Tag Archives: Research Project

The one where it’s masters not bust

It was the 14th March 2011 and I was sat in a hotel room in Hong Kong panicked about finding people to interview for the research project of my Masters. At that point I said that by September 2011 I was either going to get a Masters or Bust and it was from there this blog started.

Now as Mr Burns (Robbie not C. Montgomery) famously said “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley” at so it was that by November 2011 I was entering the 3rd year of my 2 year course having failed an exam (by 3%) and my dissertation (by a mind boggling 1%). Having watched my friends and peers from my course celebrating their results I felt to put it mildly….glum. I wasn’t bust but I did have another year of study ahead.

Having passed a resit exam I have spent most of November on tenterhooks awaiting my dissertation result which would basically decided whether I entered year 4 (and some form of padded room) or finally got to declare a result. It was yesterday afternoon sat in a workshop with a group of civil engineers (who let me tell you aren’t that civil when they’re not happy about their break out topics) that I got an e-mail explaining in overlong detail that I had in fact passed my dissertation (by a whisker). I now get to add a few more letters to my name and if I was one of those people who put them on my business card I now could…but I don’t, so I won’t!

To describe it as a colossal anti-climax would be understating it and in reflecting over undergraduate results (jumping around, hugging and boozing) or my CIPD results (hugging and boozing) it didn’t have the same impact but I suppose it’s another tick in the box and life continues pretty much as it was.

I remember saying at the end of my CIPD that if I ever suggested studying again that someone needed to find a gun, take me out and shoot me…and this time I mean it – if I ever suggest studying again please form an orderly queue!

P.S. Anyone got an ideas on what I can rename the blog to? 😉

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The one where it’s about courage

I read a piece in the Washington Post yesterday which talked about outgoing US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates and a speech he made to the US Naval Academy graduation ceremony at Annapolis, Maryland. If you want to read a larger excerpt then it’s here but the part that really caught my attention was this:

“A further quality of leadership is courage: not just the physical courage of the seas, of the skies and of the trenches, but moral courage. The courage to chart a new course, the courage to do what is right and not just what is popular, the courage to stand alone, the courage to act, the courage as a military officer to “speak truth to power.”

In most academic curricula today, and in most business, government and military training programs, there is great emphasis on team-building, on working together, on building consensus, on group dynamics. You have learned a lot about that. But, for everyone who would become a leader, the time will inevitably come when you must stand alone. When alone you must say, “This is wrong” or “I disagree with all of you and, because I have the responsibility, this is what we will do.” Don’t kid yourself — that takes real courage”

When someone says the word courage to me I always think of what you could term “big match” courage, most typified by a military style courage, the stuff that wins Victoria Crosses or Military Medals – the taking of hills, the rescuing of comrades under fire but if you consider courage in other forms you could cite numerous examples: Rosa Parks keeping her seat, Nelson Mandela forgiving the prison guards, Rosalind Franklin defying gender segregation to make scientific history, and the list could go on [Read @ThinkingFox’s blog from this morning for more great examples]

However, the point that Gates so eloquently makes and that which is probably most relevant in an organisational context is being able to ‘speak truth to power’ in other words, how not to be a ‘yes man’. But (and there has to be a but) more pertinently in an organisational context, how to avoid being a yes person WITHOUT being on the receiving end of a P45 or sent to the proverbial “Russian Front”

Harvard Business Review ran a piece in 2007 entitled “Courage as a Skill” and in it Kathleen Reardon talks about how this form of moral courage isn’t actually what is effective in organisations. She goes on to define a concept called the “courage calculation” or more simply put the intelligent and planned taking of calculated risk. Her calculation involves considering goals, determining importance, understanding the power dynamics and influencing them in your favour, judging the risk vs. reward (or as my boss used to term it “is it a hill to die on?”), timing (not just the secret of comedy) and understanding your plan B (check canopy etc)

From personal experience, of taking risks and having read this article and discussed it with various groups I’ve worked with in recent years, it’s not an easy thing, even with all the prep in the world. All the thinking in the world won’t control your pulse, the cold sweat and the dryness of mouth you could well experience in having one of these conversations but the feeling afterwards? Amazing! Tall buildings? Single Bounds? CHECK

I am now further along the process of interviewing people from my Masters dissertation (you remember, the whole reason for setting this blog up) and what’s interesting in considering corporate entrepreneurs is how consistent risk taking seems to be as a trait (so far). What’s also interesting and maybe more defining is how often the risk isn’t this thought through calculated form of risk but actually more needs driven almost a personal imperative. It seems that for some of them the thought of not telling truth to power and getting their idea/plan/opinion/strategy out there is far scarier and more damaging than the outcomes that would cause most of us to back away…

Whichever form of courage you see (and you will see it in everyday life) or have the most respect for, there is a line from Robert Frost that always seems to run through my head when these situations arise either for me or around me in organisational life and it seems as good as place as any to close:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less travelled by,

and that has made all the difference”

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The one where its about reflection

When I was 6 years old I wanted to be a Builder… I wrongly understood my Dad to be one (he wasn’t)

When I was 11 years old I wanted to be a Journalist…I had seen “All the President’s Men”

When I was 14 years old I wanted to be an Accountant… then realised it involved lots of numbers and having attention to detail

When I was 16 years old I wanted to be a Doctor…then realised there were easier ways to get a Mercedes and I like my sleep too much (the white coat would have worked for me though)

When I was 23 years old I had a degree (in Biochemistry) but with no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up…

I’m now 36 and seem to have ended up doing something I love without much of an idea how I got here and the nagging fear that if I went back and told the 16 year old me how it would play out if he wouldn’t have run in the other direction!

Why share this?

As you will know if you’ve read some of the other posts, I am currently in the process of finishing a Masters degree and am completing a research project. It involves interviewing senior business people about their achievements as Corporate Entrepreneurs.

So far I have completed one interview, with a guy who used to work for one of the largest retailers in the world (you won’t have to think hard to work it out). It was a nerve racking but seriously enjoyable interview which ended up (probably against protocol) being more a conversation. This guy had done some fascinating things, in circumstances which were probably the antithesis of standard corporate operations for the specific and many other corporations. What was really surprising was his comment at the end, “it’s been really interesting taking the time to reflect and explore this stuff”

Since then I have spoken to several more of my “recruits” and there seems to be a theme emerging on how much people are looking forward to reflecting on their careers and not just over a beer. It seems many of them have charged through their careers with a great deal of momentum but not much direction and being able to have an agenda-less conversation with someone (who isn’t trying to lead them, manage them or recruit them) seems to really appeal.

Personal reflection is a whole other subject and I wouldn’t want to be seen as advocating a session of navel gazing but if there is a take home from this post then it’s don’t wait to be recruited for a Masters project to reflect on your career. You may be amazed at how enjoyable it is and you never know it could inform your future decisions…

Now where did I leave that white coat?

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So it’s get a Masters or bust…

In September 2009 I started a Masters degree at Birkbeck College, University of London. I am now on the home straight and with several big deadlines looming – especially the handing in of my research project on August 31st 2011.

I’ve seen various people using blogs to talk about things they are dealing with (job hunting, marathon running) and have decided to try and use this to deal with all the nonsense going on in my head with respect to my project. The details of the project will be discussed (try and remain calm) but wanted to start with a little context…

It was during a discussion of Exec Education (I work in L&D for a corporate) that my boss asked me if I had thought of doing any further study (I have a first degree in Life Sciences and did the CIPD diploma) and the idea appealed to me, for several reasons:

1. I was new in a role which was very exposed and I was feeling out of my depth in terms of the content – I felt I lacked subject matter expertise and knowing myself as I do, I know I am at my best operating from a position of confidence

2. Knowing that at some point I would want to climb the slippery ladder, that some academic validation would not go amiss

3. The fact that my boss was open to supporting it felt like a gesture of support and endorsement

4. I hadn’t REALLY thought it through…

Following several conversations with friends and colleagues (especially 1 supplier for whom I have a great deal of respect) I settled on Birkbeck because it was well respected, came well recommended and had a distance learning option (my work commitments make it difficult to do ‘2 nights a week’). On attending on the open day the words which I recall but should have really should have sought to understand more are “it’s a very academic course”. More of that later!

So here I sit 18 odd months later having passed (and only passed, no glory for me it seems) several essays, some exams and having attended 5 weekend workshops (slogs) with 1 essay, 2 exams and THE PROJECT left to finish – so from here until August 31st, it’s Masters or bust….

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