I havent written much in the past two years, as I was working on my MBA. I suppose a lot of my thoughts and effort went into that. But now that my head is out of that water, I know I need to do it the justice of thinking and writing about it.

Over the two years we covered a lot of material. For the first 1.6 years we all took some core courses together as a cohort and then separated for electives.

Executive Leadership
Entrepreneurship
New Product Development
IT and Business Strategy
Marketing Management
Marketing Strategy
Business Plan Preparation
Quantitative Methods (Statistics)
Market Intelligence
Decision Modeling and Applications
Managerial Economics
Financial Accounting
Corporate Finance
Socially Responsible Enterprise
Negotiations and Conflict Management
Strategy

It wasn’t a huge surprise but the courses in Finance and Accounting intimidated me. I was much more comfortable with Entrepreneurship and Marketing courses. But I think the most important courses weren’t in the “hard” subjects.

One of the first things we did in the program was take the Myers-Briggs and other personality tests. I came back strongly task- rather than relationship-focused. That’s definitely me. I want to feel productive and I’m not great at the people stuff. So I really enjoyed the courses that focused on that: Executive Leadership and Negotiations. They both helped me more fully appreciate the importance of working with people, and then how to do so. I won’t say that I’m a totally changed person but it helped me recognize that my approach to getting things done wasn’t really sustainable, nor the most efficient.

Yes, it turns out that the most important learning from my MBA program was to be a better person. I dig that. You ran read a reference book on balance sheets, but for me at least changing behavior is a lot tougher than wrapping your head around a new subject.

The two really meaningful courses, Executive Leadership and Negotiations, were two in which we could reflect on and analyze our behavior. We identified areas we wanted to work on and then documented how things went. Obviously you can’t do TOO much in a 6 week course but I relished the opportunity to directly apply things.

Many people have asked me what I plan to do now that I have an MBA. The fact is, the jobs I have held since June 2012 (a month after I started the program) are precisely what I would like to be doing and I feel my MBA will only help me in them. I don’t care to be doing anything different. I just see the MBA as helping me do them better, giving me the opportunity to apply what we have learned.

Interestingly enough, one of the first messages they gave us at Orientation over 700 days ago was that the network would be one of the most important take-aways from the program. While I can recognize that, my tendency towards task- vs relationship-focus lead me not to forge as close of relationships as I could have over the program. I do regret that but it’s just part of the way I’m hard-wired. At least over the program I was able to recognize that I could do things differently. And every day is the opportunity to apply what I learned and continue to improve.

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On Sunday, I attended a few sessions that reminded me of some of my MBA studies, and organizational change and relationships. “Don’t be Ned Stark” and “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” were both about being successful and effective within an organization.

I love establishing new programs and taking on new challenges, and one key approach I’ve been looking at is how best to develop, introduce and promote a program to the best chance of success. Ultimately a huge piece is the interpersonal piece. Both sessions focused on relationships – work with people you’d want to spend time with, be sure you have internal support. Be honest and respectful. There wasn’t a lot of talk of how to formally establish or enforce processes. Rather, it was about recognizing when there would be challenges along the way and not quitting.

On the flight home I sat next to a woman who had been in the Ned Stark session with me and she said her biggest takeaway from the entire event was that everyone struggles with ‘imposter syndrome’. I hadn’t thought of it as being quite so pervasive, but as she mentioned it I could see it rang true. I like SXSW as I feel that the majority of attendees are pretty humble, regardless of their credentials. But perhaps these are two sides of the same coin. Yes, the first fellow I met at the hotel was an author, but he thanked ME for showing “a noob” the ropes. We all have things to improve on, which honestly is probably why we come to Austin every March. To learn.

Yet even as I write that, I’m reminded of one of the recommendations that came out of the Ned Stark session: how important it is to unlearn. As Harper Reed stated: “There is a beautiful experience of accidentally succeeding because you dont know what you cant do”. Innovation by definition entails a break from the status quo. However, you obviously need to be cognizant of what’s important to the organization, what changes have a likelihood of being adopted versus not.

And maybe this comes back to so many of the sessions on experimentation, prototyping and testing. If we assume too much, we risk missing things. Technology in particular is changing rapidly and we can’t ignore that people are getting increasingly sophisticated in their needs, expectations and capabilities. If we focus too firmly on what we learned in the past, we risk focusing on where the puck is (or worse, was) rather than where it is supposed to be.

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This session, which was quickly renamed “Awesome combos” by the panelists, was described as follows:

Some of the most transformative new ideas and products are being created in both the skunkwork labs of tech giants and by digital artists, hackers, and other collectives; and in some instances the two sides are joining forces. The thread that connects these two seemingly opposite walks of life is the concept of combinatorial creativity: the idea that the most revolutionary, earth-shattering innovations are born as the result of collaboration and assimilating other great ideas into new ones. the idea that the most revolutionary, earth-shattering innovations are born as the result of collaboration and assimilating other great ideas into new ones. We’ll also meet the people, companies, and products that are leading this charge. The track is sponsored by the Knight Foundation.

I was surprised and disappointed as it unplayed to essentially discuss the role of agencies in allowing brands to do “edgy stuff”. I had come to this session really expecting something that spoke to individuals as to how to best foster innovation, yet it really felt like agencies extolling the virtues of agencies (I tweeted as much and garnered some ‘favorite’s, which I will take as agreement).

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Ultimately I didnt feel like the panelists had any specific insights or guidance to offer the audience about how to foster (what will be the future of) innovation. (even despite the selected hashtag of #newideas)

Their conversation DID cause a few thoughts to roll around the ole noggin, however. The idea of using an agency as a safeguard: because someone associated with the brand doesn’t want to risk losing his job. Instead, he outsources the work and if it fails, they just fire the agency. How does that align with all this lean stuff? “Pivot or persevere” “Fail fast to succeed sooner”. Now, I understand there may be a distinction here between using a creative agency for a particular campaign as opposed to actual product design and development. But why should marketers be afraid to fail if the company allows for experimentation in production?

Is the fact a company enlists the help of an agency a sign that it is stodgy and stuck in an old “perfectionism” paradigm? I’d expect not, and assume many of my agency friends would quickly shut down that idea. No, partnering with a strong strategic agency lets you learn from their expertise: they can be the experts in their field while you focus on yours.

SXSW is an interesting place: lots of entrepreneurs wanting to start their own thing, and lots of mentors and agencies seeking to offer strategic advice and guidance. But isn’t there a tension there, where an entrepreneur accepts learning as a valid outcome from his own experiment but not from his agency?

#newideas

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The Maker Movement, Creativity and Artifacts

March 8, 2014

I was just perusing the SXSW Bookstore, and lots of the content was of interest. Yet there were only a few I considered purchasing the hard-copy of. One was Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. The book is a square shape, and it doesn’t read like a “normal” book. The pages seem scrawled, like the […]

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SXSW 2014 Themes: Day 1

March 8, 2014

Today I attended four sessions, although one was a dud. Of the other three, however, I started to see some themes emerge. Wheres in years past I’ve felt like many sessions focused on the “ooooh shiny” factor of technology, I’m really starting to see a maturity and focus on process. What Do We Build Next […]

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sxsw 2014: How Adobe Decides What to Do Next

March 7, 2014

The first session I attended at SXSW2014 was “What do we build next” by Adobe. It really spoke to their innovation process. To some extent I wonder how much I am just set on going to sessions whose kool-aid I already drink. Adobe has a team called “pipeline” that seems to be their innovation/prototyping department. […]

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Mary Poppins was a Product Strategist

January 8, 2014

“In ev’ry job that must be done There is an element of fun You find the fun and snap! The job’s a game And ev’ry task you undertake Becomes a piece of cake A lark! A spree! It’s very clear to see that A Spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down The medicine go […]

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Lean Methodologies for Product Development

December 26, 2013

As a product strategist here at ReadyTalk, I help to identify customer needs and market opportunities within our industry. Our organization is still relatively small (180 employees), and lately we’ve been discussing how lean methodologies may or may not be able to be applied to our business. As I recently finished courses in Entrepreneurship and […]

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Catching Up, Moving Forward

December 26, 2013

It’s been far too long since I updated this blog, and each time I’ve tried, I’ve become overwhelmed with where to start. But in keeping with some of my latest learnings, I’m going to just start for the sake of starting. One of my last posts mentioned that I was likely going to focus on […]

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Leeds School of Business – MBA Orientation

May 4, 2012

This weekend is my orientation for my MBA program. Tonight I’ll meet my future classmates and we’ll get to work through our first “case study for fun”. Tomorrow we’ll meet our various professors and learn about the classes we’ll be taking for the next two years. I thought it would be good to capture a […]

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