How MBA Is Actually An Art
Every 20th student in India goes through several stages emotionally, physically and professionally. As our generation grapples with unprecedented levels of confusion, thanks to an increasingly open and connected world and avenues that were never available to our parents in their time, an MBA is perhaps an option that falls under the category of “safe”, “steady” and “stable”. An MBA does not seem to hold the promise of a thrill, nor the heady feeling of any of the arts. After all, what would former (more often than not, in India) engineers, accountants etc. know or understand anything about art?
I can safely say, after almost 8 months into Shailesh J. Mehta School of Management, IIT Bombay, that nothing could be further from the truth.
Almost any management graduate will tell you that the very first week in an MBA college serves as a wrecking ball, shattering all preconceived notions about life or the corporate world. Assignments become a routine, deadlines loom large like an ever-present Damocles’ sword on our heads, lectures make way for more classes, extra sessions, training for internships and placements, self- study regimes, extra and co-curricular activities, meetings, group formations, taking onus of your failures – in a nutshell, it leads to utter chaos. The ones who emerge from the daze that the course plunges a student into, realise that life falls into a neat structure, scheduling of jobs becomes a subconscious effort and deadlines only serve to push students into delivering the best.
So what is it about the masters in management that makes one a better manager?
The answer is simple – Academics, and Art.
Having emerged from an engineering background and diverted my career path to advertising, subsequently choosing to pursue a career in management, I had faith in my versatility as a professional. However, soon after entering the course, I realized the true meaning of versatility. The depth and distribution of knowledge that is demanded from any manager mandate continuous reading, retention and knowledge upgrading, especially in an age where seismic shifts in technology take less time than ever before. A good manager understands his function thoroughly. A great one understands every other, almost as well. At SJMSOM, I found myself delving into topics which I would never find interesting otherwise. A part of this effort involved some self-persuasion and motivation. This is the first art – developing the eagerness to know and understand more, including things that one would otherwise ignore.
The second is to deal with the temptation of comfort. After the first few weeks of intense conditioning, when things ease out a bit, it is easy to fall into the trap of a comfortable hostel life, with little or no participation in the activities in and around college. We, at IIT Bombay, have a plethora of activities taking place around us every day and most of these are immensely informative and engaging in nature. It took a while for a few of the less “active” students, including me to give up the inertia of comfort and experience the opportunities an MBA college offers. And when we did, we found it immensely worthwhile. Be it the annual business fest ‘Avenues’, or the Entrepreneurship Summit organised with IIT Bombay, every event has groomed us as individuals and future managers. Comfort, for all dedicated students, has now become an enemy and challenges our daily bread.
The third and most obvious art we learn in a b-school is the art of communication – in all forms and varieties. While we are conditioned to become tireless data interpreters and slowly evolve into presentation-churning machines, we become more and more adept at getting our ideas across, no matter how flimsy they may be. We learn the art of substantiation, the importance of coherence and structure and the impact of focused communication. I have seen a dramatic increase in the quality of presentations and other communication devices my batchmates have used over time. As with any art form, we have developed with continuous practice and knowledge sharing.
The next and the most important one as yet would perhaps be the Art of belief. In an MBA, a student faces challenges unlike ever before. Numerous case study competitions and live projects floated by corporates and other colleges pose questions which are taken from real-world scenarios. At SJMSOM, students from various backgrounds come together in teams with the aim of cracking these competitions. Most of these challenges call for multi-pronged approaches which need extensive research, interpretation, self- study and most importantly, the belief that the problem is not too big or too alien for anyone to solve.
As MBA students, our entire course lays a heavy emphasis on the importance of understanding the ones we serve. This requires a major shift in mental focus – from simple delivery to understanding the role of that delivery in the life of a consumer. In a world that has evolved, with businesses becoming increasingly human-centric, managers can no longer work in silos, have blinkered approaches. Every manager needs a basic understanding of the human element of the business he/she is in, which is the art of understanding and empathy.
At SJMSOM, as the course evolves and opens up new frames of knowledge for our students, I believe more than ever before that negotiating an MBA is an art, one that needs skill and commitment in as many levels as the ability to deliver at short notice and think on the feet.