Archive for January, 2012

What is an Entrepreneur?

As a student in business school surrounded by people that want to be entrepreneurs, I can’t help but think about what it takes to become the next great entrepreneur and what traits they have. I see some people doing everything they can to get in the startup game. And I see others thinking that if they can only work at a tech company, or in Silicon Valley, then that makes them an entrepreneur. But the more I think about it, I know people just as entrepreneurial but in other industries and other locations.

In addition to the traditional entrepreneurs we often think of, I meet lots of people who are very entrepreneurial but who are working in various industries. They are often working in lage companies, law firms, consulting firms, and nonprofits, all places not traditionally seen as entrepreneurial. But despite the difference in the name of their employer, these people are just as adept at playing the political game, understand how to find new ways to create value and figure out how to mobilize resources in order to create it.

Many times, these people are tasked to come up with new ventures or new products/services for their companies. And they are charged to look into the future and can see a better day at the company, even in the midst of uncertain times. As I think about it even more, a lot of them are even visionaries, just like startup founders I’ve met.

The perfect example is my old manager who currently lives and works in Boston. Aubrey was a senior executive at a Fortune company and led a practice area of the entire firm. So he was not only charged with P&L of that practice area but also with hiring and developing people, coming up with new analytical techniques, and developing the brand in the US.  He’d worked in startups before, and in Silicon Valley, but this was his new role.

And so as I reflect on the best entrepreneurs, there was no doubt that Aubrey had all the skills to be in the running – managing a good team, strong vision, and appetite for risk. He also has the ability to make things happen out of nowhere. And it occurred to me that Aubrey is an entrepreneur just like anyone else that goes to Silicon Valley. He leverages principles of entrepreneurship and does things that people in the startup ecosystem do everyday. Except he works at a big company.

Unfair or not, one bad thing about being at a big company is that it doesn’t sound as cool as being in the startup world and it usually doesn’t have the same upside in pay. On the other hand, some of the best entrepreneurs I know, actually work in big companies. Funny how that works.

Friday, January 6th, 2012 Careers 2 Comments

Assorted MBA Application Tips. Hopefully They Help

Hi All. Because it’s MBA application season, I decided to crate an assorted list of MBA application tips. Depending on where you are in the process and how much research you’ve done already, then some of them may be helpful.

Without further ado, see below for the tips:

  1. Visit schools. Visiting will not only help you to better understand the culture of the program but also help you choose a school if you’re fortunate enough to have lots of options in the spring.
  2. Don’t think listing people’s names in your essays is going to get you admitted toa school. And don’t put a laundry list of names, because that just looks bad.
  3. Make a good impression if you visit. While making a good impression won’t get you in, making a bad impression could have the opposite effect.
  4. Revise your essays. Then revise again. And again. And again. Most people don’t write well enough not to do revisions.
  5. In your essays, don’t use run-on sentences.
  6. Count the number of times you write the word leadership, or any derivation of the word leadership, in your essays, and then likely delete some of them.
  7. Count the number of times you write the word teamwork in your application in your essays, and then likely delete some of them.
  8. Consider taking the GMAT again. Try scoring in the 80th percentile in both sections. If you don’t be sure to address it in the rest of the application.
  9. Seek out people with backgrounds that you admire. And think about doing some of the same things they did in their careers.
  10. Seek out people who recently went through the process and get advice not only on the general process but also the process for that school.
  11. Let your recommenders know earlier than later that you plan to apply, that way it’s not a surprise when they have to write the letter. Though realize that most recommenders turn them in at the last minute either way.
  12. In your application, you should prove that you’re employable after graduation.
  13. Generally avoid applying in round three, even if you’re a competitive applicant. There are some exceptions but not many.
  14. Sometimes getting advice from too many people will lead to conflicting advice. In some cases you have to take people’s advice with a grain of salt.
  15. Don’t have too many essays readers. You’ll lose your own unique voice in the process.
  16. Consider the STAR technique when writing. Not only will it help you organize but also ensure you talk about the things the MBA admissions committees want to hear about. Especially results.
  17. Be prepared for your interview. Don’t wing it. Some people will create huge documents, dozens of pages long to prepare for any possible question that might arise.
  18. On average, apply with higher grades and test scores if you are younger in age. It’s not always the case but often.
  19. Answer the essay questions. Often times applicants have their own agenda and don’t answer questions fully.
  20. Refine your self-image: You want your application reviewer and your interviewer to walk away with very clear picture of who you are. So be clear.
  21. Ask yourself “Why?” after reading an essay or evaluating your response to a question. If the answer to “Why” is unclear, then you need to tighten up your responses.
  22. Don’t come off as a know-it-all when you visit and during your interview.
  23. Find friends/support groups to support you in the process. Sometimes it’s  useful to get outside advice. And it’s always useful to have support if things don’t fall go way.

That’s it, for now. I told you they were assorted. Good luck with your application.

Thursday, January 5th, 2012 Business School 1 Comment

Failure

Nobody wants to fail. Not only does failing feel bad, but often times you also feel like you’ve wasted time and energy in your pursuit. And sometimes you’ve even spent a lot of money before failing. But unfortunately failure can be a large part of life, especially in some industries and circles. In fact, some of the most successful people you’ve seen have failed a lot more than you think.

In the start-up world, conventional wisdom shows that people fail quite a bit. They have ideas for new businesses, ideas on ways to raise more money, and strategies on how to get others involved. But often times, the ideas don’t catch on, the founders can’t execute their vision, or the business model is flawed.

The same is true in business school. You have ideas about what careers you want to pursue. What clubs you want to lead. And what you want to accomplish. In some cases people come in with these ideas after months, and sometimes years, of thinking and preparation.

This is especially apparent in the recruiting season, where everyone is going for the same jobs at the same companies. Everyone going for consulting wants to work at one Bain, McKinsey or BCG. Everyone in Banking wants Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, or one of the other bulge bracket firms. And in marketing, people want to work at Pepsi, Proctor and Gambel..But in the end, there are only so many spots, the competition is stiff, and you aren’t always a fit even if you are the smartest person in the process. Further, sometimes you just don’t have your best day.

So in some ways we all have to get used to failure. And some might propose that you have to become good at it. That is to say, learn to fail well and figure out how to move on and learn from it. Easier said than done? Of course. After all, when you’ve give it everything you have. put your passion into a project, and given it your all, failure can hurt. Likewise, if you’ve taken money from investors, garnered votes from your consituency and promised to change the world, you migth still feel like you owe others.

I recently stumbled across a blog named Information Arbitrage which discussed ways that you can “fail well”.

While it’s easy to say “fail well” and “try again” sometimes it can be tough. But the tips above are good. I especially like the second to last – talk to a lot of people and don’t hide. Instead get their advice and support. Feed off of positive energy and recover as quickly as possible. Then re-assess to see if you can find a way to do it again. And if you’re working on something you are passionate about, then you will.

This Michael Jordan commercial says it perfectly.

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012 Business School No Comments

More Questions?

I’m often surprised by the lack of questions that people ask. It’s particularly evident at networking events when I notice that people didn’t know who to expect to show up, when they didn’t do their research on the host, and they didn’t really have an agenda. I also notice it in business school, where most people lead with answers, but not with questions. But often times I wonder if it would be a lot more beneficial to lead with questions and listen more?

I admire the approach that kids take. If you put them in a grade school class, and they start firing off questions non stop. They’re curious to learn more. They want to figure out how the world works. And they’re more than willing to admit there’s a lot they don’t know. .

Lawyers are trained to do the same thing. They are trained to have a list of questions prepared at any given moment. They are charged to investigate the facts. To get more details. And figure out the rule of law.

The same is true for journalists, who need accurate details to get to the heart of the story. Because that’s the only way they can articulate a fact based account of what happened and tell a compelling story to the audience. So they ask what happened, who was involved, and how things played out.

But this isn’t always the case in business. In business, people spend more time relying on assumptions. It’s not always a bad thing. Because sometimes time is limited and you have to take action. Leverage probability. Use your intuition. And play on the odds.

One the other hand, there are often times that questions are extremely valuable. They give you more context. They let you clarify what’s really being asked. They allow for creativity and give you access to some potentially powerful ideas.

And perhaps more importantly, they also help to give others a feeling of power. Because by asking questions, you show that it’s not just your opinion but theirs that matters. So when a manager asks for his/her employee’s ideas, the managers sends the message that the employee is valuable and has good ideas. Then the employee gains confidence and works better, and they become a stronger team.

So in the new year, we should all work on getting better at questions.  We should think more like lawyers and journalists. We should do more research, write questions down, and ask others what they think. Because more often than not, everyone is better off.

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012 Careers No Comments

Applicant Question: Negotiations Class at Kellogg?

Negotiations are a very important part of business.  Not only do you negotiate deals with clients and vendors but you also spend time negotiating on your own behalf. For example, we all have to negotiate our own salaries and employment terms. So many students take the core negotiations class in business school, and at Kellogg, it’s definitely one of the more popular classes. Well, recently I received a question from one of my readers asking me if there is a difference in the classes at Kellogg versus other schools.

Hi All. I recently a question from one of my readers asking me if there is a difference in the classes at Kellogg versus other schools. It’s a tough question since I haven’t taken Negotiations at any schools other than Northwestern. But I did provide as objective a response as possible. See below for the question and below that for my response.

 

APPLICANT QUEESTION

Subject: Kellogg

Message Body:
Hi Jeremy,

I didn’t know Kellogg had such a strong negotiations coursework – don’t other b-schools have this as well?

Thanks!

 

MY RESPONSE

 

Hi (Name),

Thanks for your question. And thanks for taking time to read my blog. Below is a short answer to your question.

All established MBA programs should have a negotiations curriculum and will have a couple of Negotiations classes that you can take. No matter which school you ultimately decide to go to, much of the curriculum taught in the classroom will probably be the same. You’ll learn about concepts such as BATNA, zones of interests, mutual gain, concessions, and reservation points. And you’ll learn much of them from the same sources. The terms and tools you learn will feel like common knowledge in some ways but it’s good to talk through them a bit more and then to actually put them in practice during live negotiations with classmates.

But that’s not what makes the various MBA programs different. What makes the schools and classes different will be the other students in the classroom, the professors teaching the class, and the research the schools have done.  Sometimes these things can create a pretty big difference. And other times the differences can be marginal.

In terms of the professors and research, Kellogg fares quite well. At Kellogg, the Negotiations professors/research are part of the Management and Organizations (MORS), which is a really strong department here. Not only have they done  lot of great research but they’ve done much of it in negotiations. In part, that’s because Kellogg spends a lot of time focusing it’s curriculum on the soft skills, perhaps more than many of the other top schools. After all, keep in mind that Kellogg did pioneer the idea of incorporating teamwork in the business school curriculum, and the school is also on the cutting edge of leadership and social networks today.  In fact, even our current Dean, Dean Sally Blount, earned here PhD from Kellogg in the MORS department, and she did a lot of her research work in Negotiations.

That said, a number of other schools probably have pretty respected people in their departments as well. And you can find out about the various faculty members by looking online.

In terms of the student body, at Kellogg, the student population here is well suited for the class, on average. Not only are the students here accomplished but on average they’ve also slightly older than the students at other school. So as a result, you get a number of people that have done some negotiating in their prior careers, whether in private equity firms, banks, law firms (former lawyers), sales jobs, or in other roles. One important thing to remember is that these types of practical classes can sometimes change in quality depending on the actual students in the class.  So the better the quality of students in the class, the better off the class will be.

That said, a number of other top schools also have highly accomplished students who enroll. And in the end, it’s hard to predict where applicants get admitted, where they decide to go, and how the breakdown of ages will turn out. And even if you could predict those unpredictable tings,  you still couldn’t predict which students would decide to take a negotiations class, since that would be an elective and not a required course. And even if you could predict who might want to take the class, you couldn’t predict who would bid the right number of points to get it. So in the end, the composition of the class is nearly impossible to predict.

In the end, Kellogg’s negotiations class usually gets good reviews. It goes for a lot of points, has a couple of high profile professors, and teaches you the basics, alongside really smart classmates.  And while I haven’t taken the class elsewhere, I suspect there are at least a few other schools that would offer a similarly rewarding experience.

Good luck in your MBA pursuits!

Jeremy

 

FOLLOW-UP QUESTION

Hi Jeremy,

I have one more question – in your post regarding JD-MBA, you had mentioned Kellogg even has a minor in Negotiations? I thought B-schools dont have minors?

Do they have such minors for the 2-year program as well?

Thanks and Regards,
(Name)

 

—-

FOLLOW-UP RESPONSE

HI (Name)

Thanks for your question. Kellogg is one of the only schools that does have majors, so students can opt to get a major in Finance, Accounting, Marketing and Management and Organizations, among other things. http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/Faculty/Academics/Majors.aspx

At Kellogg, every student is expected to get at least one major to graduate. The majority of students finish Kellogg with at least two or three majors, and some students get as many as five and six.

IKellogg does not offer quite as many minors but one that is has historically offered in the Management and Organizations Department is Negotiations. http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/Departments/mors.aspx Any student can get this minor as well as any major regardless of what program they are part of. It’s simply a function of completing the appropriate classes.

Hope that helps.
Jeremy

Monday, January 2nd, 2012 Careers 3 Comments

Forget the Resolutions. What’s Your Wildly Important Goal?

Everywhere you look today, people are talking about New Year’s resolutions. Ones they made last week and some they’re adding this week. They’re talking about how much weight they want to lose. What activities to get involved in. And how this year is going to be different from last year. But for most, New Year’s resolutions are usually a steep uphill climb. Things that most people don’t finish. Given that, I propose that it’s better to have Wildly Important Goals than resolutions.

What is a Wildy Important Goal you ask? In a recent blog post about WIGs I said I use the term WIG to describe those things that I’m most interested in pursuing.  The game changing ideas that you want to relentlessly work toward for as long as necessary. The ones that not only keep you up randomly until 3am when everyone else is sleeping but that also wake you up at 5am when the sun hasn’t risen yet. In business school, they’re the ones you skip the best party of the year to work on when everyone else is out.

In part, it’s because there’s only so much time we can bring to each commitment and that having too many resolutions will dilute” your effort. Further, having too many goals also means you’re not able to focus as well.

In a recent post by fellow blogger Erica Hawan, Erica talked about how great leaders of our time know how tofocus on what matters most. She gave the example of Jim Collins. who rejected what seemed like great career moves to go back to his hometown Boulder, Colorado and work on the sole question of ‘what makes great companies tick’ and on his books. In the end, he came up with a few masterpieces that we’ve all heard of:  Good to Great, Great By Choice, How the Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In.

In the same spirit, I propose that it’s more important to identify game changing goals than to set resolutions where there aren’t any real consequences for not achieving them. Where there’s no real skin in the game. So find those game changing goals and pursue those relentlessly. Move the other things to the side and put a stake in the ground. Whether it’s admissions to your top school. Finding a new job. Winning a competitive fellowship. Starting a new company. Or getting involved in that game changing nonprofit.

And so that’s my challenge for you for 2012 — Clear the clutter of resolutions. Think about what matters most. Write down your Wildly Important Goals. Draw out your plan and figure out how to make it happen!

Because in the end, the best leaders know that it’s important to not only make goals … but also to make goals that are achievable and that you’re wildly passionate about.

Good luck!

Sunday, January 1st, 2012 Careers 3 Comments

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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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