Do you want to give your business career a boost? If you do, one of the most obvious answers is an MBA, a Masters Degree in Business Administration.
The MBA is a globally recognised high-prestige business qualification. It’s offered by hundreds of universities in every part of the world. And MBA students aspire to leading roles in our corporations, public services, and not-for-profits.
In fact, providing MBA courses is now very big business indeed. So, why would you want one, what is an MBA exactly, and where can you go to get one? Those would be the questions a consumer guide would answer.
But this is not a consumer guide. Instead, we’re going to look at the MBA as a Big Idea.
Whitney Johnson has changed her career direction several times. And each time she has become, arguably, more successful. That’s her point. If we can disrupt our comfortable career habits – and do it right – we can see ever greater success.
Johnson was named as one of 2015’s Thinkers50 top 50 management thinkers for her insights into how to achieve this. As a friend and co-worker of Clayton Christensen, whose academic work focuses on disrutive innovation in corporations, she has chosen to adopt and adapt his language.
Whitney Johnson was born in Spain, in 1961, and grew up in California. She studied Music at Brigham Young University, also visiting Uruguay for two years, as a Mormon missionary. After graduation, she and her husband moved to New York, so he could pursue a PhD, and Whitney Johnson got a job as a secretary in a Wall Street firm.
There, she recognised that to progress and start to match the salary levels of the traders across the office, she’d need to gain business skills, which she did. By 1996, she was working as an equity analyst at Salomon Smith Barney, moving to Merrill Lynch in 2000. She was enormously successful, and specialised in Latin American stocks.
In 2006, following a meeting with Christensen at church, they co-founded investment company Rose Park Advisors. Johnson was responsible for fund formation, capital raising, and the development of the Fund’s investment strategy. She served as Rose Park’s President from 2007 to 2012. They used Christensen’s theories of disruptive innovation to invest in early stage companies.
Whitney Johnson’s First Book: Dare, Dream, Do
While she was running Rose Park, Johnson wrote her first book, Dare, Dream, Do. This of course triggered another career disruption for her. This book is about how women can build a happy life by pursuing their passions.
In the modern world of work, Johnson observes that we are staying in job roles for ever shorter times. In addition, to make a radical change in our career prospects, we need to do something radically different.
Her prescription has seven components.
1. Take the Right Risks
Johnson makes a helpful distinction between what she calls Competitive Risk and Market Risk.
Competitive Risk is when we take on established players in a secure market that is lucrative, and which we understand. Johnson observes this is the risk most of us take on, yet is not likely to yield the best returns. Instead, we should put more focus on taking…
Market Risk. This is where we play in a new space. It involves finding new opportunities, and building new capabilities. However, the competitive risk is small, because few will be addressing this market. The new market you take on needs to give you the scope to meet a need better or more cheaply.
However, Johnson also says that if your market feels scary and lonely, then you are probably in the right place. Hmm. Maybe you are, or maybe you are just somewhere scary and lonely. You need to do your research!
2. Play to Your Distinctive Strengths
What are your strengths, and which ones can you match to the market needs you have identified? Johnson refers readers to Strengths Finder 2.0, and also adds some helpful questions. These will support you in gaining a little insight into your strengths. For example:
What skills have helped you survive so far?
What makes you feel strong?
When do you feel at your best; invigorated, inquisitive, successful?
Edgar Schein is a social psychologist who has introduced a raft of ideas around organizational culture, and placed his thinking at the heart of the subject. He was brought to The Sloane School of Management by Douglas McGregor, where he was a contemporary of Warren Bennis. Though less widely known, he seems to me to be every bit their equal.
Edgar Schein was born in 1928 in Zurich and moved to the United States. There he became a citizen and studied Social Psychology, gaining a BPhil from the University of Chicago, and MA from Stanford, and his PhD in Social Psychology from Harvard, in 1952.
Following this, he spent four years in the US army, studying both leadership and, importantly for his later thinking, the rehabilitation of prisoners of war (POWs) returning from Korea under the influence of brainwashing.
In 1956, Douglas McGregor invited him to join the faculty of the Sloan School of Management at MIT, where he became a professor in 1964 and chaired the Organizational Studies Group from 1972 to 1982. He remains an emeritus professor there.
Edgar Schein’s Work
Edgar Schein’s work is deeply concerned with organizational culture and its relationship to behaviours, motivation, learning, management and leadership, and careers. Let’s survey six big themes in his work.
Schein sees culture as the dominant force within an organization, and he defines it as a pattern of shared assumptions, about how we relate to one another, how we perceive truth and reality, the balance of task focus with growth and fulfilment, and others. These affect how people behave and the values and social norms that evolve.
Rejection of the organization’s imposed norms and culture: ‘rebellion‘
Selective adoption of certain values and norms: ‘creative individualism‘
Full acceptance of the new culture: ‘conformity‘
In another of Schein’s important text books, Organizational Psychology, (1980), he focused on the idea of a ‘psychological contract’ between an employer and its employees. He credits the original idea to Chris Argyris, but develops it considerably. The psychological contract is a set of undocumented expectations between the organization and its employees. Where expectations match, there will be harmony: where they mismatch, problems arise, such as disloyalty, under-performance, and industrial disputes.
Within an organization, Schein identified three management cultures that co-exist and, to a degree, compete unhelpfully with one another. Organizational Learning will come as people evolve their organizational culture to properly integrate these three cultures.
Operator Culture: local cultures within operating units
Engineering Culture: technicians and experts seeking optimal technical solutions, mistrustful of the soft roles of people in driving the right answers
Executive Culture: managers focused on financially-driven metrics
Under the pressures of constant change, organizations can only thrive when they learn quickly. The problem is that it is frustrated by employees’ and managers’ fear of change. He calls this fear ‘Anxiety 1’ and argues that for learning to occur, it must be overwhelmed by ‘Anxiety 2’ – the fear of the consequences of not learning, and therefore of not transforming to meet the new realities. He therefore advocates the need for creating a culture where people can feel safe to learn and experiment, as a way of overcoming Anxiety 1 without the need to induce greater levels of fear.
Not surprisingly for someone who came to the Sloan School at the behest of Douglas McGregor, Schein’s fertile mind also paid attention to motivation. He created two contributions. The first was to group models of workplace motivation into three categories, and the second was to add a fourth category.
The Rational-Economic Model McGregor’s Theory X, building on Taylor’s approaches to Scientific management suggest we act out of compliance with incentives of coercion.
Schein’s fourth category really seems obvious from any distance… The Complex Model
We are all subject to a whole array of needs, expectations, desires, and motivations, and a wise manager will engage with all the subtlety and complexity of each individual. For me, Self Determination Theory is a good introduction to that necessity.
We all have perceptions about ourselves. Carol Dweck has shown that we are most successful when we feel free to enlarge these as we learn, rather than see ourselves in a fixed way.
Herminia Ibarra is ranked by Thinkers50 as one of the world’s top-ranked management thinkers- at number 8 in 2015, since you asked. Her interests are professional and leadership development, gender, and how we can adopt a DIY (do it yourself) approach to making a step up in our careers.
Very Short Biography
Herminia Ibarra was born in Cuba*, and moved to the United States as a child. She graduated from the University of Miami with a BA in Psychology. She was a teaching fellow at Yale from 1985-1989 and was awarded her masters in Organizational Behaviour, and then her PhD, in 1989.
From there she joined the faculty of Harvard Business School, where she remained until 2002, when she accepted a chair at INSEAD. She is currently Professor of Organisational Behaviour and The Cora Chaired Professor of Leadership and Learning.
In 2003, she wrote Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career. This is a book of case studies of how people made significant changes in their careers. While working on it, she came to realise that often people stay stuck in a job because they don’t know what to do next. Reflection and analysis fail to help them figure out what next. What makes the difference for many of her case studies is the impact of outside activities or initiatives with which they get involved, outside of the normal run of their work.
Conventional wisdom has it that we should think then act. But in studying career changers, Ibarra started to take an interest in managers who are increasingly expected to act as leaders, but who don’t get promotions or formal job moves that create the opportunity for this transition.
With changed expectations, but the same role, these managers must find their own way – a ‘Do It Yourself’ approach. Ibarra argues that they need to change what they do, who they connect with, and how they think of themselves. And the first step is to do things differently.
Ibarra has coined the term ‘outsight’. In contrast with insight, outsight is the external perspective we get when we take on fresh and new experiences. New and different activities change us, and Ibarra advocates experimentation and experience as the route to change: what I call ‘trial and learning’.
We can get this opportunity to be different and try different things from the side activities we engage in within and outside work. Many of the people she studied for her first book had career changes triggered by these kinds of projects, initiatives, and task force roles. By looking for these, a manager can try out new ways of acting – and then reflect on them.
These experiences provide opportunities for the three shifts Ibarra challenges managers to make:
Redefine your role as being more strategic, as you shift from manager to leader
Broaden your network of contacts, taking on more opportunities to connect across wider spans and with more influential people
Evolve your personal style, trying out more ‘playful’ approaches that may redefine your sense of self (without challenging it)
This ‘act-first’ approach seems to me to be a positive one for making changes, and chimes nicely with Amy Cuddy’s injunction to ‘fake it ’til you become it’.
Ibarra in her own Words
If you are interested in the topic of career progression, try out these Pocketbooks
* I am going to ignore the date of birth given by Wikipedia – her CV says she graduated in 1982 (although this may be the date she started her undergraduate studies). If her Wikipedia birth date is correct, then she graduated at age 12 – or at the latest, 3 years later!
This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.
Do you have a career plan? You should. Even if you have not charted out the rest of your life, you should have a shrewd idea of how long you want to stay where you are now; doing what you are doing; and what next.
Here are some exercises that will help you to plan out this and the next stages of your career.
Exercise 1: Getting to Grips with a New Job
Answer these three questions:
What is the true essence of your job?
What is one thing you can achieve quickly to start to build a good reputation?
Who are the people you most need to get to know and to influence?
Exercise 2: Getting Ahead in your Current Job
Set yourself three objectives:
Three people to get to know during the next three months
A substantial opportunity to be innovative, take the lead or make something happen
Some training, development or learning that will position you for a step forward
Exercise 3: Refreshing your Attitude to your Current Job
In ‘Same Job: New Job’, we looked at how to spice up your attitude to your current job, if a move is not on the cards. Read that blog and choose three petals of the Flower Model of Job Satisfaction. For each one, decide on one action you will carry out, to boost the way you feel about your job.
Exercise 4: What Next?
You may not yet have a strategic vision of how you want your career to proceed and where you want to get to. If this is the case, ask yourself the question: ‘what do I want from my career?’
Write this down as a heading in your notebook one evening. The next day, get up early, make a cuppa, then sit and write anything that comes into your mind onto the page. Don’t censor or try to organise it. Just get the ideas down.
Repeat two or three times and then, when you have a quiet hour to spare, go through it all and see what is there that makes real sense to you.
Now you will have the basis for deciding what needs to come next. Put together a plan for:
continuing professional development
taking on projects
looking for new opportunities
Exercise 5: Continuing Professional Development
If you are a member of a professional or trade body, this will almost certainly come with your chosen career. Even so, there will be discretionary modules and units, so make choices based on what you want to prepare yourself for. If you are not part of such a membership organisation, then look at the training your employer can offer, maybe your trade union has some training you can use, and also look at local FE colleges and the courses they can provide. You may also want to look at independent training providers who run open programmes.
The trick is to build a logical case that will show your employer what they will gain by investing in putting you on that training. Be clear about the facts and ask the provider for help in identifying the workplace benefits of their course.