The future

"The future belongs to those who give the next generation reasons to hope."
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

(found on the back of a Daimler Sustainability report)
I love the sentiment in this quote…. perhaps something as inspiration for the LBS vision?

Dear Dean Buchanan

523966593_aabe1db54bDear Dean Buchanan,

We haven’t met yet in the flesh. In fact, I don’t think we’ve met at all (I don’t suspect you’re an avid blog-reader, although for all I know you could be). Allow me to introduce myself and take 5 minutes of your time. I know a million alumns probably want to do that, so I’ll be brief.

My name is Natasja and I’m a fresh alumn, an MBA2007 and I love LBS. I bleed LBS if you prick me. I spent more hours at our lovely buildings that I even care to acknowledge, I happily took out a whopping loan, sold my house and everything in it just so I could come here; I write about it constantly (see the archives on the right), and tell everyone who wants to listen, and a few people that really don’t want to listen, about how wonderful LBS is.

I’m glad that I’m not the only one who thinks LBS is a kick-a** place (excuse my French). The FT thinks that apart from Wharton (who, by the way, waitlisted me, and then I dinged them) we’re the most fabulous fulltime MBA around. Hurrah. Well done.

But doing well in the rankings, which is a good thing albeit not the holy grail some applicants make it out to be, is also posing a problem. To be more specific: it’s our vision that’s the issue for me. LBS’s vision is ‘to be the pre-eminent global business school’. We’re number two now. With a bit of luck and effort we’ll be number 1. And then what happens? We’ve accomplished our vision. I spend my days as a brand strategy consultant telling our clients that your vision should be aspirational. It should inspire and motivate. And frankly, ours is not doing that for me. To be pre-eminent? Why? I just don’t think it’s big enough to be honest. Not bold enough. Why do we want to be the world’s pre-eminent b-school? What’s the purpose of being number 1? I think we should think bigger, bolder and better. Somewhere towards ‘the next generation of business leaders’. Something with changing the world. Hopefully for the better. But a bit more than just being number 1. This is not a pissing match (excuse my French yet again), this is about our future. And I want to be part of a school which aspires to more than just be number 1.

Right, that’s what I had to say. At least for now. I realise you must get tons of unsolicited advice and not all of it very constructive. So I hope this was. We’re all very happy and excited you joined us as our Dean and have high expectations of your leadership. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help,
Yours, with warmest regards,
Natasja
MBA2007

PS Yes, I do this for a living, this vision-mission-values stuff. But this was not a pitch. It’s just my personal opinion.

More for me than anyone else

"It is better by a noble boldness to run the risk of being subject to half the evils we anticipate than to remain in cowardly listlessness for fear of what may happen." (Herodotus)

Right. I need to live this a little more. Be bold. Half the things, nay 90% of the bad things, I think are going to happen will not happen anyway. And I can deal with the other 10%. Here’s to boldness.

Quote of the day

"So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable."
(Christopher Reeve)

If he can do it, I can. And you. So go out there and make a wildly improbable dream come true.

Coming up after this short commercial break

2192041743_ef9c5aee9b In the last two weeks I was approached by two different people asking me if I was interested in what they had to flog/sell/recommend. Being still very much in the frugal mindset (my job’s fab, but unfortunately my salary, though well above the average UK income, doesn’t cover much more than a student lifestyle, my exorbitant loan repayments and part-time tuition fees) I said yes to both opportunities. So this post comes with a disclaimer: it was completely and utterly sparked by PR.

First up, the nice folks at Mixxmaker. Got a nice email (which landed in my spamfolder, but was personal and very friendly) about the software, on account of me having written about mixtapes before I think. Checked out the website, kinda liked it, but didn’t feel the need to tinker with it to my own surprise. Normally I kinda like fooling around with new software. But this one I just wasn’t tempted. And I couldn’t figure out why. I like the idea, the execution looks ok as far as I can tell, and the approach via email was friendly. Then I realized why. It has nothing to do with Mixxmaker (which I recommend you check out if you have an affinity for this kind of thing), but everything with my reasons for making mixtapes. I use my iTunes and Youtube (combined with delicious) for my musical needs and to make playlists. And I listen to Last.fm online. Most of my friends don’t have the same musical taste than me, and I have very rarely shared music with them in terms of swapping it. I just don’t feel the urge to make ‘em. But I love the idea of mixtapes from a nostalgic point of view. And from a curiosity point of view (What ever happened to them? Why did people make them 20 years ago, why would you do so now?). But I don’t feel the need to make one myself.

Secondly, the folks at Hill and Knowlton sent me (and probably half the MBA blogosphere) an email (like they did to Fran) about a new report they’re publishing on corporate reputations and MBA recruitment. First a quick comment about the design (occupational hazard nowadays) and in particular about the highlights and circled remarks: I’m not bowled over. Don’t circle and highlight what you think is relevant, please. It’s irritating. I want to make my own highlights and yours make mine disappear. It’s a clever trick, but please nice folks at H&K, tell your design agency to stop it. Secondly, the report is interesting if you’re an applicant, or a new HR person in a company that regularly recruits or wants to recruit MBA’s. If you’re an MBA at these schools, an alumn, or a cynic, there’s a high ‘no-sh*t-Sherlock’ feel. Quote:

MBA students are most likely to cite opportunities for career advancement, renumeration and benefits, and challenging work as key factors when looking for work after graduation.

Right. So MBA’s want to know when they’ll be CEO’s, how much will end up in their bank account at the end of every month and how likely they are to be able to brag about their jobs to their peers. That’s not news methinks. Another thing that slightly surprised me was that as far as I can tell they surveyed current students. Research (I wish I could find the reference now) has shown that humans are not very good at predicting what they will want in the future. That’s why we make New Year’s resolutions. We think we will get up every morning an hour early to go to the gym, but in reality we don’t. So it would be interesting to compare in this type of research between what students want, and what they end up with. I don’t want to be too harsh though, it is a well-researched report, and I can’t blame H&K for putting it out. Sometimes even the obvious needs to be stated. And who knows, maybe I’m the only one for who most of this stuff seems quite obvious. Judge for yourself, you can read it here.

After writing all this I’m a little bit shocked with myself. What’s with the morosity (is that a word? is it ‘moroseness’?)? Am I in a bad mood? Hmmm. Not really. Actually, I’m doing quite well and am quite happy. Work’s interesting and busy, study is interesting and busy, private life is interesting and busy. But maybe there’s the snag. All three are a tad too interesting and busy when combined. I’m tired and a little worn out. I haven’t gotten round to emailing a bunch of folks who’ve emailed me. And to top it all off I’m writing this instead of emailing them. I don’t see enough of some of my friends and I don’t nearly talk enough with my mum, dad and brother. I need a little holiday I think. Time to plan something. 

Made to Stick

Made_to_stickPfiew. It’s been a little while since I wrote a serious bookreport (I’m not counting the CPM ones here) but one of my resolutions for 2008 is to retain more of what I’m reading. As you can probably tell from the sidebar, I read quite a lot: I love it. And I don’t have a TV. But mainly because I love it. However, sometimes it feels like I rush through a book, like it, but don’t retain what’s in there for longer than it takes to read the book. I decided to take a stack of mini-Postit’s with me and tagged every page that had an interesting concept. But I wasn’t quite sure what to do next. So it was quite timely that I saw Russell Davies’ post today. He’s copying this guy, and so I’m the copycat’s copycat.

The book: Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
The verdict: ****

What is it about? We wanted to take apart sticky ideas – both natural and created – and figure out what made them stick. What makes urban legends so compelling? Why do some chemistry lessons work better than others? Why does virtually every society circulate a set of proverbs? (p 12)

The Heath brothers have made the reader’s life easier by ordering their book into 6 principles:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Unexpectednes
  3. Concreteness
  4. Credibility
  5. Emotions
  6. Stories

On simplicity: Finding the core and writing the lead both involve forced prioritization. Suppose you’re a wartime reporter and you can telegraph only one thing before the line gets cut, what would it be? There’s only one lead and there’s only one core. You must choose. (p 32)

More on Simple: … the Curse of Knowledge… the difficulty in remembering what it was like not to know something… To a CEO, "maximizing shareholder value" may be an immensely useful rule of behavior. To a flight attendant, it is not… People are tempted to tell you everything, with perfect accuracy, right up front, when they should be giving you just enough info to be useful, then a little more, then a litle more. (p 57)

I think this for me alone, the introduction of the Curse of Knowledge, a phenomenon that we are all familiar with instinctively, was worth reading the book alone. Mental note to self: be aware of the curse.

About unexpectedness: The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern…Surprise gets our attention… Interest keeps our attention. (p 64/5)

So how to go about making your ideas more sticky? A good process for making your ideas stickier is: (1) Identify the central message you need to communicate — find the core; (2) Figure out what is counterintuitive about the message — i.e. , What are the unexpected implications of your core message? Why isn’t it already happening already? (3) Communicate your message in a way that breaks your audience’s guessing machines along the critical, counterintuitive dimension… Common sense is the enemy of sticky messages. When message sound like common sense, they float gently in one ear and out the other. (p 72)

The Heath brothers quote prof Cialdini (who I saw speak at the RSA not long ago) …"the Aha! experience is much more satisfying when it is preceded by the Huh? experience." (p 81)

One important implication of the gap theory is that we need to open gaps before we close them. Our tendency is to tell people the facts. First, though, they must realize that they need these facts. The trick is … to first highlight some specific knowledge that they’re missing (p 85) which a few pages later is followed by Unexpected ideas, by opening a knowledge gap, tease and flirt [yeay, we need more ideas that tease and flirt, hurrah!!] (p 93)

The credibility chapter didn’t hold too much interest for me, but the chapter on Emotional roped me back in: Caples says companies often emphasize features when they should be emphasizing benefits. "The most frequent reason for unsuccesful advertising is advertisers who are so full of their own accomplishments … that they forget to tell us why we should buy… An old advertising maxim says you’ve got to spell out the benefit of the benefit. In other words, people don’t buy quarter-inch drills. They buy quarter-inch holes so they can hang their childern’s pictures.  (p 179)

How do we make decisions? James March, a professor at Stanford University, … proposes that we use two basic models to make decisions. The first model involves calculating consequences. We weigh our alternatives, assessing the value of each one, and we choose the alternative that yields us the most value… The second model is quite different. It assumes that people make decisions based on identity. They ask themselves three questions: Who am I? What kinds of situation is this? And what do people like me do in this kind of situation? (p 190)  That last one made me think. I think this is much more important that I had realized.

Other ideas that struck me in the book: mental simulation can build skills (e.g you can become better at darts by thinking about doing a task successfully from beginning to end) on page 213; inspiration drives action (which explains the before-and-after photos in ads!) on page 222; that many stories basically have 3 plots: challenge (think David and Goliath), connection (about relationships) and creativity (a mental breakthrough or solving a puzzle) on pages 228/29/30.

What can’t people tell stories? The first villain is the tendency to bury the lead — to get lost in a sea of information… the second is to focus on the presentation rather than the message (p 243/44). A better crafted message is tons more effective than a charismatic speaker… wow, this kind of counterintuitive.
And a final quote: There is a curious disconnect between the amount of time we invest in training people how to arrive at the Answer and the amount of time in invest in training them how to Tell Others. It’s easy to graduate from … an MBA program without ever taking a class in communication. (p 245) Halleluja. MBA’s should have storytelling classes, we’d have a lot less boring death-by-powerpoint presentations!!

Check out the authors’ blog for more background.

Would I recommend it? Yep. Wholeheartedly. It’s a great, and practical, read.

Spot the differences

2198892027_3252e02b3cAlthough I’m not quite sure if two weeks into a 2 year course gives me enough comparison material, and realising full well I’m comparing apples and pears, I’ve been thinking about the differences between the MBA and this MA in Design Studies (henceforth known as MADS, I’m too lazy to type the whole thing out every time I mention it). Beyond the obvious (many more women at MADS than LBS; students are younger on the whole, most of them have a creative background, they’re a lot more funkily clothed and I’ve not seen a Financial Times in class yet) there’s also some differences that go a little deeper. *deep thought alert. well, semi-deep thought then*

The MBA is mostly about making good choices. Knowing which tools and frameworks to use when and how to choose the best option. Strategy, finance, operations, but even to an extent marketing and entrepreneurship help you become a better manager. You learn to manage and choose from a range options. And that’s a very good thing methinks, provided you’re reasonably good at it of course. MADS is all about generating options. It’s about those steps that come before choosing an option from a set: it’s all about creating something new. Very different mindset. And I’m kinda doing it backwards: I learned to make logical choices before I learned how to make the things that you choose between.

Right. That’s enough deep thought for today. I haven’t fully adjusted to my course schedule and the work that comes with it yet, plus at work the workload has jumped up and bitten me in the bum these past two weeks, and I’ve planned a ton of social engagements so I’m struggling to find time to answer personal email and to blog. I reckon I need a few weeks to adjust my schedule back to what feels like more normal again. So excuse me for making this post a bit of a hotchpotch of random thoughts.

Photo at the top of the page was taken in the Tube on the way home yesterday and I don’t mean to be rude, but I can’t believe Vicks put this out. Come on guys, you can do better than this! Damned, you’re owned by P&G, they have more than enough money to hire a good agency. Show some guts and vision. Anyone spot the dodgy statistic in the ad? This kind of stuff irks me. It’s unnecessary. It’s unimaginative, boring and juggles dodgy stats. *Sigh*

Episode 2: in which the heroine goes in search of mad(s)ness

2118555988_1be7b8fd702Tomorrow night, and every Wednesday night termtime this year, I’ll be sitting in a classroom. Yep. As of Wednesday, Jan 9th 2008, I’ll be a student again! Part-time this time, so I’ll keep on working and studying on the side (or perhaps it will be the other way around, I don’t know yet).

And now comes the part where I start nervously shuffling my feet and look sheepishly and my palms go ever so slightly sweaty. Ever so slightly. Because now comes the point where you ask ‘so what are you going to do?’. And I have to say what my degree will be in. And I’m not ashamed or embarrassed. But I feel a little bit like I haven’t earned it yet. I’m faking it big time. And when ‘they’ find out, I will be booted out. Have my admissions offer revoked. And get tar and feathers all over me. But as the saying goes ‘fake it til you make it’. So here it goes. And keep your fingers crossed I am still let into the building tomorrow.

I am on my way to getting an MA in Design Studies (aka MADS) from Central St Martin’s.

I looked away. Are you still here? The whole idea is about equally as scary, daunting and exhilerating as my MBA was before I started it. Luckily however, less expensive ;-) Wish me luck.

Watch out, incoming sheep!

30122007538Much has been said, by much more insightful and brighter minds than mine, about Facebook. Its explosion onto the web-scene this year; it came, saw and conquered. It’s become a verb, I heard someone say the other day ‘oh, don’t worry, I’ll facebook you’. News of small changes (they lost the mandatory ‘is’ in the status updates a few weeks ago) make big waves. And it’s added whole new words and new meanings to existing words to our vocabulary. Poking and even superpoking have fast become common parlance, albeit caught in a semiotic minefield (is poking a sign of sexual advances (as the 348,755 members of the ‘Enough with the poking already let’s just have sex’ Facebook group no doubt think)? Or is it an innocent way of attracting someone’s attention?).

A few days ago, in a conversation with my housemate, I got thinking about Facebook-etiquette. When is it appropriate to throw sheep at people, or use the force on? Or poke them? What do you write on their walls (I’ve read stuff other people have written on friends’ walls which I felt might not have been quite appropriate for other’s eyes)? And is it ever ok to break up on Facebook (for me, that would be a firm no)? Do I really want to know if someone else breaks up? How much information is too much information? And is there any place left to hide? Will Facebook (and its local equivalents, Hyves is the Dutch one) become as much part of our daily lives as email?

Facebook makes some interesting mental connections for me too. I logged in today to find two of my friends, who in real life don’t know each other, have never met, and probably never will, have both added the same application, which my homepage delights in telling me: ‘A.M and H.S. have added the Funwall application’. How odd. For these two people, who have no idea the other exists, to end up in the same sentence. And then got connected in my head.

[photo: what a beautiful sight… Penguins all over at Schiphol airport]

Episode 1 of 2008: in which the heroine makes plans to see her hero

Bruce_springsteen_3770350Just before we stumbled into 2008, I decided to make a childhood dream come true. I remember lying on my aunt and uncle’s bed, watching their TV breathlessly (and not only because the idea alone of a TV in a bedroom was a luxury I wasn’t used to) and seeing Bruce Springsteen strutt his stuff singing ‘Dancing in the Dark’. I was 8 years old and sold. Instantly. And ever since then he’s been a hero of mine. We sort of lost contact for a while, then briefly got reacquainted when I discovered his earlier work (some of it made before my birth), then lost touch again until a few months ago. I discovered his Seeger Sessions, the passion flared up again (hot damn that is good stuff), and when I heard he was going on tour again, I was determined to get tickets. Once in my life I want to see him play live. And I am. Wednesday, June 18th 2008, the Amsterdam Arena. I know there might be a few other people, but for me, it’ll only be him and me. And I can’t wait, I’m so excited!

Happy 2008 everyone, I hope for you this year will also bring lots of excitement and jumping up and down with joy. Let’s rock and roll :-)