Monday, September 27, 2010

The Kool-aid is great...but so's the cup!

I remember back when I was deciding between grad schools, I actively sought to learn about the schools' curricula and cultures (the kool-aid), but I didn't really pay too much attention to where I'd be living for each one (the cup). They were all large, well-known cities (except Evanston), so I thought I knew everything I needed to know about them. Going by my preconceived notions, Evanston was at the bottom of the list in terms of my desirability to live there, but I've been pleasantly surprised during my 9 months here by how much I like it and how much it contributes to the overall experience.

Evanston, or at least the part that I'm exposed to daily, is a college town through and through. What I've come to like most is that:
  1. I don't need a car. Most, if not everything, that I need is within walking distance (1 mile or less).  This is great because not having a car takes down some of the financial burden. I'm just about completely oblivious to how much gas costs now. It also frees up more productive time, because whenever I do have to go somewhere farther way, I can normally take the L (Chicago's elevated trains) and spend the time reading, listening to music, thinking, etc.
  2. The Kellogg community is pretty concentrated within downtown Evanston, so I am never far from what is going on.  On a daily basis, I tend to only interact with a small part of the city (below). That makes it really easy to plan impromptu outings with friends, meet for classes, and participate in any of the numerous activities that are always happening. When events do occur farther away (e.g Chicago), you can normally find a classmate that is heading to and fro, making the commute a lot more manageable. So basically, I've never had to sacrifice on an event I wanted to attend due to something like travel time.
  3. The overall college community gives downtown Evanston a great vibe. Whenever I'm out and about, I always see large groups of undergrad students walking around energetically, people eating outside, jogging, chatting at a coffee shop, etc. When the weather is nice, it's not uncommon to see people hanging out and chatting next to my favorite wooden horse or anywhere else throughout downtown.
  4. Hanging out with the wooden horse 
    The city seems to embrace the community. For example, the city had a "Paint Evanston Purple" event this Saturday to rally around Northwestern's football team, the Wildcats. As part of the event, they dyed the main fountains in downtown purple. 
Although I spend a lot of time in classes and meeting rooms at Kellogg, it's nice to know that there is this great, little city all around me.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wall of Assignments reborn

Created the Wall of Assignments for this quarter, and it is looking a lot better than the last one.

Wall of Assignments v2

Looks like I'm going to have 4 high-workload weeks: 4, 6, 8, and 9. The good news is that I now know I can visit the GF on Halloween weekend! That, my friends, is the power of the Wall.

For the marketers...

Just want to do a quick follow up on the the idea in my last post that social media will make protecting a brand "trickier and trickier going forward." This Fast Company article, Why Environmental Activists Embrace Social Media, takes it one step further by stating that "In the Age of Social Media, You Do Not Control Your Brand." I don't think we are quite there yet, but it certainly feels like the direction we are heading in.

I think it also points out how these things will spread at least for the time being.

Twitter -> YouTube (or some other media with broader appeal) -> Email/Facebook

It's a good article; much better than what I wrote!

Monday, September 20, 2010

SEEK440A - 2nd year pre-term course

Last Friday, I wrapped up the weeklong pre-term course, SEEK440A - Values and Crisis Decision Making. My section's (same group I went through CIM with) class was taught by Prof. Diermeier, who did an amazing job.  Although I went in with the impression that it was a course on ethics, that only represented a small portion of what we covered.

The course primarily focused on crisis management, including how to anticipate and react to crises at various stages.  I'm glad that we covered the topic in the core, because I otherwise probably wouldn't have even thought about it, although I regularly read about these situations, such as Apple's Antennagate and Target's donationgate.  The class provided a good introduction to build on and fundamentals that I think work regardless of the situation. I'll probably spend some more time looking into the subject outside of class.

I wish that it had focused a bit more on recent events. In particular, I think that some companies are learning the hard way how social media can make a single person into an effective activist (or 15 writers in this case) or elevate an obscure issue into a BIG crisis (pun intended).  I imagine that protecting a brand will just continue to get trickier and trickier going forward. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Just start writing"

Sometimes I get a piece of advice that seems so obvious it takes me a while to truly appreciate it. Even worse, I may realize it was an insight I gained in the past but allowed to depreciate to the point I forgot it was ever a big deal. Last quarter, I got one of those bits of advice from my professor in Advanced Business Strategy.

At the time, I was spending a lot of time researching my portion of the final assignment in the course. I found that every new piece of information I uncovered led to more things that needed to be researched, and I was starting to get overwhelmed by the endless forking. The end of the quarter was fast approaching, and  I still had no idea what my section was going to be like. I needed some help, so I asked the professor in class what I should do. He paused for a moment, leading me to think I was going to get a long, "academic" answer, but instead, he said "just start writing." He then followed up with an explanation that until I put something down on paper, I wouldn't be able to focus my research to get the max benefit from it. 

I took him up on his advice, and that ended up being a pivot point for me in that project, where it stopped feeling unmanageable. It also helped me recognize a long-standing problem for me that I was sure to run into during my internship (and I did): spending too much time trying to put out a perfect, "final" version on the first pass of something.  

I imagine that it's a common problem, especially when it involves an unfamiliar or somewhat subjective topic where the likelihood of being wrong increases.  What it ultimately does is delay getting the feedback that is necessary to actually improve something to the point that it can be submitted.  Today, I listened to Seth Godin (his blog...h/t to @monkbent for the link) speak in downtown Chicago, and he touched upon the same concept by saying that it is absolutely crucial to get to the point that you "ship a product." Again, the idea was that until you put something out there, you won't be able to get the feedback necessary to determine what works, what doesn't work, and improve along the way.

I plan on using my 2nd year at Kellogg to try and work on this "perfection paralysis" as much as possible. Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to do so given all of the group assignments that are built into the classes here. I'm wishing that I had been more aware of the problem much sooner, because tackling it before the summer definitely would have made my internship at BCG easier and more productive.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Managing the long-distance relationship during grad school

Got an email from someone asking how hard it is to manage a long-distance relationship during grad school, a situation that I think is fairly common. Most of the stuff that I read on the subject before coming to grad school took a gloom and doom perspective and highlighted that a lot of relationships tend to end on the Monday during Thanksgiving break the first year. I don't know if that's true or not, but even if it is, there are also plenty of relationships that go strong throughout the whole thing. I'm certainly not qualified to give advice on how to do it (I'm still trying to figure it out and adapting as I go along), but regardless, here is what I sent back. I wouldn't consider it anything more than a point of reference.
The reader's digest version is that, yes, it's hard, but I don't think it's impossible to maintain the relationship and enjoy business school. I think there are a lot of factors that go into it (and I consider myself pretty lucky to have some things working in my favor, like not having to recruit the first year), but part of it is about reflecting on what your priorities are during grad school and devoting time appropriately to the things that matter most to you, such as your relationship, going out, being active in clubs, etc.

I've found that it's possible to manage my schedule in order to devote time to my GF on a pretty consistent basis while still squeezing in plenty of grad school stuff.  Early on, the biggest challenge was getting used to being a student again. I had to figure out how to manage classes, assignments, club events, school events, group meetings, and everything else on a daily basis. After a month or so though, I started to find myself with more free time as I settled into the rhythm of grad school life. After that point, the biggest challenge became figuring out how to devote the free time I had. It is really easy to stretch yourself very thin by getting involved in too many things because you are afraid of missing out on some crucial part of the experience (we refer to it as FOMO - Fear of Missing Out).  This is especially hard because you'll always be exposed to classmates that are really active in some parts of the trifecta (school, extracurriculars, socializing), and it's easy to convince yourself that you are doing the whole MBA thing "wrong."  Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to do everything yet, so I've had to make tradeoffs, and that's where having my priorities set has been really helpful.  For example, I'll either leave early or skip out on a lot of social events at night because that happens to be one of the most convenient times to talk to my GF on the phone or on Skype, since most of the day is generally devoted to classes, meetings, clubs, presentations, exercise, etc.

Once you have your schedule under control, it is also possible to see each other more often.  During the first year, we were generally able to visit each other every 4 weeks by taking advantage of holidays, and anytime we did, I made sure to completely clear my plate of everything else beforehand. Again, this was mainly a process of managing the schedule carefully right before the trip to take care of everything that I needed to get done. We also tried to go on mini-vacations to get the most out of the time that we did have together.  This year, I'm going to try to be more proactive about making time to visit her by avoiding classes that end late on Fridays (part of the reason I switched out of a class this quarter), not getting involved in a lot of additional activities, and avoiding nighttime and weekend group meetings whenever possible.

It also helps to be open and set expectations (like saying that I won't be able to talk much during midterms or finals).  I try to do the things that I think are important to keep the relationship going strong, but what I think is important isn't always the same as what my GF thinks is important. So by talking about it and setting expectations, I can at least make sure that I'm putting effort into the things that matter most to her.

In the end, the distance relationship probably does limit the MBA experience some, but I think it's totally worth it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Kellogg Reloaded

The second year starts tomorrow (sort-of) with a preterm week-long course on ethics.  It's only a half-credit course, but I've heard it is really good for a couple of reasons: 1) it lets you ease back into school and 2) you get to take it with your CIM section (Jive Turkeys!), which you won't have had a class with since the first quarter.  I'm really looking forward to it.

I'm happy to finally be situated in my new apartment (Fortress of Solitude v2), which is a studio in the same building that I was in for the first year. 

Fortress of Solitude v2

I'm not going to lie, moving into a new apartment between school years was a big hassle (and time sink), and I only moved intra-building. Fortunately, a whole lot of events happened to fall into place to make the process a bit easier. For example, my old apartment didn't lease for a while, so I was able to keep my things boxed up in there for a few weeks after I left. Furthermore, I was able to sub-let the new apartment to one of my classmates for a couple of months, and he agreed to move my things while I was in the Big-D interning away; that was a big lifesaver. Personally, I wouldn't recommend putting yourself through the stress unless you know the move will be easy, like moving to McManus, which is probably easy since the apts are furnished, or will be saving a considerable amount of money (this was my reason, as I still need to pay property taxes on my house in Austin).

This quarter should hopefully be a lot less stressful than the last one. I'm limiting myself to 4 classes, and I made a last minute course change that seriously improved my schedule.  I decided to drop Pricing Strategies, and switch into a course that was just added, Marketing in the C Suite and Boardroom. The new marketing course is being co-taught by Professor Jain, who was the last official Kellogg dean before Dean Blount, and it includes a great lineup of topics and guest speakers. I would have liked to stay in the pricing course, which looks extremely useful for the consulting gig, but the time didn't work very well (middle of the afternoon on Tuesday and Friday) given that I expect to be traveling during a few weekends in the quarter. With the new schedule, I finish most days by 10am, and only have 1 class on 3 days (in exchange for 2 nighttime 3-hour classes).

It feels great going into this second year completely revitalized.  It's amazing what 1 week off from everything can do for the body/mind/soul.  After wrapping up work last week, I went with the GF to San Diego, which was absolutely beautiful.  We were able to visit the zoo, go paragliding, which is an awesome way to ease into skydiving methinks, and see Shamu!


I'm hoping to catch up on a backlog of posts that I have stored in my head, including some on the internship and BCG Texas in the next week. Hopefully I'll find the time to lay them down via the digital ink.