Thursday, February 28, 2013

Spring Classes, an overview

Other than my thesis, the class load I have signed up for this semester is pretty darn reasonable compared to previous semesters.  Instead of six classes and two seminars, I've got five classes, one of which is only in the second half of the semester.  Of those five, two specifically are required and two are needed to fill a general credit requirement.  If I needed or wanted to, I could drop the fifth, or turn it into a Pass/Fail class.  Pass/Fail is an option graduate students at MIT can choose once per semester if the class is not needed to fulfill degree requirements.

The two required LGO classes are:

  • 15.769 - Operations Strategy

This class is a full semester and is taught by Professor Charles Fine.  Sometimes it has been taught by the LGO co-director Don Rosenfield.  Prof. Fine commented at the beginning of the semester that this was one of the first classes he was asked to teach when he came to MIT over 30 years ago.  Like the way Leaders for Global Operations used to be called Leaders for Manufacturing, Operations Strategy used to be called Manufacturing Strategy.  This is primarily a case and discussion based class.


  • 15.317 - Organizational Leadership and Change

This is the half semester one, I have not started it yet, so I can't honestly say much.  I just know that as one of the final assignments for this class, we are supposed to write a 'how do you define leadership and what does it mean to you' type paper.  Too bad you can not define leadership as 'not writing papers.'

The three classes that I have elected to take are:

  • 15.068 Statistical Consulting

Between wanting more math and analysis related classes I chose this due to it's heavy...oh wait, I chose it for the professor, Arnie Barnett, first, and then I decided that what he was teaching would also be useful to me.  Seriously, read this previous post.  Even in round two, Arnie does not disappoint.  I am glad to have him bookend my LGO experience.

  • 15.398 Corporations at the Crossroads: The CEO Perspective
Described in its own syllabus as one of the 'legendary courses at Sloan', the professors have continued to live up to this attitude.  For the most part they just introduce the beginning of the two hour once a week class and then let a CEO or former CEO take over for an hour and a half or so.  How much I enjoy each class depends more on who's presenting and what the questions from students end up focusing on.

Additionally, a group of about a dozen students from the class gets to have dinner with each CEO.  In April, I, with a few other LGOs in the mix, will be having dinner with Stephen Elop, CEO of Nokia.  Nokia is definitely a company that fits the "in the crossroads" description and so I'm interested in what Mr. Elop will have to say.  Previous LGOs had described this as a class they enjoyed, so between recommendations, it meeting when my other classes did and getting a to have dinner with a CEO, I figured it was worth a shot.

  • 15.518 Taxes and Business Strategy

I don't know how many other people do this, but each semester, when it comes to choosing my electives, I scour course reviews.  One thing that's interesting is that Sloan has separate grades for both the material and work of the class and for the professor.  This class managed to be highly rated on both.

So, despite my hesitations of jumping into a taxes class, it seems to have paid off.  I know I am learning material that is useful not only in a career but to my own personal finances, the class is taught by a woman, Michelle Hanlon.  Prof. Hanlon has a sense of humor and her mid-western accent is a fun reminder of where I used to live.  I was somewhat sad to see that most of what I knew about taxes was covered in the first couple lectures, but it means I'll learn more.  I am debating whether to use my pass/fail on this one though!

Additionally, for the first half of the semester, I got a spot in a PE class - Intermediate Ice Skating.

This class is taught by a NHL pro scout (no he's not looking to see if I can join the NHL, he is instead hired by a NHL team to keep track of the players on other NHL teams for possible trades).  He's Canadian and the class, for better or worse, is taught like many other MIT classes.  The only prerequisite is being comfortable with skating forwards HOWEVER over the twelve sessions we have or will be covering both forwards and backwards crossovers, pivoting/changing direction while skating, stopping, turning tightly, etc.

I have an OK time with the moves that primarily involve both skates on the ice, but things involving more balance, like crossovers, but especially turning from skating forward to skating backward all in one swoop are a little much for me to handle.  Crossovers I can do, but they're wobbly.  Still trying to figure out the switch the direction you're skating maneuver.  The class began as fun, but is definitely getting more stressful as I angst about trying to do these more challenging moves.  I wish, in many ways, I was more confident at failing or, I guess, failing dramatically.  Sometimes fear paralysis just takes over instead and then I don't make the attempt.

The amazing thing about this particular set of academic courses is that in the first half of the semester, I have classes two days a week and for the second half of the semester I will have classes three days a week.  This is advantageous yes for long weekends, but also for attending conferences (which at Sloan often seem to be all day on a Friday), working on bigger projects or attending to anything else you need to do.

All in all, I'm happy with both my selections and my schedule.  Now to make it through the end of the semester!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

February is almost gone

The first draft of our theses is due on March 1st so things have been more quiet and studious around here lately - especially now that it's the end of the month.

In upcoming posts look forward to at least a selection of these topics:
  • Photos from Nemo the Blizzard
(We did not end up getting the 3+ feet of snow they at one point predicted, it stayed closer to two feet)
Some remaining snow on an outdoor parked Z06 Corvette (I must protest!)
  • A quick trip to South Carolina
(Where, turns out, I took very few useful photos for the blog)
  • Comments on my spring classes
  • LGO Job Hunting
In the meantime, enjoy a few tidbits I found from walking around a new part of Cambridge to get our visitor parking permit!
Unusual architecture - modern condos with garages! oriented perpendicular to the street
An amusingly worded reminder to bikes that they should follow car street rules
Click the image to zoom in and see why I should really be living there!
Class of 2015 - contain your anticipatory excitement for a bit longer.
We can't wait to see you in April for Open House though!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

First Day of Classes but Really a Set of Comments on Introversion

After having six months of an 8-5 work-type schedule where I was mostly solitary (no other LGOs at GM and no other LGO interns at any company for hundreds of miles), coming back to a more erratic school schedule filled with lots of people and lots of demands on my time has honestly felt a little strange.

A while ago I had been looking at a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  After speaking with an MIT alumna at the end of January who personally recommended the book, I made the jump to purchase it and have been glad I did.  It covers things that I wish we covered or acknowledged more in B-school leadership classes, beyond leadership capabilities and ethics.

(A side note and my personal soapbox - if you need mandatory classes or workshops on ethics then, to me, it says that many people in the past have been coming out of your program and doing unethical things.  To me, forcing ethics upon students means that you do not trust them or have enough faith in them to act well.  Perhaps this is being idealistic; I hope not though.)

Anyway, a couple sections in reading the book have stuck out to me so far:

  • When the author, Susan Cain, interviews students at HBS and asks about whether introverts exist, "the student who wishes me luck in finding an introvert at HBS no doubt believes that there are none to be found."  The author comments on finding and speaking with an introvert who reflects, "students at HBS go out several nights a week ... Participation isn't mandatory, but it feels as if it is to those who don't thrive on group activities."
I think this 'all on all the time' idea is still true but to a somewhat less extent at MIT Sloan.  I pick the HBS example because HBS was the business school the author visited and it is at least parallel, if not entirely equivalent, to experiences here at Sloan.

Earlier in the book Susan discusses how the US evolved from a culture of character to a culture of personality.

  • The "word personality didn't exist in the English language until the eighteenth century and the idea of 'having a good personality' was not widespread until the twentieth."
  • Character traits such as Duty, Honor, Manners were things that "anyone could work at improving." "But new self-help guides [of the 1920s] celebrated qualities [...] that were trickier to acquire.  Either you embodied these qualities or you didn't: Fascinating, Energetic, Forceful, etc."

Finally, the section I've most recently been reading is one about how creativity and innovative work are not necessarily best fostered by teams, group brainstorming and open floor plans, often it is best done in a more solitary manner.  Once I got to this part in the book, I began to wonder if the mini breakouts of various classes, when we spend time talking though a question or idea in groups of 3-4, are always as helpful as they could be.  I wonder how the class would react if a professor had students take the same amount of time in class as normal to analyze a problem, but with the condition that they silently think about the solution to themselves.

Even though it's awesome that LGO got new study carols for the office, the walls are shorter between desks that face each other than they used to be, and some of the desks next to each other side to side don't have any walls between them at all now.  At first I was happy to have new shiny desks, but, when I finally thought it through, I realized I missed the more private library cubby hole style rather than the more open "collaborative" arrangement.

Yes, I am the first to admit I'm an introvert and yes, I'll be the first to admit that it's an uncommon at business school.  Maybe it's more common though and people just aren't admitting it.  I want to clarify that it's not that introverts always want to hide away and not talk to anyone - not true - instead it's that all the socializing, though it's nice to see people, can be tiring rather than energizing.  So please, when it comes to leaders and thinkers, remember us quiet ones; just because we're not "Magnetic" doesn't mean we don't have a lot to offer.
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