Hello World

When you start a new WordPress blog the default title given is “Hello World”. I feel this is appropriate and reserve the right to blatantly jabber on about myself in this first post after a very long time away from posting. Smiley Face

I have just ended my first week back at work after taking unpaid leave during the summer to complete five of the remaining six courses left to attain my MBA. I loved every minute of it and I’m lucky to have a boss and a husband prepared to take the hit while I played full-time student.

I’ve been doing the MBA program part-time since January 2009, two courses per semester while I’ve been working. I didn’t anticipate that adding an extra three courses when not working would require much additional effort. I was going to repaint the bathroom, landscape the back garden, rekindle relationships with friends I have neglected during the last two years and write regular, witty and insightful entries for this blog.

I had not considered that the summer term is only three, not four, months long (as with the fall and winter terms), that I would be taking Corporate Finance, a required course and the hardest and most contentious in the program, or that when you add in at least three extra doses of group work (a component of almost every MBA course), the increase in time required is exponential, not linear (read: even more people to try to motivate or compensate for). It was intense, very intense.

I think I went a bit squirrelly in the last couple of weeks. Sorry about that to all who encountered me during that time. I also found my first three grey hairs (NOTE: my hairdresser said if you pull them out, they will come back frizzy – oh dear).

Now, however, it is over (and I can’t complain about the results I got for my efforts). But for one glorious month before September begins, I have time to write, read things other than text books, knit, walk the dogs at a leisurely pace, cook and hang out. Hello world! Problem is, I have sort of forgotten how to do it. Hang out, I mean. Hence the reason why I am sitting at my computer at 6.30am on a Saturday morning, writing; I already cleaned the fridge, walked the dogs and made a shopping list. The dogs went back to bed.

Oh well, with only one course left to do in September I am hoping that these blog entries will become more frequent, and I’ll remember how to hang out again. I promise that future posts won’t all be about me. I know, I’m not that interesting.

Strengthsfinder 2.0

Strengthsfinder 2.0Most MBA programs (at least in North America) have some kind of introductory week for the students before they begin their program in earnest. It’s a time for the students to familiarize themselves with their new surroundings, and to learn about the faculty, services and resources that will be available to them during their program.

At DeGroote this week is called “Transition Week” (i.e. you transition from an undergrad to a Masters level student) and my department, which is responsible for providing career advice, professional development and running the MBA co-op program, facilitates several workshops during the week.

Our aim during this time with the students is to begin their professional development journey by encouraging self awareness and thoughtful reflection on who and what they want to become when they graduate and what needs to be done to get them there. It is a lot easier said than done. Not least because the average age of a student entering our program is 21. If I remember correctly, I wasn’t spending a lot of time on the larger, more pressing questions in life when I was that age and while there are many differences between Gen X (my generation) and Gen Y (the incoming class), I don’t think we differ much in the levels of self-awareness present at the age of 21.

In the past we have nobly tried to emphasize to students the need to understand personality, values, environmental preferences and interests and how these might apply to future career choices. However it has overwhelmed them at a time when they are already reaching information overload and although at a later date they may have come to appreciate the value of this wisdom, it hasn’t really hit home fast enough for the vast majority of students to be able to apply in their co-op, summer and full-time job applications.

This year we are planning something different and I am really excited about it. We are going to use a tool called Strengthsfinder 2.0. This tool was developed by the people at Gallup (the polling and survey firm), from surveying over 8 million individuals in 50 odd different countries. It identifies the presence of certain talents that their research has proven, when used constructively, can be leveraged to help people achieve what they want to in life. It’s quite revolutionary in that it is built on the premise that everyone is born with a unique combination of innate talents and the best way to be successful is by leveraging these talents and finding other ways to compensate for ways in which you are not talented. In the words of one of their consultants “you can’t be anything you want to be, but you can be a whole lot more of who you are”. Another way of putting it would be don’t waste time trying to be great at something where you do not possess an innate talent, at best you will achieve mediocrity. Instead focus on being great at what you already know you can do naturally well.

Refreshing isn’t it? It explains perfectly why I’ll never make a good navigator (having no sense of direction, despite serious efforts to acquire one), but I am a good public speaker. I’ll never make a great sprinter, but I am like the Duracell bunny, I have a lot of physical endurance over the long haul. On the other hand my husband, Rob, could find his way out of the boreal forest in the dark with a blind fold (I am actually not joking there), but has something of a reputation for being “the strong silent type”, with an emphasis in this situation on the silent. We were never destined for the same career.

I don’t want to go in to too much detail here but I would recommend reading the book. It is not much more than $20 and I haven’t met a single person who hasn’t got some interesting insights from taking the survey (a code for which comes with each book purchase). I’ll report back later next month about how the students receive this wisdom.

My Top 10 are as follows:

1. Input
People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more.
Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.
2. Learner
People who are especially talented in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and
want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the
outcome, excites them.
3. Intellection
People who are especially talented in the Intellection theme are characterized by their
intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.
4. Positivity
People who are especially talented in the Positivity theme have an enthusiasm that is
contagious. They are upbeat and can get others excited about what they are going to do.
5. Ideation
People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They
are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.
6. Activator
People who are especially talented in the Activator theme can make things happen by
turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.

7. Achiever
People who are especially talented in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina
and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.
8. Maximizer
People who are especially talented in the Maximizer theme focus on strengths as a way
to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong
into something superb.
9. Developer
People who are especially talented in the Developer theme recognize and cultivate the
potential in others. They spot the signs of each small improvement and derive
satisfaction from these improvements.
10. Empathy
People who are especially talented in the Empathy theme can sense the feelings of other
people by imagining themselves in others’ lives or others’ situations.

My fling with Keynes

keynesDespite aspirations to the contrary, it is a good long time since I last blogged. The problem with blogging so infrequently is that when I get around to it, my posts are too long. I’ll try to avoid that this time.

The main reason for my absence at the key board has been that during almost every significant slot of down time in the last two months, I’ve had my head buried in an Economics text book. Economics is one of the two courses I did this term as I crawl slowly to the completion of the part-time MBA I have my heart set on attaining. The final exam, which counted for almost all the marks for the course, was on Wednesday night this week.

Never having studied economics of any kind before, and because I didn’t go to many of the lectures ( for reasons that I am not about to clarify here) getting to grips with the subject has been something of an uphill struggle. It’s almost like learning a new language, once you think you’ve got a bit of an understanding, you go to apply it in the real world only to realize that your grasp wasn’t quite so thorough as you’d first thought. 

It’s been rewarding though.  Once you start to understand some of the basics, you can see their application everywhere you look and in many of the news items covered in the media. Consumer debt, the Bank of Canada’s interest rate, government stimulus packages, arguments for and against globalization, US balance of payments…..and how these things impact us as consumers, voters and taxpayers (assuming you pay your taxes).

While it is popular and completely justified to point the finger at the ‘fat cat bankers’ to quote a certain President, and blame them for the recent recession, so much of the economic quagmire we’ve experienced is because of the cumulative impact of our own day to day habits with respect to spending, saving, personal debt and consumerism. Also, as someone who has thought very long and hard about the benefits of a diversified local economy, I now understand more about specialization and globalization (i.e. where one country focuses a large portion of it’s efforts in to the production of one thing, say wheat, or coffee, then trades that thing with another country to get the other goods it needs) and although it isn’t good for the environment, this approach to production and trading has allowed us in the West the exceptionally high standard of living we now enjoy.

No fear though, the effort that it has taken to get me this far is a strong indicator that I am not destined for a career as an economist (although it would be an awesome job title) but I do think it is a subject that everyone would benefit from having a basic understanding of, since it impacts so much of our daily lives and environment.

Now, as so often happens just after my exams finish, I am sick. In fact I was sneezing and coughing all the way through my exam on Wednesday (I pity the poor guy who had to sit next to me) and I’ve been laid up on the couch for the past two days, sneezing and filling the waste paper basket with snotty tissues. It’s not the worst thing that could happen though as I’ve had the chance to tuck in to the big pile of reading that I’ve had on the back burner while I’ve been studying. And of course, now I get to blog again.