Case Studies and bedtime stories

The EMBABE Diaries

Power Vs Passion – a Tale of Two Books

Can’t believe it’s been more than a year already. We’re well into our electives and two more streams of EMBAs have started since we did. I’m right in the middle of six weeks away from school and let me tell you, it feels weird and I miss everyone! (Speaking of which, in case you didn’t know, one side effect of an EMBA, especially right after the end of core courses, is rampant sentimentalism, even from people you would never expect! It’s really quite sweet.)

As I said, we’re now in electives season, which brings me to the topic of the day – two books I read in parallel during a fairly awful week when Mishka and Masha* both caught this horrible cold that’s making the rounds in Romania and I ended up having to check into hospital with Mishka for a few days. Everyone doing brilliantly now, no worries.

The first book was required reading for our Paths to Power elective, taught by Gabe Adams, Assistant Professor of Organisation Behaviour (and yet another amazing Woman of LBS), whose research focuses on why people help or harm others (how cool is that?). The book is “Power – Why Some People Have It – And Others Don’t” and was written by Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, who has been teaching a course on power since 1979. This is a guy who knows a thing or two about power, and what he has to say is pretty sobering. In short: “politics often trumps performance”; if you want to succeed, you need to stop believing that the world is “a just and fair place and that everyone gets what he or she deserves” and get focused on achieving and maintaining power – and there are some scientifically proven ways to do that. This book made for some uncomfortable reading. I mean, it makes perfect sense, it’s very realistic and grown up, and I definitely recommend it (plus Gabe’s course is awesome so do get on it!), but…something was amiss.

The second book I read that week was “The Monk and the Riddle” by Randy Komisar, which I got from my super-cool EMBA friend Komal Joshi, founder of Planned Departure. (Check her stuff out – trust me, you need it!) The book is a bit of an entrepreneur / venture capitalist love story (favourite quote: “it’s the romance, not the finance, that makes business worth pursuing” – and yes, he meant metaphorically; oh, and spoiler alert – the zany entrepreneur does get financing at the end!) and it actually has a lot of interesting stuff about VC in it. “The Monk” is, however, not really about how to get financing for your start-up; it’s about what Komisar calls “creating a life while making a living”. It warns against living on the “Deferred Life Plan” – i.e. doing what you feel you have to do, no matter how little you enjoy it, on the assumption that once you’ve – fill in the blanks – got enough money, put the kids through college, paid the mortgage, retired, etc etc etc, you’ll finally be able to do what you want. The advice is not that we should all quit our jobs and follow our wild teenage dreams, or give up having goals; instead, we should make sure that whatever we’re doing is something we feel enough passion for that we could imagine ourselves doing it for the rest of our lives – the old “the journey is as important as the destination”, I guess. And, as I read it, I think yeah, I’m all for that, and it definitely sounds better than “your task is to know how to prevail in the political battles you will face”.

So as I’m sitting in the hospital room reading a few pages from one book and then a few from the other (I am an admittedly disorganised reader), I look at my four-year-old, who by this time has discovered the remote control for his bed and is having the time of his life, and I do my usual “does all this business school stuff relate to raising children in some way?” And I guess one reason why “Power” was so difficult for me to accept is that it ties in with this discussion I keep having with other parents: are we meant to raise our children so they can get by and get in front in an unfair, “survival of the fittest” world? Or are we meant to raise them so the world becomes a little less unfair?  And then I realise that framing this as an exclusive choice is as counterproductive as trying to choose between these two books I’m reading; just like “The Monk” says that it’s “not about how, but about why“, “Power” is only about how. They go together: getting your why straight will help you use the how responsibly, plus achieving the why can get pretty difficult if you’re clueless about the how. So, while I can definitely hope that the world my children live in will be fairer and more just, and encourage them to find their passion and make the world better, I guess I’ll have to also make sure that they’ve got all this “power stuff” in their arsenal so they can face the real world as they follow their passion. Time to get Masha to work on her warmth / competence balance, I guess… (you’ll have to read the book to get that, it’s actually fascinating stuff!).

* as some of you may know, I refer to my children in this blog using the names of their (currently) favourite cartoons. These days, we love love love Masha and The Bear, a fabulous Russian series we watch on YouTube. Don’t worry if you don’t speak Russian – neither do we and we’re still hooked!

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My return on investment

Me at a conference...I wish!

Me at a conference…I wish!

So I went to this conference yesterday. As some of you (and definitely my study group) already know, I am terrified of conferences. I love the bit about sitting there and listening to (hopefully) interesting people speak, but as I have been told countless times by well-meaning others, that’s not the point of conferences – networking is. Conference networking – the dreaded combo. Even writing about it raises my pulse (no, seriously!). I usually dread it even more because, as a lawyer, I am by definition fairly low on most people’s list of “who I would like to talk to” at conferences: usually right below the person serving the finger food.

In short, I feel about networking at conferences the way most people seem to feel about public speaking – “No no no, please, not me. Make the other guy do it.” Except, it turns out, I kind of have to do it. A lot. So as tempted as I was yesterday to bury my nose in my macroeconomics book over the various breaks, I pushed myself to go out there and talk to people I didn’t know. My first attempt was not encouraging: the two people I joined greeted me warmly in Romanian, then proceeded to continue their conversation in Hungarian (no, I don’t speak it, thanks for asking). They then left the table without even saying goodbye. Sad as it is, I must admit I was secretly relieved. Over the next two breaks, however, I met quite a few people who would actually talk to me.

Nobody seemed terribly excited about the fact that I was a lawyer, but everyone was very curious about my EMBA. And the one question everyone had was, of course, “But is it worth the investment”? Which to me, especially when it comes to an EMBA, is similar to somebody asking you if it’s worth having kids. The price is fairly obvious and easy to measure: increased costs from tuition fees and travel, time away from your friends and family plus lack of sleep in one case; increased costs from diapers, clothes, child care, education, toys etc etc etc, time away from your friends and, at least initially, any semblance of a social life plus lack of sleep in the other case.

Do I know for sure that the EMBA will result in an increase in income, as compared to the “base case” (no EMBA) sufficient to offset the investment? Not really, not least because I can’t determine the base case without setting up two different universes, one in which I go to LBS and one in which I don’t (guess what, I learned that in my macroeconomics class last week – it was in the context of GDP growth, but the same principles apply). Do I know for sure that I will be happier with kids than I would have been without? Not really – in fact, according to Harvard happiness guru Daniel Gilbert, the happiest people are those with “approximately zero offspring”.

Why then, am I sure that I made the right decision about both kids and the EMBA? That’s not quite as easy to explain to people who are keen to weigh the pros and cons objectively. The way my daughter purses her lips when she tries to pronounce her brother’s name. The whole new understanding of the world that I already have, barely four months into the EMBA, and how the various courses I take complement each other and make me feel like my brain is expanding every second. Watching my son sleep. Being surrounded by incredibly accomplished people who inspire me to be better and at the same time make me feel like they’re all rooting for me to succeed. Her arms around my neck when I get home. Feeling energised after a weekend at school, even when it ends with an 8 am flight out of Luton. My son asking if it’s always summer on Tuesdays. Experimenting, safely for once, with different ways to work and lead. Knowing that it’s impossible to love someone more. These are the things that make it all worth it for me. That and, of course, that both the EMBA and kids give you something to talk about with random people at conferences.



Life after exams

…and we’re back! We’ve had our first batch of exams, so now I actually have some tried and tested study tips to share. The results aren’t out though, so don’t take these too literally, they’ve been tested but not yet graded!

  • DO study during term time and not just before exams. Some stuff – such as accounting, for example, can’t really be crammed into your brain over two days. (I’m just going to hide in a corner until you’re done throwing tomatoes at me and yelling “Do you honestly think I have the time?!?!?!”. Are you done? Phew… Ouch! That hurt! Ok, no more throwing tomatoes, please.) 
  • DO believe people who have done this before when they tell you that an exam is very difficult. They are usually right.
  • And on that note, DO ask around for feedback from those who have been through the same exams. They will be more than happy to regale you with horror stories that are actually helpful.
  • Once you have some information, DO adapt your studying style to the style of each exam.
  • Totally, totally DO a late-night study session (aka “let’s have some pizzas and laugh ourselves silly pretending to study”) with a few colleagues just before your last exam. You won’t learn much, but what you do learn, however useless, will be forever etched in your memory (147.8, anyone?), plus it will be the best fun you’ve ever had studying.
  • If you are allowed a cheat sheet, DO take it seriously. (Learn how to print multiple pages per sheet and double sided.) If you can, write your own cheat sheet because (i) writing up a cheat sheet is a great way to learn and (ii) it’s a lot easier to understand stuff that you’ve written. But if you don’t have the time to write it up yourself, just borrow (with permission!) the best cheat sheet you can find and make sure to read it once before you go into the exam.
  • All of that being said, DO NOT freak out – it will never help and it will probably harm your chances of getting something intelligent down on paper. With a little luck, you’ll be on the other side of the rainbow in no time – until then, here’s my rainbow, in London on the afternoon after my last exam.

    Portman Square rainbow

    Portman Square rainbow

That’s all from me, but I’d love to hear your study tips!

See you soon,


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Return of the clouds

Am finally studying for my first exams next week (fingers crossed, everyone!) so no time to write but thought I’d share my latest clouds with you. Promise to catch up on the writing in May!

We’re all under the same sky,


Snow on the Carpathians, April 2013

Snow on the Carpathians, April 2013

The perfect break - sunny skies in Vienna, mit Aperolspritzer.
The perfect break – sunny skies in Vienna, mit Aperolspritzer.

Oh, Vienna...

Oh, Vienna…

Who knew a view from the highway could be so pretty?

Who knew a view from the highway could be so pretty?

Study sky - the view from my window today as I prepare to wrestle with market power

Study sky – the view from my window today as I prepare to wrestle with market power

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A Cloudy Nap

I really truly should be revising right now – and I really truly will do that just as soon as I finish writing this, but I wanted to let you know that I have added a couple of new things: my very own cloud atlas (I’m a cloud watcher; it’s sad, I know) and an updated Mum’s the Word in the EMBABE’s Survival Kit.

Walk on clouds,


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Economics gets steamy…and we welcome our April EMBABE of the Month

On your marks...get set...start accounting sample exam!

On your marks…get set…start accounting sample exam!

We are approaching exam season and let me tell you, things are getting busy. For most of us, it’s been a while since we last crammed for exams (save for the GMAT, which is now a foggy memory), so please keep you fingers crossed everyone!

In between trying to befriend statistics and probability (old GMAT foes that I had hoped never to see again but which have sadly turned out to be central to an entire core course) and learning about revenue recognition in long-term contracts, I have finally managed to read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. My opinion? Ignore the media-fuelled “controversy”; this book is balanced, intelligent and sensible. It’s also GREAT and I loved it. I will follow up soon with more about it, so watch this space – or, better yet, read the book and let me know what you thought. Or, if you’re cramming too, watch the video.

One thing that made my week much brighter was exchanging emails with another amazing woman – EMBABE of the month Heather Baker, the founder and managing director of digital marketing agency TopLine Communications. In need of some inspiration? Turn to the EMBABE of the month section to read about Heather’s EMBA experience – and learn about the importance of opportunity cost!

Last but not least, I recently read a wonderful blog post by Chris Leo, an EMBA-Global student at LBS, about the importance of keeping integrity central to not only our EMBA experience, but our entire professional life. Read it here.

So where does economics get steamy, you ask? Right here, in the new update to the Feel the Love section.

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Sunk costs and updates to the website

Ok, so what’s the deal with sunk costs? And first of all, what are they? According to our faithful friend Wikipedia, sunk costs are “costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered”. Pretty depressing so far, but wait: the great thing about sunk costs is that, because there’s nothing you can do about them, you should just ignore them in your decision-making. What does that have to do with happiness, you ask? Everything, if you are an (ever so slightly) guilt-ridden mother of two who is commuting to London for three days every two weeks. Ever since I first came across sunk costs in session two of ME (Managerial Economics, but we MBA types lurrve our acronyms), it hit me how relevant this concept is to my life. I have agreed to not see my children for six days a month for the next year and a half. It’s done, that time away from my kids its a sunk cost – I’ve incurred it and I can’t recover it. Which means I should just ignore it, let go of this stupid, useless guilt and make the best of every second I spend in London. And that, my friends, is very much what I intend to do. Long live sunk costs!

Before I forget – I’ve updated most of the EMBABE’s Survival Kit, so please have a look at the new tips and let me know how you like them!

And…[drums]…we have our first EMBABE of the Month, Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau! Read her answers to the EMBABE questionnaire and get inspired.

As always, I welcome your comments, suggestions and contributions. Happy spring everyone!

Source: via Alexandra on Pinterest


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