It’s a pretty chilly morning, but that’s not why I’m thinking about spring…it’s actually time to bid for spring semester classes!
After the first year of all-required core classes, your schedule becomes (almost) completely wide open. Since the Berkeley MBA is a general management degree, there are no set classes for concentrations. This means you can go as broad or as deep as you want, in whatever interests you.
This semester, I took negotiations, strategic brand management, and Problem Finding / Problem Solving (a required 1-unit design thinking course) and as I look to the options for the next semester, I’m realizing how few classes really remain. Since each semester is 6 units, and most classes are 3 units, I really only have 6 more classes to take, so I need to pick wisely!
I find so many classes appealing, it’s actually really hard to decide. As a second year, I get 1,500 points to allocate to my first choices of classes – third years get 3,000. There are two rounds of bidding for spring – so if you don’t get into the classes you want the first round, you get another chance for the second round. Plus, most classes have an add/drop period once the semester starts, so you get a third chance to get in off wait lists as well. The amount of points required to get into a course varies each semester, depending on what’s offered and student interest, so it’s hard to know exactly how to bid. But I was able to get into my classes on the first round last time, so I’m hoping my luck will hold for the spring!
Tonight we have a presentation on electives during the dinner break – so we’ll get to hear from various professors about the classes they’re offering – so we can decide wisely. I already have some thoughts on what I want, but I’m definitely keeping an open mind!
One of the highlights this year so far is the interactivity of my courses. For Problem Finding / Problem Solving I took a Learning Styles Inventory which indicated I am a concrete learner (as opposed to abstract). This basically means I learn through hands-on experiences, as opposed to observation. So, the more I get to actually try new things as I learn them, the better!
In Problem Finding / Problem Solving with Professor Sara Beckman, we’ve been using Design Thinking techniques to try different frameworks. This often involves Post-Its (see my Information Map above). I particularly like how the large format (my map is approx 3 feet x 4 feet) and temporary nature of the post-its encourages you to “play” with concepts. There’s something very freeing – and qualitatively different – from typing on a computer. It’s messy, and less ‘final’ – and even though in this case it’s not necessarily something you’d share with others because it’s too messy – it still helps me visualize connections and make new insights that I may not have had without it.
In Negotiations class with Professor Holly Schroth (which yes, is as great as everyone says it is!), we actually practice negotiating every. single. class. This is absolutely a discipline you can’t learn without doing, so each week we’re given a case and a role to play. Some of the cases are between two people, others are multi-party. You have to be very well prepared – the rule of thumb is that you prep five times as long as the negotiation is supposed to take. This week, we’re working on a ‘shadow negotiation’ which means we connect with other class members outside of class to “pre” negotiate before the actual negotiation – it’s both part of the prep work by learning what’s important to your negotiating partners, and actively influencing them by sharing what’s important to you. It’s been very illuminating to try on the roles and practice your technique live, and with immediate feedback, each week.
In Strategic Brand Management with Professor Lynn Upshaw, my team just turned in our Customer Experience Audit. We picked a brand (Gap in our case) and analyzed their brand position, customer touchpoints, and marketing strategy and made some recommendations. It’s been very illuminating to look at a brand in real time – one of the comments we made in our paper was how so many of the postings on Gap’s Facebook wall are of fans posting pictures of their children in Gap clothing. And yet, it seemed Gap wasn’t participating in that outpouring of loyalty – no ‘likes’ or comments on the photos. And lo and behold, today Gap posted a photo album of their favorite fan photos! So it’s nice to see an insight acted upon (even if Gap had no idea we made the insight.)
– Jennifer Caleshu
One of the most useful things I’ve learned in school is the helpful phrase “it depends.” Amazingly, there are remarkably few “right” answers, even in disciplines where you think there might be (finance, accounting, operations). Sure, there’s often a ‘right’ numerical answer, but often the way you get there or how you interpret it is up for debate.
This says to me why business school matters now – especially at Haas. One of our core values is “question the status quo” – something that I think everyone needs to do as we face the very difficult problems of the 21st century. So it’s reassuring that even in school we’re being taught to question our assumptions, to realize that you can interpret the same ‘facts’ differently. This is a creative approach to problem solving, and it’s an absolutely essential skill for leaders.
This quarter has been the most challenging yet (which is why you haven’t heard much from the first-years on the blog!) with intensive courses in finance, operations and leadership communications. And yes, there are some days where if you asked me if I were enjoying my year, I might say “it depends” – for example I’m writing this on a Friday night and then I’m going to go work on a finance problem set. Ah, student life!
But it’s heartening to know that the future leaders of America and beyond aren’t willing to settle for black and white, but know that we live in shades of gray, and our education at Haas reflects that.
Frequent advice for those applying to MBA programs is “Know what you want, so you can get the most out of your program.” And as you may have read in my intro, I have definitely approached my time at Haas with a pretty defined path and set of goals: develop my skills in managing the double bottom line (mission and money) and become an Executive Director at a cultural not-for-profit. So while I haven’t had to make many choices yet (the first year core is completely chosen for you), I have joined the Board Fellows program and often consider how to apply my classwork to my daily work at the museum.
But one of the most surprising aspects of the program is my newly developing sense of all the possibilities. I knew I would be surrounded by classmates with a wide diversity of backgrounds and life experiences, and that I would be exposed to academic subjects I had never considered. However, I’m surprised to find that I’m actually enjoying accounting :gasp:! Now, I’m probably not going to switch gears and head toward finance as a career, but I’m really appreciating learning more about the arcane acronyms I’d heard on the news, and how understanding accounting choices can give you insight into how a business is run.
And about a week ago, I took the Gallup business development workshop, and found myself actually considering a career in consulting! I was completely energized throughout the workshop, and found the idea of working in a strengths-based, compensation-for-performance based firm remarkably compelling.
A number of my classmates are “career changers” and attending Haas with the goal of switching fields. I would not have put myself in that category, but I’m pretty excited to learn more about other careers where I also could be passionate about the work – even in the private sector!
If you know me, you may be quite surprised that I’m quoting Donald Rumsfeld here — and I promise I’m not getting political (yet) — but this infamous quote is actually very applicable to my first semester at Haas!
As I mentioned before, I’ve spent the past 12+ years in the non-profit sector, so I knew going in that there was a lot I didn’t know. I’ve never taken any sort of business class (mostly the fuzzier sciences and drama) so it’s no surprise that microeconomics and accounting are new to me – known unknowns, that is. And there’s certainly known knowns too, lest you think I’m a newbie to business (marketing for sure, and I had plenty to share in Leading People, our organizational behavior core class).
But this week I’ve been puzzling over which company to pick for the Gallup Strengths-based Business Development Workshop I’m attending. Attendees have been charged with writing up a research profile a company of our choice — a large, US-based, publicly-held company, with multiple divisions and complex business operations. I have no experience with any company like that, except from the consumer perspective! To me, this is really an unknown unknown – the strategies of such a company are very different from the three local cultural nonprofits where I’ve spent my career. Non-profits have their own complexities and there are quite a few national charities (American Red Cross, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for example), but they’re not in the scope of this project.
So how do I even begin to narrow it down? I’m not currently working in a sector that would “count” for this project – so do I go for tech, consumer goods, green, financial services, entertainment? Do I browse the listings at finance.google.com? Do I use some of my newly acquired accounting knowledge (return on equity!) to pick a super-profitable company with high margins (Apple)? How about one that produces a product I’m addicted to (Diet Coke)? Maybe one from Fortune’s Top 100 Best Companies to Work For list (Whole Foods)? I’ve worked at an art-house movie theater, so maybe a big movie studio (Lionsgate) – or a big company that owns a movie studio (GE or Viacom)? Or a company with values that resonate with my own (P&G maybe?)
I also got some great advice this week from Alison Davis at the MBA-Nonprofit Connection: endeavor to apply every project in my MBA to my non-profit career goals. How can I find the angle in this project to apply the experience to the very-real differences in the non-profit sector? I’ve signed up for this workshop to explore my leadership style, and gain experience in developing strong consultative selling relationships – something I think will be very applicable in future dealings with donors and supporters.
So readers, help me out. Comment with the company you would pick if you got to choose!
I’m Jennifer Caleshu, and I’m one of the new first year EWMBA bloggers.
I’ve spent my entire career working in cultural non-profits, which is a fairly atypical path for an MBA student. I’ve produced live theater, chosen the films for an art-house movie theater, and marketed a children’s museum. I’m passionate about real experiences – the kinds of non-virtual, in-person experiences that are by definition unique – only happening at that particular place and time. I have a degree in Human Biology with a focus on Issues of Adolescence from Stanford (don’t hold it against me!). I always joked that the adolescence part came in handy when working with actors, but in truth, I never really used much of the knowledge gained in the major. Instead, I graduated and took an unpaid artistic internship at American Conservatory Theater, and never looked back!
But a couple of years ago, I started thinking about graduate school. When you don’t have a business background (I’ve never taken any sort of business class before this!), you learn on the job. And to paraphrase the well-known book, “what got you here won’t get you there.” My career goals include being the executive director of a cultural institution, but on-the-job knowledge isn’t always enough to gain the kind of strategic planning, financial acumen, and operational chops to help an institution reach its highest capacity. Many non-profit managers choose masters in arts administration, but I wanted to keep my options open. I’m passionate about the double-bottom-line (mission and profits), and knew the knowledge gained would apply to a wide variety of non-profits, and be transferable should I ever choose to go to the “for-profit” side.
So over the holidays last winter, I decided to take the plunge and apply for an MBA. As the breadwinner in my family (my husband is a stay-at-home dad to our two children, Cole age 5, and Rae, age 2), I knew I wanted to keep working, and I was committed to staying in the Bay Area. So Haas EWMBA was the best choice, and here I am! I’m in the Blue cohort, so I take class on Mondays & Wednesday evenings, and I commute from Sausalito where I work at the Bay Area Discovery Museum.
I look forward to sharing my experiences with the readers of the blog – and hearing the perspectives of my fellow bloggers. Please feel free to email me or comment here with any questions!