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. Read more
It is really hard to believe that 19 months have gone by so fast, yet at the same time, I know that it is time to be done. I am back on campus for the last week of class, and all things going well, my MBA will be conferred this coming Friday.
My classmates and I are participating on our capstone courses, receiving debriefings on a lot of the projects that we have been exposed to over the past few years. It’s been hard work, and this has been a long time coming. At the same time, I am sad to see it come to an end, and I will miss the classes and classmates that have come to occupy all of my formerly free time.
They asked us to stand up and say what our most important take-away from this program has been, and it was very hard to narrow it down to one single thing that stands above all others. For me, my greatest take away has been understanding that the most important responsibility that I have as a manager is not having all of the answers, but rather, knowing how to ask the right questions. One of the litmus tests that I revisit frequently is to look at past situations and ask myself if I would act differently in that same situation; in many cases, the answer is yes. Of course, I don’t know whether the outcome would have been different, but at the very least, I know that my increased knowledge helped me have a deeper breadth of understanding of all of the factors in play.
In other news, my session at South By Southwest has made it into the panelpicker, and is up for vote this week. I will be talking about the emergence of “Commercial Open Source” as a business model. Although at first, I had aimed this session at firms in the software space, my research in this topic over the past few weeks has led me to the realization that it is not just software but many industries that can drive innovation from the bottom up.
People tend to either be listening or taking at at any given time. Something that I have noticed recently is that one of the most common traits in people with true leadership skills is that they are always in learning mode. It seems especially prevalent these days that everyone is racing to call themselves an expert on a range of topics (with “social media” being the worst offender, but there are plenty of others), but I fail to see a rush of people looking to pay for this expertise.
(sidenote: if you actually hired a “social media expert”, please let me know; I have yet to even see an ad that reads “Looking for social media expert. Must twitter constantly, have lots of followers, have unhealthy relationship with iPhone. HASHTAG ABUSERS NEED NOT APPLY”)
One common thread that runs through many successful members of the business community is that they never stop learning. Before you accuse me of having an inappropriate sample set, I assure you that I am not just speaking about observations of my MBA class, but many people that I have met in my personal and professional life as well. Those that are the best leaders are the ones that are always listening and analyzing and if there is one trait that has been developed over the past few years of grad school it has been my ability to slow down, listen and most importantly, ask questions. Jim Collins, the Auther of “Good to Great” recently said that leaders are not the ones that have the answers, they are the ones that ask the right questions.
The simple irony is, once you call yourself an expert you now have incentive to stop learning; the best leaders however, have the opposite trait. It seems that the best leaders are open to learning all the time, living the phrase “you learn something new every day”.
As some of you already know, for the past year I have being working on my MBA mostly nights and weekends, which basically means that I’ve traded all semblance of a social life in exchange for a degree.
But it is so much more than that. Last night I finished this semester’s coursework and now I have a month off to reflect (and land a job!) before we start back up again.
It’s been an amazing experience so far; I can not even begin to describe how much I’ve learned in the past year. I often find myself reflecting on situations and decisions which I made in the past, and how I would have approached them differently given what I know now.
Like many technical professionals, I started my career on the technical side. I landed a job with a Fortune 500 firm right out of university, and only then did I begin my exposure to the business side of the world. Far too often technical people get caught in the trap of being technical for the sake of the technology, instead of using technology as needed to solve genuine business issues. I learned fairly quickly the need to have a business case for innovation, and much to my surprise I was able to play the game pretty well in the political environment that exists in any firm of significant size.
In 2003 I (along with 4,000 others) was “downsized” and ended up at a small startup. Now for those of you who have worked in a corporation of any significant size, you know that a corporate environment often has clear lines of demarcation; there are processes and proceedures for just about anything and departments to go to for travel, expenses, and HR. In a startup environment, it is the exact opposite. At the startup office, we had poster on the wall with the favorite phrase of our founder “Just Get It Done, Mate!” I was, for a long time, the sole US-based employee (it was an overseas startup). Somehow, calling it trial by fire doesn’t even do it justice. In the 4 years I spent there, I learned more about business than I had learned in 4 years of undergrad (ok, ok, 5 years of undergrad) and 3 years of corporate life.
I discovered two things during my 4 years in that startup environement; First, I discovered that I can, in fact, work 12 hours a day, every day. Secondly, I found that as much as I was learning, I needed more formal business education to become a truely well rounded professional. Someone once told me that I had great business instincts, but I needed more credentials to back up the decisions that I was making.
So, after scaling back my hours at work to only 8 hour days, I dedicated a solid 4 hours per night, on most nights, to pursuing my MBA. It has not been easy, but I can say, beyond a doubt, that it has been the best educational experience I have undergone thus far. It’s not for everyone, but for me it is the missing piece that I needed. The irony is, during undergrad, I did not take school nearly as seriously as I do now. All I ever wanted to do was be social and travel; the actual education part was never that high on the list. Now, suddenly, I am in an environment with people just like myself and I find myself competing to be better, actually caring about my grades and further, actually wanting to learn even more than the material being taught in class.
So if you can work another 4 hours after you’re done with a standard work day, if you find yourself wanting to know more about the area of business you find yourself in, and if, like many professionals, you find that you work better when the pressure is on, well, you might want to look at getting your MBA too.
I wish I could find the original source of the photo above, but it came to me in an email. If this is your photo, shoot me a message and I’ll give you credit.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
This is the full video (yawn) where I appeared to discuss my work with virtual teams, and discuss techniques for managing teams across global borders. Originally recorded in February, a recent discussion reminded me that I had never posted the video; better late than never.