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January 8, 2011

The Power of Different

by mikediliberto

I am a technologist by training, having studied computer science at the University of Delaware in undergrad, and by design I am naturally drawn to technology of all denominations.  It should come as no surprise that some of my favorite leisure

time reading materials are technology oriented.

Yet some of my best inspiration has come from outside of the technology sphere, from immersing myself in stimuli that are outside of those things that I would normally be drawn to, and this is a theme reinforced by several of the mentors in my life.  Time and again I find that solving complex problems requires experience that is more broad than it is deep, and I thankful that the past few years have helped me broaden my knowledge far outside of my previous education and career experience.

When I decided to go back to school in 2008, I enrolled in an executive MBA program, fully prepared to stay at my current employer and give up all of my free time to pursue my MBA in International Business.

Yes, I am a proud subscriber to this fine publication

When I spoke to my father about my plans, he took me aside and told me that I was crazy to do it that way.  Not just because of the workload, but because studying that way would not give me any new perspectives.

I had been working in the same industry since I graduated from college, first designing visual merchandising solutions for Circuit City, and then later for one of our vendors as their first US employee, designing and selling visual merchandising solutions to Best Buy and Target. In short, I had been doing the same thing for almost a decade, and while I had continued to move steadily from the technology side of the business to the management side, my father was right, it was time for some new perspectives.  At least, I was pretty sure.  Turns out he was right indeed.

So we quit our jobs and my wife and I moved our lives from Phoenix, AZ to San Diego, CA.  I immersed myself in classes, and I ended up working at a software startup (imagine that, a software startup in SoCal).  Talk about a change!

I highly recommend working at a startup while studying for an MBA;  it is akin to having a lab in which to practice your newly learned business skills.  I had a great time, and a supportive team that was patient with me as I honed my new business skills. I am forever in their debt for the support that they gave me, the perspectives that they helped me gain, and their understanding as I had to consult my textbook as we took the company through their first SWOT analysis.

My two years of startup experience also helped me hone my oration and presentation skills;  Rarely a week went by that I didn’t find myself presenting a powerpoint or software demo either live or on a web conference.  I still remember the first time I had to give a presentation;  one of our directors came to me in a panic, powerpoint in hand, and said “here, you need to present this. You’ve got 30 minutes before the audience shows up. Don’t worry, you’ll do fine”. Talk about trial by fire!  I’m not sure I did all that well, but as time went on I refined my skills considerably.  I started practicing my speeches a lot more, got comfortable listening to myself present.  It’s tough at first, seems like nobody likes hearing themselves speak or watching themselves on video, but once you get past the initial weirdness, it sure helps refine your abilities.

I graduated a year ago and I was approached by some former co-workers to come on board with a new company they had founded.  I would be heading up their operations in China, putting my new business and international perspectives to work.  Once again, I am back in the world of interactive visual merchandising, overseeing all of our design and manufacturing operations out of our new Asian design center of excellence.  My new colleagues highlighted a lot of my new perspectives as reasons for wanting me to come back to work together, having watched me evolve during my studies.  I owe a lot to the decision to make a change, to the support of my parents, my wife, and my amazing friends.

Thank you all for broadening my horizons.

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