In Defence of my M.B.A
Ignoring my start up heroes and investing in formal education
I’m not what you would consider particularly organised. Nor am I under any illusions that I’m more strategic than impulsive. I’m ambitious but I’ve tended to figure things out as I go. “The harder I work, the luckier I get” is my current life plan, and for better or worse it’s still working out for me so far. Hopefully, I’ll reach a point in my career where a planned approach becomes necessary. Despite this, last year I kicked off my M.B.A. for reasons both strategic and impulsive.
A little because I was bored, a little because I wanted to say I had one, but a whole lot because I’m a nerd who loves to read, argue and study. I may also be influenced by the memories of drinking champagne straight from the bottle at my undergrad graduation ceremony; and the potential to get a new set of graduation photos without future ex-boyfriends and with skinnier legs. With this crazy idea in my head, I was encouraged by mentors and colleagues who recommended I do it and suddenly I was enrolled.
In the start up and tech space that I’m very fond of, this is decision sometimes met with hisses and boos. The list of things that I’d be better off doing, include reading this book, reading these books, being a good person, starting a company, investing in companies, working for ‘my’ start-up, working for ‘my friend’s start-up’ or just sitting on a beach and relaxing. I learned a lot from these ‘alternative methods’ because, like an M.B.A, they were complementary to my work and life experience. Alas, quitting my job to start a company for the sake of starting a company felt about as stupid as starting an MBA for the sake of having an MBA. It might be enough to spur the decision but both require large investments of time and money, dedication, and a whole lot of sacrifice. To survive and succeed, you’ve got to have more than ‘just because’ as your motivation to persevere.
When I’m being told there’s a billion other better things I could be doing, and being asked why am I investing my time (almost enough of it) and money (more than a lot of it) for another ‘piece of paper’? To put it simply, I love it. I’ve received far more from the work than I expected to, partly because I shifted institutions last year. Smarter people than I will market the value of a Masters of Business Administrations, smarter people than I will shout the value down. After twelve months in I’m happy to share my experience and reasoning for enrolling in new subjects each teaching period.
Networking I looked at studying online for all of about 5 minutes before realising that would not be conducive to my learning style. I started my MBA at another university and it felt exactly like an undergraduate degree. Starting at QUT (free plug) was a completely different experience. The classes are designed to encourage collaboration and discussion so that you can work together, networking and events are organised by the school not just students either passionate or just looking to bolster the resume. No it’s not easy to put an ROI on it and it’s too early to guess the benefits of having this network. Twice a week though, I meet with fantastic people as curious as to my opinion, perspective and experiences as I am to hear theirs. The cohort I have joined has a great culture of cooperation (strange compared to the competitiveness of my undergrad) the chance to work with talented, excited individuals is far more interesting than attending another industry event.
- Reflection Committing to stopping and reflecting on my day is hard enough. As much as I appreciate the benefit of it, I can’t help myself in wanting to ‘do something’ rather than think about things. Riding a motorbike or running is my version of mindfulness because I have to concentrate on only one thing. The best classes I have, never leave me questioning the value but regularly leave me reflecting on my own experience. What worked, what didn’t, what do I do well, what am I doing wrong that I’m not aware of. Most importantly- what do I want? Apparently – only anecdotally- many a student will change roles and company during or immediately following an MBA. I’m stopping and assessing ourselves and our context so often that doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Granted, I didn’t even last the semester.
- Broadening my perspective I’ve consider myself fortunate in my career to have worked for the companies I have. In starting my masters I’ve realised I have been enjoying a career spent in the walled gardens of successful American tech companies, enjoying the successful times in particularly successful markets. It’s interesting as someone who’s spent the vast majority of her career working for Apple and Adobe to debate the pitfalls of premium positioning in a marketing class. It’s also grounding to hear the benefits and experiences of other organisations compared to those offered to sales teams in the high margin world of software sales and the culture of bean bags, conferences, working from home and table tennis tables in place of water coolers. The idea of leaving my job behind me when I leave the office is foreign. Clarity of job roles, structure, progression and responsibility also fall into that category. Travel bans and restrictions were not a thing until I actually spoke to someone in my course. Diversity is great. Awareness is great. The realisation that your perspective is limited by the industry and experience you have, priceless.
- I need structure Realistically am I going to sit down and study economics? Or finance? Tech trends, industry insights, management strategy, other stuff either topical or of interest– sure. There’s a reason this stuff is in a curriculum and if I’m honest with myself I would otherwise, without a doubt, invest my time improving my pub trivia skills before understanding a financial statement or logistics. Despite what a lot of opinion pieces will have you believe, I’m a millennial (I’m posting on medium, are you surprised?) and no I don’t think I’m prepared to run a company. That whole ‘I don’t know what I don’t know’ thing actually has value. Receiving support from the people who know what I don’t and can narrow the usefulness down to only 30 odd books and courses is more valuable than I could otherwise comprehend.
- Complementing (not replacing) experience I’m doing my masters part time while working. I need to work. My job gives me fulfilment and has done since I was 19. In my experience, it’s more fulfilling when it’s supplemented by my studies. Equal parts humbling and empowering – opening my mind to how much I don’t know, and empowering me to do a better job.
- Feedback A mark is a mark and is (usually) directly related to effort. Yes it’s the worst part of being back formally studying, yes I had a different opinion last week when I had assessment tasks due in a phenomenally busy work week. It’s key though, because it offers me two things informal study does not. Accountability (hand in your assessment or the $2500 you paid us is wasted), and feedback. Formal feedback is exceptionally valuable and equally hard to come by.
- To prove I can I refused to sign a five year car loan because I didn’t like the prospect of committing to something for that long. My mum at the time said I’d grow out of it. To prove her wrong when I paid off my car I bought a custom built Batbike on a shorter loan. I may have commitment issues a psychotherapist would have fun dissecting, but I can commit to educating myself.
This list is highly subjective. Yes I’m not burdened by responsibilities so far as mortgages and dependents. I’m also biased because it opened up a new role and adventure for me pretty early into kicking off my degree.
One of the perks is some pretty cool opportunities to challenge myself and derive some insight. From March 2017, I am undertaking the Adaptive Leadership course coordinated by Dr John Bensley. Combining strategy, negotiation, team building and leadership skills with the 2017 Brisbane Oxfam Trailwalker.
To support Oxfam and their efforts to challenge global poverty donate here. Every dollar donated will be incredibly appreciated by me and matched by my super generous employer*.
*assuming I can correctly fill out a form and understand that process