Sunday, November 30, 2008

An Early Holiday

I'm not quite sure, exactly, what happened, but school seems to have ground to a halt. Or rather I should say that homework has ground to a halt. I always wondered if second year would be easier than first year, but I never thought I'd get such a definitive answer. YES.

Now, of course whenever I'm feeling like "hey, I've got this MBA program thing licked," along comes some totally sobering realization that is actually more along the lines of, "oh no, you moron, you just failed to look at the other half of the syllabus" as I draw perilously close to missing some major deadline, but unless I'm really missing something this time (not beyond the realm of possibility), the work has slowed to a crawl. First year, I really did do three hours of homework, on average, every day (seven days a week) but I'm a bit embarrassed to say I haven't so much as cracked a book in almost two weeks. Part of that is due to the Thanksgiving holiday, of course, but still....

So I'm left to wonder: is this some mysterious break in the action, and will things get really lousy again in January when our fourth and final semester heats up? And let's not forget the virtual Hell that was September and October of this year-- our group had most of its work upfront (owing to our group number: 2), so I'm sure many of my classmates are agonizing over their remaining work even as I type this. But I am getting to the point where I'm almost kind of thinking about declaring the second half of this semester the easiest yet. And it feels really great-- like I've earned it. So I'm just going to let myself sit in this blissful state for a few more days-- class resumes this coming Friday, so we'll see if I'm clairvoyant or just plain oblivious.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


It's funny, how we've all become slaves to routine in our MBA program: we pick up our books, we patiently wait for and then read our syllabi, and we dutifully execute the tasks assigned to us. We listen for the nuance in each class and bend ourselves to the particularities of each professor ("this one looks for detail", "this one wants pretty charts", "this one seems to be barely paying attention"), we hand in our assignments, and we trace our grades on the master curve.

We've all come to expect that expectations will be clearly laid out before us, like a well-drawn map complete with breadcrumbs to follow.

I say all of this is funny because, as working professionals, it is unlikely we find anywhere close to this type of certainty in our everyday lives outside of class. We navigate re-orgs, trans-continental conference calls, ever-changing projects, and shifting management to read the organizational tea leaves; we jump from stone to stone trying to reach the other side of the river without falling in.

There have been classes where our expectations have gone unmet, where they have changed, and where there just haven't been any guidelines. Such is shaping up to be the case in our venture capital class: we have our first major presentation in two days yet no one I've spoken with seems to have the foggiest idea of what it is we will be measured against.

This is causing more than a little unrest among the troops. It's almost midnight as I write this, and my guess is that there are scores of my classmates also up later than they should be, stressing more than they should be, about a little 10-minute presentation coming up Friday afternoon. Blink, and it will be over, and we'll all be on to the next challenge.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Time is Passing

For only the second time in two years, I met my classmates after class at the Corner Bar near campus. There is a die hard core group that meets every week in this hallowed venue, but my family commitments typically prevent me from meeting up for a drink or two (Stella Artois with olives is my new favorite).

One of my classmates said it well tonight: "I came [to the bar] tonight because time is passing quickly." He's right-- before we know it, January will be here, and soon after that, our trip to China in March, and then it will be graduation in May.

I have a lot yet to learn before I leave, I have a lot more to write on this blog, and most importantly, I have a lot left to experience. Hence the value of taking the time to meet up at the Corner Bar. There's a lot more to this program than the 18 hours we spend in a classroom every other week. Soon enough, we'll find ourselves missing days like today (when we all played hooky from work, we all had lunch catered, we all got to sit and pontificate instead of wrestle in the "real world", and I got to have a beer with friends at 4:30).

Ivory Towers

Interesting times in Ethics class today. We have a professor with a brilliant mind but one who freely admitted today that he has precious little real-world experience (though he was at one time a consultant for Arthur Andersen).

Aside from the interesting question of "what is the objective of an ethics class in an MBA program?" our professor's admitted lack of practical experience in the business world has put a spin on this class that is making me question its lasting value. Is this class just an exercise by MBA program leadership to blanket us with a foundation in something resembling ethics in the wake of scandals at Duke and other MBA programs? A checkbox, as it were?

Our discussions have ranged much more broadly than in other classes. This wouldn't be as much of an issue if we were operating from a shared framework, some agreed-upon method for analyzing or structuring arguments, but we don't have anything like this. In fact we have fewer textbooks this semester than any other semester to date. We have fat binders full of photocopied materials, including more than a reasonable amount of content generated by the professors themselves, but no foundational elements. A base text in ethics would be useful, as would a book on rhetoric. Lacking these, we have the oddest and meandering discussions about everything from dwarf tossing to the state of the auto industry. I look at the notes I end up taking in each session, and there's little more than the date and a few scribbles.

I question whether this class is giving us much that will be of value to us in 10 years, as we move on to manage companies of our own and as we face ethical dilemmas alone from the comfort of (perhaps) a corner office. Without substantive notes to reflect on, and without a lasting framework to use to analyze our situations, what will we have?

One final and rather humorous spin on the ethics class today: the other class this semester is on venture capital/startup businesses, and today the professor from that class lectured at length about the duplicitous methods he has used during his time as a VC and business owner to surreptitiously survey customers, have his employees shadowed by detective agencies, and lie to customers about true pricing.

What implications are we to draw from having both classes in succession on the same day?