No, You Are Not Better Than Me. You Are Just Being a Twat – Day 218

Saturday 13:54, Shoreditch Grind, Old Street, London

I’m about to moan so consider yourself warned.

One of the things that used to irritate the hell out of me at university was other students’ notion of superiority. These students were everywhere. There was Julie and her arty friends from the Musical Society, who air kissed themselves like there was no tomorrow and who made it perfectly clear they were it and you were definitely not.  There was that annoying, spoilt third-year medic, her name escapes me (thank goodness), who boasted about her research project. I vividly remember the whole thing as if it were yesterday. ‘This is what a real research project looks like‘, she mocked us third-year science students as she disappeared down the corridor with what must have been a printed edition of the internet. And then, of course, there were those annoying students who claimed they never did any work whatsoever but somehow, miraculously, ended up with top marks.

Fast forward 20 years and you would have thought that this behaviour, utterly demoralising to us mere mortals who have to work out asses off to get top grades, would have died out. But no. It’s still lurking around, like some foul smell, poisoning our minds with supremacy, delusion and malice.

Like the other day. We had all submitted our essay on managing marketing. And as per usual a bunch of us moaned about how boring/underwhelming this module had been. When I asked to predict our scores, everyone low-balled it, claiming that they would either fail or get a very low mark, but lo and behold, top marks again all round. And to add insult into injury a fellow student claimed she only spent 30 minutes on her research proposal and scored 7/10. Yep, the same research proposal I spend days writing. Days!

What’s the point of all this? Why do otherwise intelligent people turn into complete knobheads when it comes to academic work? Is it an English thing? Or does this prevail in our entire civilised world? I just don’t get it.

As professionals the notion of appearing better than everyone else will get you nowhere and is a sure way of alienating yourself from your team and peers.

Nobody likes it. So stop being a twat.


… And For My Next Trick – Day 213

Monday 11:26, Old Bethnal Green Road

On Wednesday it will have been 5 weeks since I left my now ex-employer. It has been a roller coaster of a journey, lots of highs but also the occasional low. From a personal development point of view, this is what I’ve learnt so far:

Don’t look back... There really is no point dwelling on the past and asking myself why things came to an abrupt end. Over the years, the lyrics from Baz Luhrmann’s epic song Sunscreen have helped me understand the unusefullness of worrying. ‘Worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum’, the song goes and for me this is the crystal clear truth.

… but allow yourself to be pissed off. When the professional rug has been pulled under one’s feet, it’s bloody hard not to feel like you’re going to trip over. Subconsciously I’ve probably switched on over a dozen coping mechanisms and I feel that I need them in order to help me on a daily basis. But it’s also important to allow myself to be pissed off. I joked with a friend of mine that I should write a letter to my ex-employer, telling them exactly what I feel – and never send it. I have yet to do this. I blame yoga and being Swedish for my ineptitude of being able to express anger. A decade of yoga has probably given me too much mental stability, and being Swedish, well, we’re know to have the same facial expression whether we’re happy, sad or angry.

Be resourceful. I’ve always been very resourceful, both personally and professionally, and now it’s time to explore what’s in the box but also what’s outside the box (and what’s not even a box!). During my 14 years in STM publishing I’ve developed a large network of ex-colleagues and peers and everyone I’ve spoken to have been immensely supportive. Some have even gone completely out of their ways to help me find my next dream job. I’m a practical and analytical problem-solver by nature and resourcefullness during this time will be key.

The luxury of choice. One of the unexpected benefits of being made redundant has been that I’ve allowed myself to take a breather and really think about what I’m really good at, and what I enjoy doing professionally speaking. I’ve had the luxury to mind map my strengths and talents and to explore new professional fields that I would rarely have explored if I were still in my old job. At the moment, I’m pursuing three different (but related) fields, and I’m curious to see where I’ll end up.

Don’t panic! One of my coping mechanisms that I’m employing is to keep my cool and avoid panicking. One the day all of this happened, my world came crashing down and a myriad of personal, professional and emotional consequences played out before my eyes.   But by day two, I was back on the saddle again and calmly riding into the unknown. Some days it’s hard not to panic, or at least it’s hard not to be the normal, upbeat happy me. But it’s on those days that it’s particularly important not to panic.

Old habits die hard. Now, where does this all leave my MBA, you may be asking yourselves. Well, I initially thought that all this newly found time would enable me to go back to more normal study/sleep patterns. I mean, why wake up at 5.15am to study when I have nowhere to be at 9am? But much to my surprise, I’ve failed miserably. For some reason I can’t seem to force myself to study during the morning, or at lunch time or at any other time during the day. For the last 7 months, my main productive streak has been 5.30 – 7.15am, and having all the time in the world has proven a particularly unexpected disturbance. I’m contemplating going back to my pre-dawn ritual, as it was an effective and efficient habit, but this really seems completely ridiculous to me.

My next trick

Ending the War Between Sales and Marketing – Day 212

Sunday 09:25, Old Bethnal Green Road

I recently came across a fascinating article in Harvard Business Review on the divide that exists between sales and marketing. The article, Ending the War Between Sales and Marketing, examines a variety of industries and identifies where your organisation sits in the alignment spectrum between these two crucial roles, and of course provides recommendations on how an organisation can close the gulf. If you’re in a sales or marketing role or just curious on how well your sales and marketing teams co-exist, take the first test and see whether your sales and marketing teams are undefined, defined, aligned or integrated. I did it for my previous employer and got defined, so lots of work to do there.

The topic touches on several organisational aspects and resonates strongly with me and my reason for embarking on this MBA program, that is, to better understand organisations and improve them in any way I can. As I’ve been in a commercial role for the last five years, closing the divide between sales and marketing is something that lies very close to my heart.

Throughout my career I have seen both sales and marketing teams working in silo and not understanding or wanting to understand each other’s needs. I’ve seen sales managers exceed targets with hardly any lead generation input from marketing, and I’ve also seen marketing embark on strategy and plans with no revenue impact whatsoever. However, when the sales and marketing functions work well and share a common strategy, the results have the potential to make a huge impact in an organisation’s operations.

This summer I’m hoping to write a mini-research project on this topic, but it seems not everyone is aware of this divide. The other week my old team took me for my leaving drinks and I mentioned to one of the sales guys what I had proposed to do my research on.

‘What war!?’, he exclaimed.

It was an interesting comment and it comes to show that if you’re not even aware of a particular challenge, then you have a long way to go before you’ve overcome it.

Here’s a link to the article:

Sales and marketing war

The End Is Nigh – Day 140

Friday 18:58, Old Bethnal Green Road, London

No, we’re not about to witness a biblical apocalypse, with its revelation of Christ and the Throne of God, and those horsemen of death who will unleash an earthquake so terrible it turns the sun black and the moon like blood, pulling the stars out of the sky paving the way for the angels who bring an untimely death to us all.

Neither are we on the brink of the next cataclysmic event that with a single, devastating impact of a large rock, the size of a city and composed of iron and magnesium silicates, hurling through space at 17 km/s might one day destroy the planet we call home, annihilating most animal and plant life in one go.

We’re not at the very early stages of the next pandemic, a contagion spreading silently and slowly at first, then gaining strength as it feeds off people’s fear and ultimately becoming so virulent and devastating that it will wipe myself out together with the 7 billion other people on this planet through hemorrhagic fever and massive organ failure.

And I can’t say today’s solar eclipse is an ominous sign of imminent death and destruction caused by a coronal mass ejection which will turn the earth’s crust to goo and reverse the planet’s magnetic poles and cause all sorts of mayhem, all of which would lead to the extinction of life as we know it.

And no, we’re not about to be harvested, hung upside down and have our blood drained, skin peeled away and brains picked by horned, scaly extraterrestrials whose only aim is to advance their own über-species through galactic domination and extermination.

The end is nigh because I’m about to submit my essay Financial management this weekend, three days early.

Take that OU!


The end is nigh

The Perils of an Online Higher Education Program – Day 131

Wednesday 18:38, Old Bethnal Green Road, London

I’m now almost half way through year 1 of the Open University MBA program. As with everything now a days, it has flown passed. One blink, and it’s Friday already. Two blinks, it’s April. For me this could be seen as a good thing, as it means the end of year 3 will hit me before I even know it and I can go back to waking up after sunrise as opposed to two hours before it. And I’m not taking about British Summer Time.

Going back to university and in particular, doing this MBA, has so far been a mixed (but very good) experience. I think I’ve totally underestimated how much of a commitment it really is, and I’ve now realised that I’m much more of a slow learner than I’d like to admit. During my previous two degrees I was a full-time student which meant I could dedicate myself wholeheartedly to studying and learning. This time around it couldn’t have been more different. I constantly have an internal battle with myself about whether I should do something and if so when. Every hour is crucial, whether it’s work, study, writing or socialising. Indeed, I’m quickly becoming the master of time efficiency, albeit I have to admit I cherish the moments when I ‘treat myself’ and do something complete non-sensual like playing the new version of Candy Crush Soda. Pop those bottles!

As you all know, the OU MBA is a part-time online course. Not only is the subject matter completely alien to me (having studied developmental biology previously), but the part-time nature and the online element is as foreign as well. Whilst I can get my head around the part-time nature of the course, and I think I’m doing ok with the subject matter, I’m still struggling with the whole online thing.

Here’s why:

I know it’s kinda obvious but it’s incredibly lonely to do an online course. There are no teachers, no real, physical fellow students, there’s no cafe you can go to and hang out and connect and network with peers. In other words, there’s no physical human interaction. Instead there’s a virtual equivalent of almost everything: e-mail, webinars, online activities, you name it. At the OU we have it all.

Or do we?

There are around 350 students in my year. We’re scattered all over the world but the great majority are based here in the UK and in Europe. For practical reasons, we’ve been subdivided into groups of around 15-20 students and have been assigned a tutor and a tutor group forum (TGF). The tutor is a part-time associate lecturer who has a full-time job, meaning the ‘contact hours’ are greatly reduced to zero. It basically consists of a few emails every other week, and of course the marking and providing feedback on our assignments. The quality of the tutors varies greatly and I’m lucky that mine is pretty good.

The TGF is an online forum designed to facilitate interaction with our tutor but also with other students. Sadly, this has been my greatest disappointment so far. Our tutor encourages us to share insights and knowledge here but there’s only ever a few individuals who contribute. I’ve made active contributions from day 1 really, but I’ve now gotten to the stage that I’m tired of starting discussions and only get a few other people posting. Mostly I get ignored.

As there’s no requirement to engage with any of the teaching material apart from the essays, I can only assume that people are either not interested in participating or simply don’t have time. This is where the OU could improve. A friend of mine used to lament whilst we were both students at Oxford that the bar set by her tutor was very high. Here, students were given a topic to read up on and all of them were asked to prepare a presentation for next week’s tutorial. However only one student was selected to present and they were only told who at the tutorial itself. While this method is definitely hard core it ensured that students get the maximum of their education and it’s not surprising and a bit of an understatement to say that Oxford graduates are a successful bunch of people.

Anyway, back to the OU’s TGF.

What’s interesting is that as a result to the lack of engagement and interaction and also for just gauging the interest, a fellow student set up a closed Facebook group a few months ago. Not surprisingly it pretty quickly filled up with a selection of individuals who were keen on creating a network that.. well, worked. Coincidentally it was the same individuals who were actively participating in the TGF.

This group has proven to be a life saver. Everyone is open to discussion and we all support each other, both academically and morally. I’ve learnt lots by chatting with other students and feel that this group has indeed replaced the need for physical interaction and the OU’s non-functioning TGF. I may never meet the 50 odd individuals knowns as ‘For anyone studying B716 with the OUBS from November 2014’, but they sure are making a difference in my life.

Candy Crush Soda

The Point of No Return – Day minus 1

Friday, 07:46, Old Bethnal Green Road, London

Tomorrow I start my MBA at The Open University Business School. Unlike anything I’ve ever studied before, it’s a part-time, distance-learning qualification, and, depending on how well I cope with…

1. Getting up at 5:45am to study
2. Reading on my daily commute to and from work
3. Committing a significant chunk of my weekend to it,

…it will take around three years to complete. I’m given the option to take it even slower and complete it in 7 years, but I don’t see myself doing it in such a long time!

The main reasons I’ve chosen The OU MBA are as follows:

1. It seems to be a good course (but not in the top 10 UK programs
 I’ve found out)
2. It’s only £16k; unlike LBS that is £57k
3. It’s part-time and distance-learning – the only way I can practically embark on this
4. If I don’t finish all the modules, I still get a recognised post-graduate diploma or certificate

Although the course officially starts tomorrow, I’ve been preparing for it for about a month now, mainly to assess how I will be able to cope with everything when it all kicks off.

I don’t have an answer yet, by the way.