I have spent a good deal of time (interview, assessment & career development time) with MBAs from schools all over the world. Some of these MBAs completed their degree 5, 10, 20 years ago, and even longer. Others graduated more recently, while some were still studying when we talked.
Albeit for their own reasons, all of the graduate MBAs I have spoken with agreed that their intensive period of study was career and life changing. Another thing this same group agreed upon (unanimously again) was that the MBA opened their eyes to everything they expected it to, along with plenty they had no idea was coming their way at all.
Anticipated and unanticipated learning is something I regularly talk about, especially with current MBAs. For want of a better way to label this phenomenon, I call it The MBA Experience.
Exploring The MBA Experience
A more holistic view of the MBA experience encourages reflective learning in the here and now. In other words, if you are currently on an MBA course, you don’t have to wait 5, 10 or 20 years to start reflecting. You will get more from your course if you do this now, plus you can still do the same reflective stuff in years to come – and I call that a win/win Stephen Covey himself would be proud of.
Graduate MBAs told me their MBA experiences were multi-layered. As with any period of focused learning (academic, occupational or otherwise) there is an incredible amount going on but, at the time, most of us are only aware of so much.
Of course this is normal. With an MBA there are lectures, assignments, research and exams (along with a day job and home life in many cases) all needing to be juggled. With heads buried in books, and minds focused on hard-outcomes and even harder deadlines, understanding how the MBA experience is affecting and changing you is a big ask but, this is what I believe your future peer group (i.e. graduate MBAs) are encouraging you to do.
Past and present MBAs are familiar with what their peers say about the degree and its impact. Personally, I have enjoyed listening to individuals talk about their MBA switching on lightbulb after lightbulb. How they started to see new aspects and different sides to business. How they learned more about complex corporate functions, organisational architectures, international and entrepreneurial ways of thinking. How they opened up to their colleagues’ and other people’s points-of-view and, in similar ways, formed new and evolving relationships with strategy, decision-making, career development, leadership, and plenty more besides.
Walking someone through their reflections on any intensive period of learning is a pleasure, and is one of the reasons I enjoy my line of career development work so much. Seeing a person come alive as they talk about what happened on their course is a remarkable exploration in itself, which is where The MBA Experiencecomes in once again.
Reflections on intended-learning are always a feature in these conversations but the other half of every graduate’s story is everything else they were being exposed to at the same time. This is where things take perhaps the most exciting turn, particularly if you are a present or future MBA because, if you can somehow become more open to the other sources of learning around you (before during and after your studies), you will gain even more from your course. The impact on your work/life and career has the potential to be even greater than you expected – and I say that knowing the expectations of current/future MBAs are always high.
Past MBAs are saying there is more to your course than you think. There is more to your developmental journey, academic and professional growth than you expected. There are things you are motivated and moved by that may be right under your nose or well within your reach. It seems to me that your predecessors don’t want you to miss a trick or the smallest detail of an experience that could hold so much value for you.
Questions and Continued Exploration
Is it possible for you to become more aware of how your MBA is changing and affecting you? No doubt you invited this period of learning into your career with good reason – which is another thing your future peer group agrees upon. If the experience of past-MBAs is anything to go by, you have the ability to switch your awareness on (in more ways than one). You can ask more and get more from your experience, and you can begin this process today.
We don’t have to travel far into ‘personal development’ territory to realise there are many ways to raise or develop individual awareness. This short article is no place for definitive answers – you have to do some exploring of your own, try some ideas on for size and pick the best fit from there – but one thing you could do is enter more situations with the belief they can teach you something. If you appreciate ‘learning potential’ is resident in every encounter, with every person you meet, some of that additional potential will be realised. There will be something about a particular subject, area of study, opinion/perspective, other person, or even about yourself you will see for the first time.
Without question, what changes more than anything else will be you. Your openness to all these new strands and sources of learning gives you the advantage of active awareness, as opposed to just reflective awareness later on. This creates greater potential, along with the ability to process an increased diversity of learning as it takes place. As mentioned before, the other significant advantage here is, you still get to reflect later on.
Where do I want to go from here? is a fantastic career development question to ponder. The MBA Experience comes free with every MBA. Each individual has the choice and the potential to be more open to their individual experience – past MBAs tell us this in great numbers. They call upon current and future MBAs to realise the enormous impact their studies will have, and that an open mind will access even more from the multitude of people, situations, events and everything else you will encounter. [If you still aren’t sure where you want to take any of this insight, give it the full scientific treatment – set out to disprove it. Treat your own research/explorations like an assignment question, e.g. ‘On your MBA, everything you do and everyone you meet is a potential source. Discuss?’]
‘Why wait?’ is the only question I will add to these voices of past MBAs. If you have a greater awareness of what may be coming your way through either your current or future MBA experience, the impact will come your way too. Whenever a current MBA tells me what he or she wants to happen as a result of their course – whether that is a promotion, a change of function or industry or situation – my response is always the same. I say ‘great’ because even if that result doesn’t happen immediately, The MBA Experience is working in each individual’s favour. In my own experience, there is no better place an individual could be in order to take advantage of the formal and informal learning, growth and development they have placed themselves at the centre of. And, there is no better time for each MBA to realise this than right now, in this moment, today.
Taking Your Own Exploration Forward
The MBA is an enduring, impact qualification with genuine leverage – that’s why it is chosen by so many around the world. MBA is also the international ‘gold standard’ in business and executive education. The peer group I have referred to here (i.e. past MBAs) is one that you will one day inhabit yourself, if you are on an MBA course today, or if you choose to take this course in the future. One day you will know there was more to your MBA than you realised, perhaps there is always more than we can take in. But, with a broader appreciation and awareness of your MBA experience, while it is happening to you, the value of this degree to your own work/life and career is something you can appreciate and realise a lot sooner.
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[Convergence, Courtesy of Jonathan Poh on Flickr.com]