In the late summer and early fall, I often think about the challenges facing our incoming MBA students and our graduating students at Kellogg. Each is embarking on a new phase in their lives and doing something novel and powerful. Strangely, they, in spite of their different stations in their careers, are similarly facing something new, challenging, and rewarding. It strikes me that many people have a similar setting when they are facing changes in their careers. Here is some advice for new students, new graduate, and job seekers.
- Be Enthusiastic. People love people that have passion for their craft, art, music, beer, whatever. Be enthusiastic. Some your interests in the work. It suggests a deep commitment and competency. Plus enthusiastic people are just more fun to have at work. Jeff Bezos once mentioned that hiring people is in part based on would they be interesting to have at work. Be that enthusiastic person. Volunteer for tasks, initiatives, projects, and (to my students) for class assignments. In his self-fulfilling prophecy, “Act enthusiastic and you will be enthusiastic,” Dale Carnegie reminds us that you do it by doing it.
- Be Curious. People are not born understanding the nature of the world or business. Experts became experts by asking questions and seeking explanation. As a student, new hire, or business leaders, you should always ask why and why not? Look for explanation. Explore. Rick Henderson, the star of Pawn Stars never finished high school, but he attributes his success in business to being a curious person. And be curious about more than your bonus – look for things that genuinely interest you and others. “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” – Albert Einstein.
- Sweat the Details. In addition to being curious, if you really want to be an expert in something or anything, you need to know how it works at a very detailed level. Do you want to make great cookies? Ok, make about 500 batches and understand each one in detail. That is how you get great at making cookies. It works in coding, surgery, and just about everything else. Repetition does help, but you also need to reflect on the details and understand how and why you got the results you did. Clients and managers will demand explanations. Details matter. Steve Jobs is famous for sweating the details on Apple design, the fonts used, and even the smooth curves on Apple apps. Details matter, more and more in our technology-driven world. “If you don’t understand the details of your business you are going to fail.” – Jeff Bezos.
- Take Responsibility. I am sure we can all recall a worker, fellow student, or colleague that seemed to dart responsibility at nearly any given chance. Some are quite artful about it and suggest that their failure in executing comes from their leader’s failure to lead. Such debates get nowhere. Excuses and patterns of them are self-defeating. It is exhausting to hear the many reasons the assignment was not done by the deadline. Rise above the complexity. Take responsibility. Own the job, tasks, and assignment like it is your business, property, or baby. As Winston Churchill said, “The Price of Greatness is Responsibility.” Take it. The rest will follow. If you don’t take responsibility, you will follow someone else who does.
- Take Risks. School and your upbringing will not prepare you for everything in life. At least, you will be expected to do new and different things. Leaders face unforeseen challenges constantly. I often find students uncomfortable with stepping into uncharted areas and working on ambiguous problems. Such uncharted paths can be risky and rewarding and will almost certainly result in rework. However, there is no discovery without searching and risk taking. If work and life look too familiar, then you are not taking risks and growing. “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” — Pablo Picasso
Today’s highly changing world, where technology, banking, medicine, and media are colliding requires people that can adapt, learn, grow, and evolve. Be that person!
Professor Walker provides keynote talks, seminars presentations, executive training programs, and executive briefings.
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About Russell Walker, Ph.D.
Professor Russell Walker helps companies develop strategies to manage risk and harness value through analytics and Big Data. He is Clinical Professor of Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences at the Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University. His most recent book, From Big Data to Big Profits: Success with Data and Analytics is published by Oxford University Press (2015), which explores how firms can best monetize Big Data. He is the author of the text Winning with Risk Management (World Scientific Publishing, 2013), which examines the principles and practice of risk management through business case studies.
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