Thursday, December 30, 2010

My 2011 Challenge to Grad School Students

There are a lot of companies and individuals that have done amazing things for their brands by creating and distributing original content for free. For example, Harvard puts out the Harvard Business Review, which I imagine has some of the most widely distributed articles in the business community, McKinsey & Co puts out the McKinsey Quarterly, 37signals created and shared Ruby on Rails, which is now a standard for web development, Fred Wilson made a name for himself via his A VC blog, and Kellogg distributes bite-sized bits of their latest research via Kellogg Insight.

I am a huge fan (of Justin-Bieber-fan-like proportions) of creating and sharing original content of all kinds, so I'm issuing a challenge to anyone and everyone in grad school for 2011.

Create and share something

Grad school is the perfect time to do it. There is a good chance that you will have to submit a final project for at least 1 class next year. Instead of looking at it as just another assignment, consider it an opportunity to add something to your professional or personal portfolio.

Latch on to a class that you enjoy, center that project on something that you are passionate about, and put your heart into it with the knowledge that you intend to share it. Schools and professors should be supportive of this endeavor. What school wouldn't want to be known for having students that are contributing original content in their area (in addition to their professors).

It doesn't have to be perfect, and it doesn't have to be groundbreaking or even read and loved by millions (like Harry Potter). It just has to be your ideas. Who knows? That bit of work that you share might give someone else the inspiration necessary to change the world.

And if you are looking for a place to share it, I suggest a blog, YouTube, or Slideshare.

Here are a few of the things that I've shared in 2010.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Improving daily efficiency

While at Kellogg, I've focused on improving my daily efficiency. I figure this is a great time to experiment with and ingrain different work habits because grad school can be as intense as working, and I'm sure it will become harder to do so once I'm back in the real world.  Furthermore, becoming as efficient as possible will be key to realizing better life balance in the future.

Here are some things that have worked for me.
  1. Getting rid of my TV - I used to have a glorious 65" HD TV that I spent many fond hours with, but that was the problem. Spending hours watching TV is too easy to do, and it keeps me from truly focusing on anything else. So, I got rid of the TV before coming to Kellogg. Not having a TV has worked out so well that I've vowed to not get another one for as long as possible.
  2. Limiting myself to one daily trip to Kellogg - I live about a mile away from Jacobs, so it takes me 30 minutes round-trip to walk to school. This hurts whenever I have a morning and evening class, because I end up spending 12+ hours at Jacobs, but at least I can use that time to do HW.
  3. Combining trips into one daily "To Do" trip - In the winter time, it is a chore to suit up with the layers necessary to stay warm only to then remove all of those layers when I get somewhere.
  4. Prepping meals at home as often as possible - Saves me trips to go pick up food.
  5. Wall of Assignments - gives me a quick way to see when assignments are due and to decide what to work on.
  6. Scheduling out blocks of time for specific activities - I'm still not doing this diligently, but whenever I do, it seriously cuts down on the time I waste in between things. If I don't have an idea of what I'm going to work on after I finish something, I'm more likely to get sucked into the internet, or to start playing guitar, etc.
  7. Trying to schedule every meeting in an assigned, contiguous block of time - If meetings are scheduled sporadically throughout the day, then I've chopped up my time to work on things into small chunks making it harder to make meaningful progress on anything. Then there's the switching cost associated with interruptions, like getting ready for a meeting, and that time tends to add up quickly. Furthermore, those transitions are when I have a higher chance of getting distracted.
  8. Disabling pop-up notifications on the laptop - I used to get a lot of pop-up notifications on the Mac, and I always stopped what I was doing to address those interruptions (particularly emails, which you get a ton of in school). That just kills my concentration and results in more switching costs.
  9. Hiding the dock on the Mac - If I don't hide it, then I tend to check it often to see if I've gotten new emails, allowing myself to stop whatever I'm doing to read those emails.
  10. Disabling the blinking notification light on my cell phone - Same as above but for both emails and text messages.
A lot of my changes tend to focus on minimizing both the number of and opportunity for interruptions throughout the day. I've become convinced that multitasking leads to crappy work, and I benefit from having long, uninterrupted stretches of time to focus on things.

The TED talk below by Jason Fried covers some similar ground. I finally got around to reading his book, Rework, which is a pretty short read with some ideas that are both interesting and common-sensical on getting things done. Definitely worth the read in my opinion. And it's only $9 on the Kindle.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

List of Kellogg Clubs

Just a quick tip.

There is a full list of Kellogg's full-time clubs available at that includes links to their websites.

If you still can't find what you are looking for there, I'd definitely recommend using the search box on the Kellogg homepage because you can normally turn up some useful stuff with it (like the link above).

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and happy holidays! Hope that everyone is having a great break with friends, family, and loved ones.

For those of you going through the grad school application process, best of luck.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Teamwork: on knowing when to hand off the baton

One of the "skills" that I've picked up for handling group assignments is knowing when to disengage and move on to the next assignment. This is particularly helpful when I'm bogged down with a ton of assignments, because there comes a point when the time spent refining an already good assignment is much better spent working on something else. It's all about the law of diminishing returns.

There's no exact way to know when to disengage, but some of the questions that I ask myself are:
  • Will any additional input from me make this substantially better?
  • Have I learned everything that I can learn from the assignment? Or at least 80% of what I can learn
  • At this point, are we just working on stylistic/subjective edits? This is particularly relevant on any written assignment, since everyone has their own writing style
  • Is all of the necessary content there?
Once I get a sense that it's time to disengage, I'll normally just drop off and let whoever has opted to finish the assignment take the baton over the finish line.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

OIBoard - My pre-Kellogg project

The summer before applying to Kellogg, I spent a few months working on a Perl/CGI-based website called Online Investment Board ( The idea was to create a "Craigslist" to match people that needed capital with small investors. It was an attempt to create an online angel investor network.

Shortly after getting a beta version online, I shifted gears to grad school applications and then preparing for grad school, eventually deciding to take down the site and archive the code.

Although the site has been long gone, I got on the Wayback Machine and decided to look it up for giggles. I was surprised to find a couple of archived versions of it, though all of the "sweet" graphics and CSS formatting have been lost.

The OIboard homepage!

And some of my first postings, which I attracted via Facebook ads (I was shocked to find at the time that people actually clicked on them) and were undoubtedly spam/scams.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Augmented Reality: the best is yet to come

Last week, Word Lens, a new iPhone app, got a lot of attention because of the neat way it is able to translate words from Spanish to English and vice versa using the iPhone screen as a viewer. Check out their promotional video to see what I mean.

The app is an example of augmented reality, which just means augmenting the real world with additional information, an area that I am extremely excited about. Word Lens is not the first application of augmented reality or even the most prominent; televised football has been using it for years now with the yellow first-down line on TV and Layar created an augmented reality browser mobile app that is pretty neat (here is a video showing that in action).  But it shows that the area is picking up momentum.

I think that we are going to see a lot of amazing stuff coming in this space in the near future, especially now that smart phones are providing the means to do this everywhere. For example, imagine:
  • Having a heads-up display on your car's windshield with useful information
  • Being able to hold up your phone to the front of a restaurant and learn about its menu: pricing, dietary options, offerings
  • Seeing GPS directions on the streets in front of you instead of on a small, digital map 

Friday, December 17, 2010

I love people mashups

I love technologies, organizations, schools, etc, that allow people from different backgrounds, cultures, etc, to come together, because unpredictable and beautiful things can then come about from the cross-pollination. Case in point:

According to Freshness Factor Five Thousand, Jason Mraz's blog, what you have here is:
Qawwali Flamenco is a meeting between the Pakistani Sufi tradition of Qawwali and Spanish Flamenco. Though the genres may appear quite different, they are actually very similar in that the music invites improvisational story telling, crying and wailing about love lost and found, from subjects spanning from romance to god devotion.

The double album was recorded live at the Fes Festival of Sacred Music, Morocco, in June 2005. Faiz Ali Faiz leads his Qawwali Ensemble, while Miguel Poveda and Juan 'Duquende' Cortes are joined by guitarist Chicuelo to form the Spanish contingent.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Advanced Business Strategy Final Project

During the 3rd quarter (Mar-Jun 1st year), my most challenging class was easily Advanced Business Strategy, at least in terms of raw workload. In particular, our final project on NBCU was at times overwhelming, taking up a considerable amount of time throughout the quarter. When I finally finished the 1st draft of my portion of the project, I felt an incredible sense of relief, even though we still had to do more work to bring all of the portions together.

As tough as the project may have been, I did appreciate the fact that by the end of it I had picked up a pretty deep understanding of the industry and a few of the major trends. It also happened to be somewhat similar to the type of experience that I'm expecting in consulting: working on a problem in an unfamiliar industry, coming up with some hypotheses, doing research to prove/disprove the hypotheses, and reiterating on all of it as necessary while trying to also generate output.

I stumbled onto the paper while organizing some files a few days ago, and after some brief reminiscing (is it too early to be doing that?), decided to try and share my portion of it since it is one of the more intense assignments I've had while here. Fortunately, I was able to get the professor's approval, so...voila!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Using online video to preview MBA programs

Last week, I watched an Utada Hikaru concert that was streamed live on Ustream. Although I haven’t seen any official statements, supposedly it broke multiple Ustream viewership records. At one point, the concert was streaming to 100,000 viewers concurrently, and as I watched, I was pleasantly surprised with both the stability (only had 1 brief interruption) and the quality (video and sound).

After the show (and another 4 hours of sleep), I started thinking about how streaming video could be put to use by MBA programs.  In particular, I think it could be a pretty useful way to expose applicants to the program earlier on in the admissions process.

Right now, applicants have a couple of options for gaining first-hand experience with different business schools before ultimately deciding on one. They can either schedule an on-campus visit or else, if accepted, attend the admit weekend.

The admit weekends normally happen at the end of the process, where they have less time to impress upon applicants. I think you want to expose applicants to the program sooner than later so that if they get that “fit” sensation, they’ll have time to build reinforcing mechanisms to support the decision that school X is the right place for them. Berkeley-Haas has partially addressed this by inviting all applicants selected to interview to a weekend event on campus where they do the interview and go through an abridged admit-type weekend to learn about the school first-hand. Having been to it, I can say it's pretty neat.

More importantly, not everyone can travel to the campus for a visit or the admit weekend. That forces them to decide on a school without having one of the most critical pieces of information (culture/fit), especially for peer programs that look very similar on paper.

In response to both issues, schools could hold an annual “E-week” early on in the application process that allows applicants to watch and participate in several events online via streaming video.  In Kellogg’s case, it could be held concurrently with CIM week. I would aim for at least 5 events throughout the week, held at different times to allow for the different time zones around the world:

1.     A presentation and Q&A about the “State of the School” (preferably by the dean)
2.     A Q&A between 2nd-year students and incoming students and online applicants
3.     3 full 1-hour classes. In Kellogg’s case, they could ask alums and current students to vote on the 3 most popular topics culled from Kellogg Insight to be turned into 3 online classes taught by Kellogg profs. And to capture the “feel” of class, you’d have to have students sitting in on all of the streamed classes. Kellogg currently has a small set of abridged classes online.

In addition to streaming these in real time, the school could also make the classes available in a video library, which could easily become a valuable resource for alums.

Not only would this allow more applicants to get a first-hand peek at the program early on in the process, but it would also provide another mechanism for the school to contribute more original content to the ongoing discussion on business, marketing, management, leadership, etc.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Why companies should embrace social media

Companies that don't empower their employees to participate in social media nowadays are shooting themselves in the feet when it comes to recruiting by stifling their staunchest advocates. 

A big challenge in a knowledge-based economy is how to attract and retain top talent. For example, Google has recently seen an increasing number of employees leave to go work at LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and other up-and-coming tech companies. In response, Google has been taking very serious measures to retain their employees, such as making multi-million dollar counter offers and providing an across-the-board 10% raise to all employees.

Although retaining employees is crucial, first you have to actually be able to attract top candidates, and this can lead to very intense competition among peer companies (think Proctor&Gamble versus Johnson&Johnson, the big 3 consulting firms, and any of the top tech companies). I've seen this first-hand at Kellogg, particularly when classmates are deciding across different companies.

When those companies are comparative on quantitative measures (salary, benefits, working hours, etc),  qualitative metrics like culture and fit become much more important. Along these lines, the independent perspective of current employee advocates is much more powerful than anything that can possibly be found on the company's website or official marketing materials. It's very similar to the power of independent peer reviews on purchase decisions, which a recent HBR/McKinsey study highlighted as the "single most powerful impetus to buy."

And nowadays, more and more of those employees are likely to take to some form of social media (blogs, FB, Twitter, etc), where they can generate buzz and excitement about their companies while connecting with people all around the world, if they are allowed to. In fact, just this week Pew released a study that found that 8% of American adults on the internet are using Twitter.

That's why I'm surprised that more companies haven't embraced social media to a larger extent. When a company doesn't empower their employees to use social media, in part by laying out clear usage guidelines a la Intel, they are stifling the independent voices of the very people that should be their biggest advocates (if most of your employees aren't company advocates, you probably have other issues to attend to). You might argue this is necessary to keep disgruntled employees from writing negative things about the company, but that will still happen when those employees leave the company. If your other employees aren't allowed to write anything, those negative accounts (and the perceptions they create) will go unchallenged.

I came across a great example of independent advocacy from a current Microsoft employee, Stephan Weitz, who wrote a fantastic blog post on why he has stayed with Microsoft for 14 years.  Furthermore, through his Twitter account, I've been able to get glimpses into his daily life at Microsoft, and quite honestly, that has seriously raised my impression of the company. Imagine if that were multiplied across hundreds or thousands of employees?

Friday, December 10, 2010

2/3 of the way there: MB_

2/3 of the way there!

The Wall of Assignments came down today, signaling the end of another quarter. It officially ended last night, after I wrapped up my first and only final of the quarter in Financial Reporting and Analysis. The final was as long as I expected, and although I felt much better about it than the midterm, when I took a serious shellacking, I'm still a bit uneasy about the class. I'm hoping that I can at least pull off a B, but it's hard to tell because outside of the midterm, most of the other assignments have means/averages hovering above who knows where I'm at.

Outside of the final, I also had the last class for Marketing in the C suite and the Boardroom last Tuesday.

Last day of C Suite Level Marketing. Full class!

For the last class, Professors Patel and Jain both walked us through a condensed version of their careers while telling stories and imparting the lessons that they picked up along the way. It seemed like an emotional experience for Professor Jain in particular, who is ending a long career with Kellogg to transition into the role of Dean at INSEAD. Given that this was the first time the class was offered, there is definitely room for improvement, but there were still plenty of memorable moments, especially given the amazing guest speakers (including the CMO of Coca Cola). They hinted at some of the speakers they are trying to line up for the Spring session, and I don't want to give anything away...cough...BMW...cough, but it sounds like the makings of another great lineup.

I have a couple of days in Evanston to clean the apartment and get everything in order before I go to Houston/Austin for 3 much-needed weeks off with friends and family.

It may be a bit premature to say this, but I feel like the end of grad school is now firmly in sight.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Life Balance presentation

For our final presentation in Managerial Leadership, my favorite class this quarter, my team decided to research work/life balance (or as Prof. Kraemer prefers, life balance), a topic that was of interest to many people in the class, and arguably, many MBA students thinking about life post-grad school. In particular, we wanted to present some of the benefits of life balance, though the presentation is geared towards people that already believe life balance is worth striving for, while primarily focusing on how to implement it throughout our lives after grad school.

As a result of how interested the team was in the topic, we were really able to throw ourselves into the research. The team conducted research via secondary sources, such as the books CEO Road Rules and Just Enough, and the NY Times Corner Office articles, and primary sources (interviews and a survey of Kellogg alums).

Through the survey, which was administered via the Kellogg LinkedIn group, I was able to witness once again the power of the Kellogg alumni network. In the two weeks that the survey was posted in the group's discussion board, we received 230+ responses (included in the appendix of the presentation above) from alums in various industries/careers and life stages (<5 years out of Kellogg, 5-10yrs....through 21+ years). Anyone that has taken Marketing Research and administered a survey can probably attest to how amazing this is. Better yet, 187 of the respondents took the time to answer the free-form question on how they were actually managing their life balance.

Furthermore, I had a couple of alums, Lydia Fisher and V.J. Singal, volunteer to do in-depth interviews with me. I ended up chatting with both of them for over an hour on life balance, their careers, and even my own career plans. I'm hoping that I can keep in touch with them going forward.

We saw 4 mutually reinforcing themes emerge through our research on managing life balance: Prioritizing, Flexibility, Planning, and Boundaries.
  1. Prioritizing - This one is crucial. We are all going to have more opportunities in the future than we can possibly handle, so it is important to take the time to figure out your priorities so that you can make decisions appropriately. In the book Just Enough, the authors found that highly-satisfied and successful professionals asked themselves "What's enough for me" when setting their goals and focused on the things they were most passionate about. Ultimately, I think the point is that you can't do everything, and the best way to make a meaningful impact is to limit yourself to the things that matter.
  2. Flexibility - Need to take advantage of flexibility at work and at home throughout your life. Sometimes you are going to have to spend more time at work or at home, but that should be understood in both environments and supported. Companies nowadays are better about allowing you to choose how, where, and when you work, but don't forget that even if you don't have a lot of flexibility in your job, you can always change the industry and role that you work in!
  3. Planning - Easily the most popular tactic used, it involves both short-term planning (via your calendar) and long-term, life planning.  The long-term life planning dovetails into the idea of priorities because it entails taking the time to figure out your values, priorities, and goals, and then creating a plan for how you intend to pursue and implement those items throughout your life. Really powerful stuff, and something that I'm hoping on doing before I leave Kellogg.
  4. Boundaries -  This comes down to just setting up rules and boundaries based on your priorities to help you adhere to life balance. This could be as easy as saying "on Saturdays I'm turning off my Blackberry and laptop and spending time with my family and friends." The hard part is disciplining yourself to follow them once they are set.
The other neat thing that we found is that life balance is a win-win for employees and companies. There are a lot of positives benefits that accrue to employers that are able to support their employees' life balance, not the least of which is more productive employees and higher retention.

If you haven't put much thought into Life Balance, it's worth taking the time sooner than later to figure out what it means to you, and if you want to implement it, how you are going to do it. One of the best comments I heard on the topic from my classmate was that "it's better to figure out how to do it now, while you are driving a bicycle, than to wait until you have a family and other priorities, because then it will be like driving a sports car."