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Archive for February, 2012

Should we throw straight or aim wide?

February 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Do most innovations happen on the cutting edge or can they be found on the margins of a professional field?

Let me share a story to illustrate my example. Edward Melcarek is an electrical engineer who was able to  instantly solve a problem that puzzled the R&D department of  Colgate for a quite some time. He was able to do so by applying his knowledge of electrical physics to a traditional chemistry problem. To Edward, the solution stood out as an application of basic electrical principles, yet to seasoned R&D chemical scientists it was elusive.

What is innovation anyway?  My view of innovation coincides with principles described by Jeff Hawkins in his book “On Intelligence” . Essentially, he argues, innovation is our capacity to notice previously learned patterns in new environments.  The deeper and broader your library of patterns, the more likely you are to notice and apply those patterns to problems and generate novel solutions. This is why an “outside perspective” is traditionally valued during the innovation process (HBR Innovation’s Hidden Enemies).

What does this mean for young professionals? It is quite possible that thousands of experienced professionals are tackling problems within your field using a standard skill set (learned by experience or in school, through conferences or self learning). The progress that these professionals make as a whole might be impressive (or not), but to an individual it is hard to stand out since too many people are aiming to solve same problems in a similar way. One way to compete within such environment is to apply cross discipline knowledge, and it has been done: Marketing/Psychology, Logistics/Mathematics, Biology/Chemistry, etc. But it has not been done for all the fields! What about Computer Science/Art combination, creating art though a senses of a machine? Or Marketing/Immunology, applying virus propagation formulas to marketing campaigns?

Universities are great at training specialists, but we might have too many people pursuing this path. Perhaps what we need is people who are able to bridge a gap among fields, if so today’s graduates should aim to have multiprofessions in order to find their blue oceans.

Categories: Alex, Qualification

Time to Push Back

February 16, 2012 Leave a comment

A study by Fordham University reveals that 30-35% of careers in management stumble because of perfectionist tendencies held by the candidate.  Does that mean that 30-35% of managers are perfectionists? I argue that the quota is even higher! I would say that almost every successful manager is a perfectionist in some way… Consequently perfectionism has to be a good trait in a way, even though it needs to be critically supervised on occasions (e.g. Amy Gallo wrote about “How to Manage a Perfectionist” not too long ago on the HBR blog network).

Today I would like to discuss with you the impact perfectionism has on the course of a project, and approaches you can consider to help you keep on track.

When I was studying for my Master of Management, the major assignment of the first semester was the Common Project. It was a fairly big assignment where we were tasked with developing our very own business idea, as well as pitching it in front of a panel of experts in the field of venture capitalism and business. It was as real as a class-room project could get, and critically marked to make us allocate a lot of our time to the project.

We ran through all the customary stages of brainstorming for ideas, dismissal, elevator pitches and so on. After the initial pitch we dived deeper into all the areas that we had to cover in this entrepreneurial project, as there were marketing, production, logistics, financial, governance and general strategy dimensions to take into account. We delved deep into the details of the problems that we thought to be most important at that time which were actually difficult to target because of the limited time and the limited (especially human) resources we were given.

One week prior to the final pitch in front of the panel, we had a lecture with our program director Nick Wailes who was the supervisor of the project and our strategy professor. Nick monitored our progress and knew what we had done so far. In this lecture he told us that all groups were on a target, but some of us might get stuck in details that won’t let the project succeed if they were achieved, but let the project fail if they were neglected. Nick then said: “Sometimes you just need to push back”.

At this point it was important to stop and take a step back from the assignment to get a broader perspective, and decide whether it was time to pursue the details we were currently working on or pushing back on them and getting back to the tasks that really mattered. We had to refocus our energies.

That fact projects proceed in a S-Curved shape is nothing new and Mukul Gupta illustrates that very well in his article “Project Progress during Starting and Closing Phases”. However, I argue that this only represents the ideal case. In every project it is necessary to reflect intermittently on your progress and check if you are trapped in details that don’t lead you to the overarching goal. If you find your focus is waning you need to take action, push back, and refocus on the main objective. This point is represented by the first plateau of the double-s-shaped progress-chart of mine.


And this is where I want to return to the perfectionism-topic that I started with. The classic perfectionist has a problem at this point. The point of time when the project is 80% done. He wants a certain detail to be perfect, even though the overarching question to this detail is already answered and this detail might only be an addition, when at the same time there are massive gaps at a different end of the project. This is when you have to remind yourself and your team to take a step back and decide whether or not it is time to push back to keep on track.

Finally, if you are not running into the deadline it might even be possible for the perfectionist to perfectionize those details after the common goal of the project is accomplished to achieve a degree of fulfillment of more than 100%…

Sebastian

Consulting Case Interview Preparation

February 14, 2012 1 comment

Thinking about a career in consulting? Here are a few resources that can help you prepare. Of special interest is the last link to consultingcase101.com, a website that provides a comprehensive mix of the preparation materials you would need for a consulting interview.

BCG Online Practice Cases:

BCG Interactive Case (45 minutes)

BCG Revenue Growth Case

BCG Increasing Profits Case

BCG Distribution Strategy Case

BCG Competitive Strategy Case

Deloitte:

Example of the kind of work Deloitte does – Cases

Interactive Practice Cases (Multiple Cases in HR, Strategy, or Technology)

Advice on how to structure the case (plus two more practice cases)

McKinsey:

Practice Case Studies

Imperial College of London:

Case Interview Preparation Materials (many links to Cases)

Consultancy Links:

List of Case Studies (I tried to have minimum overlap)

Consulting Cases 101:

Comprehensive interview preparation website (Includes math drills!)

Alex

Judge the viability of this business idea

February 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Crowd-sourcing is a hot topic. A classic example is a company built around a T-shirt design community, or websites that provide crowd-funding for start ups. Today, however, we would like our readers to express their opinions about a little business idea we had and judge its viability.

Name of the business:
Question of the day

One sentence explanation:
Daily quiz style questions on a variety of topics, bringing the joy of learning to millions of people.

How it works:
People interested sign up on the website and receive a daily email which contains a multiple choice or numeric question on topics of their choice.

Examples would be: “How many times is the Earth bigger than the moon?” (General Knowledge-Medium), “What is the smallest bone in human body? (Medicine-Easy), or “What is the square root of -9?” (Math-Easy), etc. People would reply to the email by either selecting one of the multiple choice answers or by typing in a number.
The website displays question statistics (number of people attempted, got it right, etc.) without giving out answers. Every sunday an open ended question will be sent, with best answers featured on the website as well.

Business Model:
Free to join, but for every question you get wrong you have to pay 20 cents (charged at $6 increments, open-ended questions are not included), so if you get every single question wrong you would have to pay about $5 per month or $60 per year. This means that you can use the service for free until you get 30 questions wrong, after which you can decide if you want to pay the $6 and continue using the service or if this is not your cup of tea. If you get a question wrong you will also receive an explanation why (in a way you pay for explanation).

Underlying assumption:
The idea is that people want to learn and that they don’t want to pay. So by using the service they are motivated to learn new information about the world or keep their knowledge about the topic up to date by answering the Hard Questions. A certain percentage of people would inevitably get a question wrong every so often, and that’s where money could be made.

We look forward to your comments, questions and suggestions!

Alex

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Career Momentum

February 2, 2012 3 comments

In today’s job market, every applicant is always seeking the one thing that makes them special, and makes their résumé stick out from the crowd. It is the only reflection of a person’s personality and level of qualification that a potential employer can access in the first place. Thus, it is important to structure it well, to capture recruiters attention, and ensure you’re invited back for a job interview.

But what is it that makes you stick out of the crowd? What makes you be better qualified for the job than other applicants? What gives you the right level of momentum to initiate your career?

An ideal, and stereotypical job applicant would be a university graduate in their early twenties with outstanding grades, extracurricular commitment, international experience and lots of work experience. Since this an extremely diverse range of criteria to fulfill, business schools are increasingly aiming to align their curriculum to meet as many of those specifications as possible. Turning the focus away from pure coursework-concepts, they additionally teach their students the practical skills that are necessary to succeed in a dynamic and international working environment.

The Management school eMusketeers graduated from, was The University of Sydney’s Business School. With their Master of Management program, they created a program that copes with the challenges young professionals will be faced with. By recruiting an exceptionally broad range of students from different cultural and professional backgrounds, it puts them into situations of cross-cultural and international work environments throughout group work. The final component of the degree is a ‘real-world’ project, usually with a blue chip company or well-recognised organisation, as well as not-for-profit clients. Through this component, the degree course provides the graduates with experiences that could not be any closer to the challenges they will be faced with in their working life.

Thus, you are taking away valuable experiences that will be helpful in the early stages of your career. Working in culturally and professionally diverse group is a situation that graduates are likely to be faced and expected to cope with very early in their careers, if not already in an assessment center. More than that the flexibility to adapt to various tasks will also be implicitly required in many jobs. In my opinion the best way to prepare for such demands is to face such situations while searching  for feedback on how you handled them, before they determine your career. Therefore, programs that are putting you into ‘real-world’ situations do not just qualify you for a job, but they also provide you with the necessary skills to handle what is expected from you.

Furthermore, those degree programs not only give you the One Giant Leap into your career, they will also ensure you have an extremely informative experience surrounded by amazing people.