Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Batmobile and race cars

It took a few days after a marathon 4-day session last week to sit down and post a summary of events. So here it goes.

We had a full-day corporate valuation training on Wednesday attended by a good number of class 36 and a few class 35 folks. Classmates who are looking at investment banking internships were quite happy with the session that would help them with their interviews. Continuing with the Impact Investing speaker series, we had a speaker over lunch to talk to us about different ways of looking at metrics for analyzing social impact from a market perspective. The Brazil committee met to discuss more about how to plan the visit, and solicit wider participation. The Wharton Business Plan Competition Phase II deadline was yesterday, so teams that wanted to meet face-to-face and discuss their submissions met and spoke about it. Folks neck-deep in their GCP work had separate meetings with their teams, chipping away at their tasks, one hour at a time. Few of us that are participating in the Global Investment Research Challenge had a quick pow-wow with our mentor Prof. Percival to get his advice on how we should proceed. We had two speakers come and talk to us about networking and how to go about doing it successfully. We had another speaker talk to us about charisma and how to make a good first impression.

Then of course there were the lectures - the reason why we were there in the first place. Percival gave us an extended session on discounted cash flows, with enough theater and script mixed in so we will remember what we were taught through all the drama. We had a couple of really interesting marketing classes where Bell and our TA Eric discussed Unilever's entry into the north-eastern Brazil market with a new low-cost detergent. Christian spoke to us about call arrival process modeling and how to estimate wait times and service times in a multi-server Poisson arrival model. We also started discussions on the Toyota Production System with a really cool French video about Citroen and their adoption of TPS.

We also had a flurry of applicants show up and attend sessions. This is the final stretch now, so I hope everyone has submitted their applications, or are close to doing so. It has been a busy month for me as well on this front. I have interacted with about 11 applicants so far, reviewing essays where asked to, responding to questions and in general providing them the same level of approachability and guidance that class 34 gave me when I visited Wharton last year and asked for help. So many of them are strong applicants and I hope they all make it in - class 37 promises to be one amazing class already!

Last weekend was also the deadline for my classmates to send in their applications for the Wharton Non-Profit Board Leadership Program. We had several classmates submit their applications already and are in the process of reviewing them. It was amazing to read about a completely different part of their lives that we seldom get to see in school and see how that motivated them to volunteer their time to help others. We hope to find the right set of nonprofits to match them with that can utilize their skills and interests the most, and from whom they can learn and benefit the most as well. We have a one day training program for all applicants planned for mid-Feb. Stay tuned for updates in the coming weeks!

As I read these essays from classmates, the essays of the new applicants to WEMBA and interact with my classmates looking into internships and career transitions, I cannot but help think about the Batmobile and race cars. Race cars are built to win - on race tracks. Every piece of their being is fine-tuned for that one act, to extract the last ounce of performance from them under challenging circumstances. The Batmobile on the other hand - a pure work of genius. Driving fast is only one of the things it can do. If you saw it parked outside your local supermarket while someone did grocery shopping, you might notice it because it looks different. But if it didn't, one would never know the things it was capable of.

Corporate life, to a great extent, seems to be similar. Through our undergraduate and graduate years, we are trained to excel at one specialized area. We get into jobs in that area of specialization, and before we know it, we're being fine tuned to excel at that one thing inside the corporation. Within a few years, we are all race cars ready to win races for our companies in that one area of specialization. But what if there were a few Batmobiles in there, that appear the same as race cars, but in terms of potential were vastly different? Where in the corporate world are there Batmobile detectors that beep when those exceptional employees walk past them and indicate to the management - behold! This is someone that you need to cherish and whose work scope needs to be expanded wider. In other words, how does a Batmobile - so used to its daily routine of winning races that it finds it as interesting as grocery shopping - signal to the outside world that it has potential that they cannot see? What in our corporate HR structure is made to detect these signals? One can learn about Hackman and skill variety and job design, but how does this get integrated into corporate business unit structures and career growth paths? How does one taken a specialist out of their "competency trap" and redeploy them into something else where they are untested but claim potential, or interest, or both?

All interesting questions ... and as many of us navigate the paths of career transitions, something to ponder about as we think about starting our own enterprises. Where would a Batmobile fit within your organization were you to build one?


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