April 24, 2015

The Global MBA: Educational Expectations, and Cultural Misunderstandings Within; and Training to be Rockstars

Michael Tasse is a student in the Global MBA program at Weatherhead, a distinctive graduate program where participants travel and study throughout China, India and the United States in a full-immersion experience. 

“The Underground” – literally, a band that came and rocked XLRI campus earlier this semester. Somewhat of a metaphor for the rockstar training we receive at XLRI.
Recently, the Global MBA took on a set of new courses about a month before final exams. One of the stresses of the semester at XLRI in Jamsehdpur, besides the rigor of the mathematical analysis coursework, is the frequency of last-minute schedule changes.

And I’m going to tell you why I think that, while it is annoying-as-hell to show up to class only for it to be rescheduled for later that day, or to receive an email at 11 p.m. from your professor about a class you will have at 9 or 11 a.m. the next morning, it is indeed an important step in making you a stronger, more disciplined global MBA student of management.

Professor Dipankur Bose (NOT the professor who made the assignment) giving us a little bit of commentary on our assumptions. Of course, the assumptions he refers to are for mathematical excel-solver-based algorithms we’re developing for our final scheduling project, but nonetheless… “careful of your assumptions!”
The problem lies in the assumptions. We as American or Chinese (or Russian, Nigerian, Dominican, Colombian…) students of the program rest on an assumption that we enter our MBA, we receive a schedule, and we can do as we choose throughout the free time we have that is not on that mostly set-in-stone schedule. We are used to that style of education, so much so that when we must exist in a turbulent scheduling system, we become frustrated, anxious and can even become angry at the institution. I will be the first to admit, that when I came home from a family dinner at the house of my friend (and GMBA Senior) Aditi Murarka’s around 11 p.m., I was angry to receive directions from a professor to complete an assignment due the next day!  I was feeling ill with the flu and other bodily ailments that brought me home from Aditi’s early, only to receive an email from 10:45 p.m. stating I had to write a Case Analysis worth 15% of our grade by the next class (the following day), AND I had to get together with my group of four and crank it out! I admit, I bounced to my phone to check my WhatsApp and WeChat notifications, hoping to join in on my frustration with certain expletives now in English, Mandarin and Hindi!

And yes, I did that.

I found many others doing the same. It was almost a bonding experience, which I will get to in a moment.

Then I received a private message from Sammy Bandy, who suggested, “No use in further complaining [Tasse]” and after thinking “What an ass!” of him for calling me out, I thought to myself, “He’s right.”

Sammy Bandy, studying rigorously a set of Hindi phrases before presenting in front of the Catholic Bishop of Jharkhand at a spontaneous event Jesuit Fr. Alwyn Rodriguez invited us to in the villages outside of Jamshedpur. Sammy gets it: there are more perspectives than one, and sometimes the “late night email and tough assignment” is about more than just the assignment.Was I mad at the professor? Yes. Was I sick and aching with a fever? Coincidentally, yes. Was it just days before finals week and he was assigning us a 15% project? Yes.

This is not an exaggeration.

I went back to the message boards before I went to go meet with my group, as the clock was striking 11:30 p.m., and I saw on Facebook that several students had actually publicly denounced the professor. To me, that was a bit too far. After all, it was just a few assignments that he’d done this to us, and I always try to consider that perhaps other things are going on in his life too, circumstances that I just cannot understand from my point of view as a student. Though, secretly I wanted to high-five some of them, because it was a bit odd. Eleven at night is a tad past the Seinfeld/Larry David 10 p.m. cutoff.

Reading through the Facebook posts, I sensed the virile anger living inside them, the disdain for the experience that we were being forced to have; we were being forced to share an experience with our brothers and sisters from other nations of the world – something that I had actually been desiring to find in an MBA program all along!

Was I still mad at him. YES! But I also realized something more important than my current emotional state:

I realized that this is the educational difference between top tier Indian schools, and top tier American/Chinese ones. In America, you have your schedule, and you have your free time. You are an independent entity plugging into the educational system for a given amount of time. In India, you sign up to spend two years fully engaged and under the near-complete direction of the educational institution. This is why Indian B-Schools consistently crank out the best and the brightest. This is why students like my brothers and sisters from XLRI have literally spent their entire lives studying and preparing to be in these schools.

This is Soumy on the right and me on the left. I visited with him in his hometown of Varansi in Uttra Pradesh, India. Soumy understands, and he helped talk me through the situation one day after lunch following the assignment. This man is a brilliant observer of things happening around him. He also loves Bollywood films and the occasional cricket match. Ladies?

I asked Soumy not what he thought about the assignment or the timeline, but what he thought about the reactions of the non-Indian students to the late night assignment. His first response was that of pleasure, in that he was proud that people were starting to feel the heat of the Indian/XLRI experience. His second was that he was a little upset with how people reacted online, but that he understands:

Most people never step outside of their own shoes to try to understand the perspectives of what others are going through.

Meaning that, it was too foreign for the non-Indian students to think that an elite institution like XLRI could literally conscript its students to two years of abiding by whatever standards the professors deem necessary!

But there’s more.

You see, in India, top jobs have only one route to access in their company. Unless you’re Hrithik Roshan or Aamir Khan (two Bollywood Actors who just ROCK), that singular route is through Indian B-Schools – aka, Indian Institutes of Management or Ivy Leagues like XLRI. You can argue that this is similar to that of the USA or Europe, where great schools have recruiters that come from McKinsey or Deloitte, etc… But it’s not. You see, there is a double-edged sword to Indian education and the job market because of the massive amount of intense competition for spots in grad school and jobs. (Does your country have over one billion people?) And if you are at a school, and go out of your way to find your “own” job, it instantly sets off an alarm with companies where they will begin to wonder, “Why didn’t this guy get a job via placement at his B-School? There must be something wrong with him.” However, if you can’t keep up with the intensity for 25 years of preparation to get you here and pass you through it, you’re not getting a job via their intensive, highly specified, reputation-based placement committees. (XLRI placed 100% of its students last year in three days. in 72 hours, 300+ XLRI students had jobs with the top firms in the world – not just in India). So there’s a lot riding on Indian B-school students other than just getting a job. This pressure makes an 11 p.m. assignment seem facile; almost negligible.

If we non-Indian students in the program could simply understand that this is the Indian way of developing a strong, disciplined mind, one that is able to endure the rigor of the hectic, chaotic, changing real world, then perhaps so many of us wouldn’t have responded so vehemently.

In fact, when I think about it, all of the complaining and hassle, and falling asleep reading the case at midnight trying to write and write and brainstorm ideas and… all of that was an amazing bonding experience that we will talk about for years to come!

“Remember that time professor gave us an assignment at 11 p.m.…two nights in a row!”

Yes, we did that. Global MBA did it. Survived it. Lived to tell the story.

Now, when that phone call comes at 8 p.m., and you have to hop on your laptop, update your figures according to the new beta values of the market or run down to the plant and make sure everything is okay…


when your child is sick in the middle of the night and you have to care for her and still go to work the next morning, I think all of us GMBA students will be a lot better off because of our experiences like these.

So in the end, when it comes down to it, our professor pushing us not only led to deep discussion and intense reflection of my own actions (i.e., complaining about it), but also some great bonding experiences that were actually the exact thing I wanted in a program.

However great the experience, in which I so nostalgically reminisce, I would be absolutely fine if there were no more of those pop-up late night assignments this semester…

My “yaar,” or dude (in Hindi), Siddharth, prepping to head into the Tata Steel Plant in Jamshedpur. One day we may have to throw on the hardhats at 11 p.m. when the stakes are high. Sidd, the GMBA gang and I will be prepared.

In fact, we often have pop up things we don’t want to do but we have to in order to prepare for the future. Take for example the Chinese New Year Dance we did that Ivy organized. Here’s a pic of Sammy teaching Ted, Vivienne, Ivy and me to shimmy, probably at about 11 p.m. Trust me, we did not want to watch Sammy shimmy. In fact, Ted is actually the best ‘shimmier’ of the group.

Mere Dost ("my friend") Sanjay! He works night shifts, and morning shifts keeping us safe- I’ve never heard him complain. Then again, he assures me he can “kick ass” with or without energy! No wonder he’s working at an Indian B-School.

Stock photo of Sagar, Vicky, and Sixto working hard on some project, probably late at night after drinking too much milk-tea

 Do you think Jamsetji Tata got upset with 11 p.m. assignments?

They say DETROIT HUSTLES HARDER, but I’m not sure. Indian B-School Students might be gaining…

April 21, 2015

HeadsUp: This Week at Weatherhead

Case Western Reserve University Day of Giving Celebration

Students are invited to a Celebration on the Quad, as a way to participate in the third annual All [in] Day of Giving festivities. The event will feature opportunities to thank university donors, games, snacks and a photo booth.

D: Wednesday, April 22
T: 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.
L: Case Quad in front of Nord Hall

Wine Etiquette 102

Please join Weatherhead Wine Society for a multi-course dinner as we discover the complexities of wine and how to pair it with food. First 40 students to sign up will have a seat at this event. 

D: Thursday, April 23
T: 7:30 - 10:30 p.m.
L: Michelson & Morley Restaurant
Tinkham Veale University Center

Operations Research and Supply Chain Management Open House

Join us to learn more about this exciting and lucrative field and how our MSM in Operations Research and Supply Chain Management program will prepare you. The day will include an information session, industry and alumni panel, lunch and tour. You don't want to miss it!

D: Friday, April 24
T: 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.
L: Peter B. Lewis Building

MBA Graduation Send-Off

The Weatherhead MBA office will host an event to congratulate this year's graduates on their accomplishments and future endeavors.

D: Wednesday, April 29
T: 4:30-7 p.m.
L: Jolly Scholar

April 12, 2015

MBA Field Trip: San Francisco Day Trek

Balaji Vanjinathan is a first-year student in the full-time MBA program at Weatherhead. He shares his experience as a participant in the San Francisco Day Trek, organized by Weatherhead's Career Management Office (CMO) in March. Follow CMO on Twitter: @weatherheadcmo.

Day 1:

Intel Tour - We had the privilege of visiting the Intel Headquarters in Santa Clara. Kamieka Hariston, MBA '07, met us at the reception and gave us a tour of the Intel Museum where we had the opportunity to get an inside view on how Intel manufactures microprocessors. After the tour, we had a one-on-one session with Kamieka. The session helped students to better understand Intel’s competitive advantage and what it is like to work for a company like Intel. Kamieka also shared her career path and personal experience at Intel with us and described it as “challenging yet rewarding.” It was evident form our discussion that Kamieka is a true advocate of Intel and has had a tremendous career at the company.

Informational Interview: There were informational interviews for the students with select Weatherhead alumni. CMO did a really good job of connecting students with alumni who had similar backgrounds or with alumni who were working in industries similar to the students’ interests. Personally, I benefited a lot from this session because the alumni I met with gave me a picture of how to go about a job search or what is the best fit for my work experience and my passion.

Alumni Dinner Reception: This was one of the best alumni reception dinners that I have attended so far. The alumni from SF were really excited to meet the students and were really helpful. The student to alumni ratio was almost 1:3. The students not only met all of the alumni, but we also had the opportunity to spend quality time with each and every one of the alumni. We met some great people at this dinner, some who graduated as recently as 2014 and some as early as 1968. Dean Widing was also a part of the event and he spent time with the all of us sharing his experiences.

Day 2:

Google Office – On the second day of the event, Jeff Rozic, BS '01, and Alicia Sanchez, BS '10, hosted our group at Google’s YouTube office, and we had a very interesting conversation over breakfast. Some of the conversation was around the startup scenario and how it is evolving into something bigger and better day-by-day, how Google helps small companies do business by enabling online sales channels, etc.

BrandLab visit – Google has created a studio where they enable the brands to grow their brand-building capabilities. Google in partnership with the brands and their agencies come up with strategies to understand how to better connect with the consumers across a diverse segment by using Google’s tools and technologies. Jeff Rozic was a great host and he gave us an inside look to the amount of data that is available for brands and how it enables brands to come up with actionable insights. He also helped us understand the pricing mechanism for Youtube advertisements, what are the challenges that Google faces and how Google sells itself as a brand. This visit gave us an idea of how one of the biggest companies in the world does business with all types of brands, be it small businesses or a large conglomerate.

Lyve visit – Lyve is a startup based out of Cupertino. CMO had planned it in such a way that we get to see companies at both ends of the spectrum, organizations with more than thousands of employees and a startup with less than hundreds of employees. At Lyve we had the opportunity to interact with the COO and marketing managers. They gave us an introduction about the product and what it is like to work for a small company. One of the most interesting aspects of the session was when they asked us for ideas to improve the user experience and the awareness among smartphone users about their product. The students were given around ten minutes to work in groups of three to come up with ideas. The employees of Lyve were really impressed by the ideas that we had come up with and said some of the ideas would be incorporated into the product.

Overall, we spent quality time at every office getting to know what it is like to work for a company in the Silicon Valley and a lot of the alumni were very helpful in guiding us and providing us with valuable information that we would need in the internship and job search. It was a very well organized event by CMO staff for the benefit of the students. I would highly recommend that future students attend these events, as they are a good pathway to connect with a lot of the alumni and relevant business people. 

April 8, 2015

On-time projects are everyone's fantasy

George Vairaktarakis
George Vairaktarakis, Ph.D., is the William E. Umstattd Professor of Industrial Economics and Professor of Operations at the Weatherhead School of Management. 

But why so? Doesn't management always emphasize timely delivery and the importance of designing a new product or entering a new market on time? Isn't the workforce conscious of time, especially in light of the consequences of missing important deadlines? Is "experience" the answer? Probably not; in the project world a mere 10% of projects are completed on time. Maybe the reason is that the importance of projects is overrated. But then why is the word "project" in nearly everyone's business title?

Whenever answers are hard to come by, something tells me nothing is as it seems – right out of a spy movie – which prompts examining the virtual reality that has become our second nature in real-world projects.

First up, the D-word: deadlines. When an activity duration is determined – giving new homework to a student, say – the student determines the approximate amount of time it takes to securely finish the activity; however, that estimate is based on the most pessimistic outlook a mind can conjure. What if the lab is closed? What if there is a historic amount of snowfall? What if I get busy with my other courses? As a result, the student fights tooth and nail to negotiate two weeks for the homework, even though it only takes three hours to complete.

Having fought the good fight and having won ample time for an activity in the business world, student syndrome kicks in: an operator takes upfront whatever slack was negotiated for the activity, trusting that Murphy will never strike. How do I know? Because the first queries I ever receive from students are always one day before the deadline they negotiated!

I don't pay monthly salaries to my students. The majority does not have two kids and a mortgage, and most of them are financially supported. In the real world, however, operators are dependent on their monthly salaries from the firm to support their families and meet a host of financial obligations. This contrast highlights how important it is that individuals' deadlines are well-padded in the real world. This is our first lesson:
Setting deadlines is a lost cause for firms - it guarantees longer-than-necessary project durations.
Either management has to discover new negotiation and psychological tools or they should abolish deadlines.

Since every operator is so determined to meet hard-fought deadlines and projects are well padded by design, why are 90% of them late? To answer this question, consider flipping a coin. This is exactly what a student does when he starts homework one day before the due date. The coin will yield heads – the homework is submitted on time – or tails, resulting in a 50% expected on-time completion rate. In the real world, projects include hundreds of activities, some of which are bound to finish late just because some coin flips yield tails.

Those late activities are typically done by operators who became overloaded during the course of an activity, were involved with lots of administrative and little actual work, were traveling too much, or faced an unforeseen issue never encountered before. As it is impossible to prevent coins from turning tails, nothing can be done to ensure that individuals' activities will complete on time, even when student syndrome does not kick in. After all, if you asked a mathematician to estimate with 100% confidence how long it will take to lift a finger, the answer is: eternity. Why? Because 100% confidence must cover the possibility that a passing meteorite hands our project the fate its ancestor handed to the dinosaurs! How long would you say the last dinosaur project is going to take?

However simple an activity or diligent and creative its operator, some activities will always complete late. That's a fact. Suppose, therefore, that my predecessor in the project incurred delays in his activity, and the project is handed to me, say, one week late. Doesn't this mean that my deadline is automatically extended by one week? Of course it does. For if I deliver a week early, the next time I am given a similar activity I will not be able to negotiate a safe duration that I can meet with confidence. As a result, delays accumulate from one activity to the next throughout the project.

Suppose that I defy common logic and I do finish my activity one week sooner than negotiated. Why would I report it? If I do, my project manager will never let me pad my activities again. Instead, I would rather make myself look busy. That, too, has its basis in psychology. It is known as Parkinson's Law: Work is like gas, expanding to cover all available space (or time in our case).

So, if I happen to finish my activity one week early, my shrink can ensure you that I will suffer temporary Parkinson symptoms that will last for precisely one week. In the schizophrenic event that I do report the gain, the person to whom I hand the project next is not ready to start because he didn't expect me to finish early. Therefore, the project will waste my gains waiting on someone else's desk rather than mine. In other words, work gains are never reported. That's our second lesson:
A culture of deadlines causes activity delays to accumulate and gains to be left unreported.
Clearly, even if we decide to abolish deadlines, a new communication protocol is needed to measure project progress and incentivize the right behavior.

Fortunately, during the last 20 years, project management researchers at the Weatherhead School of Management and elsewhere have developed a method known as The Critical Chain Method that provides answers to the aforementioned gloom-and-doom scenarios. Every year, managers from around the country join our open enrollment project management offerings at the Weatherhead School of Management to learn how they can transform their organizations into pleasant, cooperative work environments where on-time project delivery becomes a competitive advantage rather than a chance event.

April 7, 2015

HeadsUp: This Week at Weatherhead

Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week Events

Case Western Reserve University's Office of Student Activities & Leadership is coordinating this year's Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week, which recognizes graduate and professional students' intellectual, teaching and cultural contributions to the Case Western Reserve community.

The Flight from Conversation: How technology is shaping our relationships

Sherry Turkle, a professor, author and licensed clinical psychologist, has spent the last 30 years researching the psychology of people’s relationships with technology and, in particular, how technology is shaping our modern relationships—with others, with ourselves, with it. She will present her observations in “The Flight From Conversation” as featured speaker for the 2015 F. Joseph Callahan Distinguished Lecture at Case Western Reserve University.

D: Monday, April 13
T: 6 - 7:30 p.m.
L: Tinkham Veale University Center

Networking Happy Hour

Join us for an amazing networking opportunity, as well as dinner and drinks.

D: Thursday, April 16
T: 6 - 9 p.m.
L: Butcher & Brewer, 2043 East 4th Street

April 1, 2015

Purposeful, focused creativity for organizational change

Kipum Lee
Kipum Lee is a doctorate candidate in the department of design and innovation at the Weatherhead School of Management and head of design at Microbac Laboratories, Inc.

When IBM asked over 1,500 CEOs worldwide in a 2010 study what the single most important leadership competency organizations needed, the response was creativity. Not the pie-in-the-sky type of creativity that is so utterly detached from the reality of management, but the type of creativity governed by a controlled imagination that critically asks if something can be other and better than what it is today.

What the study points to is a desire by executive management for the engine that fuels the change needed to chart their way across the landscape of an increasingly complex and uncertain world. Managers shape the environments in which we work and live. And for ones who seek opportunities to improve their organizations and themselves, the principles of design offer a powerful skill set for flexible thinking and creativity. Design is a rich concept that captures the idea of purposeful and focused creativity.

When people hear the word "art"--another term that comes to mind when one thinks of creativity-- they might think of self-expression or "art for art's sake;" design, on the other hand, conveys something more grounded, inherently containing notions of utility (although not excluding the beautiful) and making in order to accomplish a particular purpose.

Despite this ability to be down-to-earth, design is typically understood in the narrow sense as stylization, the final embellishment of something that has already gone through rounds of decision making at higher levels. Design as stylization might be valuable in helping to explore a product feature, e.g., presenting an assortment of fanciful color or layout options on a corporate website.

While there are quite a number of senior managers and executives who actively participate even at this level of production – most notably, the late Steve Jobs – most managers are perfectly fine delegating end-of-the-line work to so-called Creatives. When design is taken more seriously, Creatives are given greater responsibility over the product development work of the organization.

At this point, the organizational challenge is to manage design. Creatives are a unique group of individuals with distinct needs, and management's task is to motivate and protect them so they can produce great work. The most mature form of design occurs in organizations that ask, "Is creative work limited to just the Creative group?"

So far, design has found it comfortable to nest in areas in which one would expect it to fit almost naturally, such as product development or customer service. But what about the other areas of an organization? Is there a way to develop vendor relations with methods different from those of today? How might managers discover unconventional ways to create and reinforce a culture of safety? How might managers innovatively close the gap between what brand and marketing communicates to customers and what really happens within operations?

If one begins to realize that everything within an organization is designed, the idea of designing management emerges. In fact, another way of stating the insight from the IBM study is that organizations are in need of managers who are designers – of meetings, presentations, services, processes, plans, organizational structures. Likewise, from the perspective of designers, organizations are large and complex products.

As the head of design for an analytic, chemical testing company, I have the unique opportunity to do my doctoral research on this very topic, design in organizations. There are moments when all three forms of design – stylization, managing design, designing management – converge to present an important opportunity for organizational change.

For example, it took me a while to realize that the custody form that accompanies the submission of client samples is much more than a piece of paper containing fonts and letters. It plays multiple roles: defending our reputation and business when questioned by the authorities, communicating the terms of agreement with our clients, providing the material needed to improve our processes and train our employees, guiding the actions needed by operations and quality assurance teams to fulfill the work, conveying principles of our brand, and embodying a sense of local ownership and pride since each of our facilities has historically crafted its own unique form.

The effort to tame the complexity of multiple versions and make changes to this single artifact required an understanding of the three forms of design. Making deliberate stylistic changes to the document were met with comments such as, "The white space created is a waste. More elements should be added to the form." Working with the IT team responsible for production and implementation of the document in electronic form led to the invention of an approach to making – a new product development process – that would benefit other similar products.

Finally, arguments had to be carefully designed in oral, written, and visual form to persuade possessive senior managers that there is both an internal and client-based need to standardize the form. This would require managers to make appropriate behavioral adjustments from both the front and operational ends of the business. These arguments were accompanied by the crafting of a new client services team that would have to be added to our overall organizational structure.

At the Weatherhead School ofManagement, we continue to have vibrant conversations on concrete topics like this – how things designed within the organization can be used as vehicles to redesign the organization itself. And that is just one theme. We have packaged our understanding of purposeful and focused creativity under the banner of manage by designing, a work-in-progress prototype that has led to the first department of design and innovation within a school of management. For managers seeking change in their career path, realization of their full potential, or positive organizational change, the Weatherhead Executive Education program provides a great place to explore what it means to lead such transformations in concrete terms.

If organizations truly need leaders who live and work creatively – people who know how to manage by designing – it is time for managers to devise new courses of action that change current situations into new and better ones.