Like the hip-hop group Three 6 Mafia says, "It's hard out here for an MBA." It's hard to pick up a major news publication or navigate the blogosphere without reading about the correlation between the MBA degree and the global economic meltdown. It's hard to see the volume of jobs decrease while the volume of applicants increases. And it's hard to hear that now is the best time to start a company, but venture capital firms are hoarding their cash. But as one lecturer recently said, "The key to a killer product is to find a contradiction and solve it," and here is where the MBA from MIT Sloan comes in particularly handy.
Before I digress, I'll provide an update since my last post. The month of January is Independent Activities Period (IAP) at MIT, and I chose to travel to Thailand to work with a small team of classmates on a Global Entrepreneurship Lab (G-Lab) project with a small industrial tool company. Seeing the global economic crisis from the perspective of a middle-market business owner is an invaluable experience no matter what career path I choose. How does a company maintain competitive advantage in the face of global market forces they have zero control over? There was no strategic misstep or missed opportunity, this company was just caught up in the overall contraction the global economy was experiencing and looked to us, MIT Sloan MBA students, to help navigate its way out. This put us in a position of incredible power and responsibility, a position we did not take lightly, and I truly believe our recommendations were valuable and well received.
I also chose to participate in a study tour for spring break, where I undertook a similar lab project for a hot sauce company in Antigua. My team and I were able to quickly discern the major business issues for this small, owner-operated company with global reach and provided a road map for growth that prioritized all of their strategic opportunities. When we presented our final ideas, the look of appreciation on the client's face justified the hours of work our team put into the project. Plus, if you have to build a presentation, beachside on a tropical island is not a bad place to do it.
Access to the Best of All Classes I didn't spend all my time away from Cambridge. The second semester brought the first opportunity to select my own classes, and this newfound autonomy came with its own set of challenges. Classes are bid on in Dutch-auction style and luckily I was able to get everything I wanted. Notable classes include a survey of cutting-edge innovation methodologies, with specific focus on the research that Eric Von Hippel has done on lead user innovation (confession: the class was taught by Eric), and an interesting lab course on product development where my team and I are tackling human-powered water collection and transportation in the developing world. However, more amazing than the classes I am taking is the access I have to the ones I am not. Through collaborative conversations and interactions with my classmates, I get a taste of the "best of" the classes being taught this semester. That exposure alone is worth the price of admission here.
This is what brings me back to MIT Sloan's unique environment and its value in the downmarket job search. Rarely do you find a curriculum focused on the practical application of the material it teaches, and a student body willing to share that material with each other in an effort to better understand it across many industries and interests. Just the other day, a colleague and I were discussing the idea of which monetization model would work best with which innovation framework and how that translated into an effective strategy for product market development. We combined the knowledge we were both discovering in different courses. This kind of thinking led us both to coming up with companies that could implement this model and we began contacting these firms to see if there was an opportunity to investigate this idea further as an internship. Like I said, take the contradiction of fewer jobs and more applicants, and solve it by creating your own job.
So while the world is not too pleased with MBAs right now, only time will tell if the supposed correlation between the MBA degree and the economic crisis even exists. And the venture capital model may be broken, but that just means it's time for a new model. And the job market may be tough, but as in any buyer's market, the key to a "sale" is your product's (read: you) differentiating factors. What does this all mean? Well, for me, it means the internship search has shifted from the back of my mind to the middle, but the front is still focused on broadening my various skill sets and taking advantage of all of the opportunities in and around the institute. I've mentioned it before, but if knowledge is power, then application of that knowledge is the key to success, and I hold firm to the fact that my long-term value will be higher the more that I cycle through that practical knowledge application process.
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