Amazon’s Udaan program – MBA Learnings

Just last week, we looked at why Amazon’s first physical bookstore in Seattle made sense.

Supply Chain Strategy

The central theme here is that different products are suited to different kinds of retail channels. As you might imagine, shipping individual cartons of milk or toilet paper isn’t cost effective as the delivery costs likely outstrip the cost of the good. Additionally, it is easy for stores to carry excess milk or toilet paper as these goods are cheap. However, when the good becomes niche and expensive (e.g. diamonds), delivery becomes cheaper and it then makes a ton of sense to centralize warehouses as carrying inventory in store is a very expensive proposition.

So, as retailers get larger, it becomes essential to adopt a “hybrid” or “omni-channel” approach to supplying goods to customers. It is the only way to stay competitive.

When we then consider an emerging market like India, retailers like Amazon are faced with additional problems. For example, Indian consumers don’t trust the online channel as much and regularly opt for “cash-on-delivery.” This has massive costs associated with it as it means all delivery personnel need to be equipped with and trained to deal with cash. Additionally, it is not very efficient.

So, our class discussion centered on what Amazon’s approach in India might look like – our Professor’s thesis was that the best way forward for Amazon would be to partner with the hundreds of thousands of local retailers as it would solve three important problems –
1. Tailoring. Low value products could be sold from the retailer and save Amazon delivery costs. In return, retailers could place orders for the more expensive, niche goods and better serve their customers.The best part is that this wouldn’t require customers to change their behavior – opening up Amazon retail stores, on the other hand, would require customers to stop visiting their local retailers.

2. Cash-on-delivery. Amazon delivery personnel need not worry about cash-on-delivery. They could enable cash-on-delivery for in-store pick up only.

3. Delivery. Finally, delivery personnel need not worry about not being able to deliver orders. If there are any issues, they could then deliver the goods at a retail store nearby.

And, right on cue, Time had an article about Amazon’s “Udaan” program – unveiling a large pilot of a retailer partnership program. Fascinating.

HT: Prof Chopra @ Kellogg

Why Amazon’s first physical bookstore was both inevitable and smart – MBA Learnings

Amazon opened its first bookstore in Seattle yesterday. This led to a many interesting questions in the media – has Amazon taken a step backward by jumping back into traditional retail? Didn’t Amazon start an online store to improve on the traditional bookstore model?

To understand this, let’s begin by taking a walk down memory lane and look at Jeff Bezos’ initial rationale for starting an online bookstore.

Bezos understood a fundamental benefit of having an online store – an “unlimited” access to inventory while also eliminating the fixed cost of owning a physical location. Why did this matter? For a category such as books, there are millions of published works. However, even the largest of bookstores can possibly only stock tens of thousands of books. So, within bookstores, you now need to forecast/guess demand for books. And, that, inevitably means high inventory costs because estimates are rarely right – especially for niche category books.

So, it is now easy to understand why Bezos narrowed in on the following 5 categories as possible areas for Amazon to focus on for its initial product – compact discs, computer hardware, computer software, videos, and books. All of these categories have a “long tail” of niche products that make selling them via traditional retail very challenging and expensive.

The principle we’re getting at is that the characteristics of a product drive the ideal supply chain/distribution strategy. Let’s imagine 2 kinds of products –
Low demand uncertainty, low value products. Examples of such products are daily groceries or toilet paper. These have consistent demand and low value. So, it makes sense to make these available near customers as the cost of shipping these products from a centralized warehouse is probably going to exceed the cost of these products. Besides, we’re not going to lose money on wasted stock since it is fairly straight forward to predict their near-constant demand.
High demand uncertainty, high value products. A great example of these are diamonds. It is very expensive to carry diamond inventory. So, shipping them from a centralized warehouse makes a lot of sense since the shipping costs are small relative to the value of the diamond.

Supply Chain Strategy

This, in turn, leads to the next natural step in the logic –
It is very expensive for online retailers like Amazon to ship low uncertainty, low value products like diapers and toilet paper. So, they should only do so if customers are willing to pay a premium for the convenience. While basic items like diapers and toilet paper are cheaper at Costco, one could make the argument that Amazon is still subsidizing shipping costs far too much as the prices are still comparable. And, Amazon’s financials in the past few years have reflected higher shipping costs.
Similarly, it is very expensive for physical stores to carry expensive inventory. This is why Tiffany sells most of its diamonds online and sells cheaper products via its retail stores. Still, keeping even some of its diamonds in physical locations is expensive and that means Tiffany should only do so for customers willing to pay a premium for that. And, they do. Tiffany’s margins are much larger than Blue Nile. This isn’t a luxury for Tiffany – it is a necessity.

We’ve only discussed the two extremes in this graph. What about everything in the middle? The reality for most large retailers is that they carry products that are scattered all over the graph. This, in turn, leads us to the final natural conclusion – it is in the interest of larger retailers to develop hybrid/”omni-channel” distribution strategies. This is why retail models such as “click-and-collect” have become popular in Europe.

So, essentially, it is in the interest of Amazon to have physical locations to complement its online offerings. There are 3 massive advantages to doing so –
1. It can leverage its incredible scale to truly be the retailer with the lowest prices – across its physical and online stores. Amazon store diapers will be the cheapest in the market. If you want to buy them online, however, you should be prepared to pay a premium for the convenience.
2. It can use its physical locations as warehouses for “Prime Now” and “Fresh” offerings.
3. Amazon has the data and analytics capabilities to be smarter about its inventory in physical retail locations than any of its competitors. This means it can have a real cost advantage – a big advantage in a traditionally low margin business.

As is the case with many things in life, the answer in picking the right distribution strategy lies in replacing “or” with “and.”

And, at the rate at which Amazon has added businesses to its portfolio in the past decade, one could make the argument that few understand that idea better than Amazon and Jeff Bezos.

HT: Prof Chopra’s work on Omni-Channel retailing @ Kellogg

A few notes from my Big Data and Analytics classes – MBA Learnings

Technology analyst Benedict Evans shared an interesting image from a classic 1960 film “The Apartment.” The scene is set in the office of a large insurance company in New York – drones laid out at desks almost as far at the eye can see. Each desk has a telephone, rolodex, typewriter and a large electro-mechanical calculating machine.


As Ben points out – “In effect, every person on that floor is a cell in a spreadsheet. The floor is a worksheet and the building is an Excel file, with thousands of cells each containing a single person. The links between cells are made up of a typewriter, carbon copies (‘CC’) and an internal mail system, and it takes days to refresh whenever someone on the top floor presses ‘F9’.”

(Incidentally, as the protagonists are a desk worker and an elevator attendant, this is actually a romance between a button and a spreadsheet cell.)

It is clear that the capabilities of analysis tools in 1960 was far below our ability to analyze them. So, Microsoft Excel and other spreadsheet programs offered huge benefit simply because they helped bridge the gap between the average manager’s ability to analyze data and the tools available to do so. This, in turn, spurred businesses to collect more data in the hope of extracting insights. So, over the late 90s and the 2000s, every junior consultant and investment banker became an Excel ninja. Being able to use the tool to the best extent possible added real value.

All was well. Until “big data” entered the picture.

Excel spreadsheets had a major capacity upgrade recently that finally allowed a million rows. However, that makes it massively inadequate for a real world “big data” dataset. So, what is “big data?”

The consensus is that big data refers to data sets that have 3 V’s – volume (i.e. size), velocity (speed of data in and out) and variety (range of data types and sources). These data sets are in the size of hundreds of millions of rows with inputs coming in every second. To imagine a big data set, imagine a massive spreadsheet that receives point-of-sale data for McDonalds or Wal-Mart in real-time.

The next question, then, is – how do we make sense of all of this? It is hard to have a simple answer to this “big” question. So, I’ll share a couple of observations from my big data and analytics classes –

  • As any person who has analyzed data in Excel will tell you, you can make your data tell any number of stories. The presence of large amounts of data doesn’t change that fact. If anything, it becomes easier to manipulate the data to tell the story you want.
  • Additionally, the biggest problem plaguing poor analysis – mixing correlation and causality – definitely doesn’t go away. While correlation can be instructive in itself (sophisticated retailers have used correlated buys successfully to push the right coupons), it is dangerous to imply causal relationships because of a number of reasons – e.g. there could be a third effect that causes both.
  • Big data has increased our ability to experiment with different campaigns and messages. However, unless the experiments are well designed and executed with groups that are perfectly random (or close), these results can be erroneous.
  • In some ways, this gets to the root of the fundamental issue with analysis – analysis, by itself, is generally useless. Analysis, supported by business judgment, can be incredibly powerful.
  • The effect of this issue gets magnified when we have huge amounts of data. There are often more variables than we know what to do with. And, while machine learning tools like neural networks can help us find relationships between them, they won’t mean much if they aren’t combined with good business judgment.

All this leads me to conclude that we’re now in a situation that is very different from the 1960s picture we started with. At that time, an average manager’s analysis capabilities were far ahead of the tools and data available. Now, it is safe to say that the tools and data available far outstrip the average manager’s analysis capabilities. Forget the average manager, it is safe to say that even the most sophisticated managers will struggle with driving the right analysis and then interpreting the results right. While we can expect the tools to become easier in 5-10 years, the for analysis and insights are not going to go away any time soon. If, by chance, you are wondering as to why I am not referencing sophisticated data science teams that exist to solve this problem in leading companies, I’d like to go back to the key driver of great analysis –  “good business judgment.” The ideal analyst is someone who combines amazing tool capability with business judgment. Very few of these people exist. Great analysis is driven by managers AND data scientists. And, for managers to work well with data scientists, they need to become good consumers of analysis.

So, if there’s one thing I’ve taken away from these classes, it is the importance of doing whatever it takes to get on board the big data train.

For those who don’t plan to attend graduate school, consider online courses in statistics that cover basic statistics tools. Open source tools like R make it easy for anyone to be analytically savvy.

And, if you are fortunate enough to attend a graduate school that is emphasizing big data and analytics, take full advantage of the opportunity.

I am certainly trying to do so.

Reflecting on my summer internship – MBA Learnings

I was very curious about the graduate student internship experience. After a few years of work experience as a full timer, I figured it might be a bit strange to go back with the intern badge. I also wondered what elements of my approach to work would be different after a year in business school.

First up, wearing the intern badge wasn’t strange at all. It helped that we had ~25 other MBA interns as part of our intern class at LinkedIn. In fact, it regularly felt like a place of privilege – we were treated incredibly well and I regularly felt very fortunate to be given the opportunity to do what I was doing.

My approach to work did feel different. 3 things that stood out –

1. Adapted my productivity system from school for work purposes. I’ve written about a simple system that I used through my first year  – in a nutshell, it involves color coding my calendar based on the 4 priorities at school (career, academics, extra-curricular, social) and doing a weekly review to check how I was doing. I ported the system to my internship. The new priorities were – core project, other projects, people, intern events. And, I found it to be just as useful in facilitating an intentional and reflective approach to work.

I don’t think I experienced the full power of the system because my “core projects” were fairly well scoped out. I think the system’s benefits really show up when there’s a multitude of priorities pulling you in different directions. Looking forward to continue to refine this system for work purposes when I’m back at work after school.

2. Proactively met people. One of the beautiful parts of graduate school is setting up time for a quick coffee/walk when you want to get to know someone. As I generally avoid the big bar/party settings, I did plenty of these “coffee” catch ups through my first year. This was a very helpful habit going into the internship as I got to both know and learn from people I didn’t directly work with. It is something I should continue to do when I get back to work next year.

3.  Working off a more solid foundation. Many a time, I felt grateful for my core courses and the fact that I could call on my professors if I needed help (and I did). The best way to describe the benefits of a good graduate business education is that it gives you a set of basic tools that helps you be more effective. I liken education to wearing a different pair of glasses. It fundamentally changes the way you see the world without you realizing it.

I did also walk away with a sense of urgency in terms of things I needed to learn.

That brings me to next steps. I took away 3 next steps from my internship experience –

1. Take the time to understand what you will need to be successful at your chosen craft in 3-5 years. This is part of an ongoing and iterative process in my case. I’ve decided to go back to LinkedIn and plan on working my way towards building and managing web/mobile products in the next 3-5 years. And, I am currently focused on understanding what skills I need to develop in the coming year to give myself a good start.

2. Take courses that will be relevant. While I’m grateful for the core courses, I’m also really excited about taking courses that are relevant. For instance, I’m taking 2 courses from our cutting edge ‘Big Data & Analytics’ curriculum and intend to continue exploring courses that will be relevant to my journey.

3. Enjoy student life. My time away from school made me appreciate the joys of student life. As this is likely my last ever year of student life, I intend to make the most of it. Among other things, that means taking more time to have many more wonderful conversations with friends and plenty of afternoon naps.

Looking forward.

What should Volkswagen do? – MBA Learnings

We started our second year with a 1 week pre-term call on Leading and Managing Crises. We discussed responses to multiple crises – both good and bad. And, as I was on the lookout for a new crisis to apply my learning, Volkswagen appeared in the news for what has to rank among the dumbest decisions of all time. How Volkswagen thought they could get away with a program that cheats the emissions test is anyone’s guess. But, common sense isn’t very common and this is a good illustration that groups of people in “good” companies can make some really bad decisions.

A framework we used for discussing crisis response was called “The Trust Radar.”

Trust RadarSource and Credit: Reputation Rules by Prof Daniel Diermeier

The rationale is that crises are not just disasters that need to be managed. Instead, they need to be viewed as turning points – manage it well, for example, and you could win significant trust. In all star examples of crisis management – the 1980s Tylenol crisis or the 2005 Southwest crisis when a plane slid off the ice, crashed into a car and killed a six-year old boy, leadership scored high on each of the 4 components of the trust radar.

First, they demonstrated transparency by getting on the scene quickly and being very clear about what they knew, what they didn’t know and what they were doing to get the information. This is in contrast to British Petroleum’s (BP) response to the oil spill. No one seemed to have a clue as to what was going on.

Second, they demonstrate expertise where necessary. In crises that involve technical issues, it is critical that the public feels the company knows whats going on and how it can be fixed. Again, BP spent more time trying to siphon blame than fixing the problem in the immediate aftermath of the skill.

Third, they show commitment. Often, the first step here is by simply making sure the CEO shows up. There is often nothing more important than reputation and the CEO’s presence underlines that. However, the best show of commitment is doing what it takes to fix the problem. This generally involves a huge investment into product recalls and compensation for damages.

Finally, they demonstrate empathy. Company’s and executives aren’t trusted by the public. This step is critical in making sure the people in the affected area understand that they are cared for.

So, that leads us to – what can Volkswagen do?

Firing the CEO was a first step. It shows commitment. However, they have a long way to go. Among the 4 components of radar, commitment is the one that requires most attention. Being transparent and empathetic will help, but to a lesser extent. And, it is clear they have technical expertise – too much of it, some might argue. Aside from investing in product recalls and fines, I think a critical step towards demonstrating commitment to fixing the problem would be to conduct a thorough investigation into the groups that recommended and decided this (it can’t just be the CEO). They need to be fired/fined and punished in some way. Such decisions show a failure of ethics in the organization and hard measures are required.

While the new CEO will definitely need to attempt to score as high as possible on the 4 components of the trust radar, the Volkswagen case illustrates one of the hardest challenges of rebuilding reputation – you cannot talk yourself out of a problem that you’ve acted yourself into.

Companies, like humans, are trusted because of the character they exhibit. And, demonstrating good character is a long term game. Volkswagen have a long and painful road ahead.

What got you here won’t get you there – MBA Learnings

I’d started a collection of content subscription projects via this blog between 2009 and 2013 – “good morning quotes” on week days, “book learnings” on Sundays, “Monday learnings” on Mondays (this was one I actively participated in vs. initiated) and “Real Leader interviews” every fortnight. All this worked just fine for a few years. They taught me a lot. But, I couldn’t possibly keep doing these forever. As I thought about 2014 during the Christmas-New Year break 21 months or so ago, I decided I needed to embrace change and simplify. So, over the next 6 months, I shut every one of these projects down and integrated every content project into this blog. Effectively, this led to the “200 words project” on Sundays and various categories of posts.

Simpler. Better.

This was my first experience with “what got you here won’t get you there.” All of these content projects played a huge role in who I am today. They helped me build up my discipline muscle, helped me believe in my ability to keep commitments, and also enabled me to connect with some incredible folks around the world. But, for the next step, I needed to change things.

So, as I prepared for my first year in business school last summer, I spent time thinking about the systems I needed to develop. What got me to business school wouldn’t help me at business school. The game had changed. I needed to change too. But, until a month or so in, I didn’t know the answers. All I knew was to ask myself the following questions –
1. What is important here? (priorities)
2. How should I approach this experience? (process goals)
3. Who are people who can help me in my journey? (people)

My recent post on “Digging into my first year process” was a culmination of the approach gleaned from those questions. When you know what you are looking for, the universe often throws in a clue here and a clue there. I had a couple of pivotal conversations in my first month at school that helped me piece together an approach for my first year.

But, as I look forward to a week’s break before the start of my 2nd year, I feel it is time to revisit these questions again. Moving into my 2nd year is like taking on a new promotion at work. A lot of what was important in my first year isn’t as critical this year. I feel comfortable operating the way I operate and could easily do so for another year. But, I can almost hear that voice in my gut screaming as I contemplate the thought of not changing anything. As is the case when you lead change within yourself, the emotions on the surface seem to lobby against it. It generally feels easier to keep the status quo and continue cruising.

But, I’ve learnt to dig deeper and listen to my gut. And, both that voice and the evidence unquestionably point to the fact that the game has changed. I should, too.

What got me here won’t get me there.

3 productivity principles – MBA Learnings

Some of my highest impact learnings as a graduate student have been around productivity. One of my professors in the first couple of weeks described it as a 2 year course in decision making and trade-offs. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve written about what my process has looked like. And, today, I thought I’d attempt to pull out 3 productivity principles that have become apparent to me in the past year.

1. There is no productivity without a goal. We are either active or productive. The difference is whether we’re making progress towards a goal. This goal has to be necessarily overarching. For example, if your goal is to become CEO and CEO alone, talking to family becomes unimportant activity.

So, the first principle of productivity is to decide what matters.

2. Strategic decisions cannot be taken in isolation / You can’t optimize sub systems. If you’re trying to figure out how to live a good life, you can’t work toward optimizing a “sub system” or part of your life. This means you can’t make a good decision on your career if you don’t consider the impact on the other parts of your life. For example, what is the impact of you accepting a new role? Does that compromise on your desire to be healthy?

The latin root of decision comes from ‘cis’ or ‘cid’ which literally means “to kill.” Good strategy involves good decisions which, in turn, involve killing options. And, such decisions need to be taken with a view of the whole picture.

A quick additional plug – making decisions keeping the whole picture in mind helps us be consistent and “walk our talk.” The one word that describes that well is integrity. Integrity is derived from integer which, as you probably know from 3rd grade math, means whole. It all ties together.

3. The key goal – to keep the main thing the main thing. There’s a story that a productivity coach in the 1920s once gave millionaire Charles Schwab a simple piece of advice – write down the 3 most important things at the start of the day and don’t move to item 2 till you finish item 1. He received a check for $25,000 (a big amount in those days) a few weeks later.

Once you understand what you are optimizing for and make decisions that ensure you’re optimizing for the right thing, the next step is getting things done. And, the first step to getting things done is to constantly keep the main thing the main thing. This isn’t easy to do. But, I’ve found that the Charles Schwab technique of being consistently mindful is one of those that works very well. To each their own though.

I find it unfortunate that discussions around productivity often revolve around tactics – how to keep inbox zero, write things down as you think of them, etc. There is a lot of merit to tactics and maybe I’ll attempt to pull together what I’ve learnt on them, someday. But, they are secondary to strategy.

It is also telling that 2 out of the 3 principles I’ve pulled out were thanks to that fantastic book on Operations Strategy – The Goal by Eliyahu M Goldratt. As we learnt on day 1 of our course on Operations, good operations supports strategy. After all, if it isn’t contributing towards the goal, it is just activity, not productivity.

An alternative to traditional tier based evaluation systems – MBA Learnings

Incentives drive behavior. This is so much the case that our “Leadership in Organizations” Professor repeatedly stated that incentives are among the strongest levers to changing culture. And, as we discussed incentive systems, we discussed the issues with the traditional tier based evaluation systems.

Most companies have some variant of a system that grades people above or below target/expectations relative to their peers. We discussed a couple of issues with this –
1. Peer based evaluation systems often lead to unhealthy competition
2. Telling someone they were really close to the next tier actually causes a lot of unhappiness. Our Professor had done research on Olympic medal winners and found that Silver medalists were more unhappy than Bronze medalists. While the Bronze folks were just happy to be on stage, the silver folks were generally unhappy at missing the elusive Gold.

So, what’s an alternative solution? We discussed a 100 point scale with 20 questions scored for 5 points each. These 20 questions could be divided into 4 areas – e.g. task performance, leadership, culture, and teamwork. And, each question would drive to specific questions about how a team member performed. Of course, the manager(s) would need to substantiate each question with clear examples.

Why would this be better? First, it eliminates tier regret. Your yearly evaluation is a score out of a 100. Second, it focuses competition on yourself. The relevant question here is – how did I do versus my performance last year? Third, it encourages self reflection and alignment. Each employee should do a self evaluation and compare notes and points of difference with their managers. And, finally, it provides more granular feedback on performance versus a couple of letters and bullet points.

We discussed almost a year ago now and it is clearly one of those discussions that has stuck with me. I’ve been looking for counter points nearly every time I’ve thought about it. And, I’m yet to find too many. So, here’s to giving it a try.. someday.

Digging into my first year process – MBA Learnings

A few months ago, I wrote a letter to an incoming MBA student a few months ago in an attempt to help incoming students prepare for their 2 years at school. It was my attempt at providing a framework with which to approach this 2 year journey. I tried staying away from specific advice in that post as the assumption was that the framework ought to work for everyone.

Today, however, I’m going to dig into my first year process and provide specifics on how I spent my first year. Given the MBA is a $200,000 investment (not counting opportunity costs in lost income), I was very curious about any specific “process” advice at this time last year. And, I was generally left disappointed as most of the advice I found online was the in the “feels-good-but-useless” category – e.g. find your passion, build great relationships, travel, dream, take risks, etc. This post has a lot of inherent personal bias as it is what worked for ME – so please take these notes with healthy doses of salt. And, yes, this’ll be long and dense.

As I’ve outlined in the previous post, there are 6 priorities at business school – Academics, Career, Extra-curriculars, Social, Framily (close friends and family), You. I’ll go through what I’ve learned as I’ve approached these at school.

1. Academics.
a) Finding classes. 

Making a plan. Spent 4 hours during Winter break going through every course that I’d be interested in. After making the list, I tallied all feedback I’d received about Professors whose classes I should take. I went about creating a rough 2 year plan. I haven’t stuck to it. But, as always, the act of making a roadmap helped a lot.
Understand historical bidding statistics. We have a bidding system – so, I spent time understanding the points spent on the course-in-question in the past and also looked at the average rating of the Professor. With this data, I could easily spot the over-valued and under-valued courses. My takeaway – use data where possible and invest in understanding the system.
Ask for recommendations. I asked most 2nd years I met in the early days for top course recommendations. This helped a lot.

b) Attending classes.
Show up. I think I missed just two classes through the year. That helped a lot.
– Be 100% present. My natural ADD makes it difficult to keep focus throughout a class. So, I worked out a simple forcing mechanism – sit in front. This helped ensure I didn’t spend my time mucking around on my phone or laptop and also ensured I fed off the Professor’s energy. This worked most of the time and that’s what I was shooting for.
Come prepared and participate. This is part of the “be 100% present” idea. Participation is an extension of that. Now, I think I was FAR better prepared in my Fall quarter than later quarters. After the first couple of weeks, I began getting a sense of the level of depth required and that helped calibrate.

c) Group meetings.
Align on expectations if possible. Always helpful to have a conversation upfront if you feel there might be misalignment on goals and priorities. I can think of a couple of experiences when having this conversation would have helped.
Don’t count group meetings as study time. Same concept as work meetings – use this for discussion, agreement and decisions. Don’t count as solo study time. Bring value to a group meeting (very hard to do sometimes)
No need to be the lead in every group. Continuing of the previous thread, if you find others taking the lead in some groups, let them. Just make sure you do the same in some other. What goes around comes around..

d) Preparing for exams
Don’t waste money on textbooks. I didn’t use them. But, I know of people who did. So, this might just be me. I found the course pack and readings to be more than sufficient.
Attend review sessions only if absolutely necessary. I went for very few. When I did, I often chose a video as you can skip through most parts.
– 30 hours. I found that roughly 30 hours of study per course was sufficient to grasp the concepts and do well. This is roughly 3 hours per week. But, for most people, you see spikes towards the end of the quarter.
Summarize lectures – single best learning. My strategy professor suggested we spend time after every class summarizing what we learnt. I’d read about this technique earlier and never tried it. While I didn’t strictly do it every class/week, I made sure I did it every time I studied. This typically happened when an assignment came due – the assignment naturally required knowledge of what had been taught in the prior couple of weeks. So, instead of diving into the answers of the assignment, I’d go back and make sure I summarized lectures first. This was an amazing move as it made for my notes for revision before the exam. And, in exams where we were only allowed a cheat sheet, this made the process really simple.

2. Career. I’ve covered my process in detail in lessons learnt from internship recruiting. I just have 2 adds –
Don’t view classmates as competition. Be of help to each other. We grow up conditioned to compete. Think of your classmates as temporary “path sharers.” Good things happen once you do the work. Be nice to each other – the world will roll on without you.
Start a prep group. We had a 4 person tech group that met nearly every week for 10 weeks. It was one of the best things we did.

3. Extra-curriculars.
Understand why you’re doing extra-curriculars. Different people do these for different reasons. Some career switches like adding a note to their resume about a relevant professional club. Some want to test leadership. Some others want to meet people. There’s many reasons to do it. My reasons were straightforward – I am driven by people, learning and impact. Extra-curriculars have helped work on ideas that combine all 3. They’re a fantastic opportunity to learn more about yourself, how you lead, how you work in teams, etc. I spend a significant amount of time on extra-curriculars and it has been a highlight of my school experience.
Don’t be a flake. Once you commit to a leadership role, keep up that commitment. It is not just because everyone remembers flakes and all those you work with might have a strong say in a future career opportunity. It is simply because it is the right thing to do.
If you’re unable to do work, communicate and apologize. Worst case scenario – it happens.
Run good team meetings. Most team members hate team meetings. That’s because they’re generally run badly. I’ve tried hard to run good team meetings – this means preparing hard, using the time meaningfully and following up. I’ve tried to set the norm of 100% participation early and have tried to earn my team members’ time. Really useful skill to learn and hone.
Learn how to build great teams with peers. The best part about school is you work on projects with peers. If you can learn how to build high functioning teams with peers who’re only doing this out of personal motivation, I believe you can build great teams everywhere. Working on teams to lead the incoming student orientation week, our technology club and two other initiatives has been an education in itself.

4. Social. This is heavily biased as it comes from the point of view of an introvert.
– Look to build long term relationships, not network. Building long term relationships take time. So, take the time and be patient.
Invest in really getting to know as many people as you can. One of my wiser friends once said business school is where you’ll meet the highest proportion of people who are both interesting and interested in you. It is very true. In my case, I’ve tried setting up 3-4 coffee conversations every week. They aren’t ever over coffee. Every time I meet someone who I’d like to get to know better, I just put some time on their calendar (typically between classes), walk with them and swap stories. Many of these just turn out to be one-time meetings but some become really nice relationships. As with these things, it takes two hands to clap.
– Maximize high quality social events. Hanging out with 100 people in a bar is what I term a “low quality” social events. Any time you meet people and talk about the weather is low quality as well. 1:1 or small group conversations that involve talking about things that matter to you are high quality. Maximize.
For low quality social events, “HELL YEAH!” or no. If it isn’t a “HELL YEAH!”, I don’t show up.  (I did warn you this is very introvert biased)
– Find ways to meet random people. It is easy to shut off and find your own clique. I created an open event for my entire class last quarter on a Friday evening . 12 people showed up – a few of whom I’d never spoken to. That was a win. Good reminder to do more of those.

5. Framily. My past life was outside the US. So, most of these notes are directed to staying in touch with family and friends who live far away.
– Hang out with family when working/doing chores. I do a lot of conversations with family over breakfast, dish washing, and other such chores. Thanks to FaceTime, it is really easy to prop Mom up on the desk while I’m doing my thing. We’ve spoken a lot more during school days (as I often have flexible schedules) as a result.
Set aside time on Saturday morning to catch up with friends. While I wasn’t the most proactive friend in the fall quarter, I always made sure I had time set aside on Saturday mornings for catch up calls. That helped a lot.
Work on projects with people who matter and/or set up recurring calls. My friends and I work on a charity together. That means we catch up every 2 weeks and that helps a lot. Every few months, we set up a big google hangout as an extension to our bi-weekly call. In a couple of special cases, I set up recurring calls.

6. You.
This is the single most important priority. Nothing matters more. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re likely doing it wrong.
I count my wife in this priority. It helps me prioritize time with her. I don’t do nearly as good a job as I’d like to. But, I work hard on it as it is the single hardest challenge I’ve faced in school.
A 515am-915pm routine on weekdays really helps. As my wife leaves for work in the morning, I generally sync with her. So, this means up by 515am, morning routine and freshen up till 7am. I count 7am-530pm as my work day and plan study, activities and meetings between these slots. I’m generally back by 6, we either head to the gym or go for a run around 615 and then have dinner together. I try not to touch work or email after 7pm. I don’t do nearly as well I’d like to. But, we do sleep by 930 or so. This means social nights are rare. But, you’ve got to make trade-offs and I’ve generally prioritized time with my wife.
Own your calendar. I generally schedule all my group meeting and catch up invites. This helps me allow for blocks of time to do work and also ensures I don’t take any meetings after 6pm. I’ve only had to make exceptions about 4 times in the year – that’s not bad at all.
Chill on Saturday afternoons and evenings and plan social stuff on Fridays. I try hard to switch off on Saturdays as Sunday is typically a full work day since assignments tend to be due on Monday. It doesn’t always happen but I try very hard to keep Saturdays free to just hang out at home with my wife. So, that means I try and plan social stuff on Fridays so we both can participate.
Sleep 8 hours, meditate, eat healthy and exercise. Being disciplined about the rest of my life has meant I haven’t really had to compromise on this. There have been times when I’ve slept lesser than I’d have liked. But, all in all, I’ve tried and kept a normal routine including, of course, blogging every morning. :-)
Optimize for energy. There were, of course, many crap days when I felt really low on energy. On these days, I generally aimed to sleep as early as possible and do less. My productivity is generally 2x on good energy days. And, I generally optimized for this.

So, what does this all mean in terms of time spent? I thought I’d show what all of these notes looked like in action. I’ve written about this a few times – but, aside from just recording meetings, I generally record productive time on my calendar. If I’ve spent 90 mins studying but felt like I did 60 mins of  productive work, I generally store that on my calendar. At the end of the week, I add up the time spent on each priority and look at how I spent my week. It is always very illuminating. Over time, I added more nuance – e.g. tracking group time vs. solo study time, etc. As I could go on about this topic for hours, I thought I’ll share 2 graphs and what they mean.

First year process These 2 graphs show how I spent time in the year. I don’t track time spent with framily or with wife/myself. This is strictly for the “work” part of my life. It is an approach that’s added incredible value considering the time investment (roughly 30 mins per week). I’ve continued to do this in my internship and it is among the better things I do. A few notes –
– Both graphs have the same data – the top graph is a 100% graph while the bottom is in absolute hours.
– F1 = 1st week in the Fall quarter. W = Winter, S = Spring
– As you can see, my internship search ended week 6 of the Winter quarter and nearly all of that time got replaced by extra-curriculars (and a little bit more social – but not much more)
– I generally get about 35 “productive” hours in a week. This number assumes meetings are productive. I try to make sure they are. But, of course, this is chainsaw art and not fine – it is granular enough to work for my purposes.
– My academic numbers don’t include 12 hours spent in classes. I take that as a base-case. So, that’s roughly 47 of the roughly 65 hours I spend working (11 hours)
– As you can see, my academic hours spike around weeks 9 and 10. I spent a lot more time studying in the Fall. I took 3 courses (1 less than the usual 4 course load) in the Winter – even so, I didn’t study all that much in the Winter.
– I have some more nuanced stats but won’t spend any more time on this. I geek out on this stuff and I recognize that it isn’t for everyone.
– I have written a lot about prioritization in school. And, hopefully, this brings those ideas to life.

Finally, since this post is all about my personal advice, I’d like to finish with 3 ideas I’ve found useful –

1. Spend energy and time on things you value or consider important. The first step here is to determine which of these priorities matter to you. Academics, for example, clearly matters to me. It doesn’t for many. But, understanding what matters to you is the first step to allocating your energy and time – your most valuable resources. Everyone who goes to a decent program will tell you that it often gets overwhelming. I think of it as preparation for life as a business leader. If you just walk out of school learning to prioritize things that matter, that’s a great lesson to learn.

2. You can’t win them all. Business school can often feel like high school. You can easily spend hours worrying about your popularity, social standing and/or what you are missing out on (a.k.a FOMO or fear of missing out). The first step here is to acknowledge that school is the same as life – you aren’t going to get on with everyone and not everyone’s going to like you. That’s okay. Just be yourself. Everyone else is taken.

3. No one owes you anything. It is tempting to walk in thinking that the school owes you a great experience for the fees you paid, that your group mates owe you for your selfless dedication and so on. I think a better way to approach this is to just remind yourself that nobody owes you anything. You’re in a great environment that you can mould to suit your needs and style. That, in itself, is a great opportunity. Like all good things, your experience is what you make of it. Make it meaningful, make it count.

I’m sure this post a few typos and errors. I’ll get to fixing them as I read it again (have to run now!) /hear from you over the next few days. I might add a few notes as well over the next few days.

I know it is long. As always, I hope it is worth it.

Warmth and Competence – MBA Learnings

Source: HBR

We discussed the tension between “Warmth and Competence” in the first week of classes at school. The HBR article that this chart is taken from has an apt title – “Connect, then Lead.” The thesis is – start with warmth and prioritize demonstrating warmth over competence. High warmth and high competence inspires admiration while low warmth and high competence inspires envy and other negative emotions.

Academics have since applied this concept in various ways to apply these findings to how various cultural/demographic/occupational groups are perceived in various parts of the world. As usual, I’m going to gloss over all that and focus on the implications for you and me.

I’ve been retrospectively examining myself on how I’ve been doing on warmth vs. competence. And, I’ve found that I’ve failed a lot more than I’ve succeeded. As you’ve probably realized, the point here is not “admiration” – being warm is just the right thing to do in most cases. However, I’ve realized I fail at this simply because behaving this way isn’t just a matter of wanting to (the fakers might disagree but there’s always a fake-your-way-to solution to most problems in the short run). In the long run, I believe getting to warmth is a journey that accurately represents our progress in our journey to true self confidence.

My thesis, and I gave this away in the previous line, is that it takes true self confidence to begin with warmth. Observing myself, I see a clear trend – I become myself as time passes by in an interaction. However, in the early stages (e.g. the first 10 minutes), I subconsciously choose to lead with competence. That’s definitely because leading with competence placates my insecurities and makes me feel at easy. As momentum builds and a sense of ease builds up, I get over those insecurities and move into confidence zone. Sometimes, it only takes a minute to make this switch. Other times, it takes up to ten. But, the pattern is there to see.

The only good piece of progress I can report is that I am becoming increasingly aware of it. And, as I become aware of it, I find that it becomes easier to get to that state of ease.