Is it what you know or who you know?
As part of my MBA Blog triptych, this final instalment deals with the part of my MBA journey that included researching, writing my dissertation and implementing my newly-found know-how into my daily life (yes, not just into my life as a solopreneur, but also areas that you would never have expected).
Funny thing, know-how. Can you have too much of it? Would you rather be a jack-of-all-trades or serve a niche as a super-specialist? What other ‘knowings’ are relevant to your MBA journey and your life?
You’ll probably argue that the question of “is it what you know or who you know?” is not a new one at all.
It definitely applies to the creative industries for which I had worked for many years and which underwent mergers & acquisitions, leading to redundant specialists (freelance consultants, lawyers, accountant, PR specialists etc.) hitting the streets. Their challenge, i.e. how to stand out in an increased competitive environment, became the focus and title of my MBA thesis [see also my blog Olympics for freelancers]. I wanted to help others (here she goes again!) to be successful in the marketplace.
My research objectives were two-fold:
- to identify the tangible aspects of how to stand out from the competitive crowd (i.e. applying your skills = your know-how and using your network = your know-who)
- to explore the less tangible aspects such as motivation, personality, values and ethics (i.e. the know-why)
As a ‘solopreneur’, I run translation services (serving a niche with my know-how) and consulting services (using broader skills but with a focus on certain copyrights). So how did those MBA modules benefit me?
Tangible aspects of the MBA (the know-how / know-who)
The frameworks from our strategy, international business and marketing modules have been extremely useful to bring solidity where I had previously relied on gut decision-making. I have so far applied this knowledge to three areas in my life:
- For my own translation business strategy: to ‘spring clean’ my customer database. I now focus on providing my regular and long-term clients with a service that goes beyond the call of duty rather than trying to aim for quantity and expansion.
- For services to my consultancy clients: to create visuals of their decision-making process and to help them take into account every aspect of that process. It is amazing (and actually refreshing) how the most experienced companies tend to do the human thing, i.e. think emotionally – and these frameworks provide a great complementary tool to the good old gut feeling.
- For personal life decisions: to draw up a list of pros and cons regarding surgery when I was left with the choice of having it now or later. Coming out of the meeting with the neurosurgeon was scary, but sitting down at home putting facts in a table felt calming and reassuring. Of course I hope that nobody has to use the framework for such a decision, but you may find it useful for projects with your house extension or even holiday planning. I’m not kidding.
The alumni network in itself provides an amazing extension of everyone’s know-who. There are huge benefits when you talk to people who are ‘not like you’ (whether that means not from your country, of your gender, from your industry or whether they simply don’t have the same personality as you) as recommended by Dr Chris Dalton in his Personal Development (PD) sessions.
Intangible aspects of the MBA (the know-why)
In terms of soft skills learned and now applied, it was not just the PD module that opened my eyes to my own personality and thus my own brand. It was also modules such as reputation and CSR, and relationship marketing that picked up on issues such as ethics, values and – in fact this year’s Henley Global Masterclass theme – humanity in the digital age.
The MBA has helped me to find out more about my own blind spots in terms of motivation and drive. That’s a huge issue, not just for the self-employed. Any long-term success is based on having enough energy to keep going, and while the motivators are different for every individual, it is undisputed that satisfaction and happiness is a major factor.
For me, I realised that I need to split my work according to Charles Handy into paid work (translations and consulting), study work (MBA and further education), home work (family and friends) and gift work (helping others).
My tangible skills now allow me to allocate my resources (energy, time, money) to these four quarters and I realise that I get the biggest kick out of mentoring other students and facilitating meetings on a pro bono level. With my financial skills I will be able to balance the non-paid and paid work and thus hopefully be able to provide myself with that feelgood factor from the unpaid work so I can keep going….
So to sum up, the MBA does not turn you into a specialist in any of the modules you are taught. But it helps you to deepen some of your existing knowledge and – in my case – find out where your own preferences and values lie. If you will, it is like a journey where you learn how to read the map of your life a little better. You may still take the odd wrong turn, but you now have a toolkit to get out of those cul-de-sacs and to embrace rather than reject the learnings you gain while going through those trickier situations in life.
Until the next Henley adventure …. DBA here I come?
[Thanks go to my husband who uploaded this post – written by me pre-surgery – as I am not allowed to look at screens post surgery for a while…]