Friday, October 30, 2009

It's been a year - the MMM program

It's hard to believe that it has been a year since I attended the MMM Prospective Day. Around one year ago, I was one of the several students trying to get to know more about the MMM program, by coming to Kellogg for one day. Today I attended the same Marketing Class taught by Prof. Henessey that I did one year ago at the prospective day, this time as a student, rather than a prospective student.
Speaking of MMM, we had our first Design class taught by Professor Don Norman. He gave us an excellent understanding of what the Design Thinking aspect of the program brings to students. He described it as follows. Before the Design curriculum, the MMM program tried to build a T - shaped specialist. The operations specialization of the MMM program added deep expertise in operations, while the Kellogg MBA curriculum added the broad expertise of a general manager.

With the Design Curiculum, the MMM program introduced another horizontal bar, emphasizing Design Thinking in addition to Management thinking.

But why this this important? This is because Engineers, and MBA's are great at solving the given problem. What are Designers good at? They are good at discovering the right problem to solve in the first place. Prof. Norman's philosophy is "Never solve the problem you are asked to Solve!'

The MMM program also emphasizes SOS - Systems, Operations and Services. Systems because the most successful products come with a full system of complementary products and services e.g. the iPod and iTunes. Services because everything we consume is ultimately a service, we just think of it as a product. E.g. Digital cameras give you recollection of memories, pictures are just a by-product. And Operations, cause you gotta make the damn thing work!

After 2 years of MMM, I do not hope to be a designer. That would take 6 to 8 years. I do hope to inculcate Design Thinking in the way I approach business and life. Looking forward to the next year, and beyond!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Listening to Former President Bill Clinton

This past Saturday, I had a chance to listen to former President Bill Clinton address the Pan IIT 2009 conference.I had heard a lot about President Clinton's abilities as a public speaker, but I was not expected to be left so much in awe.

President Clinton started by talking about globalization, and its relevance in todays economy. He discussed the merits of globalization, and the demerits of globalization. For example, with globalization, one can source product from anyplace in the world, wherever it is most efficient to produce those goods. We are hence increasingly interdependent. This also comes with increased risks of failure of the system when a few parts of it start failing. The recent recession is a good example.

Then President Clinton spoke about the kind of work he has been doing on a global scale. Taking into account that the crowd was a group of engineers, entrepreneurs, technologists, and business leaders, he discussed Entrepreneurship in emerging economies that he supports through the Clinton Foundation.

He told us a story of a group of Entrepreneurs in Haiti, who have created a profitable business, and simultaneously help alleviate the problem of deforestation in Haiti. Most of the wood in Haiti is used to make charcoal, which people use to cook food. In addition, Haiti has no trash collection system in the residential areas. These entrepreneurs started collecting paper from people, and saw dust from the furniture factories. They developed a very simple, mechanical way of rolling the paper mesh with sawdust to create these oval blocks, which could be used to run the stove for two meals a day. They are less than half the cost of wood charcoal, yet are made at a 50% profit for the entrepreneurs. We need people like these to solve the world's problems. President Clinton emphasized that he intends to solve problems not by charity, but by supporting such people.

There was one funny moment in the speech. Right in the middle, his phone rang. He said,' It must be Hillary. She is the only one who has this number.'

He then picked up the phone, told her that he was addressing 2000 people at that moment, and asked her if she wanted to say hi to her. He talked for another ten seconds, told her 'Good for you,' said bye and shut the phone, and said 'Hillary said Hi from Zurich!'

Overall the speech left me highly inspired about entrepreneurship, and the impact it can have on the world.


I would not be a true MBA student if I did not analyze the reasons why this speech was so powerful. If I look at the approach Chip and Dan Heath suggest to make ideas stick in people's minds, they suggest the approach of SUCCESs. The idea should be simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional and have stories. The components that made this speech inspiring for me was that it was emotional, and it had statistics. President Clinton complemented statistics like 'x% of the world is malnourished' with emotional stories about people. You could relate to these people, you could visualize them, just like you, they had dreams, aspirations, hopes.

I hope I will get another chance to hear former President Clinton speak at sometime in the future.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Professor Ulrich's talk about Innovation Tournaments

Innovation and Design have always been fascinating topics for me. Yesterday, Professor Karl Ulrich, a renowned professor of Entrepreneurship and eCommerce spoke to us at the Segal Design Institute at Northwestern. Professor Ulrich has been instrumental of launching companies such as Terrapass Inc. and Xootr LLC.

Professor Ulrich recently wrote a book called Innovation Tournaments, which demonstrates how to systematically identify exceptional opportunities for innovation. The process consists of a generator phase and a refinement phasr. The generator aims to develop a large number of ideas, which have as much variability as possible. The filter/refinement component then rates the ideas based on a set of criteria, in order to eliminate most of the ideas, narrowing down to the best couple of ideas available.

While both the generating mechanism and the filter generally have a lot of noise, and are highly subjective, I feel that the central idea could be very useful when looking at entrepreneurial opportunities. After all, the most important resource for an entrepreneur is his or her time. Why not generate multiple ideas and select the best, as rated by a large group of people? As per Professor Ulrich, better ideas did have a strong correlation with eventual commercial success.

Professor Ulrich also discussed Design Thinking, and described it as the second best process for solving problems. The best? Exact science. Unfortunately, in most cases, exact since does not exist, and using the process of innovation tournaments seems to make a lot of sense. There are a lot of tools available here, including Darwinator, an interesting, free, web-based tool for group evaluation and filtration of ideas.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Linkedin and Facebook Etiquette

So when is it appropriate to add someone as a friend on Facebook or Linkedin? For some reason, this issue has come up several times in the past few weeks. Let's explore some situations where this occured:

1. If I even talk to someone from my school, my year or senior, I add him/her as a friend on Facebook and Linkedin. It always seems appropriate.

2. If I talk to an alum, what do I do? This issue came up in a Career Management Center presentation. The center says that it is appropriate to add the alum on linkedin, but not on facebook, unless you two are really good friends. This seemed to be fine until...

3. I spoke to another alum (all names not mentioned, of course). He complained of a neighbor who knew him, and added him on linkedin and Facebook. He felt that building networks was all about creating value for the other person, and if the neighbor had never added any sort of value for him.

4. Last, but not least, what about Professors? A classmate added a professor on Facebook, and the professor told him (and the rest of the class) that it was fine to add him as a Facebook friend, but only after the grades for the class had been released. Now I am certainly friending him on Facebook the moment the grades are released.

5. At another event, three speakers said completely different things. One said if all the participants did not add him on linkedin, they were losing an opportunity to engage with a potentially importnt contact. Another speaker said that she did not take linkedin requests from anyone other than people she knew very well, but would gladly allow everyone to join her linkedin group. And the last speaker said that he would not accept anyone on linkedin unless he had known them for a while.

So where does this leave us in terms of Facebook and Linkedin etiquette? Nowhere. Like all good cases, there is no one correct answer (notice the effect B School has had on me!). It all depends on the context. The best thing to do is to ask the person, and only then send them a linkedin or facebook request.