Posted in Personal Stories

The Idiot’s MBA Survival Kit

Inspiration works in unusual ways. Like the idea for this post, this came from this 2500 year old quote.

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” – Confucius

For a while now, I had been looking back at my life and wondering how I could have done differently in the last 2 years. Not with any regrets, but with an analytical and retrospective frame of mind.

I mean, B school is a confusing place. You are presented with a zillion choices, what you want to do, where you want to be?. Being shown glorious examples of outstanding alumni doesn’t make life easier either. Worse still, you look around and find that everyone has been a super achiever at a certain level.  There is a desperation and restlessness to excel, which I haven’t seen anywhere else in my life. Newcomers come with fanciful notions in their minds, allured by fanciful placement brochures and reports. Humongous egos and whopping IQs raring to go and make an earth-shattering mark in the future!.

But is it all hunky dory underneath this razzmatazz ?

Scratch the surface, prod on with a few leading questions, and you would find each one is as clueless as another. A bunch of confused people trying to reassure each other with Jargon :|.

So, given another chance, how would I have done things differently?

That made me sit down and write my very own “Idiot’s MBA survival kit”. A list of stuff I wish someone had told me before I joined MBA. Not that it would make a walloping difference, but could have spared me the pain and angst that moments of confusion and indecision bring!.

Be yourself: Amidst all the melodrama and humdrum, it’s very easy to lose your individuality. With so many decisions to make, it is sometimes impossible to survive herd thinking.  You are tempted to get swept away with the wisdom of the crowds.. Always advisable to give it a thought – whatever others are thinking is it really right for me?

You will encounter many groups and associations eager to recruit you, showing awesome “benefits” .. Choose carefully; they will demand massive amounts of your time. Some of them will use all sorts of mumbo jumbo to create a cult among the followers. And as it is with all cults, they infuse an ideology, keep you so busy in it, ostracize anyone who doesn’t go by the creed, linking belief with a chest thumping propaganda.

Many innocent victims have been sucked in by this lure of delusional riches called “CV Value”. 😐

If you happen to be drawn into such a group, don’t be afraid to stand out. You could have the most valuable opinion in the crowd.  Some American guy from early 1990s said; “I have never in my life learned anything from any man who agreed with me.”. Yupp, totally agree with him!  😉

Take risks: Battle the unknown, dabble in the unexpected.The biggest mistake you can make during your 21 month MBA stint is not making a mistake at all!! Be open to experimentation because mistakes are the best teachers. I have learned the hard way!

If you meet with overall success in something, you tend to ignore all the little mistakes you had made. It clouds your thinking; you are drunk in your success. Fail and fall flat on your face, you pick up all pieces right from the start; and the take-away there is priceless!.  Just calculate the opportunity cost. What is the best place to make mistakes than while at school?. You might lose a few grades, and not your job. And you will learn a hell lot more!

Keep the Faith: I’ve noticed this – MBAs tend to be the most risk averse demographic. They hate uncertainty, totally lack patience, leave nothing to chance; evaluating all potential risks and returns. That’s why you need to remember what Steve Jobs said in his famous Stanford address:  “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards”.

When the universe constantly rearranges itself every Planck time (yeah, that’s the smallest unit of measurement), don’t blame yourself if you do not have visibility for the next 5-10 years of your future. You can never really know!

Its like: You don’t always have to find the right choice, sometimes the right choice finds you!

Choose your Advisers carefully:  A lot (or rather all) of your B-school experience depends on the choices you make. And social animals that we are, we generally seek advice.

Now, every place has some bad apples. You will meet your fair share here; with a deranged idea about competition (thanks to the Normal distribution curve). If they are your advisers, God save you from them!..

Equally lethal are self proclaimed thought leaders who try to control the opinions of others. Beware and look out!

Explore the Interactions: In first year, I wondered why we studied so many theoretical and “soft” HR subjects, even when someone just wanted to specialize in Marketing or Finance. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Two weeks into my very first job, I was making frantic calls to all my HR friends to forward me their notes and presentations!.

Out of touch with the “Real” world, many of us  have single minded focus on the so called “specializations” Unless you belong to the 20% which would get jobs totally specific to their specialization, most management jobs require understanding the linkages between all disciplines. The work you do will most probably involve bits and chunks from all classes. Make the most of it ; just explore the interconnections.

Don’t run after things you don’t want: The cushy looking Investment bank role paying a fat salary – do you really want it? Just because something looks so glamorous from outside, do you have to run after it?. Brand Management, Management Consulting, i- Banking – there are glam jobs in every campus. Alas, “All that glitters is not Gold”!

Many of these seductive profiles have an enchanting aura around them. Think for yourself.

Can you picture yourself in that role? Would you still be passionate about it if your friends debunked it? Do you REALLY want it?

Questions.. questions.. Ask yourself a lot of questions. The Gyaan listed above will hopefully help you understand and answer many of them… 😛

But introspection can of-course take you only so far.

Till you encounter the all-encompassing life’s compelling question  – “Why MBA?”

Dude,  its a sticky question. Will haunt you all your life; before, during and long after you are done with your MBA! 😉