Technology, Innovation, Impact. Humor on the side.
Seated comfortably and looking out the window on my flight from Boston to San Francisco, I’m trying to relax but my mind keeps wandering back to school. It’s been the most brutal week in business school thus far: 3 midterms down, 1 persuasive speech (where they film you, eeek!), on top of typical problem sets and case write-ups. I should probably be thinking of Trader Joe’s and how best to quantify their competitive advantage for my strategy midterm case due on Monday; but, instead I’m thinking about how business school has already started to turn me into a very different person.
I came into business school with a few concrete goals–mostly around filling specific knowledge/skills gaps I’d identified in myself over the years, networking, traveling international as much as possible, and finally getting to experience things I’d put off for far too long. But, the longer that I’m here – the more I’m realizing what these two years really are: a self-incubation period you gift yourself.
I think there’s this misconception that business school is a constant party where you network and drink like crazy, where classes are just “fluffy”. Perhaps it’s like that other schools, but I certainly don’t feel like that’s the case here at MIT Sloan. Don’t get me wrong – there’s daily socializing and networking here too (MIT really isn’t the nerd-fest that Hollywood portrays it to be!). But, there’s also an insane amount of learning that occurs both inside and outside the classroom – if you open yourself to it.
Just this past Tuesday in Communications For Leaders, my class got into a heated debate on how (as the CEO of an American firm) we’d handle gender/race discrimination of our team by our Japanese counterparts. All of a sudden, preconceived notions got challenged. One classmate proposed that we put the Japanese client’s interests and preferences first and boot the woman and African American team members from the account. At first, I was dumfounded by what I perceived to be an insanely demeaning proposition. But, as he explained that in his culture – women were not even allowed to be in meetings, I began to understand the cultural difference and where he was coming from. And, it dawned on me that what I was saying was probably as dumfounding to him as his proposition was to me. Things which had previously been so black and white for me—having been raised in the America where such discrimination is not tolerated and in many cases illegal—suddenly became gray. What is right? What is wrong? Does it all boil down to our subjective interpretations based on the culture and society we’ve been raised in?
On Thursday, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella made a comment at the Grace Hopper Celebration For Women In Computing (GHC) regarding how women shouldn’t ask for raises and instead trust in good karma. As a woman in tech who has previously attended GHC and a staunch gender equality activist, such a comment would have made me nuts ordinarily. But instead, I replayed his comment several times over and tried to dig deeper than media reports. Instead of being quick to judge, I asked myself – what was the man trying to say, because there’s no way this man became the CEO of a highly regarded Fortune 500 company with such misogynistic opinions? I began to think of his Southeast Asian culture, his understanding of karma, and how that translates to what was said. And, as I caught myself doing this – I realized that even in these short few weeks, I had truly experienced personal growth.
Even this flight is serving as a confirmation of the growth and change I’m beginning to see in myself. In my former life in management consulting, I would fly almost weekly, and flight delays and missed connections quickly became the bane of my existence. However, this time when I encountered flight problems – my immediate reaction was not annoyance but curiosity to the operational side of the airline industry. I wondered what decisions were made in order for me to still be making it across the country just an hour late. Why? Because we’ve covered a LOT of airline industry cases already. In Data, Models & Decision Making (DMD) – the second week of school we weeded through heaps of data, drew out decision trees, and proposed the best course of action to minimize costs and maximize customer good-will after a malfunctioning part grounds a plane. In Financial Accounting, we discussed the implications of differing useful life of planes and depreciation rates used by Delta and Singapore Airlines. I think this is one of the best things about getting an MBA, especially at a place like MIT Sloan: unlike my engineering undergraduate degree, I’m seeing my classroom education directly translate to real-world application.
If you really open yourself up to the experience, and if you give your BSchool peers and professors the permission to push you outside of your comfort zone, you’ll one day catch yourself morphing into a better version of yourself.
Note: This post originally appeared in the MIT Sloan Student Blog, on October 13, 2014.