This is Howard C. Park's blog. Interests: live music, simulations and modeling, languages, iPod, social and business networking, systems thinking, history of science, management, BBQ, trivia, good coffee, organizational learning, traveling, personal histories.
Thursday, December 30, 2004
What I learned in Business School
I got my MBA in 1998. Jones School at Rice University. Took a lot of courses, but the most important things I learned are below.
1. Anyone can sue you. I was in Ed Williams' Entreprenuerial class. He gave some example of somthing one should avoid to reduce chances of being sued. I raised my hand and asked, "can someone actually sue you for that?". He smiled and said these words. "Anyone can sue you for anything. They may not have a case, they may be off their rocker, and they may lose, but they can still sue you."
2. Learn how to value a company. I credit two people for this nugget. Alumni Pete Melcher came and spoke at a President's lecture. David Ross, who taught the Finance Strat II course also told me this. Ask me why and I'll tell you why this is so important, even if you never buy a company.
3. The talent to reconginze talent is the best talent. One of my summer internships was with First Wave Marine. I worked for Frank Eakin (who eventually won the E&Y Entreprenuer Award). He bought a shipyard with zero experience in building ships and barges. But he surrounded himself with the right team who knew operations, sales, safety, etc. He also got rid of others who did not belong on his team.
4. Network, network, network. Maury Bronstein made friends with everyone during school and have kept up with many of them. He was not the class president nor the most obvious person who would get to know everyone -- he simply networked without prejudice. David Ross (see above) also gave me an interesting advice/benediction on the last day of class. He said, "When you graduate, you'll lose touch with many of your classmates. Then something interesting happens in about 10 years. You'll start to see your former classmates elevate to senior positions as they have worked their way through their organizations." Read: cast a wide net, you'll need to call on them.
5. Learn what people value. This is one of greatest lessons I've learned in life and I credit this to Pat Moore (ethical decisions in engineering), who after his retirement from Halliburton, taught through the Civil Engineering department at Rice. I can write much more on this, and will be happy to comment for those who ask.
6. Stakeholder analysis. This is not difficult, although practice helps. I think we learned this in Doug Schuler's government processes class.
7. Describe - Diagnose - Prescribe. The original framework from Steve Currall (organizational behavior) had 4 elements. Either I can't remember all four, or have been able to get away with this condensed version. It's a good way to "categorize" comments that people make. "My car won't start" is a description. "Maybe my battery is dead" is a diagnosis (and also a hypothesis). "I should get a jump" is a prescription. Too often in business, we make comments without articulating or understanding what is being said.
8. Systems Thinking. Peter Senge wrote The Fifth Discipline which made ST and Organizational Learning accessible. I credit Will Uecker (management accounting) for treating this topic in his class and inviting Monty Dolph (from Andersen at the time) to come speak on the topic. For me ST/OL has allowed me to ride down the learning curve in many organizational and management issues very quickly.
9. Ask smart questions. You will never know all the answers you'd like to know. Just be ready to respond to a question with a smart question. I learned this from fellow student Troy Genzer, while we were doing a difficult case together. We had to make a presentation and knew we would be grilled. Turns out that for the presentation, the professor (David Ross) had invited the actual executives from the company in question.
10. Inhale, hold, exhale. Before giving a presentation, conducting a tough interview, making a cold call. I may have the numbers wrong, but it goes something like this: Inhale slowly over 3 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and exhale for 5 seconds. That's it! I learned this during a communications class, but not from the text or the instructot, but from a fellow student, Helen El-Mallakh. What I like about this is is based on physiology: it takes time for the oxygen exchange to happen in the lungs. It also forces you to slow down and reduces the chances of talking too fast. Just once does the trick for me. And it's based on science, and makes no attempts to cleanse your chi or aura.