Case Studies and bedtime stories

The EMBABE Diaries

WIB conference side effects: how Snow Patrol songs are in fact feminist* anthems

Because I was feeling all creative today, but also mainly because – as my best friend, who is occasionally wise, recently said to me – “not everything has to make sense”, I decided to pick my favourite Women in Business speakers’ tips from my last post and pair them up with some of my favourite Snow Patrol songs (click on the titles for YouTube links or, better yet, buy the albums!). Given my legal background, allow me a disclaimer: the link between the songs and the tips may be tenuous at times. Ok, most of the time.

Do what fires you up, even if that’s something truly weird such as Chasing Cars: “Forget what we’re told / Before we get too old / Show me a garden that’s bursting into life” and go do what you love. Apparently, that works even, like many of us, you “don’t know where / Confused about how as well”.

If you can, choose a supportive partner: i.e., one who would say something fabulous like “More than anything I want to see you, girl / Take a glorious bite out of the whole world”, as per You could be happy. Yes, that’s a break-up song, but I told you not everything has to make sense, plus you have to agree that those are such great lyrics it almost doesn’t matter what the rest of the song is about. And of course, who am I kidding, you’re far more likely to go for the guy who tells you “The perfect words never crossed my mind / ‘Cause there was nothing in there but you” a la Signal Fire or “I could sit for hours / Finding new ways to be awed each minute” as in Crack the Shutters, regardless of his feminist* credentials. Not to worry, as you may remember from my first WIB post, all you need to do if stuck with an unsupportive spouse is to make sure you’re successful enough to put a support system in place yourself instead of relying on him. Easy-peasy, right? I know – not really, which brings us nicely to…

Be resilient: or, in the words of Snow Patrol’s This isn’t everything you are: “Don’t keel over now / Don’t keel over / Don’t keel over now / Don’t keel over […] This isn’t everything you are […] Just take the hand that’s offered / And hold on tight/ This isn’t everything you are / There’s joy not far from here, right / I know there is / This isn’t everything you are”. Yes, this one’s originally a break-up song too, but forget that for a second and it’s also perfect to remind you that you are a multi-faceted human being during those blurry days and nights with a newborn (very helpfully, there’s also a line which goes “you’ve been up all night, and the night before”), or during any other times when one part of your life just explodes on you.

Know what you want and ask for it, as they do in Life-ning. For example, “to share what I’ve been given”, “some simple kindness” or, er… “Ireland in the World Cup”?

Take risks: yup, that’s a complete no-brainer – Just say yes.

On that happy note, I really need to start studying for my financial statement analysis exam on Sunday (by the way – awesome elective, awesome – don’t let the fact that it’s about accounting fool you, it’s fascinating stuff). Happy studying!

Alex

* for those who have an issue with the f-word: (i) what a nice surprise to see you here! Welcome! and (ii) I subscribe to the view that anyone who believes women can think for themselves is a feminist; no man hating required. More about this either here, via Huffington Post and the McGill Feminist Collective, or here, via Caitlin Moran and the Harvard University Institute of Politics.

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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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Postcard from the trenches of real life

I have so much I want to write about and my brain is buzzing with ideas that I really need to get down to paper (maybe on that long flight to the India international assignment – oh, I have to tell you about that too sometime!). Unfortunately, this is just not the week to do that, what with a deal signing, a Macroeconomics take-home exam still untouched and both kids at home failing to grasp why Mummy locks herself in the study all day and then gets really cross when they manage to come in and want to join the conference call. So here’s my postcard to you:

    • a little follow up on my last post about the likeability gap: an HBR article about “unseen barriers” to women in the workplace (mersi, Raluca!). Their term of choice is “competence-likability trade-off”, which I guess is a bit clearer than likeability gap, but seems to designate the same concept. One of the authors, Herminia Ibarra,  is an Insead OB professor and author of this great book called Working Identity that I heartily recommend, as well as this little gem of an article about how parents should go to the office late and leave early. Of course, I totally love her. She’s on Twitter, too, just in case you were wondering.
    • …plus (and then I really need to go) I have been reading Brene Brown’s books and I think she’s really on to something! I have a ton of highlighted quotes I want to share (copyright law permitting, of course) but no time, so just watch this video until I get to it – I promise you it’s a good use of 20 minutes!
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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,

Alex

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