Thursday, September 30, 2004

Managing by Blog

It's hard to manage if you Don't Blog, says Fortune Magazine.

"I don't have the advertising budget to get our message to, for instance, Java developers working on handset applications for the medical industry. But one of our developers, just by taking time to write a blog, can do a great job getting our message out to a fanatic readership.
Blogs are no more mandated at Sun than e-mail. But I have a hard time seeing how a manager can be effective without both."
- Jonathan Schwartz, President and COO, Sun Microsystems.

I wonder, how long will it be before blogs show up as classroom discussion material in b-schools ?

I believe that blogging is here to stay big time, though it might take a while to go mainstream. At a corporate, or even business school level, the 'support' for blogging appears, to me, to be a function of culture. At the core is probably the desire of the powers-that-be for control or, rather, the disdain for nonconformity. Control over not necessarily the people who are part of the community, but more likely the carefully crafted message they want to convey. But, that is missing the bigger picture.

I read many student blogs, and there are cases where I have found students who do things that are very closely aligned to my interests. I can instantly set up a dialogue to explore what is important to me. In a non-blog world, the path to getting there is much harder. Another example is from my workplace. I was at a meeting a couple of years ago when a senior person was talking about research his team had been working on for a few years. This stuff was so aligned with my thesis research at grad school that after the meeting I talked with him, and was collaborating with his team from the next day. If we had had internal blogs, say, then it is quite possible that I would have been blogging about my research interests, and they about theirs, and we could have hooked up much earlier for mutual benefit.

In my experience, one of the hardest things to do is staff new projects that are started internally within a company. Especially in the last few years, when new hiring has crawled to a halt, and internal resources have to be redeployed. In the software world, almost everyone has knowledge, interests, and skills in areas that are beyond the current or most-recent job description. The problem is, how do the two parties know what the requirement-availability is ? job postings, resumes etc are the way this is done now, but I think blogs can have an important role to play in bridging this gap.

I think Wharton is an interesting, though i'm not sure if it was so intended, experiment in exploring the collaborative use of blogging. It's great for us prospectives to get a sense for what goes on behind those curved red-brick walls. However, it would be interesting to learn if students themselves benefit from reading what 20-odd classmates write about. Does someone's mentioning of an issue on a blog provoke a widespread discussion ? Or the creation of a new club ? Do you get approached to do things based on what you blogged, but never would have had the time to talk to people in detail about ?

At the very basic level, corporations, b-schools, non-profits, etc. are nothing but a bunch of like-minded people pursuing common goals. Blogs are a great medium to find and form such communities. For this reason alone, I believe blogs will thrive.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Finding Inspiration

Ah, serendipity.

It's been a routine day. Slept late, woke up late, scrambled to get to work, busy busy all day, and after finishing up work, some essay writing. This is not an optimal way to work on essays, but when you're talking days to the deadline, gotta go what you gotta do. After working at my desk for an hour trying to tell yet another story, I realized that I had to have a chat with one of my recommenders. Walked over to her office, and we set up a lunch to go over some details etc. As I was walking out, I noticed a sheet of paper scotch-taped on her door. Turns out it was her daughter's application essay to college. I'll just say, if I had a kid who wrote like that, I'd put it up in my office too. I stood there for several minutes reading and re-reading the piece of work. It was beautiful. I'm feeling inspired right now. Not in an if-she-can-do-it-so-can-I way, more like this-is-way-too-cool.

OK, back to essays.

Monday, September 27, 2004

London Update

Now, this is a wild card. There seems to be some issue with my email and I seem to have missed getting an email that London Business School sent out a few weeks ago. So, their school term has started and the waitlist has been officially closed. I expected to get an email regarding this, but didn't. Another waitlisted applicant told me that he had received one, so after waiting for a few weeks I picked up the phone and talked to the good folks on the other side of the pond. Turns out that the waitlist has indeed been closed, BUT they will have another review in the coming weeks when they can get all their officers together to make a few early offers to the candidates on the WL. If they don't, then they ask for a reapplication if interested - but one can reuse the recommendations and transcripts from the previous year. This simplifies things a lot. That is one less school for my recommenders to worry about, and it is a kinda pain in the u-know-where because LBS requires paper recommendations. So, all I need to really do is write 3 essays, and maybe get my recommenders to write a little update.

But again ... I may not need to do any of this because I may be accepted before that ... Hope springs eternal :-)

Thursday, September 23, 2004

What is Courage ?

Last month's Courage issue of FC is now available online. This is a nice piece.

"We are where we've been. You don't suddenly burst out at age 50 speaking Mandarin if you haven't been living in a Mandarin world or taking Mandarin classes. If we don't think leadership is our job, if no one desperately wants leadership from us, and if society in general isn't beating on us about that, then what happens? We don't do much, leadership is not supported, and surprise, surprise, we don't develop much as leaders."
- Professor John Kotter, Harvard Business School.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Aw C'mon Stanford !

I am mucho pissed right now.

Long day already at work, and some more work's gonna keep me up late. But I got my boss to say OK to my taking a couple of days off to go west to visit schools, and it seems like I might be twiddling my thumbs (for at least one day) when I get there. I've visited some schools over the past year and I must say Stanford seems to take pains to make it real hard to get in to even see the place, let alone be accepted :) I'm sorry, that's harsh, but they do make it complicated.

Every single thing that they have planned for their Class Visit program needs a separate appointment, including lunch with a student, where you are reminded to "Please understand that you will be responsible for the cost of your own lunch.", and the "free" one-hour campus tour ! I want to go in three weeks time and at this point the only thing I can get into is the InfoSession. Sucks big-time.

Now, I understand that they are a small school and everything, but so is Berkeley. I'm planning to visit that school also during the same trip, and they have a lunch+tour+infosession, all requiring no appointments. Just show up and you're accomodated. If you do want to attend a class, they have a class schedule posted online and ask that you pick a class and let them know 72 hours in advance so that they can accomodate you.

And then there is Sloan. They have the Ambassador program, that you sign-up for, but get half-a-day planned for you with the one single registration. Oh, and the lunch is free. Tuck and Yale, also small schools, ensured that if you took the time, effort and expense to come visit, you got to have lunch with a student and sit in a class. At Kellogg and Wharton, you are given the schedule of all classes for the day, and you can pick the classes you want to sit in on. And you can do a couple of classes if you are so inclined. Every time you visit. Unlike Stanford which also restricts you to one class per quarter.

I know I'm ranting here. I understand they must have a ton of demand for class visits and they are all taken pretty much early. But, if I have to travel across the country to get there, I can only plan so much in advance right. It's not like I can take a few hours off and drive down.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Fall Preview (both mine and Chicago's)

A note of thanks to Byron, for pointing me to the Fall Preview at Chicago and also letting me know that it was very helpful in his own decision making process about the school. I've decided to make my way to the windy city October 15-16 and have just signed up for my interview. Yippee ! Tickets/Hotels can only be confirmed monday since I'm not sure if I'll get to take the friday off. It's very cool that Chicago has a schedule that does allow for one to get something out of it (and interview) even if they only get there saturday.

Also, since I'm applying to both the Bay Area schools, I'm going to try and take two days off in a week or two to go visit them too. I have one problem with Berkeley. By explicitly asking people if they've visited the school as part of an essay question, they do - even if they claim to the contrary - put applicants at a disadvantage if they don't visit. Actually, Jett almost said the same when I asked him - they actually EXPECT all close-to-west-coast applicants to visit. It does definitely 'help' if you've made the trek cross-country or cross-continent. I did suggest during the InfoSession that they consider removing that part of the question. For now, given how competitive this process is, I'll take any little advantage I can give myself.

On a funnier note, I am inadvertently invoking one of my 'jinxes' from last year. I had this thing that every school I visited I was rejected. Happened with Tuck, Kellogg, H and MIT. Then I applied 3rd round without visiting Wharton or London. Got interview calls from both. I went to interview at Wharton on campus but did an alum interview for London. Rejected from Wharton but waitlisted at London. I was invited to their Admit Weekend and I went - as a waitlist waiting for a positive reaction - and got dinged.

This time around, I'd have visited every school I'm applying to - even before I submit an application ;-)

Hope y'all have a good weekend. I'm walking 26.2 miles to raise funds for The Jimmy Fund on Sunday. Wish me not-too-tired feet.


Thursday, September 16, 2004

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a plan. And no, we don't.

This is a tale of two plans.

I have been working on finalizing my list of schools to apply and when, and the plan is now concretized. 5 schools in the first round. {Second round gets its own little plan.}

Wharton - 10/14
Haas - 10/19
LBS - 10/22
Stanford - 10/28
Chicago - 11/12

It also turns out, quite nicely, that I don't have schools with multiple deadlines on the same day or consecutive days like the last time around. What I'm also putting final touches to is the plan of how and when I am going to have the essays, applications, recos etc done. Of course, I'm great at making plans but them going nowhere. I had one the last time around too. So we'll see what happens with this one.

In the middle of all this, I have to meet someone for dinner tonite. So, I call her this morning to let her know that I'll show up around 8 and she asks me, so what's the plan, and for some insanely stupid reason I reply, there's no plan. Ouch. I think I managed to sneak in a Yet at the end of that sentence. And, yes, there was silence.
Sad thing is, in this case, there was an actual plan.

There you have it - in 234 words, or 940 characters if you prefer - the story of my life.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

NoseBleed. Brownies. NiceChair. Brownies. Brownies.

these were my thoughts for the first few minutes as I sat in the Stanford infosession last night. i was at work later than i expected and so couldn't make it to the Columbia one.

i don't know what it is, but i've had a case of sudden nosebleed exactly 4 times in the past few months. it happened both times i was in Huntsman. once in a theater on Broadway. and last night just before the stanford session started. wierd.

it was a good session. there was Derrick, suave as ever, and about 9 or so alums. It seemed like there were a LOT of non-profit folks among the alums. there was the usual presentation, nothing a-ha jumped out at me. everything's on the website.

the q&a section was interesting. these guys and gals really like their school, and they gave a lot of personal anecdotes from their time there in response to questions. i got a few stares when i asked derrick why he thought stanford has the perception of having an arrogant student body. a couple of alums referred to this when we were talking later too.

the real highlight of the evening was a question asked by a fellow applicant. this guy was sitting in front of me and he asked a question that i haven't heard addressed in any infosession, blog or conversation before. basically, his point was :

how does going to school and working in and leading teams and projects with the smartest people in the world prepare one to come back to the real world and work in and lead teams and projects with people who could, for the most part, be not considered that smart.

fascinating question. i, for one, would love to understand how it works. i would assume that MBA's develop a certain style of collaboration and leadership during their two years at b-school. how does one react when the type A's around them are replaced with B-teams ?

Friday, September 10, 2004

The MBA Tour Boston.

I was at the MBA Tour event in Boston last evening and it was actually a productive event for me. It started at around 3:00 PM or so with panel discussions, presentations, MBA fair etc., but I showed up only around 7, after work, for the individual school sessions.

I walked into the last 5 minutes of the Haas session, so couldn't catch much of the presentation except for a few questions. They had another session scheduled and I went for that one too. Now, an admissions director wearing a suit with a red shirt has to get some points for, i don't know, something. And, he was a super communicator to boot. Instead of talking about the program with slides etc, Jett chose to spend his time talking about what differentiates Haas from the other leading schools. Here are some of the key points:
* Location - berkeley, bay area, weather, cultural + other opportunities, haven for outdoorsy types.
* Size - target intake of 236, very collaborative + supportive environment, leads to tight bonds among students and alumni.
* Teaching emphasis - they have a teaching mentorship program for all faculty.
* Social consciousness - this is very evident among the entire class & a sense of giving back to the community. Programs like social venture b-plan competition and students for students as evidence.
* Some of the star programs - MOT, Real Estate, Entrepreneurship.

I also got to talk with him after the session and about the entrepreneurship program. The one thing he did clarify was that the typical applicant who is interested in ent. has not necessarily started a company/venture before b-school. But, they want evidence of an entrepreneurial mindset as reflected in professional & personal experiences.

Oh, and their brochure is pretty cool.

I went off to a Columbia session next. This was a powerpoint slideshow, touching on similar aspects as above. The New York advantage, a heterogeneous (as opposed to diverse) community, choice and flexibility in classes, 12 concentrations, a subway ride away from the offices of the biggest and best corporations in the world, a super retail marketing program, choice of speakers on a daily basis, and very receptive and entrepreneurial alumni. Melissa, the admissions officer, then talked about their application assessment methodology. They are looking for three broad areas:

Academic Strength : GMAT, GPA, TOEFL(in cases).
Professional Promise : Professional resume, 2 reco letters, Essay 1, interview.
Personal Characteristics : Activities resume, rest of the essays, interview.

At the end of the sessions, there was a rather thinly attended wine-and-cheese reception. I stopped by the Columbia table and spoke with Melissa about the seemingly new-found entrepreneurial focus at Columbia. Turns out the new dean was very involved with the Lang Center before he took over as Dean, and this focus is part of his vision for the school. So, it's not a flavor-of-the-year thing. The other thing I got from her was that it was very helpful to know what exactly you want to do right after b-school. An example she gave was - i want to be an associate in a firm consulting in XYZ in New York City. I am more focused on goals 3-5 years out and longer term, so some food for thought.

The final session I attended was Chicago. I was going to go to the MIT session but I wanted to get a feel for what Chicago was - i really don't know much about the school beyond what the brochures say. I walked in a couple of minutes late and after listening to Kurt, the admissions director, talk for about a minute, I had an idea for the mascot question on their application pop into my head. True story. Later, the other applicants asked him a couple of questions on the mascot thing, and he said that it was just a quirky way of trying to find out what the applicants knew about the school. As a guideline, he talked about a question they'd asked previously - who would you have dinner with, and what would you order. In that question, the 'what would you order' was added for humor, but many applicants actually talked in unnecessary detail about the food. So much that they removed that part of the question the next year ;-) The one big takeaway for me was the remarkable flexibility of the curriculum. Except for LEAD, you are free to tailor the program towards what you want to study and learn.

After the session, I had a long chat with Kurt and it was very informational. We talked about entrepreneurship at Chicago and he told me flat out that if I was looking for a tech-based school, Chicago wasn't it. But, what they excel at are teaching the theory and fundamentals of management, and providing the flexibility and resources to experiment. I talked about my particular situation and what I could expect at Chicago and he gave me some great thinking points. I'm actually pretty excited about the school. Totally not what I expected.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

It's all in the stars

I have a confession to make. I've never looked at the night sky through a telescope. Until saturday night, that is. I got a telescope for my birthday and finally got around to using it in the woods of Maine. As an aside, it was the friend who gave it to me who finally assembled it. Ain't I a lazy bum ! I popped out the rear moonroof of my car, set the telescope on the roof, made myself comfortable on my seatback, and settled down to finally see what excites stargazers so much.

I might need to get my eyes checked. For all I saw were stars. d-uh, you say ? my reaction, exactly. Of course, it didn't help that I didn't know what I was looking for.

So, I decided to play a little game. I would point the telescope toward a portion of the sky and try to make up figures from the stars I saw, sorta like my own constellations. What started out as a silly game led me to some serious thinking. Utterly out of place for a campground in Maine. Past midnight. But, that's just me.

So, here's the situation. I'm looking through the lens of a telescope at a set of stars, some brighter than the others. The objective - to try and attribute a shape/image/association/whatever to this set of stars.

I saw one and it reminded me of a right isosceles triangle with a line through two sides parallel to the base ! I guess there were 5 bright stars lined up in a formation that led me to instantly think about this. I also remembered, and I don't know why or how, about all the formulas that apply to this triangle, the ratios between the sides, etc. I know man, I'm going to kick ass in math camp someday.

Then, there were a few sets of stars I couldn't think of anything to associate with.

The one I remember most vividly was an elephant with its trunk up in the air ! I stared at this a long time trying to figure out why this picture came to mind. I guess there were just enough stars in the right places for it to make sense. Simliar to reading words. I just mis-spelld 'similar' in the previous sentence, and 'mis-spelled' earlier in this one, but you probably didn't stop reading when you came across them. You most-likely understood what I was trying to say, and continued reading. There is this theory that if the first and last alphabets of a word are in place, then our minds can make the association even if some of the other alphabets are mis-aligned, missing, or replaced. On the other hand, if the verminatoro are replaced but the rest of the word is in place, the job gets much harder. Read verminatoro as terminators.

So, what do we have here ? We are able to form complete pictures from limited sets of information. However, what's important is not how much information we have, but how that information is aligned or presented to us. This determines if we think we're looking at a trumpeting elephant or a right isosceles triangle or something that doesn't make any sense.

Later that night, my stargazing debut done, I was trying to outline my Stanford essay one by torchlight and realized that if the above can be true of stars and words, it is most likely true of people too. More to the point, others form impressions of us based on certain, usually disjoint, data points about our lives. Even more to the point, various adcoms are going to play this little game with us in a few months. And the really cool thing is that try as one might to present oneself as an elephant or a triangle, it is still upto the one reading the application to figure out what s/he sees.

I now better understand what's meant by 'it wasn't you they rejected, it was your application'. As the friendly neighborhood astrologer in India would put it, it's all in the stars.