Digital Elocution 0

You’ve done all of the listening so far. It’s only fair that you get a turn to do some of the talking. The comments have been turned on.

These are the rules in brief:

  1. No spam, or self-promotion, or porn, or anything not befitting a site dedicated to business professionalism. Additionally, please keep discussions civil. This means that commentary that even borders on misogyny, racism, personal attacks or any of a long list of other odious behaviours will earn you something between a warning and banning from the site.
  2. Never, ever post anyone’s personal information on the site. If you want to tell everyone your date of birth and your mother’s maiden name, that’s up to you, but no one else is permitted to divulge that sort of info here.
  3. Your first post is held in the moderation queue and must be approved by an administrator. After that you will be able to post freely. This is one of several anti-spam protocols we use.
  4. Comments for each article remain open only for 7 days. After that, everything is locked up.

Feel free to create an account and begin posting here, just to try it out. You will not receive anything that even vaguely resembles spam from TwistedMBA.com. My expectation is that the commentariat will grow slowly, matching pace with the content and audience as they expand. I’ll see you in the comment system!

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Interregnum

It has been asked: Now that the MBA journey at Royal Roads is complete, what next for the Twisted MBA?

When I started this blog my goal was to simply share my experiences, in hopes that others who came after me would benefit from intelligence reports of the ground ahead of them. But now, now I’m thinking that there is yet more good that could be done here.

To Infinity and Beyond!
To Infinity and Beyond!

Over the past several months I’ve had a fairly significant number of emails sent to me by fellow MBA learners in cohorts behind 2011-2 (in addition to some emails from c0-learners in 2011-2 who were going quietly psychotic trying to identify who I am. More on that later.) These emails offered a few fairly interesting suggestions for the future of this site. In no particular order, they are:

  • Create a forum or forums for MBA candidates to share information and experiences on industry sectors, organizations, business education, tools, etc.
  • Create private forums for specific cohorts as a place for cohort mates to remain connected, outside of the prying eyes and limits of Facebook, et al.
  • Provide in-depth reviews of business tools and apps for the beleaguered MBA.
  • Create subject matter expert networks in specific industry subjects.
  • Offer a stream of business-related news that is open for discussion and dissection.

There were a few other more specific suggestions but they could be lumped into one of the above. So over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring these ideas and creating the spaces for at least a couple of them. I’m always open to suggestions, and welcome what insight might be offered. (This also means I’ll be turning commenting on, with some fairly strict rules to combat spammers and phishers. More on that in a week or so.)

Finally, the identity question. I offer a question in return: has anyone ever said that the Twisted MBA was just one person?

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So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

It has been over a week since I left Final Res. I deem it a time of recuperation, of reconnecting, and of apologizing. Apologizing mostly to my friends and family to have been so absent the last 18 months. I am pretty sure I have twenty or so “Redemption Dinners” in the liabilities section of my own balance sheet.

The last post had the cohorts of 2011-2 poised to present their findings to our clients. Cohort C presented in the morning, while Cohort D followed up after lunch. (This had to do with the fact that the presentations took place in the Centre for Dialogue on the 4th floor of the LIC, where there is a low stage and loads of A/V equipment. Including, by the way, a comfort screen, for those of you who hate speaking behind podiums and don’t wish to bring up a sheaf of notes while you present.) Two clients, one for each cohort. Presentations were restricted to 15 minutes or less, with about 10 minutes for follow-up Q&A. They all went by swiftly, producing a torrential downpour of information and astute business recommendations.

Suspicious client is suspicious.
Suspicious client is suspicious.

Astute might be a terribly subjective descriptor, however. While there is no question the clients enjoyed and were even moderately surprised by some of the analyses and recommendations provided, a few presentations I think were received by the clients with, *ahem* , less enthusiasm than I thought they deserved. It was clear that pretty much every single team put their collective shoulders to the task. The results were insightful, compelling, and marvelously varied. A lack of enthusiasm on the part of the client comes with the territory, however. You can’t absolutely know what their biases are, and everyone has a jaundiced view of at least one strategy with which they were burned in the past. So all you can do is accept it, take your beating in the Q&A, and carry on.

The beatings, as much as they may have stung, did not last, and after we were done our presentations, after we had left the LIC, after I was sitting outside just looking at the lagoon learning to breathe again, it began to dawn on me…

…I had completed my MBA.

Em. Bee. Freaking. Ay.

Eighteen months of challenging deliverables. Eighteen months of panicked Skype calls at 11:00PM (or 2:00AM, if you’re in Toronto). Eighteen months of trying desperately to drink from a fire hose. Two of those months spent in residency, the first of which involved something that felt like it was approaching an exercise in self-vivisection without anaesthetic and the second of which you spent the entire time waiting for a wrecking ball to smack into you when you least expected it. It was a year and a half of monumental learning and bonding with very accomplished, talented people from across Canada you would have otherwise probably never met.

In the last week I have spent some time in reflection on the whole experience. While there were some rough patches, and a few places in the program where the screws could’ve been tightened up, I have decided that taking this program was one of the best things I have done in my life. And it all comes down to the learning, the learning the learning the learning. Learning from the largely superb faculty, sure, but mostly learning from and sharing with a group of peers that offer a remarkable mix of fierce intelligence and brilliant insight. Placed within the super-heated crucible of the MBA program, these peers of mine catalyzed an alchemy that I can only barely do justice to within the limits of sentence construction. You’ll have to experience it yourself, and then, I think, you’ll know what I mean.

MBAs get medals and hairy sidekicks.
MBAs get medals and hairy sidekicks.

So we made it, those of us in 2011-2 that managed to hang on despite arduous life events and moments of lucidity that intruded and informed us that we were insane for even attempting this. We made it and we’re living proof it can be done. To all who come after us, you have my best wishes and encouragement to keep at it, even when it seems overwhelming. If your cohort is anything like mine, you will find and meet people of quality who have your back when you most need it. And this is perhaps why I think the unique Royal Roads blended model, with its residencies, is such an effective learning model, particularly for working professionals. Not only can you earn an MBA with a full working life, you can do it in an environment where personal bonds are forged, not just formed.

Congrats everyone, we did it.

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Stay On Target!

And so we come to the final stretch of the Royal Roads MBA Program.

death_star_trench_star_wars_medium
Luke, close your eyes, relax, and trust that you won’t turn into a blazing fireball of doom.

The last two weeks were a collection of classes with “strategic mentors” – subject matter experts from industry who shared their knowledge of digital marketing, preparing recommendations, communicating messages to difficult clients, et cetera. These were punctuated by breakout sessions (termed “Problem Based Learning”) which allowed our teams to wrestle with ambiguous deliverables predicated on a live case study. From all of this, we are to generate a problem that needs to be addressed along with a business report of up to 10,000 words that provides solutions to that problem.

On Thursday, Jan 24, we present our findings and recommendations to the faculty and the client in a very tight 15-minute presentation. This is where choosing your best presenter(s) on your team is crucial. On my team, anyone could competently present, but we do have one or two members who are decidedly slick at it. So it’ll fall to them to deliver our research and analysis in a manner that makes us all look stupendous.

We are so close to completion we can taste it. We’re in the trench and we can see that exhaust port. Stay on target everyone. We are just about at the end of this particular journey.

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Come On Out. Look, the Water’s Stiff!

My return to the Royal Roads campus for Final Res was, to put it mildly, accompanied by some trepidation mixed with a helping of “no way can this be a repeat of First Res.” And I was right. Or so the first week of Final Res seems to indicate.

Bambi_080Pyxurz
Believe in the process! Tap dance on the ice with metal heels!

We all received emails from faculty and program management prior to this residency that assured us we would readily handle this final chapter in the MBA program. Given our challenges in First Res, and the fact that we now understood the expectation level for our deliverables, whatever might be thrown at us during Final Res should not constitute a shock or surprise. And that has absolutely been the case. It’s a little like looking at an icy pond and wondering if you’ll fall through the ice if you walk across it. So far, it’s held up.

There is one single 6-credit course in Final Res, BUSA 650. Week One of EL2 was all about reading about and analyzing the external business environment for our live case study. The pace was…relaxing. We had time to read, and think, and socialize and leave campus for a better variety of meals. Some of us even had time to take naps! What a “nap” is I don’t even know. I’ve heard about them before. Some kind of myth.

Perhaps the worst part of EL2 thus far has been the waiting. The waiting for the Big Surprise that would shock us back into an adrenaline-fueled state of anxiety and goal-driven fury. Many of us are only just beginning to believe that the Big Surprise isn’t coming. It’s made some of us suspicious though, with that whole lulling into a false sense of security thing. MBAs are a suspicious lot. We eye each other with narrow gazes and staplers held behind our backs. Come near my analysis and I’ll staple you in the head.

One common observation here is that everyone looks tired. We’re in month 18 of an 18 month graduate program, so that shouldn’t be a surprise. The tired faces might have something to do with the increased consumption of alcohol this time around, mind. Sometimes the beer and wine are about dulling the pain. Sometimes it has more to do with celebrating the fact that we’ve made it this far, and holy fresh hells we only have two weeks left.

Another update in a few days. Skol!

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OMP! There it is.

There’s a party over here,
A party over there,
Wave your hands in the air,
Shake the derriere,
These three words mean you’re gettin’ busy,
Whoomp! There it is,
Whoomp! There it is.
– Lyrics from the song “Whoomp! There it is” by Tag Team.

Without question, the Organizational Management Project (OMP) is the crowning deliverable of the entire Royal Roads MBA program. It is also an arduous, mind-bending, stress-inducing challenge that will have you wondering why you agreed to it in the first place.

You will have started thinking about your OMP early in the program. What you might find is that your initial thoughts on a research question and what you end up doing are two very different things. That’s okay, and apparently it’s not uncommon. In fact, it would probably be prudent to remain flexible enough throughout the process so that you can change your focus if needed. And sometimes it is needed. Sometimes, you may have to change your OMP topic because of forces outside of your control. Sometimes you’ll have to change it more than once. Or more than twice. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

OMPs are between 10,500 and 15,000 words in length, not including bibliography, table of contents, glossary and your invariably large collection of appendices. And those words have to be good ones. By their very nature OMPs are dense, chewy reports. This should occur naturally, as they are informed by a significant literature review. I must have read over 60,000 words during my secondary research as I sought findings that would give me some sense of direction for recommendations for my research question. Work smart when you do your lit review: take copious notes and build a case as you go. When you go back to write the meaty analysis and discussion section of your OMP, having those notes will help you structure your own findings.
OMP finished. Hallelujah.
OMP finished. Hallelujah.
The thought of submitting between 10,500 and 15,000 words might be daunting, but rest assured that if you do a thorough lit review and decent primary research you’ll find that the word count is pretty easy to achieve. That isn’t to say it’s easy going. Despite not having any course work to deal with in the weeks prior to Final Res, the energy low you’ve been feeling since Corporate Finance will likely still be present. I personally found that I plateaued around this point, and although I was tired, I was no longer completely shagged out. A week of decent sleep should catch me up. Should.

Your major project advisors will urge you to submit your very best work for your first draft, and it’s good advice. What you really don’t want is to get your OMP back with comments that suggest several days of additional work. If you’ve worked smart, your feedback will typically involve about 4-6 hours worth of corrections. You might be asked to provide more clarity on a point, or be more specific on the details of your research methodology, or provide more information on an important finding. Be sure to address all of the feedback. You do not want to have your “final” draft sent back for more corrections, particularly if you’re already in Final Res. You’ll be looking at paying for an extension then.

Your final, corrected draft is due before Final Res begins. Once it has been officially accepted (you’ll be notified explicitly in email) your OMP is done. And what a feeling that is, to be congratulated and to receive confirmation that you have completed the largest, most complex deliverable in the entire program, after what amounts to a couple of hundred hours researching, analyzing, writing and editing.

Now that I’m done with my OMP, I can offer the following three tips for my fellow learners in cohorts behind me:
  1. Submit your first and final drafts early, as early as possible. Remember that most of your co-learners will be submitting their drafts close to deadline, which means the reviewers will be swamped with work and the turnaround on your OMP will be up to ten working days. Get your drafts in early, and you can expect a turnaround of two or three days instead.
  2. Absolutely, positively, get your primary research done as soon as possible. The longer it takes, the longer you risk having external factors force you to change your research topic. I can’t stress this enough. Plan your research and light a fire under it. Once it’s wrapped up, you won’t be at the mercy of vacillating clients or organizations.
  3. Confer with Royal Roads’ librarians. They are so switched on when it comes to finding resources and material that it’s astonishing. Even if you think you have everything under control and in hand, they can still help. Not only will they help you find really solid supporting material, they’ll help you find the most relevant material, in places you might not even think to search. The librarians are information experts — let them help you!
And now I’m going to start enjoying my Christmas holidays. Final Res starts in early January. One step closer to the finish line! I wish everyone a safe and peaceful holiday. See you on the flip side.
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Focus. Concentrate. Be Special.

Cause I
Gonna make you see
There’s nobody else here
No one like me.
I’m special
So special
I got to have some of your
Attention
Give it to me!

– Lyrics from the song “Brass in Pocket” by The Pretenders.

The last distance module in the MBA program is made up of the specialty courses. The ones you take depend on your chosen specialty stream, of which there are three at the time of this writing: Executive Management, Strategic HR, and Management Consulting.

Executive Management (EX) (choose two):
EXMN 652 Building Sustainable Communities
EXMN 662 Leading Innovation
EXMN 675 Coaching for Performance

Strategic HR (HR):
HRMN 639 Building Strategic Human Resource Management Capacity
HRMN 641 Managing Workplace Diversities

Management Consulting (MC):
EXMN 661 Management Consulting Best Practices
EXMN 668 Management Consulting Essentials

This is who audits you live during Executive Coaching tests.

I think these are largely self-explanatory, although a couple are worth touching on. EXMN 661 devotes a very sizable chunk to project management, enough to give you a head start on earning your PMP designation. EXMN 675 is executive coaching, and has testing that involves a live audit of you coaching someone. Also, note that some of the Executive Management learners selected one course from the Executive Management stream and one course from the Management Consulting stream, so there is some flexibility in your options if you go the EX route. Worth mentioning is that the Strategic HR specialty had the smallest group of learners in 2011-2: five people in total, making up a single team. The EX stream had the largest group, with the MC stream sitting at a close second.

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When this module wrapped up, I found I was feeling odd. Handing in the last two papers signalled the end of all of my courses save the one to be conducted in Final Res in January. That meant I would not have to crack open a single textbook or read any journals or white papers for the purpose of completing a series of deliverables over the next few weeks. What it also signalled was that I now have to switch to focusing on my OMP. With my secondary research finished and my primary research wrapping up, I have roughly five weeks to analyze my data and write my findings and recommendations. I am very thankful that I stayed more-or-less on top of the staged deliverables for the OMP the past several months. We were told that there were some learners that were far enough behind that they might realistically already be looking at having to extend their program by three months, which translates to another $1600. Our final, non-extension deadline for our OMPs is January 4th, which allows for a draft revision after being edited by trained readers. On January 7th we begin our final residency back on campus in Victoria, during which we are immersed in a single course: BUSA 650 Advanced Strategic Integrative Practice, which sounds like a capstone course. Assuming all goes well, we are done on January 25th, 2013.

I have learned not to assume.

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Virtually Yours

I should write a little about the VELs, or Virtual Experience Labs. These make up the bulk of the distance learning when it comes to our (C)OMPs. There are five in total, and each typically takes place on the Saturday before a module begins. You attend them from the comfort of your desk at home, or wherever you have your computer. Make sure you will remain undisturbed, and perhaps have coffee nearby.

A VEL is split into two three-hour sessions. Your Saturday is pretty much shot until 4:00pm or so, and starts at 9:00am with a one-hour break for lunch at noon. Note that these are Pacific Zone times, so if you’re further east your Saturday will start and end later.

One of the three-hour sessions will be solely dedicated to something to do with your (C)OMP. For example, it might cover research methods, statistics, proposal writing, ethics review, and so forth. (C)OMPs range in length from 10,000 to 15,000 words on average, so they’re not asking for the moon. A (C)OMP isn’t quite a thesis, and it isn’t quite a major business report — it’s a blend of both. Half academic, half applied, what you end up with should be significant research that would be useful to industry.

Please don’t do this during a VEL. I don’t want to know you’re computing naked. Not even Daniel Craig should be computing with his tackle out.

The other three-hour session will either focus on presenting/writing, or on presentations offered by you and your co-learners. You present over the Web using Blackboard Collaborate, on a topic that is a) relevant to business, and b) something in which you can speak with some authority. If you’re in HR, for example, you could present on common compensation challenges, or if you’re in Operations, something on TQM might be appropriate. Whatever you have both skill and passion for will go over well. You only have 25 minutes, and you have to allow for Q&A, so your talk will likely only be around 15 minutes long.

In both sessions there’ll be lots of change-ups to promote interactivity and collaboration. In case I haven’t made it obvious, Royal Roads focuses heavily on the students learning from each other. While the faculty can offer direction and rigour, the vast majority of your learning will come from your classmates sharing their experiences and observations. It’s a brilliant approach, and to my eye a lot more engaging and interesting than sitting in a lecture hall listening to a professor drone on for two hours.

Something else about your (C)OMP: don’t let the deadlines slide. There is a solid chunk of work to be done in both the primary and secondary components of your research, and if you rush that because you’re scrambling to make the final draft deadline, it’ll show in your writing. Your preparatory work for your (C)OMP is easily 75% of the battle. Get that done in a timely fashion and you’ll have a much easier time writing up your findings in the latter months of the program.

I’m in VEL4 this coming Saturday, August 11. The non-presentation session covers Writing Research Methodology and a Review of (C)OMP Structure and Requirements.

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Cha-Cha-Cha-Change, Change, Chaaaaange…

And that’s that. We just wrapped up DL4, which consists of BUSA 608: Change – Beyond the Boundaries of the Decision, and BUSA 632: Understanding Economic Decision Making. These two courses are essentially Change Management and Market Economics, with the latter covering both Microeconomics and Macroeconomics.

The Change course is highly reminiscent of BUSA 507 and 514, Leadership and Organizational Behaviour. The human resources professionals in your cohort will likely do well in 608, as it relies heavily on understanding the messy, unpredictable business factor known as “people.” If you glided through 507 and 514, you’ll probably cruise through 608. If not…608 will be a bit of a monkey on your back. The readings aren’t quite as onerous in volume as the courses in First Res, but you still have to put together cogent, structured papers and as is usual for the program you’ll be bumping up against the word count ceiling with little effort.

I sense he is resisting change…

Change Management is all about how to convince people in an organization to stop doing the things that they’re comfortable with, and switch to a new way. This is recognized as a monumental problem in almost all organizations. Barring the small shops and startups, the latter of which are known for agility, change often comes at a huge price for an organization in terms of emotion, effort, and yes, money. The course covers the high-altitude thinking in change management today, and does a good job of coming down to Earth and getting into the tactics of change. Forms and sources of change resistance, change fatigue, achieving acceptance and sustaining change for the long-term are all covered at some depth.

The tandem course to Change Management, BUSA 632, is a significant departure from BUSA 531: Environment of Management. While both courses focus on economics, 531 was more about the qualitative processes of the political economic world. 632 is much more math-focused; if you don’t understand graphs, axes, curves, slopes, etc. you had better crack open an elementary algebra text or find a tutor who is math-friendly. All relationships in micro- and macroeconomics are measured and expressed with graphs.

This is a graph you will have to understand in 632. No it’s not. Psych!

You might have noticed that throughout this experience I’ve harped on how you need to be up on your mathematics before enrolling in this program. That’s because you’ll need it. Over the last twenty years the computerization of commerce has changed the business landscape. Whether you’re in Marketing, Logistics, Production, whatever, you need a firm grounding in arithmetic and algebra, and you should positively be able to have a grasp of expected magnitude when you do a calculation. I’m not suggesting calculus – that’s mostly going to be outside the realm of what you’ll need unless you’re an analyst. What I’m arguing for is math that you graduated with from high school, and no more. A review of parts of your Grade 10 or Grade 11 Math text is all you need, and you don’t need to cover anything like the quadratic equation or algebraic functions.

(And yes, I’ll be available to tutor math in a few months if anyone who takes the program would like help reviewing before you tackle Corporate Finance.)

Microeconomics covers consumers, firms and markets, and introduces the magical pairing of the Supply and Demand curves. You’ll learn about fascinating topics such as equilibrium pricing, complements in production, deadweight loss, marginal utility, and a pile of other Offical Sounding Concepts, all of which are actually quite simple in isolation. It’s when you put them all together the complexity arises, and if you’re into the subject, you’ll see a certain beauty in how the graph expresses information on economic behaviour. Neat stuff.

Macroeconomics, which makes up the last half of the course, covers economics from the vantage point of nations. GDP, inflation, money supply (M1 and M2), aggregate supply and demand…these concepts provide the discerning reader with Very High Altitude information about how a nation, or group of nations, or the world is doing economically, if you understand what they mean and how they interact. Also there is a section on money itself, why it works the way it does, how it serves as a medium of exchange and how it “behaves” in an economy.

No more final exams at this point in the program. But this is how exams work.

Two further notes. First, the second wall that we hit in Corporate Finance still appears to be with us. My cohort-mates are uniformly tired. It probably has to do with the program being 18 months long with no appreciable break. I (now) fondly recall my undergrad experience because I always had a 4-month summer break between years. Not so with the MBA. No rest for the weary.

My second note: a shout out to Holly McLennan in 2012-1, who dropped me a couple of notes in appreciation for this look into the future of her shot at the program. My pleasure! I hope you and your cohort weather Corporate Finance with few, if any, casualties.

Next up: the specialty courses. This is the last module of the entire program, not including our (C)OMPs and Second Res in January 2013. If you’re in Executive Management, you will have been notified as to what your choices are some time ago. If you’re in the Strategic HR or Management Consulting streams, you’ll have your courses chosen for you.

And now, with my two-week break before me, I…will spend it all on working on my (C)OMP.

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