This blog was written prior to the Cross Continent MBA program merger with the Global Executive MBA program.
Choosing to pursue an MBA is a life-altering decision. It usually involves spending quite some time looking at a program’s coursework, class size and composition, and school ranking among many other things. It’s not that these data points don’t matter, but there are also many things you learn in business school that cannot be easily defined and ranked by Poets & Quants.
Part of what initially drove me to choose Duke’s Cross Continent MBA program was the opportunity to be able to apply the concepts learned in the program directly to my current job. But little did I know that some of the most helpful concepts were not using decision trees to inform strategy decisions—although they are quite useful—but rather these more abstract concepts that can be applied to every pursuit in the workplace and at home.
1. I can still make time for things that matter.
Remember that time when you used to eat popcorn and binge-watch Stranger Things? Life. Was. Good. Or was it? There is something to be said about having free time, but after going through the program I believe there is even more to be said about doing something meaningful as often as you can. Dividing time between work, family, and school is no easy task, but you are quickly able to sort out what matters most and focus on those things.
Sometimes that’s an exam or a paper, sometimes it’s a friend’s wedding or a business trip. There is never a right answer on how you spend your time during your MBA, but you will soon learn how to identify what you should be doing quickly and effectively. It will serve you will the rest of your life.
2. Group work is hard but rewarding.
Author’s subtitle: Being right is not always the right thing to be.
Here’s a dare for new and future students—during the first meeting with your learning team start telling everyone what to do and see how it ends up. See how quickly the collective intelligence and aptitude of your teammates put you back in line.
There’s no doubt that team dynamics play a critical role in your MBA experience and sometimes it’s just not going to be easy. But few things in life that are easy are worth doing, and although you may have differing opinions and solutions, working with a capable and diverse team will teach you plenty if you have an open mind. Which leads me to the next one…
3. Teams make better decisions than individuals.
Always. I have learned that even if I think I have the right answer and the right explanation I will still gain something from hearing a teammate’s perspective that I hadn’t thought about before. A different vantage point. A competing view. These always lead to better decision making. Using a team to make decisions in the program or at work is something I now view as being critical. Always surround yourself with mentors and others who think differently from you, and frankly, people that are smarter than you. Because even if you make that perfect decision once, you will always be better off working with a group to pursue a common goal.
4. Be Present.
Always. This may seem easy, but it’s extraordinarily difficult. A deadline is looming at work, a project is due tomorrow, you need to pick up the kids from soccer practice in a few hours. The mind is constantly thinking ahead as society continues to change and our phones continue to buzz with notifications and things past due. Learning to be present in the program, specifically in residencies, is crucial. And maintaining a full presence at work during the distance learning periods is life-changing, even though it can be impossible to do so all the time. There is no need to stress about something in the future, or something that just happened. Just let the waves crash over, do what you need to, and enjoy every moment.
5. Nearly every business activity can be distilled down into a project.
In the program, you will learn that ambiguity and uncertainty are common companions in business and that communication is one of the best ways to minimize their impact in school and in your career. However, not all communication is created equal, and it’s important to learn that by parsing everything down into a specific project you can get clearer communication and make the appropriate decisions for your team and company.
6. Do one thing every day you look forward to.
Although you will meet some seemingly superhuman people in the program, everyone and I mean everyone has something that they love to do outside of school and work. So make time for it, and embrace it. There may be nothing that will help you more in the program and your career than spending a small amount of time each day doing something that you are passionate about. Who knows, maybe that hobby will eventually become your career, so “Treat Yo’ Self!”
7. What the limiting step is.
Oh, operations class. You taught us about bottlenecks and how we can only be as efficient as our slowest step or process. However, as this applies to widgets, it also applies to your teams and career. You will learn that everyone on your team has strengths in weaknesses. The same goes for your company. You’ll be able to quickly identify the limiting step and by empowering your teammates and staff, see significant gains. But ultimately you will also begin to see the limiting steps within yourself—the process that takes you the longest—and by changing or focusing on that you can become a better person or employee.
8. Everything doesn’t have to be fixed.
Not everything can actually be fixed, nor does it need to be. School, work and life are all imperfect, so run with the imperfections and not away from them.
9. Your worldview is as important as your experience—if not more so.
Mary Anne Radmacher once said, “You are not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
During the program, you will have the opportunity to visit and study on four continents and meet business leaders from around the world with a diverse class from many different countries and cultures. This will undoubtedly have a profound effect on how you view the world and your work. As the world continues to become increasingly globalized this perspective will carry even more weight and your knowledge of how to conduct business in these countries will become all the more valuable.
10. Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.
And that is what our program is all about.