(Originally published on 19th June 2010 on ankit9doshi.com)
There are enough articles, books and insights on why or why not do an MBA. However, if you have decided to take the MBA route very seldom you shall find content where people focus on how the 1 or 2 years could be spent. For most, the curiosity ends with the entrance exams and the final admission process.
I believe that 1 or 2 years is a significant part of one’s life. Also, one is dedicating part of the best and the most active years of one’s life to a course or to an experience. ‘Experience’ is probably the right word in my opinion. Treat these 2 years as an experience and you shall probably make the most of it.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that most people look at it as a ticket to a plush job and good money and there is nothing wrong with that. However, you can seriously jeopardise your experience and in some cases even your chances of landing the best job if you fall into a narrow mindless trap.
Talking about traps let me state a few traps that one can fall in based on my experience at an IIM for a year. It’s a subjective perspective, hence a lot of people may not agree.
The Do-it-All Trap: Most common in the first year and more so in the first term. Over enthusiasm and insecurity fuel this situation. Yes, it is always good to be an all rounder and one should do a variety of things. However, there is a difference between doing things to make up the numbers and doing things well. You might end up screwing your academics, causing serious harm to your relationships and neither enjoy nor learn too much from the extra-curricular activities you are into. One needs to be extremely disciplined as well as focussed to do well in everything.
Most successful people I know have chosen their domains carefully and have performed very well. They do a variety of things and do them only because they genuinely want to do them. It would be better to first understand oneself, know and understand what’s on offer on campus and choose activities accordingly. Mindless enrolment/application for different activities is a sure shot recipe for extreme unhappiness.
Your past background may also matter. For e.g in my case I had done so much extra-curricular activity in my undergrad that doing other things appealed to me more on campus. I had spent 4-5 years in various activities in college. I did not want to do similar things for 2 more years. At least not in the 1st year. Conversely, a lot of my friends come from colleges that did not offer them too much scope in their early years to be a part of various activities. For them, getting involved in diverse student activities made perfect sense. It was a new experience and they feel great after having gone through that.
Resume Value Trap: Almost all actions are driven by incentives in a B-School and the herd will end up doing all those things they think adds value to their resume. If people started thinking about what adds value to them rather than their resume, quality of activities conducted on campuses would be so much better. People choose courses/electives thinking about what will look good 1 year later. They are ready to endure a poor professor, a course not fit for them and the painful experience of actually studying it because of resume value.
Undergraduate years are the best because people take up activities seldom thinking about resume value. Those concepts are not so prevalent when one is 19 or 20. Hence, since one does what one is really passionate about or at least interested in, one does it well and it shows. B-school committees and festivals are filled with people with extremely myopic views. This is something that can be seen across campuses. Selections and Elections all take place in the same vein.
There is a weird concept of a ‘hygiene’ factor in a resume. So, if a few people are doing NCFM certifications others want to do it so that their resume isn’t less attractive. Everyone wants one bullet point in their Resume which says you have been part of the management festival and one bullet point on the cultural festival. People manufacture imaginary clubs and societies in their undergrad years. Some people go through the effort of designing fake certificates and letters. It comes to a point where resumes start looking so similar, the perceived benefits of the above bullet points become almost non-existent.
Of course, it does not mean one should not participate in activities. My argument is - do something you like and do something you know you can do justice to.
The FreeRider trap: It is a well-known concept in B-Schools. A person who does not contribute at all in a group but gets equal credit by virtue of him/her being in that group is a freerider. People basically free ride on the insecurity of the scared group member who is concerned about his/her grade. They free ride because they are lazy and see no value being added by working on assignments or presentations. Free riding is not restricted to academics. In fact, the biggest free riding happens during events when people give interviews and get selected or get elected and never work! They get the benefit of being a part of that activity/event/club but never contribute towards it success. In fact in a lot of institutes, summer placements take place before any of these events actually happen but the selection/election process happens much in advance. Hence, people shamelessly free ride.
The argument here is – If you genuinely want to learn, Do not free ride. If you want to earn respect of your colleagues and build fruitful relationships do not give into the temptation of not working.
You shall get a lot of dope from your seniors in the institute who are free riders and they shall give you gyaan on all sorts of ways to avoid work. They shall fill you with so much negativity about the system, the professors etc. that there is good chance you may fall in line with them. The choice is always with you. Treat it as a vacation or treat the 2 years as a fruitful learning experience. The learning may not necessarily be in the class.
Work only for grade trap: I will not waste too much time on this. One should do what one thinks is appropriate for oneself. Grades may be important for some; may not be important for others. I just want to suggest that you may lose out on really crucial things from the learning perspective if you have a narrow focus on grades. Personal suggestion: Try and keep learning above grades for a better experience. (There are loads of arguments against this policy. I am not a top grader myself. So you may feel it’s a grapes are sour kind of situation. I have no arguments. I have made my suggestion)
Mera Statewala-Mera Bhai trap: While it is natural that one hangs out with one's state mates initially, you will waste your 2 years and miss out on a really interesting experience if you just keep hanging out with people from the same region as you are. Appreciating the diversity of our country's people is one of the biggest lessons one can learn at a place like IIM. This is especially the case for people who have not stayed in an hostel with pan India inhabitants. People from different regions have different temperaments, different quirks and very different perspectives. This may sound very obvious but one needs to experience it to truly appreciate it. And there is so much to learn and so much fun in the interactions for 2 whole years!
Don’t want to stand out trap: In a collectivist society that prevails in India, it is difficult to voice an independent opinion. Discussions in class are shot down due to peer pressure. During presentations and critical analysis of groups’ performance, a lot of times people try to come up with a pact where you don’t criticise one group’s presentation in return for the same favour. People don’t ask doubts in class in the fear of standing out in the class. People fear being made fun of or being mocked at as a discussion with the professor is a disturbance for a lot of people from their slumber which is well-perfected in a professor keeps talking mode. ‘ Jyaada question nahi poochneka, jyaada proifessor ke saath discussion nahi karneka’.
Please never fall in this trap. You are paying over Rs.500 per lecture in you MBA School. Your primary objective is to learn and indulging in arguments and discussions is a perfectly valid way to learn. Never be afraid to voice your opinion. If you cannot handle peer pressure now, it will keep hampering your individuality and originality all the time. Ideally, one should extract the maximum from listening to others and by asking questions and participating in discussions. You may not get to interact with such a diverse group again in life. There can be many viewpoints and it is a great opportunity to appreciate this.
Please make the best use of these 2 years and try and get as many perspectives, do as many diverse things as possible and learn as much as possible. Make as many friends as possible and get as many experiences as possible.
- Ankit Doshi
(The author is an alumnus of IIM Indore – Class of 2011 and Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics,Mumbai – Class of 2007. He is the founder of InsideIIM.com and Konversation.com)