Things I Wish I Had Known A Year Back!

This is that time of the year when people graduate from their undergrad colleges or leave well-paying jobs to kickstart their aspirations of understanding business, of becoming business leaders by studying at an elite B-School. All of the aspirants who have cracked the entrance tests, who have impressed in the interviews and have (or will shortly have) admits to the B-School of their choice, should have some knowledge about how good the institutes are (and this article is written with such aspirants in mind).

But the thing about a B-School is, it changes you. You are put in a hyper-competitive setup with over-achieving individuals who are at least as good as you are and you are expected to excel. There’s no time to get warmed up. You are expected to be firing on all cylinders from Day 1. That is a lot of pressure and you are on your own.

In such a scenario, you may feel like you are lost in a jungle. You take things as they come; too afraid to question, too confused to think differently. It makes sense as well- after all when you are in a jungle and you don’t know which one the right path to get out of the jungle is, logic dictates, you take the path that others are taking. Best case? You get out alive along with the rest of them. Worst case? All of you run into a tribe of lions and get killed together, not alone. No one will fault you if you just go with the flow but there are checks that must be at the back of your mind to extract the most out of this program.

Focus on WHY:

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When you join any course of business management, any self-respecting professor will ask you why you think organizations exist and no matter what your opinion is, he/she will try religiously to drill down the fact that the objective of a business is to maximize shareholders’ value. They are not wrong but ask them questions to get a notion of what they mean. Questions like:

·        Isn’t creating value for the customer on a sustained basis more important?

·        Isn’t the shareholders’ value supposed to be a result of the value the business creates for its customers and not the driver of the organisation?

·        Aren’t employees important? They sacrifice something that’s not money and what’s money other than a promise of fulfillment of goods/service transferred in terms of time and responsibility?

·        Ask them would mass layoffs have occurred if companies were not so obsessed with showing positive books to the shareholders?

·        Shouldn’t the company create such value that people want to invest and that the company shouldn’t hurt its customers or employees just to show “aal izz well” to its shareholders?

Businesses are not bad, there is a method and a reason to everything that they do. A good instructor will help you see the truth, the beauty of a business. Only when the “Why” is clear, will you be able to start on your path of being a business leader. Get clear on the “Why” and the rest, as they say, shall fall in place.

Collaborate:

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When you join a B-School, you’ll meet people who are used to succeeding and so are you. One-upmanship sets in. Be wise, help and take help. If you compete and outperform that guy sitting next to you, you will want to beat that guy in that other section. Once you do that, you’ll find that there’s this guy in another B-School who’s killing it everywhere. You can’t beat everyone. There will always be someone who is better than you.

 But look at it from the other perspective, there is always someone good to work with. Amidst you, there are people who are capable of great work and by teaming up, you increase each others’ chances of success. You become capable of creating value that’s greater than the sum of your individual selves.

Build relationships, don’t just network.

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The people you are studying with, those are the people who will be running businesses in some years or will be in influential positions. You will need each other’s help. But the thing is people respect titles/positions but they trust only people. You meet a person from your city in your college and you hit it off. When you are in some other country, when you meet someone from India, the fact that you may belong to different cities becomes irrelevant. You hit it off with that person. What’s at work here?

 Having something in common affirms of the fact that that person may share the same beliefs that I have. There’s a greater possibility of trust. Basically, people need trust. Rules drive the basics, trust drives everything that’s beyond the basics. Networking is inefficient. The secret sauce here is to be genuine. Be yourself and your acts will reflect what you believe in and people will start trusting you. That’s how relationships are forged and when you are in an office 10 years later and you need some help urgently, guess who that person you call will help. The person that showed up only when required or the person they met only in parties? Or is it the friend they shared their thoughts and feelings with? You can’t fake such trust and belief. Hence, the advice to be genuine and people sharing the same values will see it and be interested in you.

Keep your head in the game:

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Many times, things will seem unfair. You will see people getting more than they deserve (by the benchmarks you set for them). At times, you’ll feel that you’ve been dealt a bad hand. The greatest manifestation of this shall be seen during the placement season. You will hear people all around you saying things like “people from XYZ committee have an unfair advantage, dude! They don’t deserve that company. I already knew all this happens. I am better than them and they have a better job than I do”. To which you should ask, “if you knew all this happens, why didn’t you bother to join the committee?”. To which the reply is:

·        Too much work, dude! I have not joined this B-School to do that.

·        I am not from the college of those seniors, dude! They wouldn’t take me.

Or a gazillion other variants of the above 2 seasoned with 2 tablespoons of whining

While there are issues and clear cases of unfair activities, which is the case with everything in life, the key is not to whine but move on and keep your focus on what you have and what you can do with it.

As a thumb rule, it is always about the people.

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As you study one course after another, you fall in love with analysis. Biologically speaking, your cortex (the part of your brain that tells you that when a dog dies in a movie, it doesn’t actually die) is heavily exercised and away from family and quality companionship, the limbic region (the part that makes you cry when you see a dog die in a movie) takes a chill pill. You will fall in love with profit maximisation, excel sheets and powerpoint slides. But remember, you run a business to deal with people.

 People’s limbic region is not as f***ed up as yours are. And guess what? Decision making is difficult. Unless one actively wants to think, decision making is handled by this region only. When you sell them a product, the product being good is a hygiene factor. What the customer buys is the value that he can derive out of that product and the belief that you communicate with your product. Those 2 are the only things that matter to the customer.

 So, a B-School will teach you that in order to sell the phone you want to sell, you need to tell the customer about the million GBs of RAM it has, the trillion GHz processor it has and the infinite MP camera you offer. Real life will tell you that the customer wants just to talk on video with his family while he’s away on a yearlong business visit to a foreign country. Unless you hit that chord with him, all you are offering him is a set of numbers which can be bettered any given day by any random new entrant. Remember, it’s about the people, their beliefs and the feelings. These drive businesses. Numbers are supposed to help you. Don’t let them rule you.

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About the Author:

Abhijit Routray is a student of IIM Lucknow and is a member of InsideIIM Student Team 3.0

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