Top Five MBA Lessons

Six weeks left before I can spell my name with three more letters – M B A. Do I feel better about myself than I did before I started – hell yeah I do. I’ll be walking with my master’s diploma almost 30 years to the day from when I received my bachelor’s. I tried really hard to not sound like a wistful old fart during the program (see lesson #5). But not today. I am going to shamelessly give you my fatherly advice on the five most important lessons that a beginning student needs to learn to be a successful MBA candidate.

1) Show Up

I know, you can get through any class by reviewing the slides, writing 5-page double-spaced papers and acing multiple choice tests. You won’t be the first person to get through your MBA that way. The only problem is you’ll miss a lot. Like the day we learned how to catch a monkey. I bet you’re thinking “how could catching a money ever be valuable in a business career”. Well you may never know if you don’t show up that day.

2) Be Present

Okay you took my first piece of advice and you decide to show-up in class (most of the time anyway). Now it’s time to check Facebook, Twitter, Groupon and email. Maybe a bit of shopping? Oh yeah you have to read a chapter for your class on Wednesday – better get that done now. Class over – no problem I can review the slides before the mid-term. The quarter ends. You get an A-minus. One more down.

So let me tell you a secret. Work can be even more boring than school – even in your dream job. Sitting through sales meetings – absolute torture. Listening to your boss talking about when she was your age – worse than a sales meeting. Reviewing third quarter results from the Western Region – please just kill me now. Can you check Facebook during a client meeting? No. Can you check email during the third quarter Western Region review – well yeah everyone does, but that’s not the point! My point is that class is practice for that stuff.  Some of your bosses will be older, more boring and way less patient than me. How do you think it will go if you start texting when you’re in his office? Exactly.

3) Learn How To Listen

For the most part this piece of advice is dependent on the first two. Show up and pay attention.

I spent almost 25 years going to medical conferences listening to post-docs lecture on stuff like sputum (a.k.a. phlegm) and proper tongue positioning during pharyngeal acoustic imaging. Stuff that is both boring and disgusting. It makes accounting seem like a TED talk. But do you want to know why it’s important to learn how to listen to that stuff? I got a patent for figuring out a way to do the second one.

4) Speak-Up

If you listen you won’t sound like a fool when you speak. Simple.

5) Ask More Questions

The most important lesson I’ve learned in life is to ask more questions. Truth be told – I still have a lot to learn on this one.  One of the reasons I went back to school is that a lot of the MBA’s I met asked great questions. It was often the only thing that stood out.

Being the smartest person in the room will piss people off as many times as it will impress them. If you really want to impress people, ask questions that show you were listening to them while they were busy being the smartest person in the room.

That’s a lesson you can take to the bank.

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Look Before You Tweet

Forbes writer Matt Butler discussed some of the social media tools that were immediately put to use seconds after Boston Marathon tragedy.  http://www.forbes.com/sites/netapp/2013/04/16/boston-bomb-cloud-hope/  One can only marvel at peoples natural inclination to help the injured and find the culprits. Crowd sourcing via social media was quickly used to disseminated photos and other clues as they were released by authorities. Unfortunately some users on Twitter and Reddit went further and wrongly accused a missing Indian-American student, bringing renewed grief to his family.

Boston was the first terrorist attack in the US in the social media age. We have a lot to learn about effectively utilizing these tools in the next emergency. On balance we can be proud of people’s intentions but we need to keep in mind that human nature is not changed by social media – it just reflects that nature. Our quickness to make judgments with imperfect facts has been with us for millennia and in the age of micro-blogging we need to be especially diligent to remind ourselves to look before we Tweet.  Our ability to do good with this medium is equal to our ability to do great harm.