One thing I’ve learned about business school is that there are a a lot of deadlines. Not only do you have to get a lot of things done but you also have to do them on a very specific schedule – two days to finish this, five days to finish that, three hours to finish something else. That concept also holds true in the business world. Especially for MBA-level jobs, where you’re given multiple workstreams, multiple emails, and multiple priorities, but just one job: to finish all of it on time.

I’ve written about how busy business school is before. In one of my favorite posts, I compared “business” school to “busy-ness” school (CLICK HERE) and how becoming too busy is actually bad for you. Well, in some ways that analogy also translates to the job you have. Not only do you feel just as busy as you are in class but you also put more pressure on yourself to do well because the stakes feel a little higher. You want to produce a quality work product. Make a good impression on your team. Ensure you do good work and your manager gives you a good review. And in the end get an offer, even if you don’t plan to accept the job.

But the real question then is at what cost? For some, they get it by doing exactly what they expected. But for others, that cost is running around scrambling to please everyone even if that’s not your personality type. For others, working more hours than you ever expected or wanted. Taking on more and more work from more and more people. And ultimately taking on more deliverables with quickly-approaching deadlines that would seem unreasonable to anyone not in business school.

Here’s the schedule. Follow it! Here’s the email documents for tomorrow. Read them all by 9am! I just sent you ten calendar invites. Accept them! And be on time!

And because you have multiple deadlines, everything becomes more important, so you speed up. Working like a machine, for a machine (boss), in a machine (company), with other machines (coworkers) who are all doing the same thing.

And eventually, the goal isn’t to produce a great work product. But instead to take on more workstreams than before, to work more efficiently than last time and to make better powerpoint slides and excel models. And once you finish that, then you can do more.

So in some ways, the MBA has become the new assembly line.  You move things forward as fast as you can. The  work becomes more specialized to help you speed up, so you only take part in a small part of the process. And things more automated.

Likewise, the work also never stops. Just like Toyota “never stops the line” a company’s project flow doesn’t stop either. They find more people to do more small parts. Buy new systems to increase their efficiency. And leverage operations technicues, such as optimal batch sizes, flexible resources, and critical path times, to keep the line moving as fast as possible.

But what if your company stopped the line on purpose tomorrow. And instead of figuring out more deadlines to give you, instead allowed you to spend all of tomorrow thinking about mind-blowing innovations for the company.  And what if your job wasn’t simply to hit twenty deadlines but instead to submit 20 game changing ideas that could change the company.

Not only would you be better off but I’m guessing the company would be better off. And if you had thousands of smart people doing this at the same time all over the world, then maybe the world would be better off too.

Just a thought. Maybe something to think more about when you become CEO of your company.

But until then, I need to go check my calendar to see what deadlines I have for work today.

Thursday, June 30th, 2011 Leadership

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.

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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect the views or position of Kellogg, Northwestern Law, the JD-MBA program, or any firm that I work for. I only offer my own perspective on all issues.
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