An Auspicious Autumn quArter

Minute Before the Flash Mob

Less than three months have passed since my summary post on Summer quarter. We are through all the coursework and more recently the Thanksgiving break, final exams, a holiday party and a quick North-Western study trip to Seattle. Time has come to close off Autumn and the 2012 calendar year with it.

Before it’s too late I’d like to apologize for the miserable alliteration attempt in the title. And I’d also really like to be able to skip the clichés like “time has just swooshed by” and “it feels like it was just yesterday!” but… it has and it does. We’re half through to graduation as Class of 2013 in June.


Strategy with Professor Roberts

Academics

All-in-all, I was happy with almost everything throughout the 8 classes assigned or selected for this quarter. If I really had to choose the most favourite it would probably be a tie between Real-life Ethics (GSBGEN 566) & Decisions About the Future (GSBGEN 578). First for being a glimpse into what undeniably makes Stanford uniquely positioned among world’s top business schools: access to real stories behind the shiny scenes of Silicon Valley and a chance to very interactively discuss and analyse the human conundrums and moral dilemmas behind the rises and downfalls of notable companies with the people who were personally in the middle of these events.

Decisions About the Future was in contrast a class with most academic rigour we’ve had this far. All required (and plenty of optional) reading came rather from published scientific articles than case studies and the course combined different disciplines from economics and psychology to sociology and anthropology. I really liked how every serious claim made in class had proper references and citations that enable digging deeper for those who were interested in a particular line of thought.

And then there is just something about the younger, up and coming teachers in contrast to their esteemed colleagues who have both the confidence of tenure and a few dozen years of research and teaching behind them. The Acting- and Assistant Professors, just like Saumitra Jha in the summer and now Dave Hardisty of Decisions have an admirable level of excitement and enthusiasm towards their material. Their courses are still evolving and adapting and there is additional joy in the two-way, iterative learning process. So while it is a reasonable desire to fill your schedule here with as many superstars, bestselling authors and Nobelists as possible, never doubt how much you can get out of their up and coming colleagues too.

Some depth was unfortunately missing from a few classes this quarter like our core Organizational Behaviour where the professor’s standup-comedian grade performance didn’t quite make up for the overly time-compressed material that felt more like a few days’ sprint of executive education. This is a comment of warning on accelerated courses in general. At first sight the option to go through some topic intensely, say with 6 sessions compressed in merely two weeks looks like a great way to introduce more variety in a quarter’s schedule as you can this way plan different things in the same time slots in the first & last part of the quarter. Sometimes, like with our intense and hands-on Negotiations course in the summer, this could well work. But more likely you’ll come out on the other side with the bitter-sweet feeling that you got a taste of a really interesting topic delivered by an excellent chef, but the restaurant was closed before you could finish a full meal… As another example my Political Communications class kicked off in the exact week of Obama’s re-election and was taught by former West Winger David Demarest — you couldn’t imagine a better setting for this topic! — but it was sadly over before a non-native speaker could spell “filibuster”.

Yet, as the closest thing to an academic regret (if any) I should have at least tried to apply for exemption from core Financial Accounting. Even if I don’t consider myself an expert in the field by no means, just reading financial reports as a manager and investor for last 15 years has made probably more stick than I realised. Despite of my likely mediocre grade outcome and the professor’s admirable patience with our class I personally would likely have been more stretched and happier with some more advanced alternative. That said, I’ve heard that Professor Lee’s infamous Alphanomics: Informational Arbitrage in Equity Markets as one of the alternative options was a lot of work even for those with much more finance & accounting background than me.

Lastly, there are a number of large-auditorium open lecture series in Stanford that I recommend not just to fellow and future students but also any friends who happen to be around Palo Alto – or watching the videos from afar. Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders is the best known of them, but this quarter my most favourite moments must’ve been from the Human-Computer Interaction Seminar. The “European ETL” kicks off again in January. As a learning from this year, though, I will not be taking any of them for credit going forward. The attendance is free there is no point in trading in the flexibility and introducing occasional conflicts with other classes and events for the one unit benefit of mandatory attendance.

With the rise of customised electives in everyone’s schedules and the reduced volume of study group works (just one bigger project we did for Global Strategy, planning a real company’s entry to a new market, e.g. taking Nordstrom’s to Turkey in my team’s case; and a shorter sting at re-design-thinking how to run meetings for Generative Leadership class) the Sloan class has started to somewhat to drift apart. Everyone needs to juggle their own priorities and you need to make a special effort to still hang out with your classmates. And we did!

Gorilla(s) at Antonio's Nut House

Non-academics

It is actually amazing how much social activities we could fit into this quarter. The notorious flash mob (see the video and read Herbert’s recap from the GSB Reporter) we pulled for returning MBA students on campus in October is now up to 300,000+ views across various social channels and got a condensed live re-run as a half-time show at Stanford’s Men Basketball team’s NCAA home game.

Events don’t just happen accidentally, and just like in the summer I am in awe of our elected Social chairs as well as the Sloan partners and random volunteering classmates who made sure there was something happening every week. Yes, some have noted that the lower-key, lower-prep TGIF nights (“let’s just hang out at Ray’s for a few pitchers of beers”) saw a bit less dedicated attendance than in the first excitement (and warmer nights!) of summer, but at the same time we can look back at a full-blown Oktoberfest, Halloween, Indian Diwali, Chinese Mid-Autumn / Singaporean Lights festival, a proper dress-up Christmas party… Basically a big one every two weeks, to think of it.

Several classmates have confessed that even if the intense dance trainings of September worked well for maintaining shape, the time available and allocated for sports is harder to find. The falling personal workout stats in the Stanford Strolling Squirrels group on Sportlyzer confirm this, as the sad fact that the two 10K running races enthusiastically joined by Sloan teams early on have not been followed by a third since about mid-October.

In a word, if any of your friendly male Sloans look somehow bigger in December than in August it might not just be for the extra body hair grown during Movember when we helped raise over $61k as a small SloMo subteam of Stanford GSB. (As I can almost hear your concerning ask: yes, our Lady-Sloans are still all as beautiful as ever).

Speaking of doing things together with MBAs, there has been some progress mostly thanks to the tireless efforts of the elected liaisons, but it still doesn’t feel that the groups have really mixed.  I have been to a few FOAMs, of which the most notable was the watching of US Presidential election results at Antonio’s Nut House, but generally the loud bar format doesn’t lend itself much to making new acquaintances.

Personally, I have met a few great guys through quick coffee meetings following getting acquainted in shared elective classes. The Sloan reporter role at the GSB paper and a few hours pitching the paper jobs to incoming MBA1s at a big student activities fair also have added a few friendly faces to say hi to on campus, as have the first few incoming meeting requests after the Sloan bios were published to MBAs seeking mentorship meetings. At the fair I did also sign up to a number of clubs myself (more seriously with the HighTech Club, E-Club (E as in Entrepreneurs), VC Club and more tentatively the European and Wine clubs) and am in the loop for the events they put on, but have not been able to attend many yet beyond an occasional BBL (for which, as I now discovered the Wikipedia entry is BBS) and a VC panel. In a word, a lot to do and hoping to do from January on still.

Speaking of BBLs, a recurring highlight have been the 15-minute BBLs we are continuously going through between the 81 Sloans, having each classmate share whatever they consider important or interesting about their own life. These sessions continue to be honest, funny, surprising, moving and have revealed completely unexpected facts about every single classmate this far. Due to a single elective conflict on Fridays I’ve had to miss some of these sessions partially, which might well remain the biggest regret of the otherwise auspicious Autumn quarter for me.

—-

For more posts on the Stanford GSB Sloan life – click here to search by tag “sloan”.