Education, MBA, self development

My year in Cranfield: An introspective account

Yet another piece dug out from the memories past. Although this is an academic report, this was one of the time I did take a deep dive into my being and raison d’être, and this is the outcome…

1. Introduction[1]

The spectacular year finally came to an end – the Cranfield FTMBA 2008-09 is over. The rest of the time when I’ll be in campus, it will be time to retrospect the year I spent in the Bedfordshire marshes – and what is a better way than to capture my reflections in this report.

Initially, I planned to write the report without any predefined structure; however, as the ideas came pouring into my mind, I decided to put the report in three parts – Time before MBA and Part-1, Part-2 and finally, about the path beyond the MBA. Most of the pre-MBA objectives and Part-1 objectives were discussed in the SOAR-1 report, and it also featured some of my development targets during the Part-2 of the MBA curriculum. The first part of the report, therefore, will discuss the objectives of the SOAR-1 report and their fulfilment during the Part-2 of the programme. The second part then will discuss my reflections on the MBA curriculum and some of its highlights and their effect on my personal development. Finally, the last part of the report will focus on looking beyond the MBA curriculum and put the MBA into the perspective of a more enriched view on life.

To put this report into perspective in terms of applicability during and beyond the MBA curriculum, this is rather a candid personal narrative around the incidents during the programme and the way they changed my points of view toward any situation – personal or professional. In the text, some of the situations or jargon was used in a rather inappropriate manner, to make the report informal but to undermine the core objective of the MBA curriculum.

2. The yesteryears…

Part-2 of the MBA curriculum began with an entirely new format – enabling each individual to decide the extent of learning he wants to extract from the programme. At the end of term-2, I almost felt a sigh of relief that the learning team events will be over and I’ll have an entire half to me to decide how I want to utilise that extra time. The GROW model discussed at the beginning of the Part-2 seemed a perfect way to showcase our targets for the coming two terms; and to achieve them, co-coaching method appeared to be the perfect answer. First few sessions went as planned, as we were full of enthusiasm about the new model of the curriculum; but as time went by, and we were sucked into the vortex of numerous assignments and reports and presentations and projects, the focus of the objectives was, to the least, partially lost. When the SOAR-1 report was written, halfway through the MBA, the vision was obscured by immediate, short-term targets – primarily around the area of employment, skills development for the MBA curriculum itself, and networking[2]. As we proceeded towards the end of the curriculum, the priorities changed and our views became more crystallised with increasing insight.

In this section, I will discuss the goals I set at the time of writing SOAR-1 report, their progress as documented by the co-coaching sessions and then, compare their intended outcomes at the end of the MBA and my present standing in those situations:

2.1 Time management

My realisation during the time of writing SOAR-1 was that I did not utilise my time well, which in turn, prevented me from pursuing other objectives beyond the MBA. From the beginning of term-3, I, therefore, went into overdrive and tried to control everything to the order of milliseconds, perhaps. As discussed with my co-coach, I drew up a grandiose timetable for weekdays and weekends, soon to be found completely inadequate. I then relaxed them a bit, but even then, I had too much on the list – more than I could manage at a time; yet I completely missed the time allocation for the assignments. When the realisation came, all the assignments had already come barging in, and I discarded the timetable plan and adopted a ‘Just-in-time’ approach, like right now, I am writing the SOAR-2 report on 24th August, as I know I have enough time to write the report and the assessors, to check it. Where I started charting every conceivable activity in coming two weeks, in the final stage of part-2, I only keep a list of activities, updated as and when any entry changes and struck them out when they are complete. So, to assess the outcome of the objective, I am either a clumsy time-manager or an efficient one – “it all depends”, as everything is “context-specific”!

2.2 Leading and influencing skills

As already discussed that I went into a control-frenzy at the beginning of term-3, I thought that there will be leadership and influencing opportunities galore. What I did not realise was, that there were 129 other students, who also wanted to become leaders and put similar objectives in their SOAR-1. So my all exuberant leadership approach took a nosedive right after the beginning of the second half when we were to select a country to do our IST report on. I preached selection of a Scandinavian country, as they are doing quite well in international trade, and they are the happiest countries in the world – so I wanted to see the humane factors behind their ‘right balance’. However, it was turned down, as I was not vociferous enough and realised that “I’ll never take up a sales job” (but that is again stereotyping!). So, we chose Ireland, but what a great project it was! I realised that I was acting rather like an amateur matador, who chased the bull and panted and got tired; and that I should rather be an ‘empowering’ leader. To find out the leadership qualities I had, I also asked a few of my previous teammates to give their unbiased feedback. Luckily or unluckily, I only managed to get two feedbacks, giving contrasting information – one said I led well, yet sometimes I tend to do everything by myself, the other said I lacked it and was rather a ‘Plant’ type of personality, capable of playing second-fiddle better than being the leader[3]. I took the back-seat and actually steered the dynamics of the entire team, in other assignments, without much gusto. In our Part-1 OBPPD reports and SOAR-1, we wrote about role-playing for each assignment, with a manager, timekeeper etc. At the end of the programme, I see no use to them, roles emerge naturally. Enforcing something on someone he’s not can only hinder the progress.

2.3 Public speaking

When I look at the SOAR-1 report, sometimes I tell myself – “You must be mental”[4]! I believe that the frenetic pace of Part-1 blurred my vision and I lost the focus on my priorities. It is true that coming from a non-native English speaking background, we lacked some of the finer expressions of English language (The one I really like is, what my co-coach Simon often used – “wing it”…although he never used it regarding the co-coaching processes!). However, all of us, who were selected here through quite a rigorous process, must be adept in putting the ideas across the table. Of course, presentation skill is an art – and we were lucky to have a past master like Steve Carver; yet it was to develop with practice. However, the opportunities were scarce; there was a Presentation club, but I never went to a session in Part-2. While in Part-1, I was careful about the team performance, and therefore quite hesitant about presenting. Come Part-2, and it all changed! I did some very good presentations especially GLB and IST and the lecture on China IBE in front of the whole cohort and the faculty in the auditorium – it really boosted my confidence. However, I learnt more from this, that we can always captivate the audience with our innovation and shear information, rather than sweet-talking. So, at the end of the MBA, I am leaving quite confidently that whatever be the topic, if I have interesting data to share with the audience, I will be easy with them, and they will interact without much effort. Well, some preparation beforehand in front of the laptop and observing the recordings always came in handy…

2.4 Preparation for interviews: assertiveness

After the first few weeks into the Part-2, I could strike this target off from my list of priorities – not because I found a job – but because I realised that jobs are not that easy to come by these days and first I’ll need a small stamp on my Passport called Tier-1 visa. Well, I’m still being defensive in this, as I know that the situation is not like that – otherwise, around 25% of the cohort would not have found some placement – and I needed something more. I appeared in many interviews but was not able to convert them into further considerations. So, at the end of Part-2, I am fazed, clueless about what to do, as I totally shifted my priorities from searching for a job, while I was making the near-perfect referencing list and editing and reediting the assignment reports so we got above 60% marks in the modules! Eventually, we did, but I’m nowhere near my SOAR-1 target. However, the breathing period between end-August and Christmas, when my Tier-1 is expected, will come as a blessing-in-disguise, as I could reflect upon my skills when I’ll be tired playing crazy-taxi on Facebook (Just a couple of five-minute games a day to ensure proper blood circulation in your fingers!).

3. Today, tomorrow…

I believe the report has been a spoiler so far, talking superficially about finding excuses not to follow the SOAR-1 objectives or success of them. It will be even more blasphemous if I solemnly confess, that although I found the GROW sheets quite useful, I never used them too religiously. In fact, we met only five times for the co-coaching sessions, although initially, we planned to have ten meetings – and I only filled in two sheets (I said it’s a candid report!…it could be found anyway from the annexure). Actually, between the SOAR-1 and now, something happened…

3.1 IBE

No experience during the MBA has been so enriching as was the IBE. It actually changed the whole meaning and perspective of doing my MBA and opened new windows. Part-1 mostly dealt with hard MBA material, except for some excellent Richard K mystic lectures – “There is a river flowing through this room (LR9)”. When I saw so much emphasis around people management and people issues, I thought – and this view was shared by many other students from the sub-continent – that this is another “western” management concept, only applicable within the confines of books and thesis. I was so wrong! It is the people, who we will be dealing with all the moment, and our mutual perception about each other will shape the business or the transaction between us. In the IBE, all I learnt was about people. Business is almost the same, same GAAP regulations, same frameworks, tools and techniques, same Microsoft office…but its people why doing business in different corners of the world is so diverse in nature, and that is why I don’t whinge much about the IST team not choosing Norway, as Ireland had also been an equally enthralling learning. Actually, in China, I learnt from all people, from the chief of business houses to expatriates, from tour guides to shop assistants – the tour was only seven days long but the impact was immense. I wanted to share my experience in this report in detail, but that would have been too irrelevant, so I have attached it as an annexure just to glance through[5]. The key learning from the tour was that how easy it is to fall into the traps of ‘Ladder of inference’[6] and ‘Preconceived notions’ and once fallen into such an impasse, how difficult it is to come out of it. On the other hand, I realised how easy it is to build relationships, yet we try to put everything into a framework; only to complicate the situation. From a business management context, it is the understanding of the national cultures, the concepts of Trompenaars’ model of universalism and particularism[7] etc. The foremost criteria of running businesses are to understand the people involved with it, and to understand the business context – without which, it is impossible to be successful.

IBE helped me transform in many ways – not only did I become more flexible regarding people issues, but also, in communicating, which will relive the question on networking.

3.2 Networking

During the “Facing the future” meets, one group made a number of spreadsheets on the Cranfield experience and one of the phrases was rather comical – “Our networking is NOT WORKING”!I really found this to be true. At the beginning of the MBA, we had gone through a Networking workshop, which made, perfectly no sense to me. Although I came to Cranfield to change myself and to broaden my perspective, I found it quite incomprehensible, especially the concept of contacting unknown alumni to build rapport. Why would an alumnus want to network with me, unless I had some specific questions regarding his experience/job? I had been a strong supporter of tête-à-tête communication – verbal or non-verbal, but in some specified context – not randomly, just because I had to.

During Term-2, we understood the importance of having strong-ties and weak-ties, and the importance of each in our professional lives[8]. I used to have more strong ties in my personal life and a few ones in the professional network. I did have weak-ties mostly in the professional sphere, and they all came useful in some way. On the first eve of the IBE, we had a networking event with Rutgers business school students in Shanghai. I truly believe that it was a waste of time and effort for me – one of the few disappointments of the IBE. However, I did network with people when I attended an MSI simulation with the Exec MBA students from an Austrian business school. In future, I’ll be looking forward to such networking events with some common purpose – the lack of purpose just kills the interest.

3.3 Learning from electives

After the struggle during part-1 regarding subject modules and learning team meeting, part-2 has been a fresh breeze to me. The electives were to be chosen by me, the study time, assignment preparations and everything relevant to it. There are some of the modules worth mentioning-

3.3.1 Globalisation

GLB started from where we left completing the concepts of micro- and macroeconomics in Part-1. The lectures were extremely engaging, the assignments were even more interesting. It broadened the perspective on larger economic issues concerning international trade and the covered a wide range of criteria that sets the dynamics of globalisation. It also helped in another way – removing the green blinkers from my eyes.

3.3.2 Sustainable business

I wanted to mention this module as an eye-opener for me. Before coming here I was quite naïve to believe that there are great companies who value the environment, society, diversity etc. I was also a member of Greenpeace, believed to be the protector of earth’s environment. I was convinced about it until Sean ‘The Sheriff’ Ricard[9] proved to the class that companies do CSR to be more profitable in the long-run. I was not convinced then but thought it as an alternative motive. As we researched companies for our assignments, I looked at the CSR initiatives and reports and all of Sean’s words started to make sense. The sustainability reports often say “We are passionate about society and sustainability”, yet none mentioned what loss they underwent to sustain the CSR. There was not an answer, as the companies did not incur any loss. I took a closer look at the policies during the SB sessions and assignment, and it emerged that most of the initiatives involved cutting cost or improve quality for a premium price – as simple as that.

3.3.3 Managing Strategic innovation

This elective was truly a great module, as this was only the second module to involve a large number of guest speakers from the specialists in their respective fields, in-class participation and a simulation. The objective of the course was to enrich the student in identifying the opportunities for innovation and convert raw ideas into well-documented business plans. At the end of the programme, I can say that I have developed the capabilities – although they were rooted within me from my innovation-based engineering background – to use them in a future professional context.

3.3.4 Leadership and Implementing change

It might appear that I am about to mention all my electives here, but the account of learning will be incomplete if I do not mention these two modules. Implementation change actually fitted between the leadership and the OBPPD and PM modules we had in Part-1. The module was all about managing people issues during change and crisis, the innate behavioural patterns of humans.

The LS elective was one of the cornerstones of the MBA curriculum, with the extent of focus in weaving the concepts of OB and PM to the context of management. However, the most significant development point was the evening guest speaker sessions showcasing the most accomplished leaders and setting new standards in managing the business. I found three sessions extremely enriching, in terms of insight as well as by the charisma of the speakers – Andy Bond of ASDA, Jackie Moore of Deutsche Bank global HR operations, and Andrew Kakabadse. While Jackie presented an extremely focussed view on leadership and being facilitating and passionate, Andy showed how one can be successful in separating personal and professional lives – just by keeping things simple. I also agree with that idea, that it is us, rather than the system that makes things complicated leading to delay and error. From that day I adapted the good old KISS philosophy – ‘Keeping It Short and Simple’.

3.4 Inspiration from cohort

Starting from the pre-MBA phase, the interaction with the cohort in a number of academic and recreational activities made me learn much more than the case pack actually did. At the beginning of the curriculum, we observed a lot the phrase “It’s your MBA”. Although it was clear that we were required to be selective about the programme, at the end of the curriculum, it appears that different people among the cohort actually did different MBA – some spent the year at social clubs, some buried within books, some only networking, but there were some people in our cohort who were the perfect example of managing work and fun together. They ranked among the top-tier of the students, yet could be seen in every social event, sporting meets, and competitions – always in charge of their action. To name the top five people I was inspired watching and working with during the MBA, I’d put the list as – Nick White, Scott Riddle, Juan Leon, Wlad Silva, Jo Kelly and to some extent Patricia Friedel. I did not interact with all of them with the same intensity; yet, a close community as we were, words always spread almost instantaneously.

A small example of the different level of MBA was evident from the students’ reaction to the careers service. Most of us only interacted with them when they were to apply for a job or they were shortlisted for the interview. Initially, at least in Term-1, I also shared this popular view, which changed during the rest of the programme. Not only did I find them extremely helpful, but they also made every effort to meet the needs of every single student who approached them for guidance. This takes us back to the concept of preconceived notions and paradigm – without evaluating the truth, we accept the prevalent opinions.

4. …and forever

As promised in the introduction, this part will be used to thread all the disjoint pieces of information I used in the previous sections from my MBA experience, to put all points into perspective towards applying the learning to enrich my life. Before arriving at Cranfield, my motive towards doing an MBA was two-fold: to change my career in terms of role and geography; and to understand the concepts of management well so the entire business, in whichever sector I will be working, is well understood.

The MBA has been a life-changing opportunity for me – to identify my strengths and develop skills that I need to develop in order to make the transition from an MBA to a professional career. However, I see the learning from the programme to be perfect to apply in a much wider context – to one’s entire life. It is not only the business situations where we face dilemma, crisis, politics, change etc. – we face it every moment in our life in different circumstances. The best example could be drawn from the book ‘The Goal’ by Goldratt, where he used the same analytical skills to solve the problem in his factory as well as resolve family tensions[10].

4.1 Skills and ideas to take forward

Cranfield enriched me in many ways, and I was able to develop a lot of skills here that I could not in my previous professional life. To begin with, it will be a huge amount of academic exposure covering a wide range of management knowledge – 30 case packs weighing 70kgs is just a mere quantitative measure of it.

[1] I acknowledge, with gratitude, the contributions of many, from work and life, who made the past year productive, enjoyable, although also suitably challenging. My MBA cohort deserves special mention and I thank my Term-1 team members Matt Kelly, Juan Leon, Daniel Martin, Pradeep Raman and Kundan Singh; my Term-2 team members Gesu Baroova, Benito Giordano, Chioma Noel-Nwafor, Tom Pitkethly and Andy Proud. I thank especially my co-coach Simon Morhall for his empathetic listening and timely feedback. I also thank David Grayson and Stephanie Hussels for organising such a great IBE trip, which has been one of the cornerstones of my MBA journey. I thank my fellow residents in Lanchester Hall for making my evenings and weekends filled with fun with their youthful interjections. And for other friends, in London and halfway across the globe, words of thanks are perhaps not required…
[2] Appendix 1.1: Copy of the SOAR-1 executive summary
[3] Appendix 1.2: Responses of the SOAR-1 development questionnaire (anon.)
[4] Favourite quote of Ronald Weasley, Harry Potter’s best mate.
[5] Appendix 1.3: Personal learning statement from the IBE report
[6] Ladder reference
[7] Trompenaars (1997)
[8] PM article
[9] The title was bestowed upon him during the press-conference, 2009
[10] Goldratt, E (1984)


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