Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Midterm Madness is back...and a few other things

This Friday I'll be back in the middle of another round of Midterm Madness. Last quarter I was spared from the "fun" that is MM, and that was pretty awesome. It ultimately meant that I didn't have a big spike in work at the middle of the quarter, so my stress level remained well below that of a pet rock up until the end of the quarter.

I only have two take-home midterms, so it's not bad at all, but school is back near the top of my priority list. This is pretty much how things worked out in undergrad too; after a few semesters of not focusing as much on classes, I stepped it up in the last semester. I guess I like to finish things strong.

I had a mixture of events, including the Special K! show on Friday, assignments, and other ToDo items all align this week to make things pretty hectic, but then my Human Resources Management professor decided to push back the midterm due date by a week in response to students' concerns about overlapping assignments. I always forget how responsive professors can be to student feedback/requests until something like this happens. Score!

A lesson on teams
The MarkStrat simulation in Marketing Strategy seems like the perfect catalyst for a lot of team drama/arguing, and yet my team is handling it like a bunch of champs. If there has been any negativity, I haven't picked up on it all. The team has been working very well together, and that brings me to a lesson that I've picked up on teams at Kellogg.

It's not just about having the "smartest" team, it's about having a team that can work well together.

This is something that I hear echoed all the time by people working at start ups. They like to talk about building the right team early on because of how critical it is to success. And when they bring up the "right team," I've rarely if ever heard them distil this down to having the "smartest" team. 

When a team clicks, it's pretty amazing what can happen. I'll repurpose a phrase I heard at the Tech Conference and say that "what a team can do is equal to the aggregate ability of the team raised to how well they work together." The best example I have of this was my FinD team, though I'm sure it's influenced by Recency Bias because I've had a lot of great team experiences. Every week we destroyed all of the cases, and after a rocky start, we began getting check pluses left and right. It was groovy.

I don't know what determines if a team will "click," but I do know that I've experienced varying degrees of it at Kellogg.

ClearAdmit Best of Blogging
The time has come once again for ClearAdmit's best of Blogging competition. I consider myself pretty lucky to be considered among a great list of nominees, not the least of which includes Military to Business, Rocky, Dino, Jeremy, and Shobhit.

Way back when I was impatiently waiting for grad school to start, ClearAdmit was the only place that I found curating student/applicant blogs through Fridays from the Frontline, and it was extremely useful, if anything, just to know what the active blogs were.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Week 4 rundown

Activity 03/27 04/0304/1004/17
Intl Biz Strat 8.410.711.910.8
Mktg Strat 4.813.912.812.7
HR Mgmt 11.86.613.710.8
* Note that 3 hours each week is spent in class

There are only 6 weeks left until the end of the quarter and 8 weeks until our graduation convocation. If the hours situation remains the same, then that means I have roughly 210 hours of school-related work ahead of me. That seems like a lot, and yet, the weeks will probably continue to fly by.

International Business Strategy
We covered how a firm should price its products in different markets. The profit-maximizing strategy would be to set unique prices according to market conditions, which are affected by local customers, local competitors, and your costs to deliver the product, but that isn't always possible because of consumer perceptions of fairness and arbitrage. The professor likes to present "mini-cases" in class to highlight whatever topic we are covering, and he then gets us to comment on each one. He seems to avoid giving us concrete answers to promote open discussion and get us to analyze the situations ourselves.

We are getting our midterm, a take-home, timed test, at the end of next week, so I've started prepping my cheat sheet, which is starting to look as crazy as some of my past sheets.

As far as the final project goes, my team is going with the tried and true Divide and Conquer approach. I know what I'm responsible for, so I'm going to start ramping up on that to get it done as soon as possible.

Marketing Strategy
At the beginning of the first class every week the professor throws up the results of the latest round of the MarkStrat simulation. It's always a fun part of the class. Things didn't go so well for my team this week in the MarkStrat simulation, though we anticipated our fall. Hopefully we'll be able to turn the boat around, though we only have 4 rounds left.

We covered new business strategy in class, looking at approaches for either entering an established category or a new/emerging category. I wish I could describe it in more detail, but I haven't been reviewing my notes in this class as much as my other classes, in part because of the additional demand of MarkStart but also because I'm taking this class under the Pass/Fail option. I didn't think it would change my behavior much, but when it comes time to make trade offs across my classes, it definitely has an impact.

We also had to submit a marketing plan describing our MarkStrat strategy. That was fun. The plan was  based on the guidelines that the professor lays out in his book, Breakthrough Marketing Plans.

Human Resource Management
This week we talked about signaling, screening, and benefits. I think the signaling part was pretty interesting. It has to do with how workers try to overcome the problem of asymmetric information by performing certain actions according to their marginal costs and expected marginal benefits to communicate something about themselves. We covered examples of signaling, the requirements for signaling to be effective, and potential outcomes. On the flip side, employers use screening to try to mitigate adverse selection, another nasty side effect of asymmetric information.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Some live music venues in the area

There are a lot of nightlife options to be had in Chicago, but I've always been partial to live music myself. Although I haven't been able to scope out the area as well as I would have liked, I have squeezed in some great concerts while here (and I've also missed quite a few).

I thought I'd list a few options for anyone coming to Kellogg interested in getting their live music fix. You can get to most of them via the rail or bus system (Google Maps is awesome for planning out the public transit commute), which is great if you don't have a car.

Evanston SPACE
I just made it out to this small venue for the first time this week, and it is amazing. The sound system was phenomenal, and the venue is located in Union Pizzeria, so you can grab a pizza and eat it during the show or just stick with drinks. It's just a few blocks away from the Dempster L stop. It takes less than 15 minutes to get there from downtown Evanston.

Park West
This one is in Lincoln Park, and the venue itself looks pretty cool on the inside. It used to be a theater before it was converted to a concert venue. They had a lot of tables with Reserved signs when I went, but they are actually open to any group of 3-4.

Empty Bottle
This is a smaller venue that's northwest of the loop. It's a little harder to get here (you'll have to use both the L and buses), but it has its own charm. It reminded me of some of the smaller places in Austin (like the Parish).

Wrigley Field
They've been holding summer concerts at the stadium the last few years, and I think they are going to keep doing it. Last September, Dave Matthews Band played a few shows here.

The Keg
Located in the heart of Evanston, this is the place to see either of the Kellogg student bands: Captains of Industry or the Rocket Pockets.

Buddy Guy's Legends
If you are looking for blues, then this is a good option. It is south of the loop in a part of Chicago that seems a little questionable at night, so I would consider going in a group or taking a cab to and from the venue. They charge cover at the door.

Unfortunately, I haven't made it out to Schubas yet, and I probably won't at this point, but it has been on my radar since moving to Evanston.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I wonder when he graduates

I see this rabbit near the Northwestern University music building all the time on my way to school, and even if I'm late for class, I can't help but stop to watch him do his thing, which almost always involves eating grass, for a while.

NU Rabbit

Last May, he was much smaller.

Baby Bunny!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Former President of Colombia @ Kellogg

Alvaro Uribe speaking @ Kellogg School of Management

Álvaro Uribe, the former President of Colombia, came to speak to us about leadership yesterday. The event, hosted in part by the school's Latin American Business Conference, was moderated by Prof. Kraemer, who had interacted with the president before when he was still CEO of Baxter.

There was a bit of controversy over the event, with some protesters doing their thing outside of the school. I'm not familiar with the details, but it seems to stem from two issues: paramilitary connections within his party and wiretapping of the opposition party's members. Prof. Kraemer asked several questions about those issues, as did an NU grad student in the audience.

Again, having no knowledge of it, I can say that the president defended his record forcefully while handling the questions very well. He pointed to several achievements during his time in office, including:
  • A big drop in violence against politicians and the press
  • ~1200 extraditions of paramilitaries to the US
  • A drop in annual cocaine production from something like >1000 tons to < 300 tons

I took a few notes early on before deciding it was probably best to put the laptop away. The following is paraphrased from those notes.

On what are the important requirements for a leader, the president said (in classic Kellogg speak), "it depends." He mentioned that he thinks anyone that wants to be a leader can rise to the challenge. He said you have to be consistent, conveying the same message regardless of your audience, and strong in the face of problems, especially when it comes to dealing with the agenda you have set. It takes courage to overcome the setbacks you will invariably face.

On dealing with crises, the president said it is important in moments of difficulty to tell the truth. He mentioned an experience he had in office when he ordered a rescue operation of 14 hostages that ultimately failed and how he had to describe what happened to the press and his country afterward.

There was a moment during the talk when I realized that although the OLC was packed, it was almost completely silent save for the occasional cough or camera shutter. It was pretty awesome, so I took a quick video of the scene.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Week 3 rundown

Activity 03/27 04/0304/10
Intl Biz Strat 8.410.711.9
Mktg Strat 4.813.912.8
HR Mgmt 11.86.613.7
* Note that 3 hours each week is spent in class

Another week down; another set of hours. I was expecting the time I spent on class to scale back some this week, but that obviously didn't happen. I still managed to be more productive on other fronts, but that largely came at the expense of sleep.

Things were slow in Intl Biz Strat this week. We covered global supply chain strategy, mainly focusing on two dimensions: where should you locate your supply sources and what should the level of ownership be (arm's-length contract versus ownership). My team settled on a topic for our class project, so I started doing a bit of research on that. I didn't put too much time into it though because I didn't want to dive too deep (spending a lot of time on it) until I know what part of the paper I'll be responsible for. That way I know I'm getting the best "bang for the buck" on the research time I put in.

The Marketing Strategy workload continues to be driven primarily by the MarkStrat simulation. This last week, we had to determine our decisions for the next round of the simulation and write up a marketing plan to describe our overall strategy in the simulation. Both are due tonight at 11:30. It seems like MarkStrat is going to be a big part of my quarter and probably a more memorable part of grad school overall. When I mentioned it on Twitter last weekend,  a lot of alums chimed in with their MarkStrat experiences.

In Human Resources Management we covered the "Bang for the Buck" principle, which is based on marginal productivity (that's where the differentials came in), for determining who to hire, signaling,  and when it makes sense to raid another firm for talent. I may have said this already, but this class has been the biggest surprise of the past 2 years. I was completely expecting it to go one way, and it has since gone in the exact opposite direction. The HW, which is made up of problem sets and cases, continues to be pretty straightforward, but the cases are still time consuming. Unlike most of my past classes, we have to turn in written responses to the discussion questions for all of the assigned cases. The case questions go toward our participation grade, so they aren't really graded, but it still provides enough incentive to do the cases every week because participation is a sizable portion of the overall course grade.

Friday, April 15, 2011

I've open sourced 168 Hours

Earlier this week I added the last major feature that I wanted to include in 168 Hours; the ability to send yourself the log via email. I've submitted the latest update to iTunes, and it is now waiting patiently in line to be reviewed and released into the wild. Assuming no problems, the update should be available to download by the end of next week.

Now that that's out of the way, I've gone ahead and open sourced the code under the ASL v2. It can be viewed and downloaded here.

That's right! You can now view the code to the hit app* that has already been downloaded tens of times in the last month.

*Not intended to be a factual statement

Permission to Graduate: Granted

Before grad school, I remember coming across someone's blog post that mentioned that getting in to a school doesn't mean you stop applying for stuff. They said that you have to apply for practically everything in grad school, and although not entirely true, it does generally hold for the more popular activities, like studying abroad for a quarter.

At the end of last quarter, I found out that when it comes to graduating, there's an app for that. It's a pretty short form in which you specify a handful of things like how you want your name to appear on the diploma and what your intended majors are.

After the app period closes, the school does an audit to make sure you've met all of the requirements to graduate and get your majors.

I got my audit results this week, and I've been approved to leave the bubble and venture out into the world with 3 majors:
The major in Management & Strategy wasn't intentional, but I'll take it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lipdub through Jacobs

This video is pretty amazing, and it's a great way to get a quick, virtual tour of Jacobs. It was filmed for this year's Special K!, which is a song/dance/sketch comedy event that students put on every year.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Week 2 rundown

Activity 03/27 - 04/0204/03 - 04/09
Intl Biz Strat 8.410.7
Mktg Strat 4.813.9
HR Mgmt 11.86.6
* Note that 3 hours each week is spent in class

Things picked up a bit this past week in my classes.
  • International Business Strategy - Most of the increase was due to the class discussion my team led on Friday. I spent some time researching the topic we were covering beyond the initial reading to look for interesting points to include in the presentation. I also spent some time practicing for the presentation, though I only had to speak for a few minutes. We are going to start the final project soon, so my hours may remain steady or increase somewhat as a result.
  • Marketing Strategy - My workload was entirely driven by the start of the marketing simulation. I spent a lot of time familiarizing myself with the simulation, including the boatloads of data available, and creating a few Excel models for my own benefit. Although the simulation runs through the remainder of the quarter, I don't intend to spend as much time on it after this initial investment. The biggest bummer about the simulation is that the software only works in Windows, so I'm having to boot up that image again.
  • Human Resource Management - Not much changed in this class. We had our first HW assignment, but it was pretty easy. I'm wondering if they will get harder since we are allowed to work with a group on them.
I should mention that I am spending more time on the classes than I otherwise would if I were taking more classes. For example, I'm keeping notes of all of the readings, especially in the 2 classes with midterms, for my own future benefit and to be able to review the material quickly for the midterms and finals. I didn't do this during my first 4 quarters.

As I mentioned before, I'm kind of in a holding pattern right now, so I don't expect too many noteworthy things to happen until we are a little closer to graduation. That's perfectly fine by me though, because I have a lot on my mind about life after Kellogg.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Kellogg Tech Conference - Opening Remarks

I nabbed a video of Professor Sawhney delivering the opening remarks today at the 2011 Kellogg Technology Conference.

*I started recording about 1 minute into it

One of the topics he briefly mentions is entrepreneurship (of the tech variety), which seems to be picking up in the Kellogg/Northwestern region. For example, I was told that Innuvation's monthly pitch competition used to be held annually. Furthermore, one of my classmates, an uber hacker extraordinaire, put together a hackathon that wrapped up at the same time as the conference earlier today. And, per Prof. Sawhney's remarks, there is a chance that the Center for Research in Technology and Innovation will fund an incubator at Kellogg with some serious coin. That would be awesome.

I was chatting with one of the panelists, Alex White, a Northwestern University grad who co-founded Next Big Sound, at lunch, and he also thinks there is a noticeable uptick in entrepreneurial activity versus when he was here. He jokingly mentioned that just a few years ago there were probably only a couple of people that would have been interested in the hackathon, and they would have opted to skip it.

So, if you are interested in tech entrepreneurship, it sounds like things are getting better and better in the Kellogg bubble.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Networking personal cards!

As far as Kellogg goes, I'm pretty much in a holding pattern right now. I know exactly what I need to do to take care of my last three classes, and I don't anticipate any big surprises.

I do have a few presentations at the end of the quarter, but the outlook for those doesn't seem all that bad. In fact, I just had one today in International Biz Strategy, and it went swimmingly. We were the first team to lead a 15-minute discussion in the class (on corporate "decentering"), so now I can relax knowing that is out of the way.

With my school stuff in cruise control, I've started thinking about life post Kellogg. I hope to continue meeting new folks, amongst other things, and I imagine that from time to time I'll need to hand out a card. Unfortunately, the business cards that I got the first year in school aren't well-suited for a more general purpose...and they are kind of generic/dull. I'm sure that makes them perfect for recruiting, but nonetheless, generic and dull. To be fair, they are very affordable, and that is goodness early on in the student life cycle.

* Note the awesome job I did of removing my personal information

I decided to make some new cards with the help of my patient GF. I tested said patience by continuously bugging her to change things in one very long design session, but it worked out. I just got the cards in today, and I am pleased. I've got 250 of these things now, so I better make the most of them.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Jacobs at night

I took the SLR out for the first time in a long time tonight to get some night shots of Jacobs. Nothing fancy, but nonetheless, enjoy.

Kellogg - Jacobs at night 2

Kellogg - Jacobs at night 1

Kellogg - Jacobs at night 3

Kellogg - Jacobs at night 5
There aren't very many night shots of Kellogg as far as I can tell. Hopefully someone with an eye for this sort of stuff will do it justice at some point.

Feedback is uber valuable

I've been using my app to track my time this quarter, and I've been struck several times by how different the "released" version is from the initial version that I started working on in early January. I think this image showing my early layout for the Activity window and what it ended up looking like is a great example of what I mean.


A lot of the improvements I made were the direct result of feedback that I got from my friends that were testing it. If it weren't for that feedback:
  • the app would look uglier
  • there wouldn't be a way to save off your data
  • there wouldn't be a way to reassign time to activities (I wasn't going to have a way to add time to an activity after the fact because I couldn't figure out a good way to do it) 
  • there would have been far more inconsistencies
  • the info in the app would have been presented in a very different way
  • there wouldn't be an option to alternate between a day and week view on the main screen
  • ...and a lot of other minor stuff I'm forgetting
This experience really reinforced the notion that an idea can become so much better when you are willing to share it with people and take their feedback into consideration. And the sooner you share it, the better. Incidentally, I also saw this happen a lot during my internship....iterating is a powerful thing.

So this post is kind of like my indirect way of thanking everyone that helped me with the app.

And it is also the last time I'll write about it...I promise.

Ok...that last promise is probably a lie. I'm going to try and upload the code somewhere like GitHub in case anyone ever wants it for anything. So I was going to give the heads up when it is available.

But outside of that post, nothing else.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Wrong about HR Management...

A few posts back, I mentioned that although it looked like HR Management was going to have a big quant component, it wasn't anything crazy like calculus. Today, I got an email from the professor with the following line:
Also, we will use some simple calculus (basically we will need to take derivatives) for the lecture tomorrow.
Ha! So looks like I was wrong.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Hours for the 1st week

Here is how much time I spent on each class the first week. There are 3 hours of class time, and the rest was from assigned readings. We had some very dense readings to go through in Intl Biz Strat and HR Mgmt, and I also got an early start on next week's HR readings. That's why those hours are so much higher than Mktg Strat. I spent the rest of my time watching the Friday music video and pretending that it was Friday, except for on Friday, when it was in fact Friday.

Activity 03/27 - 04/02
Intl Biz Strat 8.4
Mktg Strat 4.8
HR Mgmt 11.8

Friday, April 1, 2011

First impressions of the new schedule

In this last quarter, I only have class on 2 days of the week, and I can already see that there are advantages and disadvantages to it.

On the positive side, having so much uninterrupted "free" time is amazing if you are working on anything outside of school. I know that soon enough I'll have to dice it up for team meetings, but even then, I expect to have a lot of flexibility this quarter. I've already started putting it to good use. For example, today I met with Jenn, a 2010 alum that is working on an online MBA lifestyle magazine, to throw around some ideas, and tomorrow I'm going to Product Camp Chicago, a product marketing "unconference."

On the negative side, if you aren't involved in a lot of school extracurriculars (I'm not), then it is kind of a bummer to go so long without seeing your friends at school. Again, great if you have a time-demanding project that you are working on, but not so great from the interacting-with-people perspective. Just a few days ago, I ran into one of my fellow KWESTees that I hadn't seen in something like a year. She summed it up nicely when she remarked "I didn't know you had long hair."

As far as classes go, it looks like I got lucky this quarter with my professors. They all seem to be very colorful, which is particularly helpful for classes that are either in the morning or at night. They also seem very passionate about their content, but I've come to take that as a given.
  • International Business Strategy - The professor has been laying out the course road map this  week, and I can't really say I have a feel for the class yet. We've covered a lot of ground already from 10,000 feet, including Spulber's Star Analysis framework, but we won't start diving into anything in detail until next week. If anything though, I've already come away with a confirmation of how much I don't know about international markets. Fingers crossed that I can change that.
  • Human Resources Management - This class has been a big surprise so far. I was expecting it to be a qualitative analysis of HR practices, but it looks like it is going to have a big quant component (nothing crazy like calculus mind you). That's because the class relies on tools from microeconomics to assess HR options. The first article we had to read was Porter's What is Strategy, and it set us up to discuss how the HR strategy complements and fits with your overall business strategy. 
  • Marketing Strategy - So far, this has been one of those classes where I spend the bulk of the time either trying to resist, or giving in to, an ear-to-ear grin. Given that my first marketing class was the same way, it feels like the ideal way to cap things off. What's made the class so fun? The professor is very colorful and witty, and he has managed to get a lot of class participation so far. We didn't have much work this week, but that should all change once we dive into the quarter-long simulation.