Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Missing the forest for the trees...

This has been the longest lag so far between a session and an update about it. And rightfully so. This is probably the busiest two weeks in the program so far, without a single exam at the end of it.

Last session was over even before it began. We had our marketing case reports due for the elBulli case. In addition to coming up with interesting business ideas for Adria to ponder over, creative classmates such as my learning team buddy and superstar Arif used Adobe After Effects to create ads for a new restaurant that Adria could start in Barcelona. The fact that the ad was excellent could be summarized by the response from one classmate who thought that we had just downloaded that ad from the elBulli website! Thanks to our classmate Leo, we had two really engaging and inspiring speakers last session, the CEO of EmberClear and a parter from KPCB. Albert, the CEO of EmberClear, was amazingly articulate about the business case behind gasification of coal as the next incremental technology innovation in energy that will drive billions of dollars of business. He recommended that all of us look at incremental changes rather than totally radical ideas such as "cleantech".

Did I mention that we also had our first final for the Term? OPIM got done with a crisp, two-hour final exam from Christian. We also had our first session of MKTG 622, which is the marketing management strategy class. Patti Williams will be spending the next few sessions with us as we rattle our SABREs and learn the material by building a company. All the Wharton MBAs are divided into several worlds of 6 companies each. Each company is a team of 5 people and sells two brands of a particular product in its own world. Given a lot of market reserarch, production planning, sales, distribution, forecasting and other data, each team has to decide what its best strategy for growth is. The game is played over 6 periods of decision making where one uses a software called SABRE to fight it out. May the best team win!

Coming back to why these two weeks are hard. We had the first set of SABRE decisions due a few days ago. There are two cases due in David Bell's marketing management class and one due in the finance class. For the communications class we are supposed to read a case and record a video presenting a defense to the media about the situation presented. We are supposed to do this as teams of two, critiquing each others work, which is due for recording this weekend as well. Oh and did I mention that those of us that are participating in the GIRC investment research challenge have our reports due this weekend? And GCP folks have their Devil's Advocate round coming up soon as well. Those of us with busy jobs or kids at home can also bid goodbye to sleep for these two weeks. Would this explain the record turnout for our weekly lunch meeting in South Bay today where 10 of us showed up to commiserate over each others' predicaments.

In the middle of all this, it is easy to get bogged down in the details of the case materials presented. Be it SABRE, or the Webvan case in marketing or the New Heritage Doll case in Finance, there is much more data that what someone could potentially use in their analysis. In fact without getting some perspective from the conjoint study data and perceptual maps in SABRE, one can get lost navigating all the other pieces of information there. As part of the Webvan case, Prof. Bell uploaded a few of his interesting research papers for reference. For the engineer in me, it was fascinating to see how Bayesian spatiotemporal models and discrete time hazard models were being used to analyze how an online retailer such as Netgrocer could have increased their customer base. Again, lots of data, lots of math, but a few key intuitions that guide the analysis.

So term 3, at its midpoint, seems to be about sifting through the muddy waters of detail to arrive at key insights. About not missing the forest for the trees. For data obsessed engineers such as myself, it seems to be about seeing data as a means to an end, not an end in itself. At a more philosophical level, it is about seeing where the trees of coursework and homework fit within the larger, more beautiful forest of life filled with the cheer of near and dear ones, Valentine's Days, chasing toddlers and smiling newborns.


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