MBA lessons #1

Back in January I promised to publish some regular posts about progress on my MBA in the hope that they would be useful for other potential students.

It’s now September and so far I haven’t published a thing, but I make no apologies.

The course is demanding and to do well and get the most value from the learning experience takes a significant time commitment.

So in the competition between study, work and family time this post has sadly been the loser until now, but hopefully I can make amends with some reflections on the first nine months.

So far I’ve completed modules on accounting, economics, organisational behaviour, and I’m now studying operations management, marketing and statistical modelling and analysis.

The curriculum is broad, but it also goes into quite some depth on each topic, so the learning experience is comprehensive. As you would expect in a business qualification though, there is an emphasis on developing the ability to apply the knowledge gained in a professional context, with plenty of academic rigour thrown in which you can read about below.

The experience has ranged from frustrating, difficult and stressful, to thought-provoking, stimulating and plain good fun. Overall however it’s been a hugely rewarding experience so far, and long may that continue.

Here are a few things I’ve learned so far:

1. Plan your time: Whether you’re studying full-time or part-time, the work schedule can be extremely demanding. Especially, for part-time students like me who are trying to balance study with a full-time job, falling behind is easy to do and when that happens it can be difficult to catch-up. The way to avoid this happening is to begin the course with a really clear time planner that enables you to plan your study schedule for the semester ahead. I’ve seen these break the workload down week-by-week and even day-by-day, depending on the student’s situation and working style. It can also be worthwhile to specify when you will make time for lesson reading and note-taking, and when you’ll attempt tasks and exercises as it’s when you actually apply the material that the learning really sinks in.

2. Keep practicing: Whether you’re being assessed by exam or coursework, completing practice exercises as you work through the course makes a big difference to the quality of your learning. The benefits in an exam situation are pretty obvious: you’ll be able to recall information, apply concepts and construct a comprehensive, logical answer much more quickly if you’ve had plenty of practice. When it comes to writing coursework, if you’ve already had experience applying the concepts you’re being asked to demonstrate in a lesson exercise, you’ll find applying them in the final assignment comes much more naturally. Crucially, you’ll also be more adept and linking different topics together, giving you a much more sophisticated grasp of the topic as a result.

3. Develop your style: The MBA course aims to give skills and knowledge you can apply in a professional context. Nevertheless, it’s an academic qualification and so the assignments you produce need to demonstrate the appropriate level of academic rigour to succeed. This means not only sharpening your skills of analysis and interpretation to determine the best business recommendation to make on a problem you’ve been set, but also justifying your recommendations with solid academic research, theory and evidence, and thinking broadly and reflectively about the problems posed to you so you can arrive at a truly nuanced answer. If you’re studying a topic in which you have some direct professional experience, it’s easy to forget the second part of this. Years of experience in a particular field mean that often we instinctively ‘know’ the right answer, but we forget how to set out our justification. It’s this skill an academic course forces you to reawaken.

4. Don’t get spooked: Particularly on part-time programmes with an emphasis on self-study, it’s easy to get spooked by the progress of others in your cohort. While you might be feeling satisfied one minute that you’ve completed Lesson 4 of Accounting, the next you’re in a state of dismay when you discover a fellow student is up to Lesson 8! As I quickly discovered, everyone has their own individual style of learning and works at a different pace. Some people like to study several topics simultaneously, others prefer to take a more sequential approach. Some prefer to complete the reading for an entire topic before attempting practice questions, while others like to blend the two. It’s your course and you need to work at a pace and in a style that’s right for you. Time planning, once again, is important here, but so too is reflecting on how you learn and focussing on the techniques that will get you the skills and knowledge you’re looking to gain.

There are plenty more lessons I’ve learned from the past nine months and no doubt many more to come.

As I begin to focus my mind on the end-of-semester exams happening in December, I’ll share some further thoughts  on my experiences so far.

If you’re thinking of embarking on an MBA and you have any questions, then please do let me know and I’ll think about how to cover them in my next post.

Cut outs #8

Lots of data and research today.

According to eMarketer it’s the simple things that matter for Smartphone buyers in the UK.

Meanwhile, in the US mobile video continues to rise, particularly amongst younger audiences.

Looking beyond mobile, a study by Leader Networks suggests there is confusion between social media marketing and social business. I don’t know the basis of the study, but I can believe this is the case.

And finally, I always find a great way to develop an idea or to encourage myself to think more creatively about a problem I’m trying to solve is to visualise it.

Grant Snider at Incidental Comics has written a comic about where ideas come from.

I think it has a simple, inventive, visual style that gives it great impact.

And most of all, makes it memorable.

Cut outs #7

Today I’m on a training and skills theme.

First off we have Apple University which apparently uses Picasso to study product design.

I like Picasso’s approach to creativity.

He said “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

Preserving and nurturing that fresh appreciation and wonder at the world we have as children is essential to being creative.

To switch focus from art to literature, the Wuthering Bytes tech festival is happening later this week up in the Pennines.

The line-up looks great and it’s always good to see technology events taking place across the country.

And finally, if Social Business is your thing, the IBM Social Business User Group has made all the sessions from its recent Social Connections IV conference available to download, so feast your ears!

 

Struggling with ‘Social Media’

I’ve got a confession; I don’t like the phrase ‘Social Media.’
That might sound odd coming from someone who works in digital communications and marketing, but I find it too reductive.
The trouble is, it implies some media are ‘social’ while others aren’t.
And I don’t think it’s that simple.
Since the creation of the Internet we’ve seen so many technologies emerge and at such a rapid rate that sometimes it feels like a bewildering blur.
But there’s one thing that’s stayed the same, one theme that’s been consistent throughout.
At each and every step of the way the Internet has become more conversational.

So what does that mean?

Back in 1999 a Turkish guy called Mahir became famous for launching his own website.
The rough English (not that my Turkish is up to much) and exuberant greeting (“I kiss you!!!!!”) certainly helped, but part of his sudden popularity was down to the sheer novelty of someone taking the time to build a website to meet new people.
And he wasn’t just famous in Turkey or Europe, but all over the world.
He even got parodied on David Letterman and was allegedly the inspiration for Sacha Baron Cohen’s character, Borat.
Not bad going for a bit of HTML.

Just imagine that happening today though.

Sure, new Internet ‘memes’ pop up all the time, but whether it’s on a social network or a blogging platform we can create a pretty sophisticated web presence for ourselves and start connecting with people in seconds.
And if you believe the stats about online participation, most of us do.
The technology might have changed, but the motivation has stayed the same: make connections and form relationships.

So how does this apply to business?

Relationships are the basis of business.
The relationship you build with a potential client enables you to seal the deal.
The relationship you build with your marketplace builds your brand and attracts customers.
And the relationship you maintain with your customers encourages them to come back to you and keep buying.
They might even help you out by telling you how to make the business even better.
If you’re ready and willing to listen.
But a relationship isn’t a one-off transaction.
It takes time to nurture, cultivate and sustain.
And that’s the opportunity online.
You can have more relationships and keep track of the value they are delivering to you and providing to other people.

And that’s why ‘social’ is important.
Not because it’s a new shiny gadget, but because it’s part of the fabric of society and the fabric of the Web.

Cut outs #6

This one’s about doin’ it for the kids.

See, I even dropped my “g” to sound authentic.

Maybe.

First off we have possibly the best car rental scheme ever from Europcar and Mattel (PSFK). Personally, I’d hire a Hot Wheels over a Ford Focus any day, although I’d probably struggle for luggage space.

I’d like to give the new Lego Ideas platform a try too. Maybe there’s a Hot Wheels – Lego mash-up idea taking shape out there…

A little more seriously, kids are disappearing from social media (Cliff Watson, Medium). Or they’re not. They’re just finding their own spaces to play.

And when we grow up? It doesn’t get any less bewildering or scary. We can only open ourselves up to experience (David Weinberger, Medium).

Deloitte Tech, Media and Telecoms Predictions 2014

Deloitte has just published its annual report on predictions for technology, media and telecoms. As you would expect, it offers some great insights into the forces we can expect to shape all three sectors in the year ahead and beyond.

One area that I think will be interesting to watch is the role that developing marketings have to play in shaping tech, media and telecoms trends in the coming years. The report notes that significant growth in the smartphone market is likely to come from developing countries over the next few years.

I expect the growth of their own domestic markets as the global economy gradually improves, and the increasing sophistication of consumers in their technology use will be a key factor is shaping global trends and the course of innovation.

Social Media Fatigue

Not me necessarily, but it’s certainly something a lot of us experience! I came across this interview with Ray Wang from Constellation Research the other day. It gives a view across the social business landscape today and makes some great observations about how social business is changing our work.

One point that struck me in particular was the idea of social media fatigue; the sheer volume of platforms and the challenge of keeping on top of them all as a user can become a chore, if not plain exhausting.

I think another factor at play is that we’re also making a gradual transition from linear forms of communication, like email, to more networked and collaborative forms of communication. In other words, social media. This takes effort and can create tensions and stresses, both for individuals and organisations. It means changing working patterns and communication styles, and rethinking how you manage your network of relationships. I think there are a number of layers to the transition, which I would summarise in three broad areas:

  1. Technical: Coming to grips with new tools, personally and from the point of view of the enterprise-wide implementation requirements.
  2. Behavioural: A networked approach requires a change in the way you communicate, from the content of the messages, tone and style, to the way you organise communication in and around your working day.
  3. Organisational: Of course, you as an individual can’t change in isolation, other people have to change too to make the new communication practices successful. At an organisational level this may require some form of framework to provide guidance for workers. What are the policy and procedure changes necessary? Are there implications for governance? How will the culture of the organisation change and what will be the implications of this for workers and teams? What are the implications and opportunities of greater collaboration?

These are questions that people at all levels in the organisation need to think about and play a role in solving. But by taking a collaborative approach the personal benefits and organisational value will be come much clearer. Maybe then fatigue is less likely to set in.