If you are like most business students, you are itching to jump into the raucous world of global commerce determined to create opportunity, prosperity, and value.
But first, you want to lay the groundwork for the impact your work and ideas are sure to have by mastering the fundamentals – and improving on them.
That’s where “b-school” comes in.
Your academic experience can give you the tools to test your ideas, gather your resources, plan your approach, and make your mark if you follow a few basic strategies for success.
Find Your Team
It may take a single genius to think the thought that can change the world, but no great idea has ever made it off the page and into commerce without collaboration.
There is a lot of theory and practice to absorb in b-school, a lot of cutting-edge methods to wrap your brain around.
Learn with others. You will discover that unpacking the course material with your classmates creates a dynamic that opens up insights and approaches that might not have occurred to any of you on your own.
Your team can also be a source of support.
A business education requires focus and dedication. No one, not even your friends and family, knows the demands of a business education better than the fellow students who are going through it with you.
Identify Your Goal
The business world is filled with exciting opportunities, and students enroll in business school for many reasons. At first it can seem like there are simply too many intriguing, or even dazzling, claims on your attention.
There is no harm in sampling the wide variety of academic offerings. But as you do, notice if a personal goal begins to emerge.
Knowing what you are aiming for, what you want to achieve with your business education, will help you to organize your course of study and sift through a myriad of intriguing possibilities.
Recognizing a goal can be a tricky process. Ask yourself whether you are choosing your classes, seeking your internship placements, or identifying your thesis topics because they call to you. Do what you like and you will be more likely to succeed.
If you are unsure, give yourself time. Your educational purpose can be elusive. Your “ah ha!” moment may only appear to you as you write that final paper, or prepare for that final oral presentation. And if you do not have an “ah ha!” moment, be easy on yourself. There are many paths to success.
No one expects an athlete to take the field or a musician to take the stage without lots of trial-and-error behind them.
The same is true for students. If you want to ace the exam or deliver a polished oral presentation, make the time for a dry run. Your team or study group can come in handy as you each take a turn presenting a topic of interest, quizzing one another on key concepts, or reviewing your answers to the last exam.
Build your skills by practicing test-taking with old exams, browsing the theses of former students, or attending the oral presentations of your classmates.
Like the practitioners of any artful undertaking, b-school students dream of outside-the-box innovations, but to know if you are thinking outside the box, first you have to know where the box is. The business school curriculum is designed not only to teach you about business, but to teach you how to learn.
Learning how to learn comes with practice, and once you know it, it will stay with you for life.
Expect the Unexpected
Among the many “first rules” of business, surely one of them is to be agile. You might have an awesome business plan, a top-notch team, and a fulfilling business education that really sticks to your ribs, but inevitably you will be confronted with circumstances that you did not plan for.
How will you respond? As a student, you will want to keep your eyes open for the curve ball, your antennae up for the unexpected event or new information that changes your baseline assumptions about what you hope to achieve.
Business school will teach you to be comfortable with ambiguity. You can line all your ducks in a row but there is no guarantee that one little duckling won’t stray from the project management path you have so carefully mapped. In fact, you can count on it.
Approach your business studies as you would a winding road, expecting to take the occasional wrong turn. B-school is not a linear process. Wrong turns are built into the experience. They matter, and you will discover that disconcerting and unexpected academic events usually contain something of value.
Stay open and curious. If frustration sometimes threatens to overwhelm, check in with your team, go back to first principles and inquire of yourself whether you need more practice, and, above all, be willing to adjust your goals based on what you discover from your challenges and successes.