Stepping out of B-school into the real world is like learning golf from manuals, or like teaching yourself cricket online. You have all the required theoretical inputs; a clear understanding of the rule book, the jargon and concepts; a dash of history to boot; and anecdotes and trivia as fillers.As this package comes in contact with reality, it goes through a range of emotions, starting with denial, wrath, angst, confusion, wonder, and finally settles into pragmatism, with bouts of nostalgia and a few clear learnings that are far removed from what the rule books preached.
The moral of the story: the real world teaches you some home truths that academia does not touch upon. In our journey down the road of experience, some of them get etched as gospels. If I were to pick a few of them, and share them here, they would be:
All the case studies, presentations, analysis and concept notes do not prepare you for the first reality of life. The world does not give you the opportunity to expound on theories over a 40-page Word document, or a 120-slide PowerPoint presentation.
In most real life situations, you get a tiny window in which you need to make your point, in as impactful a manner as possible. The more august the audience, the shorter the time.
From 10-second one-line summaries, to elevator pitches, to one paragraph e-mail, you need to cultivate the habit of being concise. There are no second opportunities in a real-time scenario.
Keeping that in mind, all your thinking needs to be crystallised and constantly carried around, to capitalise on the opportunity.
The clearer the thinking, the easier it is to say it succinctly. I would like to see the day when we put tight leashes around time, space and resources, and start recognising and appreciating brevity as a virtue in academics, instead of letting duration, length or aesthetics drive judgement.
2. People skills:
Real life is about real people. It involves dealing with diverse personalities, cultural backgrounds and competencies that you do not normally encounter in B-school. The challenge is, thus, compounded and you often see stars of academia unable to deal with this core reality.
Working with, dealing with, and successfully arriving at mutually beneficial and satisfactory decisions on a day-to-day basis is what the real world teaches you — sometimes harshly.
Understanding, communication and appreciating someone else’s point of view is difficult. It is seldom as the books expound, a clear rational process aided by the theories of people management.
In B-school, all that you learn is from books, periodicals, case studies, which do not prepare you for the biggest differentiator in the real world: the ability to execute.
Perhaps the most understated competency needed, it hits you between the eyes the first time you try to execute a plan, a project or a campaign.
The various parameters you deal with and the fickle nature of the elements are not issues you think about in B-school.
The need to plan with buffers, with alternatives, and the need to keep an eye on the ball at all stages of execution, cannot be overemphasised.
Unfortunately, in our desire to move ourselves up the knowledge curve, there is a propensity to take this skill for granted, and most management programmes don’t expose you to this harsh reality.
4. Dealing with failure:
Learning to live with failure is another of those often not realised truths. In the real world, we are constantly dealing with the fact that not all decisions, activities, interactions, strategies, or communication translate into success.
My favourite saying is that learning comes from experience and good learning from bad experience. But no B-school teaches you to take failure in your stride.
More often than not, there is enough time to mull over a failure or even lick your wounds. Facing it with grace and bracing yourself for the next set of decisions or actions is what the real world is all about.
We will still deal with the same environment where we failed; at times, lead the same team that could not pull it off, have the same limited facts and figures and information; and more importantly, yet have the same objectives to achieve. It can be a humbling experience, which no education with books or classrooms can simulate.
Dealing with failures is paramount. Otherwise, a propensity to shy away from decision and action for fear of failure can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This is probably the most common, yet the most demanding task. Unlike academics, more often than not, executives have to deal with the very real implications of their ability or inability to multi-task.
Financial, organisational and people implications are the riders we contend with. On a day-to-day basis, the ability to multi-task, yet prioritise and drop a few tasks and live with the implications is something no classroom can teach in its entirety.
To quickly estimate the impact, segregate the critical, handle them with speed and calm, constantly scan the environment for changes, and build them into your thoughts and actions as you go through the day, is an experiential learning.
Add to this the fact that often, the information available is scant or incomplete, there are always a few angles no one knew about, the unpredictability of people we are dealing with — and your hands are more than full. In hindsight, vision is often 20-20, but reality is not.
B-schools do give you an understanding of the tools, aids and theories with which you need to arm yourselves, but where they fall short is in correctly teaching the application and the virtues of experiential learning.
- Raj Raman (senior vice president, sales and marketing, Prudential ICICI AMC Ltd. He
graduated from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. )