Thursday, August 19, 2010

Doctoral Orientation is Go!

Just jumped out of the pool, which was a surreal experience.  I'm not used to having a swimming pool, unless you count some of the larger puddles that develop on a disturbingly regular basis in the back yard of every faithful Louisiana resident (in fact, some of us save time and just call them "ponds").  It's also surreal going swimming with an amazingly pregnant woman (unborn babies do not, in fact, float), and having the old guy with the stinky cigar reading Kenny Chesney news on the pool chair next to you.

However, the joys of submersion are not the topic for today's exciting installment: the beginning of the doctoral experience is.  This week is Orientation Week for the twenty or so of us who were picked from thousands to join the PhD program in Georgia Tech's business college.  It has been an excellent opportunity to learn more about the school, walk around in the sweltering heat, enjoy several free lunches, hear high-ranking government employees define "STOO-PID" to graduate students in great detail, meet interesting people from other countries (did you know that 'Jim' is a very popular name in Turkey, only it's spelled 'Cem' there?), and watch the health center lose your immunization records two or three times.  It has been... insightful.

It's also been an excellent opportunity to spend some time with (and sweat in line with) my two companions in the Organizational Behavior experience, who will no doubt become entertaining supporting characters on this blog.  First is Kerry, who I believe I've mentioned here before - the keeper of the excellent and personal  'PhD in 2015' blog I link to on the right.  She's a former Chick-Fil-A marketing manager who has shared many fascinating facts about the corporate organization which I'm not at liberty to discuss here.  She's a kind and insightful lady who shares my passion for thinking far too much about why organizations, teams, and leaders do the things they do.  She seems just a tad too anxious about her own talents and capacities given her obvious intellect and drive, but that's just part of her charm.  She's come through a lot of big challenges and negative situations in her life, and is definitely a very strong woman.  I will doubtless flirt with her shamelessly and harmlessly.

And then there's Elliott.  He's a kind young man with a penchant for red hoodies who likes to fly around on his bicycle with an alien in the bike basket.  And his little sister is hot.

One thing that really jumped out at me during the orientation is the fact that the Georgia Tech student body is 65% male.  A partial explanation for this is the College of Engineering's prevalence on campus.  Most students who attend Tech go for engineering, since it's a Top 5 school (unlike the piddly business school, which is only a Top 25 school).  As more men seem to be interested in engineering (why is that, I wonder?), the school is over-represented by testosterone.  Happily, from what I've seen of the College of Management, the male-female ratio is a bit more reasonable in our sector. I'm surrounded by beautiful women.

Another thing that jumped out at me was the differentiation the faculty tried to set out between a doctoral program and... and... and just about anything else.  Here's their point in a nutshell: if you're a high school, bachelor's, or masters student, your teachers tell you what to do.  If you're an employee in the workforce, your boss and company tell you what to do.  The big difference in a doctoral program is that nobody tells you what to do; you have to take initiative, schedule your own time, set your own goals, and push yourself to succeed over the forces of laziness and mediocrity.

I had to think about this for a while... it confused me a bit, to be honest.  I have been lucky enough to have had some success as an entrepreneur, but I've also spent many years as a corporate employee, and I found myself wondering just how often I've really been specifically told what to do.  Kerry commented on this to me, too... the argument that "this is where you have to set your own goals for a change" rings wrong somehow.  I do not necessarily believe that initiative and self-motivation are absent in the workplace... or in undergraduate study, for that matter.  I didn't write an undergraduate thesis because I had to, and neither did hundreds of others at LSU - we did it because we wanted to.  My boss Janice at my first job didn't tell me what to do: she gave me a general directive to do things to make the company better, and I did my best to do that.  Jill at Schwan's rarely gave me specific instructions: she said to go grow the business, and that's what I tried to do.  And I'm not trying to brag here: I'm just one of hundreds I know who have accomplished these things by pushing themselves.

Is self-motivation in organizations that rare?  Am I thinking too much about this?

That drive, that self-motivation, is certainly the key to some degree of success, and the basis of entrepreneurship.  I admit I have made the mistake several times in my management career of assuming everybody possesses the trait of initiative - sadly not true.  My leadership style has generally been to avoid specific instructions whenever possible.  I've preferred to let my teams and employees find their own solutions to problems, in the hopes that we'd all learn a bit along the way.  If the solution I had in mind was better than theirs, I'd be able to teach them; if theirs was better than mine, they'd be able to teach the entire team, including me. In hindsight, I'm not sure that's always the best way to lead... but it often is.  I was famous in Schwan's for saying, "As long as it's legal and ethical, I don't care how you do it."  But then, most of my leadership experience has been in marketing and sales management, where creativity is more useful and desired.

No, initiative is not limited to doctoral students and professors.  But it is limited to the successful.

The apartment is beautiful and the work is fascinating, but I miss my friends.  And I met a guy who doesn't like the Saints today.  I recommended he seek medical attention, and he just looked at me funny.


  1. Jim- I think you'd appreciate this.

  2. That was the awesomest comment ever.

    Thanks for sharing!