The Smurfit Setup
The week started out a bit crazy. From the outset I was in catch-up mode. I flew into the country on Sunday and managed to check into my hotel by 11am. From there it was a crazy bit of running around to find a Vodafone store that was open. Having a data connection and a working telephone number were pretty important to hitting the ground running. I ended up walking about 2km to a local open air mall only to find out that the Vodafone store was closed the entire day at that location.
I wandered there to find a place with free Wi-Fi. First attempt was Starbucks, but they required login with a mobile number. Second place ended up being a winner-winner-chicken-dinner; McDonalds1. From there I grab a taxi ride for €10 to the Blackrock Marks & Spencer complex, very near where my lodging will be. Luckily, this location opens at noon. So, big checkbox done and I have a mobile number with data.
After I finish with the phone setup, I walk it back to the hotel. There’s a few wrong turns in the expensive, our-houses-are-estates-and-have-names section of town the school is located in. Nothing too bad, but wandering lead to the interesting observation that 5-series BMWs and upper end Audis are the norm.
Getting back to the hotel, I decide to hit the hotel bar for a couple of beer and lunch/dinner. It’s at this time I run into a couple of older gents at the bar and we start talking about things. The conversation is flowing and random and engaging. It’s pretty spectacular. One of us makes a comment and the three of us sitting in the general area get onto a “Hitchhicker’s Guide to the Galaxy” spin for a few minutes. When a random guy walks up and tries to join the old guys start pulling the piss that he doesn’t know how useful a towel is, the importance of 42, or how wicked intelligent dolphins are.
Anyway, from there things degenerated. The addition of alcohol put me to sleep from roughly 2:30pm until 6am the next morning. Which worked well, considering it was a 6 hour time difference from the East Coast. Not bad for 34 and not having slept in over 48 hours.
Crazy busy. One of my housemates was staying in the same hotel, so we grabbed breakfast. The guy seemed to think that time ran slowly instead of on-time at a business school. Being new to the country, I acquiesced and we were both nearly 10 minutes late for the Dean’s welcome comments. The rest of the Administration team was introduced over the 90 minutes that followed. After the first break, Brian McGrath lead a solid introduction to academic preparation on what to expect for standards in grading throughout the program. He also teaches the Competetive Strategy module2.
After lunch we had a “Productivity” session, which ended up being a fundamental session on how to delete emails and other pretty simple things. It seemed like it was targeted for the people not in the Full Time cohort, as we don’t really have to deal with work deadlines. Our job IS the classwork. And if you’re taking a full time MBA, you better have the building blocks of self-organization down cold.
It was easy to focus up until about 2.30pm.
This was when it turned into a sales pitch for the software she used. To be fair she did caveat everything she said with “You can do this a different way in other software”. At some point shoving everything into Evernote and not using built-in features for Google products becomes inane. Checking out mentally was about all I could manage at this point. The thought to just walk away from an obvious waste of time didn’t cross my mind.
I lasted only until 6.30pm. Oddly, I woke up at 2.00am and couldn’t get back to sleep until 5.00am, which only lasted for an hour.
I got in late again. Apparently business school isn’t on Irish time like the rest of the country. I adjusted the third day, but forgot something IMPORTANT in my haste3.
The introduction dealt with identifying our preferred learning styles and how to try to adjust to different methodologies. This was somewhat helpful, but they never addressed the issue of spatial/visual learning versus entirely text based.4
The rest of the morning covered library tools and usage. The presenter did well enough here, but he was more interested in the minutia of the situation than providing a framework or process. But he was really nice and well spoken. There was also a section before lunch covering a few of the MBA clubs.
This day started out poorly. I forgot the book for the Accounting/Finance course. I remembered about halfway to the school, but figured it couldn’t be that bad. I was completely, utterly, hopelessly… wrong. This was the worst day for me out of the entire week. I stumbled through one of the best lecturers I’ve had the privilege. The issue was everything from slides, to speech, and content was so dense. And it was all text. I would have paid cash money for a diagram of anything. Skimming the first section of the book earlier wasn’t a help since the terms and things were new information to me. Three weeks in and I’d still love to have had a week long course (8 hours a day for 5 days) giving me a functional foundation to understand accounting.
I literally ran the 15 minutes back to the hotel to grab it for the second half of the day. Took a taxi back. It was better after that, but not by much. Oddly, I felt like I understood more without the book. I felt the most frustrated after the lunch break and acquiring the book, at least until after the first break. The writing was as dense as reading Maslow’s ‘Toward a Psychology of Being’.
After the second break it was better. I got over the shame level of admitting I didn’t know. I talked with a few classmates and they were at least as lost as I was. And I wasn’t putting my head in the sand about it.
My jet lag started to abate this day. Things started out with a 90 minute session on Smurfit Report Writing. One of the best writing sessions I’ve attended. Oddly, this was presented by the same person from Accounting. I think my higher comfort level with technical writing made this an easier section to handle.
Following this there was a 1 hour session covering assignments and projects in the course. Another one hour session followed, where the previous class came in and gave us some survival tips. A month in and it seems like most people forgot what they’d said.
Lunchtime! For one hour.
The entire afternoon was assigned to team building. There was some singing (because people who show up late must sing) and discovery of our “animal types”. It’s a psychometric test that gives a person an animal totem, based on the experience they use as a baseline. The one we took gave owl, panther, peacock, and dolphins as options. Another offers all birds as animal totems. I ended up being nearly split on peacock, dolphin, and owl. Peacock won for me. It’s been interesting embracing that part over the last month, but definitely worth it.
Additionally, there was an outdoor team building event that was good craic.
This day at Smurfit was almost entirely outside. The first section we were broken into forced teams and given a spatial problem to solve. Strong communication and organizational skills were pretty essential to this obstacle.
The entire rest of the day was spent on a full class event. It started by being separated into our study groups for the semester for the first time. This lasted all of about 10 minutes and teams were dismantled a bit haphazardly in an attempt to maximize resources without knowing all of the variables. Some basics in large organization creation were jumped, like setting up team reps that work with a leadership team to coordinate and share goals and strategy. In the end we accomplished the goal. The hot wash5 after brought out the deficiencies in the way things were executed.
Most of the group ended up at the “Local” pub we’ve adopted as a class, The Dark Horse. Most of us didn’t stay out too late though.
The shocking thing a month in is that not many teams use hot washes to course correct after assignments. Especially considering it was the major take away from the week as we were walking into forced teams with people we barely knew and might not have worked with.
This has been a heck of a first month. Taking the time to do a full time MBA and get immersed in working in a group, examining myself, and getting feedback from people in a safe environment feels like a great decision. Getting out and away from government contracting and the rigid structure of the military came at a great time. It’s really helped me re-focus on some things I’ve forgotten over the last 5 years of contract work. This is something I’ve wanted to do for years, but didn’t feel I could because I got into the scared cycle of thinking I had to keep a “safe” job because it paid well.
Taking chances is fun.