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Monthly Archives: August 2011
I have been assigned a lot of readings in my Leadership and Organizational Behavior class and am required to submit a one page thought paper each week. I am going to post these reflections weekly on this site. Below is my thoughts on week 1:
When Theory Goes Wrong
Thoughts on “Why Hard-Nosed Executives Should Care About Management Theory”
by Clayton M. Christenson and Michael E. Raynor
As a young and impressionable high school student, I sought the advice of my guidance counselor. What was I going to do with the rest of my life? I had good grades, played on sports teams and wanted to go to university. The big question for me was what program to enroll in. My counselor took a look over my transcript and noticed that I had straight A’s in maths and sciences. She asked me if I enjoyed those classes. My response was that I was not passionate about them, especially when they were tedious, but I did enjoy the problem solving. That was the answer that led her to suggest engineering. Engineers shared these traits with me; they were good at math and enjoyed problem solving. In addition, I was told that an engineering degree would lead to a great, stable job and would not limit me to the engineering field. The degree in itself would show my work ethic and ability to learn, and I could use those skills in any career I chose. Not being limited really appealed to me, so I became an engineering student.
As a twenty-eight year old graduate student, I look back on that decision and question whether or not it was the best choice for me. I had taken the advice of a guidance counselor who spent about ten minutes learning who I was before deciding on the best path for me to journey down. My counselor had seen a correlation between a few of my characteristics and that of engineers in general. She made a very quick decision without first considering more detail. Her advice was based on the fact that similar people in my situation had chosen this path in the past. As pointed out by Christensen and Raynor, that is simply the starting point of theory building and should not be fully trusted in decision making. A deeper understanding of what caused engineers to enjoy engineering was needed. In my case, the fact that my grades in English were actually better than my math grades was overlooked. More importantly, I enjoyed writing more than mathematics and I enjoyed people and interaction immensely. Risk was exciting for me and I have since learned that stability is not something I value as much as excitement. These traits are very different than a typical engineer, and had my counsellor spent more time testing her theory that engineering was for me, maybe I would be in a very different place today.
The engineering path was one that I always struggled with, which is why I am now attending business school. It is difficult to say if I would now be better off had I chosen a different undergraduate program, but I think it is fairly obvious that my decision was based on questionable advice. As a business leader, it will be important to have the skills to decipher good advice from bad advice. Understanding the process of how a good theory is developed will allow me to weigh the benefits of the advice that is offered to me in the future. This is because theories are used to predict events in the future, and unrefined theories can prove dangerous, as unforeseen results will be likely. Highly refined theories have been through an iterative process, where failures have been accounted for as they happen. This process leads to a high level of predictability and reduces the risk of employing that particular theory in a business setting. Had I understood these principles as a high school student, I would have noticed that my councilors advice was based on a weak and unrefined theory and in all likelihood have searched out better advice instead of following her recommendations.
I am one of those MBA students who has gone back to school in search of something better. My last job was fine, but not fulfilling. I had trouble focusing and that got noticed. After a long conversation with my boss I went home without a job. I stayed optimistic for a few weeks, but that experience definitely affected me in a real and lasting way. I searched out advice and took personality tests to figure out what went wrong and where to go next. That process lead me to B-school. So here I am, but I still don’t know what I want. It all sounds so selfish when I type it out. It’s not selfish though – maybe a little obsessive at the moment – but not selfish. I was a worse person when I was unfulfilled. I don’t want to be coming home to my wife and possible kids as a bored human being. I want to give them a role model that’s full of life and love. That brings me back to the title – It’s my life. Is it really? Did I not give my wife a large stake in my life when I said “I do”. Don’t I have a responsibility to my family? My community? Society in general? I believe I do. I’m not sure what exactly that means, but I don’t think my life is fully my life. I owe it to everyone to be the best I can be and make some sort of positive impact with the amazing opportunities I have been given.
That’s pressure now, is it not? I have placed an enormous amount of pressure on myself. Perhaps that’s what needs to change, as that drive to ‘get it right this time’ is paralyzing me. I’m afraid to set sail in any direction because maybe it will be the wrong one again. But was it really the wrong one? I love the life I have lived so far. I think I need to make a decision, based on reasoning and counsel for sure, but jut a decision to start with. A ship goes nowhere if it stays in harbor. I went in to speak with a career coach here at Notre Dame yesterday. The support program here is amazing and I am now very happy to have chosen this school. I went over my career and personality tests, explained where I am coming from and what I am hoping to obtain. She really helped me to understand what kind of roles are actually out there and gave me a few tools to organize my thoughts. I’m going to make a very business minded spreadsheet that rates my values. It will include my minimum salary, hopeful salary, skills I want to use, locations I want to live and the work/life balance I want. That chart will allow me to rank various career choices and later industries and companies as to how well they fit with my life goals. Hopefully that will clear up some things and eliminate some options at the minimum. I’m excited to set sail and feel the wind behind me.
Having so much thrown at me everyday makes it difficult to choose which subjects to write about. I realize that a lot of my posts are beginning with feeling overwhelmed, but that’s generally how I feel these days. According to one prof, “even if I am on time, I’m late”. I’ll always be late, always feel behind and yet I believe that somehow, I’ll get out of this program everything I put into it. I’m excited to be pushed to my limits, to see how I react. The trouble with having so much to write about, is that I begin to just recite the events, as I am doing in this post. One thing I`m going to attempt to improve (which is why I`m back in school!) is to pick topics I find fascinating and go a little more in depth on them as the year rolls along.
The next three days is Math Boot Camp. Just the kind of place you dreamed of going as a child…. (if you did have that dream, you and me are different people). Stats and Accounting for 7 hours a day. It’s all fairly basic, as far as stats and accounting goes, and everyone is going through it, so it’s not so bad really. The profs are actually engaging and excited about the subjects, which makes it so much better.
In between all these sessions, we did manage a Stadium Tour! Gorgeous place that I am very excited to sit in many times this fall. We were treated to lunch in the press box and heard from the Notre Dame Athletic Director, who answered our various questions on the mysteries of college sports!
My time is a very limited commodity all of the sudden. My professors are telling me I need to study and work hard (except for one, who told me not to get a 4.0, because that would mean that I have not stretched and challenged myself!), my career coaching team is stressing the importance of finding an internship, the Dean pointed out that there is so much happening at Notre Dame outside of the business school that we cannot afford to miss out on, my wife is being very understanding but I know that my marriage will need my time as well. Then there are clubs, competitions, international trips, sports, friends, family and of course – football games! Time I used to use to take a walk, go shopping or play fantasy hockey just is not there anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I still have 24 hours a day, just like I always have, its just that now I’ll be cramming more into each day than I ever though possible! As such, I’ve decided to be very intentional about how I use my limited amount of time. I’m not going to play on a hockey team, despite lugging all of my equipment down from Canada. Instead, I’ll join a flag football team because my classmates will be playing that sport with me and I will grow those friendships and expand my network while still getting the exercise and stress relief that I will need. I will bring my wife out to as many MBA events as I can so that we are around each other more. I’ll attempt to bring my hobbies and interests into the classroom whenever possible.
With this strategy in mind, I began to think, why am I writing this blog? Is it helping me in any way or is it just one more item on my long list each day? It is Saturday today and I have a little bit of time to myself for the first time in a week – literally. My wife is asleep beside me and I skipped a class golf tournament to steal this slice of time to reflect. We learned so much this week but had no time to ponder and absorb anything. This is my time to do that. By writing, I intend to clarify my own thoughts and stay grounded through the craziness. That may bring a selfish tone to this blog, or maybe it will make it honest and interesting, I don’t know. Hopefully though, I will find my own voice through this process.
Orientation week at Notre Dame has been busy. I’ve been warned it only gets busier. The tough part of orientation though, is that there are so many great speakers and ideas presented in such a short time. Without more time, it is difficult to reflect and understand all that’s being thrown at us. Dr. Mark Albian, formerly from Harvard University, has been speaking with us about the good life. Check out his video:
We spent all day today discussing our personal vision, so that we can get jobs that allow us to change the world in a positive way. His book is titled “more than money”. That’s been a theme this week. Ask more of business. Dean Woo gave her speech entirely on ethics, and day one of orientation was focused on integrity. This is not what I expected at a business school. All of this has convinced me that I am in the right place. My vision is fuzzy, but my values are finding support here.
Plus, we also took a tour of the stadium, locker room and ate in the press box! Go Irish!
It turns out starting a business is something I find extremely satisfying and challenging, but is fairly all-consuming! My blogging fell by the wayside, but I finished my role as Director at Muskoka Watersports and have arrived in South Bend to attend the University of Notre Dame! Moving your stuff across the continent and uprooting your life and wife is a challenge in itself, but we managed it in style!
I took on the challenge of organizing a welcome BBQ for incoming MBA students that took place the Sunday before Orientation. With a team of 4, we put on a BBQ, in a town we had no idea about, for 150 people! And it worked! I was excited to volunteer for that role as it both set me apart as a leader among my classmates, and gave me a jump on meeting the ones that I worked with. I would suggest taking any kind of leadership roles as soon as possible, including leading discussions during orientation, volunteering to organize any community service groups, and being the one who talks first at the lunch table.