Saturday, March 22, 2008

Upping the Ante

So we're in our second day of Strategy Management, and it's clear from the professor's approach that this will be much more difficult than it first appeared. The syllabus was light, the reading seemed easy, and the topic seemed digestible-- we should have realized it was a trick! The professor is the chair of the Strategy department and he is clearly one of the most disciplined thinkers we have had to date. His exacting approach to lecture, his tendency to call on random people in class, and his breakneck speed of delivery have shown us very quickly that we need to rise to the occasion and ratchet up our thinking. Yesterday we were all in shock, and today I'm finally starting to appreciate the challenge. This is much more like what I expected in graduate school.

One of the maxims that has held thus far is that you can measure the value-add of professors and classes by at least two factors:

  1. The delta between the number of PowerPoint slides in the handouts and the amount of material covered by the professor in class (being able to spend 20-30 minutes per slide while speaking "off the cuff" is a sign of preparedness and intellect).
  2. The amount of notes taken in class represents the net new knowledge delivered. The more notes I take each session, the more "learning" that's taking place to justify the class time spent.

We'll see if the trend continues, but right now this class has the best numbers for both measures above. It's also been very interesting to see how this professor's approach has elicited comments and contributions from every member of class- something that hasn't been true in any other class we've taken.

Accounting Jokes

How many accounting jokes are there? Probably move than we need, but I heard one yesterday from our Finance professor. Like all our professors, the Finance prof was lampooning his peers in other departments and used the joke to diminish the value of other disciplines.

Here goes.

Two Finance professors were floating over a university campus, lost and riding in a hot air balloon.

They spotted a man walking on the quadrangle below, and asked him, "Can you tell us where we are?"

The man answered, "You are in a hot air balloon."

The second finance professor m the balloon looked at the other and said, "Must be an Accountant."

"How do you know?" asked the other.

"He gave us information that was factually correct, but absolutely useless."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Expanding Horizons

As I continue to progress through the curriculum in this program, many of my long-held conceptions are falling away. I suppose that's one of the main advantages of continuing education. Thus far in the program, I have re-oriented my preconceived notions of statistics and management accounting, both of which I have ended up thoroughly enjoying.

So today we began Finance. My roommate in college was a finance major, and everything I remember from watching him study was that finance was about as exciting as eating tape. SO I went into class this morning with more than a little trepidation: would it be as much of a deathmarch as I feared? Would I even find it compelling?

I'm happy to say that we're not even through the first class session, and I'm finding it one of the best experiences in the program to date. Much of this comes down to the professor's teaching style: unlike several of the other professors we've had, the Finance professor is humble, inquisitive, and he's working hard to take us on the journey of the concepts he's building over time. This is precisely how I learn, and knowing the professor is our guide in this vs. our dictator makes a huge difference.

So there you have it: I'm actually excitedto go home tonight and read more finance.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Back to It

Because I took my Accounting final early, I've had a bit of a break from class lately with three consecutive weekends "off" from class. It's gotten to the point where my wife asks "hey are you still enrolled in that MBA program, anyway?"

While it has been nice, it all came crashing down to reality for me this week as I realized just how much reading I've been shirking during those precious "off" weeks. The semester is split this time, so we finished Accounting and Marketing and now we're preparing to begin Strategy and Finance. We're on the road this week but I'm having to burn the midnight oil to catch up on my reading for class on Friday-- the official beginning of the second half of our second semester. I'm making progress on the mountain of reading, thankfully.

Truth be told, I've missed the pressure and constant feeling of being behind in my work, so it will be good (in an odd sense) to get back into the groove of class this Friday.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Another One Down

I'm done with Management Accounting. Because of a scheduling snafu, I won't be around next Friday when the final was scheduled, so I took it yesterday, a week early. It was actually much better that way-- I used this past week for disciplined study and I felt ready Friday morning to take the exam. Had I taken it with everyone else next Friday, I would have just pushed my studying back one week and not started until tomorrow anyway.

I also got to take the exam alone in a big conference room, so I could look outside big windows, spread out on a big conference table, and most importantly, I could talk to myself during the exam ("Now, does that make sense?"-- yes I talk to myself quite often).

We were allocated four hours for the exam and I completed it in two and a half hours. It was an excellent mental exercise but it's obvious how much I've adjusted to preparing for these types of exercises since starting class. I'm happy to see that my mind is at least a little sharper than it was in August.

So, another class down. That's five graduate courses completed-- who would have guessed I'd be able to say that? I feel good about the accomplishment and I really feel I'm hitting my stride with the program: less stressed about every week's assignments, better able to absorb material and call out the key points, and better able to take tests.

Most importantly, I'm starting to see that, contrary to the self-image I've had since high school, I may not suck at math. My two favorite classes have been math-related: statistics and management accounting. What's up with that? Going into the program, I would have expected the touchy-feely classes (like organizational behavior or marketing) to be my favorites, but I'm really liking the math challenges. Of course it all takes good teachers, and I've had math from some bad teachers too (like financial accounting last semester) so clearly it's a mix. Still, it's odd to find myself actually looking forward to engaging in a math exercise.

Markstrat Blues

Well, our 7-week Markstrat marketing simulation deathmarch is over. And we came in third. Third out of three really, since the other two teams were so far below everyone else that they didn't really pose a challenge to anyone. We're still digesting the sad news, and wondering what we all learned about marketing as a result of doing the simulation.

I think part of the whole thing was to demonstrate how difficult it is to make informed business decisions without a solid information dashboard. The user interface for Markstrat was arcane and almost impossible to digest, so it was kind of like flying a plane wearing glasses covered in wax paper-- you could kind of see things, but in the end you never knew if you were going to crash into something or not. Every week, we'd submit our decisions and cross our fingers until the results came out the other end.

For the first two weeks, we were flying high on top of the other six teams, but everything after week two was pretty much downhill as the other teams figured out how the internal Markstrat machine worked and we continued experimenting. Overall I think we did the best we could-- how much time can you really spend on something like this when you also have a family, full-time job, and all your other coursework to do? Some of the winning teams spent 4-8 additional hours per week in Markstrat-specific meetings. No way we were going to do that.

So in the end, it's 25% of our grade, and we'll chalk it up to experience. But I warn you, beware the seven-week madness that is Markstrat!