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.
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.
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.
The argument that technology reduces civic engagement or social capital has been with us for decades. Perhaps a more applicable question is how technologies allow us to engage in new ways given the dramatic shifts in our civilization. Humans are social creatures by nature and any claim that we are somehow less social due to technology is a ridiculous argument. The world has changed in substantial ways that have nothing to with technology. America’s growing ethnic diversity and highly mobile population have created fundamental changes to social engagement. Digital-age technologies – if anything have helped us overcome the large distances that separate us and given us new ways to engage with our families and communities.
Social Media & the Salemi Family
I come from a very large family. My father came from a family of nine children and then had nine children of his own (due in large part to my mother who was one of four siblings herself). My brothers and sisters created 16 more kids (thanks to their partners as well) and we are currently spread across nine states. The mix of ages, ethnicities and social groups represented in my family is as diverse as our country. Needless to say – we don’t meet-up as a family to go bowling each Sunday.
Social media has had a largely positive impact on my extended family. Many of my nieces and nephews have been in close contact through Facebook for many years even though they had very little contact growing up. Although I don’t participate much in their social chatter, Facebook allows me to see that they have chosen to devote a fairly large amount of time keeping up with each other’s lives. Social media has given them a way to make the thousands of miles that separate them melt away.
Social Media & Me
My own use of social media is quite different from my nieces and nephews. I rarely use social media for communicating with friends and family but I was never good at writing or calling family before the Web either. Most of my social media use has been for business and school. I have used LinkedIn for years and am now using it for most of my post- graduation job searches and networking. I have also used Google docs and Google hang-outs to work with many of my MBA teams. I am not overly concerned with privacy issues because I make conscious decisions on the type of information I share on the Web. I rarely, if ever post personal photos, postings or comments on Facebook. I only place items there that I would be willing to share with a work or school colleague. For personal interactions I primarily use e-mail.
Social media has given us a new set of tools for communicating and staying up to date with every aspect of our lives, but this does not mean that we have to use it for each one of them. Regardless of the type of technology – the choice of whether or how to use it is still in our hands.