is also where we perfect the skill of being open to possibilities. I think this applies to leadership because it enables you to imagine the future, and to provide an example of always being open to growth.

Linked to curiosity, a great lesson in learning I received was from my kindergarten creature. He would capture a bug from our garden, and bring it into the classroom and just sit with it, studying it. His interest was a silent invitation for others to come with their curiosity and learn. This is the power of leaders who love to learn.

5. Listening

listening

Listening is certainly the last but not least of this list. It is, perhaps, the most powerful tool we have as human beings. It creates empathy for others, allowing you to imagine life in their shoes, which means you can be more expansive and creative towards your own life. It also makes others feel heard, engendering their trust in you as a person and empowering them to feel more confident in themselves and their voice. It is a gift to both parties, and the ultimate collaborative tool. It is also the tool that enables most of the other values I have, particularly learning, curiosity, and helping others, to happen. But it also, for me personally, brings joy.

Listening focuses you and slows you down. Listening allows thinking. I am a big fan of silence. I practice taking in something someone is saying, and then processing what I think about it and how I can best serve that person with my response. In a fast-paced world and one in which social cues require removal of the awkward pause, this is easier said than done. But this is what a great theater director does (and that’s who I learned it from), and it is what a great leader can do as well. I like a nearly uncomfortable silence, that can create a space where truly trying to understand is allowed.

Advertisements

The Organizational Values… of Myself

“Put your money where your mouth is.”

Or, to put it another way.

“If you’re not willing to accept the pain real values incur, don’t bother going to the trouble of formulating a values statement.”

In a Harvard Business Review article from 2002, Patrick M. Lencioni begins by offering a great sample of strong, clear, corporate values.

“Communication. Respect. Integrity. Excellence.”

Where are they from, you ask?

slide-6-1024

“Coming up with strong values,” he writes, “and sticking to them—requires real guts. Indeed, an organization considering a values initiative must first come to terms with the fact that, when properly practiced, values inflict pain. They make some employees feel like outcasts. They limit an organization’s strategic and operational freedom and constrain the behavior of its people. They leave executives open to heavy criticism for even minor violations. And they demand constant vigilance.”

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a wonderful pair of sessions led by the UC Davis Graduate School of Management Executive In Residence, Paul Bianchi, in which he led us through an exercise, taken from the book The Leadership Challenge, written by James M. Kouzes and Barry C. Posner. The concept was simple, and not unfamiliar, but effective. You take a large list of values and quickly and instinctively narrow them down again and again until you have chosen a few values that are specific to you.

I’ve (A) thought about my values a lot before and can often reference them in conversations with friends, and particularly in what I guess I’ll call “mentorship moments”, frequently with younger adults than myself in a variety of settings. I’ve also (B) had an opportunity to utilize my values in a leadership role in a work setting. Having run a small non-profit I was able to shape an office environment for which my values set the tone. Finally, I’ve (C) been involved in strategic planning in which we try to understand the vision and goals of a previously existing organization and made decisions that were based on the perceived values of the history of the whole over our own individual values.

But what I haven’t done? I haven’t envisioned an organization I will lead in the future, and for whom my own personal values will set the tone of my leadership, and the organization as a whole.

And, considering I’m getting an MBA and all, which could very well be renamed a “Masters in Business Leadership” in today’s environment, I figured what better time to really dive into this, and think a little about exactly what I want, and what matters to me, if I was in charge and building my organization from scratch. Play the game now… maybe reap the rewards later.

But then in googling around before starting this article, I came across the quote Lencioni wrote.

“If you’re not willing to accept the pain real values incur, don’t bother going to the trouble of formulating a values statement.”

I felt the real pain, myself, of trying to find correct values for an organization for which I was taking over as a leader, values that didn’t exactly align with even my own, at times, but that I felt were right for the business. I often felt hamstrung by these values, and, in the end, I think part of the reason I left was that I found myself unable to comply with the own values and vision I had helped build. It just… wasn’t the right fit.

So I’m going to do this, not simply because it’s a valuable (pun intended) exercise for my own personal development during this time of questioning and exploration, but because when (not if) I am in a professional role again that requires me being clear on my own and my organization’s values, having written out my own values statement seems like a great way to really respect the tremendous weight they hold on top of them.

So, with that in mind, I’m going to make this a two-part blog, for anyone following along. I’ll start with just listing them tonight. And then I’ll sit with them a bit, and you can too if you like, if you are reading this you probably know where to reach me and if not find me on LinkedIn. If you can spare a minute, let’s talk about them. I’m happy to do the same for you. Let’s poke at them. Make me defend them. I want to dive deep.

Because… what else am I here for? (And yes, I purposely left that “here” a little vague.)

Without further ado. Drumroll, please.

animal_drums

Thank you.

The Values of Daniel Student, Inc.

Curiosity

Helping Others

Joy

Learning

Listening

Understanding Rejection

I don’t watch football much. I once had an opportunity to meet and work with a former pro quarterback and get to know him and his friends pretty well, and I was truly saddened by the low quality of life and health they faced.

1-mike_boryla_photo_by_trevor_reynolds
Former Philadelphia Eagles’ Pro Bowl Quarterback Mike Boryla, in his one-man play “The Disappearing Quarterback”, which I directed.

I felt it appropriate then, that with the idea to contemplate “rejection” as part of the MBA experience in this evening’s blog, that I paused to watch the thrilling second half of the AFC Championship Game between a team that always seems to figure out how to win, the Patriots, and a team that has not been in a Super Bowl in 50 years, the Kansas City Chiefs.

Because, much like the Chiefs, I tend to see myself always losing to the Patriots of the world. That somehow there seem to be these forces that allow others access to opportunities, fame, and success that I don’t receive.

And yet, there is perhaps a worthy metaphor in that the loser of this game will not lose the quality of his life nearly as much as the un-regulated paths of his predecessors. As someone who actually suffers from a personal health problem inherited from a predecessor, and for whom the expected survival of this problem has been incredibly and exponentially enhanced due to modern technology, this is actually perhaps less metaphor and more just plain reality.

I bring all of this up because I have been rejected a handful of times recently from summer MBA internship applications. I am struggling with this, and I wanted to understand why. I think I am less struggling with the rejection itself, and more the manner of it. The “not even getting an interview” rejection, the type that renders you perhaps a little more hopeless than the oh-so-close attempt of a millionaire 23-year-old.

7 reasons why you didn't get the job_bl

Because I am not 23. Indeed I am not 33 (and that’s as far as I will go in revealing my exact age :-).)

And I have this sense that I do this to myself, somehow. That I have always enjoyed being a bit of an outsider, a bit of my own path trodden. I rejected two business schools with higher rankings than the one I currently attend (with good financial, personal, and academic reasons but… still.) When I received one of my current internship rejections, a classmate noted how I wasn’t going to fit into their competitive culture anyway (she perhaps had more choice words than that, but you get my drift.)

So, then. Is rejection just the world’s gift to you to figure out what you truly value? To make you ask tough questions?

God I hope so.

rejectionletter-1000

Because it is a universal truth, right? We all get rejected. It’s like our collective dirty secret.

So what do the scholars I turn to for things like this have to say? Those business minds or business-adjacent minds in scholarly reviews? I google “Stanford Social Innovation Review Rejection.”

I get their submission guidelines as my first hit. Not exactly the inspiration I was looking for. And yet…

SSIR will acknowledge receipt of your proposal within one to two weeks. SSIR editors will then review the proposal, and that process can take up to two months. We respond to all proposals, but we are not able to provide substantive feedback on each one that we receive. If we think that your proposal to write an article has promise, we will ask you to write it. Please note: An invitation to submit an article draft does not constitute acceptance of the article.

An invitation to submit an article draft does not constitute acceptance of the article.

I don’t often feel that I am invited into spaces where the elite gather. The best schools nor the Silicon Valley organizations that recruit from them.  I worry that my not being “invited to submit”, or, to translate, not “being recruited on the UC Davis campus because we are not a Top-15 school”, is the reason for my rejection. But, of course, being invited does not equal being accepted.

And, unpacking the word “accepted”, it gets at a bigger theme I’m intrigued about in terms of the nature of rejection. As Groucho Marx famously retorts…

183311ae-87c2-46f0-8e38-b8bfe58f2546

In order to truly feel rejected, you have to desire something. And in order to be “accepted” they have to desire you back. So if it is the school you chose that is holding you back, then perhaps you would never be truly “accepted”. I’m not, repeat NOT saying that Google employees would hold their noses at a UC Davis MBA grad, that’s far too reductive and a totally ungrounded aspersion (and I have actually applied to Google and have not been accepted nor rejected yet.) I am saying that there is a person who chooses Stanford and a person who chooses UC Davis. It may not be an actual choice, in the truest sense. I was rejected from the Stanford MBA program. But that rejection is, perhaps, the result of a series of choices throughout my life. That in some way we all choose, and refuse, our clubs by the millions of choices that make us who we are and where we are.

I feel like I’m making sense, at least a little there. If I was having a conversation with you instead of writing a blog I bet you could rephrase what I said back to me and we could really get somewhere ;-).

And I acknowledge that many of our so-called “choices” in life are a result of forces out of our control (like, growing up in an impoverished neighborhood or challenges faced by women, people of color, and other minorities that I am not a part of). I get that. And that is an important experience of rejection, one that I am not sure I can or should speak to, as it is not a very large element of my experience. But I did want to acknowledge it here before moving on.

rejection

“Rejection Harvard Business Review” google search works a lot better.

Ron Ashekenas writes in “Rejection is Critical for Success” that “our basic human need to belong causes these incidents to stick with us through the years” and that it leads to “entitlement” and “resignation.” Within organizations, he writes “leaders need to encourage a more conscious and healthy toleration of rejection. While all employees should feel comfortable offering ideas, raising issues, and making observations — they should do so with the knowledge that they may be rejected. If they get discouraged or angry about not having their ideas accepted, they might shut down and stop contributing. Similarly, if employees feel so self-important that the organization should never turn them down, their sense of entitlement will make it difficult to drive constructive change.”

As to the employees being potentially rejected, Nicole Torres asks “what makes one person more resilient than another in the face of rejection?” Lauren Howe, a doctoral student in social psychology at Stanford (yup, irony not lost there) and her professor Dr. Carol Dweck explored what makes people more likely to link rejection to their sense of self.

carol+dweck(2)-01

They described the challenges that people with “fixed mindsets” (a belief that personality traits don’t change) have with rejection over people with “growth mindsets” (a belief that personality traits are malleable). No surprise there. But they and I were surprised to learn “those differences emerge in the smaller condition,” like simply being “told to imagine how they would respond if they met someone at a party, felt a ‘spark,’ and then later overheard the person saying that they weren’t interested.”

“One reason for it might be that if someone rejects you without even getting to know you first, you might wonder if there is some quality about you that is so obviously undesirable that a virtual stranger would say, ‘No, no thanks, not interested,’” Howe noted.

Ah, there’s the rub. That’s exactly how I feel. In my case, it’s my 10+ years of working as a theater director and, more recently as a film actor. This industry famously involves a LOT of rejection. And the good news is that, in order to survive, you learn to work up a thick skin. But the bad news is that when you are transitioning into something new it leaves you with the immense weight of having spent a lifetime questioning what about you made that opportunity always seemingly go to someone else. You fight the bitterness. You fight to keep up that “growth mindset” instead of falling into a fixed mindset you see in so many around you – that the world is just unfair.

And when you inevitably “flunk out” (which is not the way you choose to look at what happened most of the time, but sometimes you can’t help yourself) and leave the harsh, unrelenting, and unsustainably paying industry, and try to convince the world that those skills translate and the business leadership in running your own theater company is meaningful and relevant…

…it’s hard not to fall into a cycle where you believe that everything you have done in your life thus far has just amounted to the equivalent of a shrug and a “no, no thanks, not interested” before you even have the chance to tell them why.

sad-674811_1280

Those are my bad days. They are very few. But I wanted to share them. Because actually, I’m not being rejected right now. I have a new part-time job that makes me feel very accepted and allows me to invest in my “growth mindset”. I love my MBA program and feel that it is opening up all sorts of doors and that it has “accepted” me in all facets of the word, and its a club I do want to belong to, even if it would want someone like me to be a member.

And I have to caveat that this post makes me feel a little whiney. And a little guilty. Like, who the hell am I to expect being “accepted” and to be upset when I’m not. I much prefer to be the guy giving advice to my peers, reminding them of all their successes in the face of this one rejection they just got, and delivering words of wisdom like “Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience.” That’s some Ralph Waldo Emerson for you. I’m the kind of guy who espouses that kind of stuff.

But the final thought on rejection I’ll offer here?

It’s easier when it happens to someone else.

Resolutions for 2019 from an MBA

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

With that in mind, here’s to continuing to strive for different thinking, as the calendar turns to 2019 in my first year as an MBA candidate at UC Davis Graduate School of Management.

EMBRACE SILENCE

“I think silence is one of the greatest gifts that we have.” – Fred Rogers

I finally watched Won’t You Be My Neighbor? this week, and I was reminded by how much I am still influenced today by the lessons I first saw through the screen back when I was just a toddler.

As an adult, I once had the honor of working with one of our countries best theater directors, Blanka Zizka of The Wilma Theater, who not only inspires by constantly reinventing herself and her company (see the linked article), but also gave me a memorable lesson in leadership over a decade ago.

NMSTHSPEDNENRBOXNIAI3RAS6I

She does a tremendous thing before she gives notes to her cast after a rehearsal… she sits in silence, and only speaks once she has figured out what she wants to say. At first, it’s highly uncomfortable for everyone in the room, as she just sits there, staring at us, sometimes for a couple of minutes. After the second or third time however, we all get used to it, and soon everyone does it, taking long pauses before they respond to a question or prompt. The power of thinking through what you want to say before you say it, so that your input can be well-constructed, empathetic, and clear, is a tremendous creative leadership tool.

Fred Rogers apparently once wanted to explore the element of time with his viewers so he set a timer for a minute and we all watched in silence as it counted down. He was also noted for not responding immediately after an interview subject finished a thought, giving them space and permission to continue, reaching topics and feelings they might not have otherwise. More on this later.

FIND STORIES

“For true story finders, the world is a scavenger hunt” – Latif Nasser

It’s probably appropriate that a lot of my business lessons I’m thinking about during my winter break off of business school come from the realms of art and story-telling, as they are the core of my professional background. If you are at all interested in how to ask good questions and investigate challenging problems thoroughly and dynamically however, which is a definite MBA skill, you should be listening to RadioLab, whose most recent episode explored one of their most prolific producer’s process in finding stories. Latif Nasser has great, practical examples of how to use google alerts and Wikipedia for exploration into the unknown, but I preferred to think about his larger message towards exploration.

In doing so, it coupled wonderfully with this great GQ interview with Andy Serkis that I found in my own idle surfing on YouTube this week, whom you may or, aptly, may not know from his motion capture roles as Gollum in the The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, King Kong in King Kong, and Caesar in The Planet of the Apes re-make trilogy, and more.

When I was a director, I would talk about two main types of great actors, the “larger than life” ones and the “slow burners”. There are people who can just walk into a room and be the most outlandish, vibrant person there, think Jim Carrey, and that’s an amazing gift and skill, undoubtedly. But as a director, or more generically, a leader, it’s hard to work with those people, as you mostly need to leave them alone to be the genuises they are. But then there are the ones that you don’t recognize the genius in right away, who give a first read of the script and it’s relatively bland and shapeless and aren’t busy brooding in the corner refusing to lose character. But… they ask you great questions, and they come in the next day with their own pile of research on the character or something they were playing around with, in the mirror quietly at home perhaps… those are the ones you love working with. Andy Serkis really showcases this here, and, I believe, in his work.

So, there is probably some inherent MBA-style value in this notion for some of you, but those looking for a more specific connection…

GIVE GIFTS TO MY NETWORK

I started a new job last week with The Potrero Group, as a Thought Leadership and Branding Associate. I can’t describe what an amazing feeling it is to be offered the opportunity to put the learnings of this past year with my classes at Ideo U and now with my MBA into practice, while I continued my studies and growth simultaneously. Moreso, I am being offered a chance to explore and support the expansive thinking of a team that “are really great social scientists” and “think deeply about social processes and people”, as their clients have raved. So far, that couldn’t be more true.

One of the “Learning Resources” articles on their website, which I perused today AS PART OF MY JOB (how LUCKY AM I), had a section that just killed me, so I am going to present it to you here in whole. Please check out Cracking the Network Code: Four Principles for Grantmakers to read it in its entirety.

“As former regional director for Habitat for Humanity International in the Middle East and East Africa, David Haskell oversaw HFHE’s meteoric rise in impact. In that role and his current role as Executive Director of Dreams InDeed International, he has observed many networks functioning in distressed communities. Haskell noted that networking to accomplish goals is the norm among people in poverty. ‘You have to make ends meet, so you are always finding solutions in suboptimal conditions. But beauty comes out of this. Imagine that you were tiling a floor. You could use uniform tiles that all fit together nicely but are rather expensive. Or, if you cannot afford those tiles, you can make a mosaic of discarded tile shards. It winds up far more beautiful and functional than the fine tiles. That’s the picture of how you do this networked approach,’ he said. ‘You look around, take stock of the broken and missing pieces, figure out how you can support each other, develop trusting relationships so everyone will work together and hang in there, and you finally create a multiparty collaborative effort that produces better results than a simple grantor-grantee relationship will ever achieve.’ Since any given situation will present a different collection of tile pieces, every network is unique.”

For any team, in this case, my cohort at my program, this is such an important and valuable ideal to strive towards. I titled this section “give gifts”, because again, to pull out from my artist bag of tricks, I once got to work with a playwright, Greg Romero, who believed in the creative expression of “gift exchange.” As you may guess, the idea of gifts could range from the very traditional, an item or a long hug, to the very untraditional, asking a great question of someone or sharing knowledge. That the very last thing my class did together before we breaked was an unprorious White Elephant was not lost on me!

We all benefit from gifting each other with our presence and knowledge. It’s why I love the American idea of networking, that simply by introducing yourself and sharing your journey with another and asking them to share theirs with you, that they then can genuinely want to help you, and vice versa. As another great Potrero Group resource article gifted me, “Emergent Learning: A Framework for Whole-System Strategy, Learning, and Adaptation”, we all “could learn something from ant colonies… the more they interact, the faster ant colonies learn where the best food sources are.”

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 5.55.23 PM
I just LOVED this graphic the included in the article, with the concept of “Node Thinking”, which, they say, “succeeds because resources of all types — leadership, money,
talent — have dramatically more impact when leveraged across organizations,
fields and sectors”

I want to give gifts in 2019.

Hopefully, this was a good beginning.

P.S.

Fred+Rogers-+One+Silent+Minute

“I’d like to give you all an invisible gift. A gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Some of them may be here right now. Some may be far away. Some, like my astronomy professor, may even be in heaven. But wherever they are, if they’ve loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right inside your self. And I feel that you deserve quiet time, on this special occasion, to devote some thought to them. So, let’s just take a minute, in honor of those that have cared about us all along the way. One silent minute…

Whomever you’ve been thinking about, imagine how grateful they must be, that during your silent times, you remember how important they are to you. It’s not the honors and the prizes, and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It’s the knowing that we can be trusted. That we never have to fear the truth. That the bedrock of our lives, from which we make our choices, is very good stuff.”

-Fred Rogers

Finals v. Job Search, a battle 16 years in the making

The MBA is a fascinating hybrid of job search and skill building. As someone going back to school for the first time in 16 years and who hasn’t had to do a full search for employment since college either, the last couple of weeks have been a fascinating experience of balance and prioritization and at what changes in life over time and what… doesn’t.

good_grades1

I can’t honestly say that my first MBA finals made me nervous, or anxious, or scared. And that’s not because there wasn’t anything at stake. While I highly doubt my GPA will come up in a future job interview, I do rely on keeping a 3.5 to hold onto a scholarship which amounts to more than 1/2 the cost of my admission. And while the classes are curved to ensure that the lowest score you can get is basically a 3.0, I do not have a heavy quantitative background, which is the main basis of three of my four this quarter.

c8638e59bd3eb12b3b0a19add0406d65--math-cartoons-math-jokes

One of the questions from my mid-term for Economics I actually answered by writing “Math is Hard.” I am not used to this level of intellectual challenge. I maintained a 3.5 in undergrad, and that was with a frequent focus on extracurriculars (and no, I don’t mean that in quotes, I really was involved in a lot of student activities!) And at a pretty damn good school too (as Lisa Simpson famously said, “There’s no way I’ll get into an Ivy League school now. At this rate, I probably won’t even get into Vassar.”)

 

vassar
“I’ve had just about enough of your Vassar bashing, young lady.”

 

But, perhaps because old habits die hard, I found myself campaigning to my fellow students in this, my first quarter of grad school, to be careful how much they prioritized their classes and classwork. I actually take a lot of pride that I have had a couple of friends tell me they realized I was right and would focus less on their homework next quarter. The beauty of the MBA is that our goal, first and foremost, is to get a job after we graduate. That’s what ultimately drove me to this decision – I considered a Ph.D. – but knew that what I needed most was a chance to open doors to a larger salary and, I mean this sincerely, a larger impact.

Actually, check that. Not to get a job. Let me quote what I’ve said to a lot of people in informational interviews recently. And, again, it’s a good line, but I also really do mean it sincerely. “I’m not looking for a job. I’m looking for a career.” Translation? These two years are designed for us to explore, to dive deep, truly dive deep, into what excites us, moves us, and motivates us in the working world. And that can be partially discovered in a classroom. But anyone who has spent time outside of classrooms will be the first to tell you that the only way to truly learn it is in the real world.

 

250px-RWNewYorkCast
Easy opportunity to show how old I am by putting in a picture of the original cast of The Real World on MTV

 

And that’s both the contradiction and the beauty of an MBA. You are studying business. In a classroom. Because the idea that you can’t learn real-world skills in the classroom is kind of a tired stereotype too, right? Am I really paying tens of thousands of dollars a year just to have three letters by my name?

I didn’t have any perfect professors this semester. Anyone who knows me knows I am not shy to call out their imperfections. But I also want to take a moment to detail the kinds of things, I, who have already 10+ years in the workforce, most of it as the leader of my organization, learned just in the last 10 weeks alone.

And recognize these are core courses, designed not necessarily for directly applicable skills but to give you a baseline to build off of. And yet… some unbelievably pertinent learning, simple but profound, emerged from this quarter.

Micro-Economics (or as we call it, Markets and the Firm)

Every business I go into or connect with these days, I am aware exactly how they are trying to utilize price, sales, and a host of other techniques (in the case of the airlines, making things as unbearable as possible – actual reading from class) to make sure I spend exactly as much as they want me to spend. I can read financial news and not get overwhelmed by my lack of understanding – this is indeed a core skill to build off of.

Financial Accounting

After years of doing my own books for my small business, I sure wish I had taken a class like this. To be able to interpret the numbers for what they really mean… let’s just say I would have liked to have left my theater company in better financial shape than I thought I did when I exited.

Statistics (or as we call it, Data Analysis for Managers)

I’ll keep it simple here and say I hadn’t done any real math in fifteen years. And in a way, it’s like practicing an instrument. You have to keep it up to even keep your baseline skills going. I’m tremendously glad to have my baseline returned. But I won’t be taking Stats 2… at least for now…

Articulation and Critical Thinking

Two things stand out for me in this course. The first is a little bit of a humble-brag, but a necessary one to explain the value sometimes revealed in the learning process. I realized that all those years of learning to speak publicly in the theater will have a major payoff in my ability to impress and succeed in the more corporate world. I started out great in this class and never stopped.

That said… on the writing end, one in which I felt equally proficient, I finally conquered a nagging feeling that my writing, much like this blog, was too profuse and standing in the way of my efficiency in delivering my point to business audiences. As simple as it sounds, this class returned me to some basics I badly needed.

I delivered my point in short sentences. I used simple verbs to emphasize my ideas. I analyzed both sides of an argument, clearly articulating biases. In fact, I’m doing all of that right now.

On that note, I should probably go back and edit this post from the top…

But, I’m not being graded on it… so I won’t.

aplus_color_thumb

*Interesting author’s note. As I was writing this my grades were coming in for multiple classes. I pumped my fist a couple of times. I frowned a couple of times. I felt my value as a person increase and decrease. I also quickly moved on. Things change. They stay the same.

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.

beijing-air-pollution

Shortly, however, reality sets in.

091817_useless_products_slide_0_fs.max-784x410

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.

46470022_10155568553461205_5669671415599595520_o

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.

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.

220px-Stanford_Social_Innovation_Review,_Winter_2017_CoverFall_2015_cover_image_small_214_280Summer_2013_Cover_small_1_214_280

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.

Unearthed-TimeToChangeTheSystem-1508-1-web

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.

pg5niz0r2l7qi2e42aru
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.

5bc7c1276f6738969292d472_IMG_4274-p-1080
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.