MBA reflections #2

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Last weekend I graduated from my MBA  course at Warwick Business School. The ceremony marked the conclusion of three years’ of hard, but incredibly rewarding and very enjoyable, work – despite the challenges of balancing study with career and family life. I’ve also been enormously privileged to meet some great people along the way and make some fantastic friendships.

When I started the course I said that I would post regularly about my experiences along the way. That was three years ago and I’ve failed miserably to keep my promise, but on the positive side, I completed the course, managed to maintain some semblance of balance in my life and graduated with a distinction.

When I take a moment to reflect, I’m pretty chuffed with what I’ve achieved, so now seems like a good time to pause and reflect on the experience, and hopefully pick out a few lessons that can help others thinking about a similar path. So in no particular order, here goes…

1. You get out what you put in. It’s a pretty simple equation. An MBA from a good business school carries a lot of prestige, but it won’t gift you opportunities. You need to have a good idea of what you want to achieve by doing the course when you start, then take every opportunity to draw the value from the models, events and networking opportunities you get involved in along the way. You might have a very clear idea of the job you want to go for once you’ve completed the course, or your goal might be less specific, and be about exploring a new career direction, for example. Both options are fine, but a plan gives you purpose and helps guide your choice of modules, research topics and much more along the way. Of course, be open to new ideas and the possibility that your plan might change. After all, one of the reasons you signed up in the first place was probably to broaden your horizons.

2. things you’re interested in. It’s hard to write an assignment, let alone a dissertation, if you’re not interested in the subject. Most courses will give you some freedom in the subjects you select for your assignments. Choosing an issue to analyse or a company to research that you’re personally interested in makes the experience much more enjoyable and will probably result in a better quality paper. When I planned papers and my dissertation, I asked myself three questions:

– Do I find this interesting?
– Is it useful from a business perspective?
– Does it have some academic value?

If the answer to all three is yes, then you’re probably onto something

3. It’s all still in there. With any course, once a module is over it can feel like you’ve completely forgotten all the knowledge you just gained as you start on the next one. It’s all still in there, but to keep it fresh I tried to draw on ideas from previous modules in the new modules I would start. Reading around the topic – particularly following the business news – is also a great way to apply the lessons you’ve learned. Finally, I found studying part-time a great advantage because I could think about events and experiences in the workplace in the context of my course and even put a few things into practice. Whether you work while you study or not, using what you learn to reflect on your own experience is a great mental exercise and a good way to embed the learning.

4. Meet new people. One of the most rewarding things for me about the course was meeting new people from very different professional backgrounds to my own. If you’ve spent your whole career in a particular profession, surrounded by particular kinds of people with similar personality profiles and skill sets it becomes very easy to assume that everyone in business is like that. Having my assumptions challenged, seeing the variations in how people think, act and solve problems, and the subtleties involved in making a team work with radically different personality types and skills certainly forced me to confront my preconceptions.

5. Broaden your horizons. Without doubt the school where you study will offer a wide range of modules to choose from, some firmly within your area of experience, others way beyond it. Of course, the modules you choose will be guided by what you want to get out of the course (see point one), but an MBA is a good opportunity to explore some new areas, learn some new skills and bring some breadth to your expertise. I’ve often found that the lessons I think are going to be least useful prove to be the most useful and vice versa. Serendipity is a wonderful thing, so give it the maximum opportunity to do good work.

I’ll leave it there for now, but I reckon I have a few more ideas I can share in another post. Any thoughts or ideas you have, please feel free to add in the comments.

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