Monday, March 23, 2009


We leave for China in less than a week. While that's stressful in and of itself, I'm having an opportunity tonight to experience a fascinating real-world example of all we have been studying and discussing in our International Environment and virtual team project this semester. While the virtual team project was, in the end, a highly disappointing experience (more on that later), I'm learning tonight that I've cultivated quite a sensitivity to international team introductions.

As I type this entry, I'm sitting on a call with my sales colleagues from work based in the U.S. as they host their introductory conference call with our sales colleagues in China. These Chinese colleagues are responsible for the China side of the same customer the rest of us work with in the U.S. This call is our first meeting with them.

Perhaps not surprisingly, my U.S. colleagues began the call by launching right into a PowerPoint litany of the customer account as viewed from the U.S. side. They aren't even presenting any of the China-based information, nor have they given our Chinese counterparts the opportunity to even speak up on the call and share information about their side of the business.

As I'm learning, this is what Americans do. I include myself in this characterization by the way. In the spirit of education and partnership (and always with the best of intentions), we tend to speak first and ask questions later. The irony of this particular situation is that I will be on the ground in this very location in less than a week-- I'm already arranging face-to-face meetings with the colleagues on the other end of the conference bridge. It will be fascinating once I'm on the ground in Shanghai to get more perspective on their side of the discussion, and to see where we can take this partnership moving forward.

This is one of the clearest examples of classroom learning applied to real-world scenarios I've yet seen, and it's also great to realize that I have indeed learned quite a bit in this program. Soon, the chance to put it to use!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Our Last Lecture

It's a beautiful Spring day here in Minneapolis, and it's also our last official lecture of this program. I thought this day would never come, and now that it has, it's amazing how light we all seem to feel in class today. We're still several months away from graduation, and we still have a lot of classwork in front of us (don't forget next week's trip to China as a class), but it's clear we have rounded the bend and are now winding down. We delivered our team presentation this morning for Business Law, we just had a lecture on immigration law, and now we're on a break before heading into the second half of our last International Environment lecture.

More reflections to come on this momentous day, no doubt, but just wanted to check in and communicate how great it feels.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Crossing Over

Something happened today. It was really strange. Don't get me wrong, the pressure is still very intense to complete our work prior to leaving for China in a couple of weeks, but today it felt like we crossed some great divide and were now heading down a steady path to graduation. Before today, it seemed we were always climbing up the hill; today we crested and it now seems we are headed down the other side. It's a small thing, really-- mostly mental, I'm sure-- but today I could breathe easier.

Maybe it was the graduation toast we had at lunch. The first-year students and our professors toasted us at lunch with moving and funny speeches, and as I looked around the room at my classmates, for the first time I saw them as fellow alumni, almost as if we'd already begun morphing from students into graduates. Again, it's a small change, but it's made all the difference for me emotionally. Today was one of the first times I've had a glimpse backward at all we've gone through and learned together, and it was great to finally be able to have that. We can see the end in sight, though there's still boatloads of work to be completed before we step on that plane to China together in a couple of weeks. And it's immensely satisfying to look back on where we've come from and how we've all grown together.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

International Tension

I've tried, oh how I've tried. I've really tried to approach my international team project with the most optimism possible, to make the best of it. When I first met my teammates from Poland, Austria, and China after Thanksgiving, I wondered how things would go. At that time we had what seemed like an eternity to complete our deliverables, and our Skype calls (when we had them and when a quorum attended) were pleasant.

Then came Christmas. Then came our decision to launch our theoretical product in Poland, not China. Then came Chinese New Year (which apparently results in the largest country on Earth literally vanishing for a full month), and a full month break for our Poland counterparts (sure would have been nice to know that ahead of time).

Now we don't have team calls. We barely e-mail. I don't think anyone has done any tangible work toward completion of our project (which is worth 45% of our grade). And our project is due in 26 days. If that isn't enough to make a hyperactive American like me fill his hyperactive pants, I don't know what is.

Mostly I have been sorely disappointed by the utter lack of interest and participation from our Chinese team members. We heard stories of how they checked out if you didn't pick China as the country in which to launch your team's business. But from the start we had some real problems with our Chinese guys. One claims to have to walk 10 miles to get to a computer; both seem incapable of using a telephone, even for local calls to dial into our team conference bridge. And both insist on holding our calls at 6am U.S. time, when it's most convenient for them. And then they almost never show up (the last time they were on a call was before Christmas).

So this is how it's gone. I'm surrounded by other teams who have their projects all but complete (though to be fair there are also some teams who have had just as poor an experience with their Chinese counterparts as we have).

What am I supposed to think of all this? That the American and Western Europeans scared the Chinese away? That they were just "too busy" to participate in the project? That they lost interest after we selected Poland as our go-to country? Who knows. All I know is that I'm sitting here about ready to do the work of two guys thousands of miles away, and it doesn't sit well with me at all.

You want to know the worst part? The two worst parts, actually, are these: when we visit China in less than a month, we have an evening reception with our Chinese teammates (do I really want to even meet these guys?), and then they come to the U.S. in May to deliver the presentation (they haven't worked on) and graduate with us.

All I can say is: if this was supposed to be an exercise in getting us to learn about collaborating globally, we've learned that collaborating globally can be much more lopsided an effort than we thought. If it was supposed to be an effort in forcing us to work with people who may be difficult and/or unresponsive, all I can say is that, were this a real business endeavor, those Chinese guys would be so firedit wouldn't even be funny.

So the clock ticks away, and again all I can say is: sigh.

Don't Look Down

Last year I developed the ability to calm myself when faced with a new topic or some subject that I had historically convinced myself I sucked at. Statistics, for instance. When I'd be in class (completely lost) or at home in the quiet, terrifying dark of night struggling through the homework problems, the only way I was able to get anything done was by taking deep breaths and by convincing myself that "you can do this, buddy." It worked-- I learned more last year than I ever thought I would, and in the end subjects I thought would destroy me (again, Stats comes to mind) were in fact some of my favorite classes.

Due to the sheer volume of work on the schedule for March 2009, however, I'm finding I need to tap those First Year anti-panic skills again. Each night I literally have to open my master schedule for the semester and look at the specifics of what I have to do between now and March 27 (when classes end and we all get on a plane to China). It's a crapload of work, let me tell you. At times the panic of "omigodomigodomigod" becomes almost more than I can handle, and it runs the risk of crippling me in my ability to be productive in my job, and it also threatens my peaceful state of mind for evenings with my family.

It's like I'm on a tightrope miles above the earth, making good progress but still with no idea how or if I'm going to make it to that other side. And I keep looking down. I really need to stop looking down. And breathing.

The Stealth Semester

Last year was brutal-- we knew it would be. Endless hours of pain and suffering when you really didn't understand what was going on in some classes at all, excellent professors that pushed you really hard, and at some point, the dawning realization that you were not, in fact, going to die, that you really might survive first year and someday have that coveted MBA degree hanging on your wall.

Then we had the summer off, which seemed more like four straight months of parole. We were giddy with all the free time we suddenly found ourselves experiencing. Of course there was the dirty little secret that we probably didn't make as good use of that time as we swore we would that sunny day in May at the Corner Bar (I know I sure didn't get much done over the summer), and as the retreat weekend in September approached and we picked up our first half ton of books for second year, we assumed the insanity would resume forthwith.

And then, nothing. It was really easy. Our third semester was much less taxing than either of our first two, and looking back I should have known something was up, that at some point the whole thing would come crashing down just when I was at my most vulnerable. BAM!

This last semester has been much harder than expected, but the strange thing is that it really didn't look all that hard on paper. Nor did the professors seem as masochistic as some of the ones from last year. Hey, this is the semester we all get to go to China together! How bad could it really be?

Well it's turned out to be the most nail-biting of all the semesters. Again, not because the work is particularly difficult, just because we have so much of the work crammed into such a small space of time; we don't graduate until May 18 but three full classes are sandwiched between January 16 and March 27. That's insane. Today is March 1. In 28 short days I will step onto a plane to Tokyo (and on to China), at which point I will essentially be finished with my MBA work. Looking on the calendar that all seems so close, but in terms of work yet to be completed, it seems a million miles away.

Killer of Evenings

I'm trying to keep a positive attitude when I hear well-intentioned people around me say, "You're almost done!" From where I'm sitting right now, it sure doesn't seem that way. Something's different about second year-- last year the prospect of homework was somehow thrilling, or should I say less revolting than it seems to be this year. Last year I was actually able to commit the three hours nightly to doing the work; this year it's been so much harder to get focused. So what happens most nights is that a dull dread sets in sometime midday (about all the work I have to do in the coming night) and then when I set in to do the work, I can't be productive for very long. My mind wanders. The kids intrude. I find I really want to spend time with my wife instead. I fall asleep and don't wake up until 1am. Little things like that. I've come to really view homework as the Killer of Evenings, because even when I choose to skip it or when I work at it poorly, it's always a dull thudding that rains on all the things I might do in a given night. Oh, where art thou, graduation!?