Expect the Unexpected! Doing an MBA (part 2)

Of course the MBA journey is different for everybody.

And, of course, the key learnings are different for everybody.

On Saturday 21st April, at Henley’s MBA Open Day, I was part of the alumni panel. I was surprised how many of my fellow alumni mentioned that some of their key learnings were similar to my own.

The MBA is not just about tangible learnings such as setting up a successful strategy, programming processes, winding your way through workflow diagrams or – heaven forbid – fathoming finance!

The MBA is also about intangible learnings such as your own personal development. And that’s not a bad thing – your personal development acts like an umbrella for all of the tangible modules.

So, just like with the English weather: be prepared for the unexpected and bring your umbrella!

Some major eye-opening moments, and thus key learnings, during my MBA journey relate to the so-called “blind spots”. Trust me, seeing the blind spots has nothing to do with going to Specsavers…

Key learnings or the ‘aha’ effect

Key learning #1: Becoming unconsciously competent

I enjoyed learning that there was a difference in my own knowing that I had a skill, using that skill consciously, and ultimately using that skill like second nature (unconsciously). This is also called the hierarchy of competences.

During the MBA journey, not all of my ‘expert area’ assignments felt as easy to me as I had expected (e.g. International Business). Modules where I had no previous hands-on experience, however, produced not only the best marker feedback but were extremely fulfilling (e.g. Reputation & Responsibility / Relationship Marketing).

Therefore, I realised that I had – in some areas – mastered the level of unconscious competence, while in others I was still at the bottom of the competence ladder – the unconscious incompetent level. Room for improvement – a good thing!

Key learning #2: Listening vs talking

In our first workshop, we were asked to talk to other people. I took this too literally and did the talking, not the listening. Some of us (myself included), feel that if “you don’t tell first, someone else will” (cf. Edgar Schein, Humble Inquiry). Therefore, I jumped into telling mode, overenthusiastic and helpful, yet totally missing the point the other person might want to make, just like how a good Formula One racer wants to get that pole position (Ferrari fans, anyone?)

Which brings me to …

Key learning #3: Providing help vs making others dependent

The biggest eye opener was actually a comment from a fellow cohort member: “Weeeeeell, it’s great that you help others but ask yourself this: are you really helping them or are you actually making them become dependent on you?”

I had not expected to talk about unfathomable depths at all (and no, I’m not talking about finance here!).

Don’t worry – your MBA journey will not be a couch session with Sigmund Freud. There will still be enough spreadsheets, diagrams, TED talks, statistics, frameworks and models, assignments, exams and the big dissertation at the end.

However, you may – like me – come away with a clearer view of yourself and a new-found relationship with yourself and your skills and how you use them.

In my particular case, the following proverb sounds like the exact visualisation of my key learning #3, the helping:

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

Sooooo –  this obviously suggests that I help someone better if I teach them how to [insert chosen skill here] instead of giving them a [insert finished product here].

That is, alas, not very sustainable if you are a self-employed consultant like I am.

If I taught all my clients to “fish”, then they won’t need me in the future, right?

And that’s where I will save a report on how I took all of my above learnings to make the jump from theory to practice in the next and final part of this blog…

For now, I suggest you pack your brollies!


What you know vs. Who you know vs. Why do you do this at all – is it really a “versus” or is it a holy trinity?

why how whom

Finally, my MBA dissertation topic stands.

It is about the challenges for freelancers in an increasingly competitive environment and the choices for them to select the right mix of ingredients for a sustainable career – in terms of knowing why, how and whom.

Do skills matter, do freelancers need to develop their knowledge – corporations have entire departments focussing on learning & development….

Is it better to be a generalist or an expert/specialist? Are freelancers expected to be jacks-of-all-trades, being their own CEO, CFO, CTO, CMO and CSO (and in a way their own HR Manager – schizophrenia not required, I’m talking about learning and development  here i.e. the what you know)?

Or is it really about who you know – someone that acts as your “door-opener”, word-of-mouth-free-of-charge-marketer? Is it the quantity or the quality of your network – and how about the strength of weak ties (Granovetter)?

This is what I am trying to find out with my qualitative research for my dissertation – based on the wonderful framework called the “intelligent career framework” (DeFillippi et al, further discussed by Parker et al and finally taken towards the freelancers’ world by Dutch academics van den Born and van Witteloostuijn)

I am going to look at these “drivers of freelance career success”, in other words, the knowing why (your personal capital – your identity, personality and values, the reasons why you do things, your motivation), knowing how (your human capital – your skills, experience, competencies, knowledge) and of course your knowing whom (your social or relational capital – network, relationships, reputation, alliances).

The trick will be not to be subjective. I mustn’t turn this into an either / or scenario but tickle out views from my interviewees that may even suggest that there’s a little more than the three knowings mentioned above.

Or, as someone at a networking event at the IOD said yesterday: It’s not what you know it’s whether you know how to use it. And it’s also where to use it and when. From a future perspective, as strategies only make sense looking forward, not backwards, there’s also the topic of not running out of motivation or steam – as my previous post said: the loneliness of a long-distance runner…. freelancers also suffer from loneliness, underlying values such as belonging might be something you miss when you’re a sole trader. As a consequence, I believe the why is really important – your personality, and your personal development – your emotional resilience especially.

As I embark on my research, I must, above all, remain objective and unbiased when interviewing the research participants. But all will be well in the end. And if it’s not well, it’s not the end yet, as we know from the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Just like my learning journey hasn’t come to an end either. It has only just begun.



Correlation between learning styles and sport styles or: the loneliness of a long distance runner

One of the hypotheses I recently made (but yet need to find corroborating stats for) was that there might be a connection between the learning styles of a long distance runner vs. those of a short distance runner.

Would the hypothesis stand if I claimed that

  • long distance runners are used to have long-term stamina and patience, thus may also be better suited to work on their own (“the loneliness of a long distance runner”) – would this imply that they are more successful in long-term projects, and stay longer with a company (“loyalty”)? Would they fall under Belbin’s completer/finisher or Gardener’s intelligence type of INTRAPERSONAL (inner)?
  • short distance runners have short bursts of energy, and a lot of that, thus may be more extrovert and enthusiastic, better suited to work in a team and give off some of that energy – would this imply they’re good at short -term projects but run out of steam quickly and then move on? i.e. they would not be “completer/finishers” according to Belbin or  would they match Gardener’s intelligence type of INTERPERSONAL (social)

This topic has occupied me since I started my MBA at Henley Business School. And in case you are wondering, I am a short distance runner/swimmer.

To quote Iron Maiden (“The loneliness of a long distance runner”)

Run, on and on, run, on and on,
The loneliness of the long distance runner.

I’ve got to keep running the course,
I’ve got to keep running and win at all costs,
I’ve got to keep going, be strong,
Must be so determined and push myself on.