What I wish I had known before RC year

IMG_1515.JPG

As I pack up for school after a fantastic summer, I see many of my friends starting at HBS in the fall have already begun arriving on campus (hi, Lisa!) I remember how overwhelming the start of business school was last year and wanted to impart unsolicited advice on those beginning the journey.

I remember receiving lots of advice about how to navigate the beginning of the first year from incoming second year students, graduates, friends who hadn’t attended business school and everything in between. I found most of it overwhelming and some of it helpful, and wanted to consolidate the best of the advice. They span the practical to the theoretical, and help with the mindset adjustment that derives from being business school.

I am trying to keep this as general as possible so this can be applicable to first year MBAs beyond the HBS community, but some of this might be HBS-specific.

Best of luck!

  1. Come up with a pithy, memorable fun-fact about yourself. This becomes relevant not only on your first day in section when everyone has to introduce themselves, but also as you meet your many classmates.
  2. Use one 5-subject notebook for your notes for every class, rather than 5 1-subject notebooks. It’s an incredibly random tidbit that someone imparted upon me and I found it extremely helpful. The schedule isn’t consistent and it’s annoying to have to remember to carry distinct notebooks around. Instead, easiest to have everything consolidated under one umbrella.
  3. Say no to one thing on your calendar every day. You can’t do everything and you’ll find yourself overloaded quickly.
  4. Don’t ignore the people outside of the bubble or the things you love to do. Call your parents. Read fiction. Go to the gym. Find time for yourself – this comes up often but it’s really important as you’re forming your identity in a new setting to maintain the things that make you who you are.
  5. Don’t go overboard on signing up for clubs. It costs money for each of them and you’ll realize how little time you have in the first year to participate. Figure out what you really care about and go deep. The reasons to get involved are 1. if you’re switching industries and want to use it as a launchpad to make connections or 2. as a fun, social experience.
  6. Spend time getting to know your section-mates. Attend small group dinners, sign up for offsite activities with one another, and invest in those relationships. Of course, make time to branch out when the time is right, but in the first few months it’s most manageable and effective to build deep connections with the people you spend 10 hours a day.
  7. Keep an open mind about everyone and everything. The only way this experience works is if you participate in earnest and leave yourself open to meeting people from different backgrounds and industries. Everyone is there for a reason has an interesting story to tell. You don’t have to be friends with every single person, but be open to getting to know as many people as possible. And most important, be an ally to people. If you’re outgoing, be friendly and extend a hand to those who might be more timid.
  8. Come prepared. Seriously – you’ve worked this hard to get there, and there were 10 other people vying for that spot. Make it count. Even if they seem casual about it, your classmates will have done all of the requisite work beforehand. You don’t want to be the only one with a disadvantage because the most important reputation you can build is with your peers. Prepared also means being punctual.
  9. Don’t lose touch with your former industry and your former colleagues. Read applicable publications and materials to stay abreast of what’s going on in your universe. Email former colleagues to find out what’s happening at the office. It’ll give you a sense of grounding when you feel disoriented in your new environment. BUT: If you’re looking to switch careers or industries – take the time to start reading publications in that industry.
  10. Have fun! Smile. It goes by so quickly.
What I wish I had known before RC year

That’s A Wrap

legally-blonde-harvard-law-gif.gif

We did it! 250 cases. 93 new best friends. Countless problem sets. 1 cold call. It’s funny to imagine that 9 months ago this great group of friends were all strangers wearing business casual. This week marks the end of an inspiring, enlightening, and all-around fun first year of business school.

As with everything, I ask myself “was it worth it?” After this semester, the answer is a resounding yes. This so-called “vacation” has turned out to be a marathon at a sprint’s pace, but I’m enjoying every minute. I tried to summarize the high points of the year and my favorite things that I’ve learned – nuggets from class, wisdom from section mates and general experiences that have changed my perspective. It’s challenging to collect all of these emotions and condense them to a few bullet points, but here are some scattered thoughts on why this experience has been transformative so far, and what I’ve enjoyed learning most.

  • The people are the most critical part of the experience: it’s cliche, but being placed in such an intense group of impressive, type-A people can be intimidating. I have been continually blown away by the cohesion of my section, and finding a home with these compassionate, funny and impressive individuals.
  • The limiting schedule : it was bizarre at first to be shepherded around, with everyone following exactly the same schedule. It felt like high school, and it was strange moving from a professional environment to feeling like my time was not my own. I’ve had to become adaptable about finding time for myself (which proved to be very important), and I’ve had to become more efficient about finding time.
  • Putting yourself in the shoes of the decision-maker provides a different perspective on leadership: people often say that MBAs know how to criticize but don’t know how to do. We’ve spent the year putting ourselves in the position of being the decision-maker, which has given me profound respect and understanding for what it means when all of the choices look wrong.
  • Business school is a process of self-discovery: I didn’t think that focusing my efforts on learning for 2 years would cause a serious process of introspection. Every day we are asked to come in with a stance on a particular topic, and it has pushed me to evaluate and define my values.

I can’t wait to come back next year to an entirely different set of challenges!

That’s A Wrap

Blink and you’ll miss it

image1.JPG

It was class picture day #2 this week with the Section F Foxes and it made me realize that second semester has gone by in a flash. While I felt exhausted at the end of first semester – ready for a mental break from reading cases and fatigue of social activities, it still feels as though we are just ramping up with semester two. Yet all of a sudden, it’s over.

I don’t think anything prepared me for how quickly this period of time would fly by over the last few months. The beginning of business school felt like a slow march. At HBS, we are expected to be 100% “on” all day, every day, expending every ounce of energy just getting through work, classes and the packed schedule (let alone being social). And yet much of that stress dissipated this semester. It became easier to balance the tension between being scheduled and finding time to do things for myself, figure out how to make time for friends both inside and outside of the bubble, and even think about working on unrelated projects. Oh yea, did I mention we’re required to start companies with a small project group this semester? It hasn’t been relaxing, per se, but it has been more manageable.

As a friend of mine put it, I’ve been waiting all semester for that feeling of getting started. The course material is more nuanced and complex, the friendships go a layer deeper, and the companies we’ve started have been…an experience. I think that feeling of anticipation comes from the simultaneous comfort with our surroundings and the fact that we face new challenges that exhaust us every day.

I’m not ready for this first year to be over, but I am eager to start applying this overload of information in the real world. There’s no possible method to test everything we’ve soaked up over the course of this year in one job, but I believe that joining a small, growing company in the consumer tech space is a great way to get started.

To that effect, I’m excited to announce that I’ll be joining Periscope this summer, helping them tackle a host of fun, exciting business development projects. There are few things more enjoyable than being able to mark that major task of finding a summer internship off my ever-expanding “To Do” list. I am looking forward to helping demonstrate to the tech world that MBAs can add value, and having a great time working with smart people on meaningful projects while doing it. In the meantime, I’ll be livestreaming. Onward!

Blink and you’ll miss it

On Cuba

Cd_E-S9XEAEd4F0.jpg

 

A little off-brand here, but I spent last week in Cuba for Spring Break with fellow Harvard students, and wanted to share my thoughts on the trip. It was one of the most outer-worldly travel experiences I’ve had, and I feel lucky that I got to see the country at the dawn of a lot of great change it is starting to experience. Below are my unfiltered, high-level impressions of the experience: the country, ideology and the great people I met.

1. Communism objectively doesn’t work: Cuba feels like a country in a time lapse. The old cars, crumbling infrastructure, lack of cell phones and many modern amenities. It’s surprising to know that time has virtually stopped here. The country doesn’t feel destitute, but clearly is suffering from 60+ years of decline. The infrastructure is weak and inefficient and most notably the interpersonal relationships such as service suffer because these people are not incentivized to do a good job. Cubans are warm and friendly, but the standards for service are very different.

Furthermore, the public infrastructure feels stuck in the 1960s. Flights experienced massive delays, and it took us over 3 hours to receive our baggage on each end. People chalk it up to “it’s Cuba!” but I imagine that won’t cut it as more commercial flights begin to land in Havana.

2.  The propaganda machine is real: they brainwash against Americans and capitalism via propaganda, but people of our generation are starting to question what they know. That being said, it doesn’t feel like they want to do much about it in the short term, and the government still seems wary of really allowing foreign direct investment to open it up.

They still heavily regulate communications with the “outside word.” For example, did you know that Cubans were not allowed to leave Cuba until 2008? Most Cubans have never left this island. I knew about the travel ban inward, but I didn’t realize the reverse was also true. To make matters worse, even though they are allowed to travel now, the government makes it nearly impossible to obtain a passport, rendering it still essentially impossible to travel. Finally, because they have so little money and no means of making extra money on the side, even if they could obtain a passport, they wouldn’t be able to afford to travel. Very sad.

But! There seems to be a ton of fanfare and open-mindedness around Obama’s visit.

3. The food and accommodations in Cuba are not ready for tourism: I can’t figure out if it’s due to lack of good produce or lack of skill, but it’s very surprising how bad the food is. The accommodations are also pretty rundown but I can’t tell if it’s a function of where we chose to stay.

This is where I am most excited about Airbnb, and the possibility of Cuba opening up its doors to foreign direct investment. Airbnb is giving a renewed livelihood to people in Cuba by allowing them to be small-scale entrepreneurs – a massive challenge in a country where 85% of the workforce is employed by the government. Furthermore, by allowing Cubans to open their homes to Americans, it will help break down ideological barriers and preconceived notions about each others’ culture.

4.  Havana is a fantastic city, and I see why this is such an attractive tourist destination. There is real culture and activity, and the beaches are beautiful. The nightlife and music scene are vibrant, the colorful buildings of Havana make wandering the streets enjoyable, and the beaches are relatively underpopulated.

5. Being a tourist here is not like being a tourist anywhere else. Agendas and itineraries are subject to changes at the whim of the government, but we are never in control. We wanted to do things on our own, and the tour guide told us we were not allowed to. We can’t peel away from the group in major ways (ex take a taxi back to Havana for the last night when we wanted to leave the beach). We also couldn’t request a schedule change because the government owns the bus and they decided that they did not approve of the change. Finally, we couldn’t change our flights last night when our plane was delayed 8+ hours until 3am, because you can’t simply buy a new plane ticket. Everything is still heavily monitored.

I can’t wait to see the country open up to private enterprise, tourism, foreign investment and mass communication. It’s humbling to see the dichotomy between the past 60 years in the US and Cuba. As things change, I just hope they keep using the beautiful old cars!
Cd_G8KHW8AAtXgr.jpgCd_G8KNW8AA2jNl.jpg
On Cuba

Asking More Questions

CVuw2dGUkAALFc7.jpg
The way we are taught at HBS is through the case method – a very practical, hands on way of learning material by putting ourselves in someone’s shoes. The classroom style is rhetorical, with virtually no lectures. The idea is that we are supposed to learn from one another, and we are encouraged to embark on certain intellectual streams of thought in order to do so.

I’ve noticed that the most effective way both to teach and to learn is when asked a question, to in turn ask more questions. Not the kind of Q&A style questions you might get from someone giving a talk, but rather to probe with the right ideas in order to get other people thinking about something in a different way.  My peers and professors have employed this tactic in a way I hadn’t previously experienced in professional life, and I think I’ve learned dramatically more as a result. For example, when someone wants to know how or why something happened, instead of simply answering, ask the person why they think that took place. Alternatively, opening it up to others to enlist their ideas.

The reason this method is so effective is that it provides almost no answers, and turns the conversation back on the person who wanted to learn something originally. It pushes us to expand our minds beyond what we might have thought we were capable of comprehending. By generating an answer from within, we learn a lot more than by listening to a rote answer. I think this is a great tactic not only for self-enhancement, but as I think about advising, mentoring and managing.

Time to keep this in mind during exams…

Asking More Questions

Finding value out of a slump

IMG_2505

Diving headfirst into any experience causes fatigue, and I think my most recent change has been no exception. Most of the time, we start something and invest so much time making sure we understand what is going on, that we don’t take much time to step back and reflect. But there comes a time to take stock – inventory and catalog what we’ve learned and who we’ve met, and I think that time has hit.

At HBS, we have something known as the “November slump”: the excitement of meeting new classmates is over, the frenzy of midterms is in the rear view mirror (oy), and we’re gazing toward a very long, dark winter. But on the other hand, I feel like I’ve only just started finding my groove. Here are a few thoughts on how to re-energize during the slump, and some themes that will help get over the hurdle before the end of the semester.

  1. Recognize that we have just scratched the surface of getting to know one another. There’s this sense of “shiny new toys” when you meet 90 new people (or 900, depending on your scale), but we still don’t really know each other. I’m energized by the idea of going deep into friendships with so many people, and learning what makes these people tick. I’m starting to recognize the extreme value of the connections made at a place in which you are surrounded by such brilliant, disparate minds. I plan to draw energy and inspiration from the process of getting to know everyone more meaningfully.
  2. Start something. The wake up –> class –> case reading –> repeat cycle is the necessary framework structuring my day, but I’m quickly learning that I need to do more than just this to keep myself fulfilled. Starting a project and solving a problem that feels meaningful and juicy keeps my mind racing and provides a nice reprieve from the daily grind.
  3. Get out of the bubble. I’ve kept this running mission of meeting 2 new people a week for the last few years. I love hearing different perspectives, and so I will continue to challenge myself to do this both within and outside of the HBS community. Furthermore, I enjoy exploring new cities and I feel like I’ve barely gotten to see Boston. Whenever I feel like I’m in a rut, changing physical setting gives me perspective.
  4. Connect great people. I feel as though I’m adding value when I can connect two people who would benefit from knowing one another. As small as it seems, making those introductions can be a great way to rekindle friendships and connections, while simultaneously feeling like you are giving back. Making connections
  5. Keep questioning. if something feels wrong, it’s probably wrong. Challenge assumptions and be discerning. It’s ok to push back, and in doing so you are probably making your surroundings better for everyone else, too.

Theme of the week: 27!

Finding value out of a slump

Always busy, all the time: favorite lessons from the first half

IMG_2366

Business school gets the reputation of being a two year holiday filled with travel, catching up on sleep and partying. But I can’t say that’s been my experience to date. Instead, I am always busy, all the time. The schedule here is very rigorous – it entails an early morning discussion group (whom I really do enjoy waking up to!), followed by 2-3 classes, coffees, lectures or corporate presentations, entrepreneurial ventures, evening activities. Somehow, we also manage case reading in between.

To that end, I have learned a tremendous amount about various subjects, myself, and how to work effectively in academia as an adult. Here are the lessons I’ve enjoyed the most from this year so far:

  1. The best way to get people to like you is to get them to do a favor for you. This is hands down my favorite lesson of the semester, since it works counter to what I would have assumed. The psychology is that if you are trying to win someone over, by having them do a favor for you it allows them to think that you are the kind of person they would do something nice for, which means they must believe that they would like you in order to do that. I give Benjamin Franklin full credit for this.
  2. Transparency and communication are the most effective way to get anything done. This one has come up at least once in every single course – being transparent by communicating motives, assumptions, and information unique to each person in a group can solve the vast majority of organizational and financial issues institutions face.
  3. Within an organization, transferring learning is an enormous challenge. When you think about organizational states of knowledge on a scale of total ignorance to robust procedural knowledge, there is a combination of art and science required. Don’t underestimate the efficiency of structural learning and institutional knowledge as you reshape teams.
  4. Know what your expected rate of return is for every investment you make, (which can broadly be extrapolated as: understand the risks and rewards over every decision, whether it is an investment of time, money or effort). This may seem obvious, but when you have as many overlapping opportunities competing for your time as we have recently, using this framework helps me assess tradeoffs every day.
  5. Frequent introspection and self-reflection are critical. Take time to evaluate what you have learned, who you have met, and what you enjoy. This introspection has also enabled me to prioritize my schedule more effectively. HBS has been a great forcing function for making this a recurring practice, and I find that I’m much more self-aware than I was before.
  6. Bonus: not everyone washes their hair every day (Suave case). I am honestly truly surprised to learn this!
Always busy, all the time: favorite lessons from the first half