This week has been intense and honestly felt like a month. We have had many parties and pub nights, LONG lectures filled with all 340 of us; some terrible sessions and some astoundingly amazing ones including Sue … Sue Tonks and Simon Bucknell. Simon’s session on executive presence was by far my favorite and I gained a lot of lessons from his time with our class. The biggest lesson is that story-telling is a missed opportunity in business and that is one reason it is so successful.
When Simon told us this, it resonated with something a McKinsey partner told me at an event a couple of weeks ago in London. The partner said “Strategy is differentiation.” Think about that for a minute. Strategy is differentiation. Perfect strategy is doing something that your competitors in the space aren’t doing instead of merely copying their tactics. Strategy is about taking the opportunities that everyone else misses.
I firmly believe that this is a fundamental axiom of business, that being different from your competition gives you a strategic advantage and because of this I am starting to think about what differentiates us as a class from our competitors. What opportunities are in front of us that we could miss if we aren’t careful? As I spent the week thinking about our class in action each day and wondering what opportunities we have I realized our biggest one.
On Monday we were told that Derek Walker the director of our careers center is quitting. We will be without a careers director for some time and while there will be coverage from department leads, this is a potential set-back for many of us. For others it is a crisis. If DC has taught me anything useful it is to never waste a good crisis. I chose to see this “crisis” as an opportunity for us to define our class. We have a choice to either compete with our classmates for jobs or to support each other in getting the best job for us and for those in the class. I believe that just as storytelling is a missed opportunity in business, supporting each other’s ambition is a missed opportunity for MBA students. If we can support each other and put all competition aside we will end up a much strong class because of it, both now and long-term.
Let us not be like HBS, Wharton & LBS and draw our long-knives ready to cut down our competition for a limited number of SBS slots for key employers. This *may* help someone get the initial offer more than their classmates (no guarantee) but it does a disservice to them in the long-run. Instead Supportive Ambition, helping each other prepare for case interviews even if there is only 1 slot for SBS, is what can set us apart. Why? Not because I believe in some utopian existence, but because I believe it provides the most value, long term.
How? If you are short-term greedy and focus on getting yourself the top slot you might get it, but you miss an opportunity to build close relationships with your future peers in the industry. If you instead work with a group to prepare for the same role then the odds of you getting the role goes up (more applied practice) and there is always a possibility with these employers that they open up space beyond their target for each school.
Lets pretend for a moment that you help your classmates and don’t get the job. Would you rather that job go to someone you don’t know from LBS, someone you have have been competing against at SBS, or the buddy you spent 20 hours working on interview prep with? Which is best for the lifetime value of your network?
This strategy is also backed-up not just by hypothetical situations, but also by John Nash whom we should be discussing this year. His work on group dynamics and game theory prove that the best outcome for us is to do what is best for *both* ourselves and the class as a whole. If you don’t know who John Nash is or haven’t seen A Beautiful Mind then at least watch this short clip and realize that Supportive Ambition is an opportunity for all of us to finish this year in an astounding way. I hope that each of us continues the power of this first week and supports each other. I know that I am willing to talk with anyone looking at marketing roles as I craft my personal brand and story.