Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Never Stop Learning

As I was skimming the Wall Street Journal, I noticed an article that had not caught my attention last week.  The article talked about not letting your education end at graduation.  This is a familiar them to me as I had mentioned to numerous groups of students in the orientation process that this is a key to a dynamic and exciting career in which many new doors will open as the career proceeds.

I can speak from experience on this one with several cases that point directly to the value of continuing to learn after I exited from formal education and how that has benefited me.  

First, in my health economics training we had minimal exposure to the concepts of cost-benefit and even less exposure to the concepts of cost-effectiveness analysis.  Yet, cost-effectiveness research became a key part of what I was known for as I proceeded through my career as I took the time to learn the methods and the nuances and then shared that with others.

Second, while my training was in research and not in teaching, as my career continued on, I learned more and more about best practices for teaching.  That helped me to make the case for my expertise in this area and that opened up new opportunities when I was promoted to full professor.

Third, I had not taken a course in management and organizations since I was an undergraduate.  But was time went on, it became ever more clear that I was interested in having a larger administrative role.  I spent a year in a leadership development class.  Even after I was given a much larger administrative role, I have continued to take the time to learn more about managing and administration.  There is as much to study in this area as there is in any other field of study.

Fourth, since moving from the Bloomberg School of Public Health to the Carey Business School within Johns Hopkins University, I have had the opportunity to continue to learn about business.  How it is conducted.  How things are negotiated.  How to maintain the delicate balance that needs to be maintained between collaboration with peers, answering to research funders, leading those on the organizational chart, and answering up.  How to lead committees from a position of authority rather than only from a peer position.  

Fifth, I have continued to learn about myself.  Just this morning, I was discussing with a colleague I had not seen in ages the concept of whether Myers-Briggs category is a state or trait.  We both think it is more state than trait and that it evolves over time.  Assessing how what I learn about myself informs and is informed by what I am learning and need to learn in other situations is key.

All of this is to say that what one of the faculty at Michigan told me on my last day there is true.  The PhD education was complete but my education was not.  If the dissertation work was the best I ever did there would be a serious problem.  The remainder of my career is a time in which I continue to learn and continue to improve.

The same goes for our MBA and MS students.  By the third time I delivered my welcoming comments, I had them honed to talk about the education being like a puzzle that students put together and our approach at Carey making the finished puzzle look different for our students than for other business school students.  The key that I will add next year is that the rest of life is like finding out that there is an even larger superstructure into which the first puzzle fits.  Sort of like the first puzzle was just designed to fill the donut hole and the rest of life is the donut around it.Continuing to learn gives me options for what I want the donut to look like.  Stopping learning leaves the the donut either incomplete or with a much more limited set of outcomes.  It is forced to be glazed when I really wanted chocolate with sprinkles.  I can have the chocolate with sprinkles--or at least do my best to attain the chocolate with sprinkles--if I continue to work and learn and produce and improve.  

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sister School Efficiency

After 5 weeks of orientation-related activities and the first week of class at the business school where I work, today was the day on which I helped move my oldest son into the dormitories at the conservatory at the same university.  I had been involved in moving him into a dormitory space once before--for the Philadelphia International Music Festival in the summer of 2013.  I don't recall the details of that registration experience.  It seemed a little slow and chaotic, but at the time, I had just moved to become a member of the Dean's office at the business school--whereas now I have been at the business school for nearly one and one-half years.

What I saw was an inefficiency.  My son was asked at each of three adjacent tables for his name or his last name.  He was almost the only one there at the time and it seemed like the student helping at the next table would have heard what the student at the last table asked.  Regardless of whether the next student had heard, I thought it was silly to ask the same question three times and have my son answer it three times.  He took it in good spirit, and there were only a relatively small number of new students at the conservatory, so this was by no means the rate limiting step in the process of getting my son moved in this morning.

However, at the third table, I said, "You should give out name tags next time."  The student behind the desk agreed and said that was a good idea.

I'm honestly not sure I would have thought of that a year ago.  But today, after going through two years of orientation activities in the past 18 months, five intense weeks of orientation activities this summer, and more than a year on the leadership team and faculty at a business school, I have figured out ways to make processes more efficient.  And it is how I think in general at this point.  

But it also reflects how different leaders and organizers look at things.  My goal as an organizer and leader at a business school is to make the students' experience the most positive experience possible.  And, importatnly, to make my staff members' lives the best they can be.  Giving each student a stick on tag at the start of the check-in process would remove all need to ask the question, "What is your name?"

Now, you could say that having the opportunity to do a simple question and answer with a student helping with check-in is not a bad thing but starts conversation.  But it would seem far easier to me to have the sticker, greet the new student by name and ask how he or she is doing, and move on from there.

Maybe addressing the person by name is something that I focus on even more than I would have in the past based on my learning of the Mandarin names for graduation and new students.  Or maybe that was just my nature anyway.  

But the key is how to conduct business to make students (the customers) and staff as happy as possible.  What a difference a name tag might make.  Sometimes it is the simplest, little things that we do in business that make a difference in others' experiences.   

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What is Difficult to Include in Cost-Benefit Analysis?

A couple weeks back, I discussed what size and type of investment might be appropriate in response to the current Ebola outbreak.  I also discussed how the answer might vary between the United States and other locations around the world.  And I tried to place the discussion in the context of just how big a problem Ebola is (or is not) in comparison with other public health problems.  

There are two interesting thoughts that follow this coming out of a recent Wall Street Journal piece. The first, is that it is somewhat ironic that in a part of the world that is home to the natural resource that produces rubber, a number of health care providers have had incident cases of Ebola for a lack of rubber gloves.  This is a public health problem.  But it is also a problem that demonstrates just how important the many inter-linkages between different parts of an economic system are.  And how having the natural resources doesn't guarantee that without a production facility, a supply chain, or an export (and re-import) opportunity anything will be done with the resource to help to solve the public health problem.  For this, a cost-benefit analysis could be conducted, analyzing the cost of improving the system of moving the natural resource into production, the implications of any threats to the permanent viability of the natural resource (anyone who has ever read The Lorax knows what can happen with overuse of a resource), and the benefit of reducing the Ebola transmission.  There are markets.  We can infer values.  We can conduct the analysis.

But even this analysis would not capture the other aspect that was brought out in the WSJ piece.  What is that?  The article talks about health care workers going on strike to demand improved protection, higher "risk-based" pay, and life insurance.  Then the article states
"In the meantime, because doctors aren't at work, other diseases besides Ebola are going untreated. As a result, those ailments—chiefly typhoid and dysentery—may be killing more West Africans than Ebola, according to the United Nations Children's Fund."
This, is something that most cost-benefit analyses do not include and would honestly have a difficult time predicting.  This, is where the cost of an uncontrolled Ebola outbreak really begins to grow--and potentially exponentially.  

To some degree it is the difference between a partial equilibrium analysis (looking just at Ebola treatment) and a general equilibrium analysis (asking how treating Ebola will impact the rest of the health care system and ultimately the rest of the economy).  

What it demonstrates is how hard it can be to make a complete analysis using the tools we have when there are unpredictable outcomes.  And how policy makers and business leaders must still make decisions with the best information available.  And reassess the information and update the decisions frequently.

This is one case in which the economic argument for incremental spending to control the disease is much clearer in light of the information about the breakdown of usual work and social roles.  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Planning My Day Around My Meyer-Briggs Type

The last time I officially took the Myers-Briggs test, I was INFP.  I had a career coach through my place of employment one time who was so interested in the Myers-Briggs hat she had a little "sculpture" with her type in four wooden blocks.  She was an E--not surprising given the stereotype of an extrovert as being "outgoing".  

One thing that I recall from taking the Meyrs-Briggs and learning about some of the nuances is that the whole introvert-extrovert question is not just about whether you are outgoing or a wallflower but where you "go to get your recharge."  In other words, after being in a highly externally focused  social setting do I come home exhausted needing just to be alone or with a very small group or do I feel on top of the world.  Do I look to spend my time in groups or do I need alone time?

As I train for a marathon this November, I am finding that I am a little of both.  And it is interesting for me to think about how my energy use and rechraging fits into my daily work schedule and my workout schedule--and whether I could structure my day any better to really facilitate being on top of my game and being "on" whenever I am at work.

One example, last night, I had a reception from 6:30-8:30 (which ended up going from 6:30-9).  I would have expected it to take all my effort to go meet 20+ new students whom I had only met virtually and carry on conversation for 2 hours.  Particularly after earlier in the day having a large meal with family and having--for an hour prior--spoken with two colleagues about a research project.  (Yes, we had a research call from 5:30-6:30 on a Saturday evening).  

When all was said and done it felt completely natural and I was able to carry on conversation with no trouble.  Every one in a while I would go into listening mode, but it didn't happen very often.  And, as I drove home, despite having walked the dog twice, walked from my building to the Inner Harbor with family, eaten a big meal, gone to the grocery store, and done a few other things, I was on top of the world.

Of course, this morning, when I woke up I began the day with 12 miles run in a little over 1:36 by myself and that was recharging too.  Or the other day when I had an afternoon full of exteranlly focused activity but I ran a very strong workout alone on the track in the morning.  

My main lesson is that I am neither pure introvert nor pure extrovert.  Both types of activities can be taxing.  Both can be recharging.  

What I have to think about as I schedule my day is how to balance the down time in small meetings with the need to be totally on as I meet others.  I don't need most of one and little of the other.  What I need is a healthy balance.  Between activities during the day.  From one day to the next.  Even from one week to the next.  

There may be other parts of my Meyrs-Briggs where I don't need so much balance and I just have to be aware rather than using them to think about how I would structure my meetings during the course of the day.

But as the Dean at my school talks about the rhythm of the day and the rhythm of a decision making process, I can think about the rhythm of activities and how it fits or doesn't fit with my needs as defined, in part, by my personality.

That would be a very powerful way to use personality--particularly if an entire office could work together on joint scheduling to optimize the energy use-recharge cycle that this represents.  

Something to ponder--as I take care of business, take care of my family, and take care of myself. I never would have thought I'd think about the work-life-me balance in the context of the I-E dimension of the Meyrs-Briggs personality type but there really might be something there to ponder. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Why to Show People I Care?

On Thursday of this past week, my job as Vice Dean for Education at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School included reading all the names for graduation.  The Vice Dean for Faculty and Research officially runs the graduation ceremony.  The Dean makes comments and shakes hands.  We hear from an alumnus, a student, and a keynote speaker.  Then, I read.

This year, we had a very large number of Chinese names—as we will for the foreseeable future.  More in August than May given the timing of different programs. In May, for the Chinese names that I did encounter, I simply used the phonetic pronunciation that had been supplied.  I found it somewhat confusing given where the real and phonetic spellings were on the cards that were handed to me to read.  I found it confusing because the same real spelling was represented by different phonetic interpretations. And I found it confusing because I had not taken the time to have a conversation with a native Mandarin speaker to help understand the nuances of the pronunciation for the names I was reading.

So, this time, six days before graduation, I took the list of names and phonetic interpretations and met with a staff member who is a native Mandarin speaker.  We spent two hours going through the names with my attempts at pronunciation, her guidance, and my rewriting a lot of phonetic interpretations.

Then two days before graduation, I rewrote the phonetics again—this time so that my colleague who was preparing the name cards could read them.  And on the day of graduation I spent about 30 minutes reading all the names quickly.  I found a few rules of thumb that if I would remember would make a big difference in my ability to read the names in a way that would make it sound like I was confident and that I had paid some attention to their actual pronunciation. 

So, the graduation ceremony arrived on Thursday.  I didn’t hear directly from any of the students afterwards (this is a group that I did not know very well), but I heard a number of comments that made me quite pleased.  One person said that I had been volunteered to help with translation (I don’t know any Mandarin other than the names).  One of the English as a Second Language instructors told me that the students were definitely impressed.  The director of our MS Finance program told me that the students were happy.  Was I perfect?  No.  But the key is that I was credible and that students noticed.

Making the people I serve as a leader (or business-person in the business of higher education) feel that I care about them is critical.  Even using the phrase—people that I serve—shows how I think about my leadership and the business of higher education.  It carries over to other situations.  For example, why do my wife and I go to small retailers that charge us more?  Because the employees make us feel like we matter.

So, do I think the school will get more students because I read the names well?  Not necessarily.  Or that is not necessarily the direct effect.  But it can’t hurt.  If students leave graduation happier, they are likely to make a first donation as alumni that is bigger.  A bigger starting point puts them in line to be bigger donors later.  If they are bigger donors they are more likely to promote the program.  The more they promote the program the more students we get in the future.  That could take years to play out.  But it sets the foundation for a strong and healthy relationship with these individuals over time that can certainly benefit the school.  That is why I will make a similar or greater effort next time.  And if I do this five or six times, I should be able to manage without having to spend quite so much time in advance as I’ll know all the rules of thumb for reading the pinyin spellings of the Chinese characters.

Of course, today I had another opportunity to make an impression and it worked.  We were greeting new students in our one year programs.  I was speaking with three women.  One of them introduced herself as Ashley.  Her named spelled using the pinyin interpretation was Xueting.  She asked if I could pronounce it and I got pretty much right.  She and her two fellow students looked very happy and impressed.  So it was great to make such a positive impression on the finishing students last week and on incoming students this week.  This will help me in my position moving forward.  It is a new people skill for me.  And while my academic talents have been important in becoming a full professor my people skills have also been critical in my career.  

Monday, August 4, 2014

Welcoming the Two Year MBA Students

This is the text I generally followed when greeting our two year full-time MBA students this morning.

Good morning.  My name is Kevin Frick and I am the Vice Dean for Education at the Carey Business School.  I would like to welcome you to the GMBA program and take a few minutes to follow up on two things that the Dean talked about and share some additional thoughts about your next two years.  I am going to follow up on what the Dean described as a marathon and on the idea of teaching business with humanity in mind.  Then, I am going to talk about the curriculum as a puzzle.  Not something you should be puzzled by.  But a jigsaw puzzle that fits together perfectly when all the pieces are correctly aligned to make a beautiful and complete picture. 

First, the Dean talked about the experience of earning an MBA over two years of full-time experiences as being like running a marathon.  I have run five marathons and am training for my sixth.  I can tell you a few things about marathon training that extend what the Dean said.  I ran when I was a teenager.  But I did not run in my 20’s or early 30’s.  It was not until I turned 36 that I came back to running for the first time in almost 19 years.  At the time, each time I went for a run it was an effort.  Each time I went for as little as 5 kilometer outing, it took some convincing to make sure that I would do it.  It has been 8 years since I came back to running, and I now get up every morning and want to run.  In fact, I have to remind myself now that rest days are important.  I have gone from having to force myself to do something to that thing being second nature to me.  That comes from doing the same thing over and over and over again.  You will have a chance to learn skills in the classroom, try them multiple times in the classroom or for assignments outside the classroom, have a chance to put them to work in participating in or leading student organizations, in the integrative experience classes like Innovation for Humanity and Discovery to Market, and in the internships that I expect that most of you will have next summer.  The more you repeat an activity the easier it will become. 

And the easier it will become to do without thinking about it.  I have worked on running the right speed so that I don’t give up after 5 km but so that I can run the whole 26.2 miles or 42 kilometers of the marathon.  The idea of not just going out for a run every day but going out for a run at a specific pace and to practice that pace will make a huge difference for me.  In running, my friends and I call it doing the workout right.  You will learn how to do things right.  And not just preparing yourself to perform your business related-tasks but preparing yourself to do them correctly each and every time will be an important part of your activity.

Finally, on this point, it is acceptable to make mistakes.  I was given the advice to make as many mistakes as possible in the first year.  That may sound like strange advice, but it reflects the fact that supervisors expect a learning period when you first take a new position.  The key is that I have made mistakes in my training.  Just before my first marathon, I made a really bad mistake that probably made the difference between the time I ran and an improvement of six or seven minutes.  However, I got myself back up and kept on trying.  This happens with you as individuals.  It happens with startup businesses.  It can happen many times in a career.  The key is that you should not fail to try something for fear of a mistake.  Instead, try lots of things.  Find out what works and what does not.  The environment of a graduate business education provides a safe space in which to make mistakes and to find out what will and will not help you in your career later.  Will it give you all the answers?  No—some things can take a much longer time than 2 years to fully master.  But it will give you the tools you need to start to figure out where to get the answers for yourself in the future.

The Dean also talked about teaching business with humanity in mind.  As the Dean noted, we hope that each student takes some time to consider what this concept means.  I know the idea of teaching business with humanity in mind was one of the things that brought me to Carey from another position within the University back in 2013.  I think that the most important thing about teaching business with humanity in mind for me is to teach students to think about more than simply profits—to think about how their business decisions affect people.  Individuals, groups, and populations as a whole.  How do business decisions change lives?  How do businesses change the world?  And what are business opportunities that can make the world a better place. 

What I would like to discuss in addition to the extension of the Dean’s comments is the way in which the courses in the GMBA program, particularly the core courses fit together like a puzzle that makes a beautiful picture when all the pieces are correctly aligned.  I have seen puzzles of artwork, of skylines, of nature scenes. They all look wonderful when they are done and when an individual or group works to put a 1,000 piece puzzle together it is amazing to see when it is all done.  And it really captures the imagination to realize how much effort it took to put the entire thing together. 

We don’t have 1,000 courses or 1,000 credits in the “puzzle” of the GMBA curriculum. What we do have is a range of courses in which you will use very different skills.  Not everyone sees how the skills fit together from just looking at the list of courses.  But they do fit together to produce a wonderful result—a Carey GMBA graduate who will be recognized, as the Dean noted, by being an innovative leader and exemplary citizen who will grow economies and enhance communities.   People who interact with you when the puzzle comes together will recognize the difference that Carey has made in your education, in your career, and in your life.  That is the goal.

To get there, sometimes a course will focus more on one skill set than another.  For example, courses like quantitative methods are mostly just that—quantitative.  For some of us, quantitative skills are already second nature and this is just a matter of applying them in a new area.  I know I have a friend who is taking an online calculus course with her husband.  She was jokingly asking for help on social media, although everyone who knows her thinks she will be fine.  Quantitative skills are something that I think are mostly fun.  So, that would be the type of course I would enjoy very much.

Then, we have courses that are highly conceptual.  For example, ethical leadership.  What is ethical?  What are standards?  What are the consequences of failing to meet those standards?  Who sets the standards?  Do we each live up to the standards?  What do we do if we see others not living up to the standards?  You will have a number of courses that challenge your thinking and challenge you to come to a discussion to learn to bring up the points that interest you most and to engage with points when you are somewhat disinterested.  This is a completely different skill set than purely quantitative skills but just as important for a well-rounded leader.

We also have course that present frameworks for you to use in your business practices in the future.  People and markets and competitive strategy, for example.  Or courses that build on quantitative skills but in a very specific ways like the series of finance classes.  (Although even finance classes involve some conceptual thinking about how to properly consider what value means.) 

Finally, there are integrative courses.  These courses bring together multiple sets of skills that you have learned or are learning as early in the program as possible to challenge you to start to complete the puzzle yourself.   Quantitative skills is like one of the corner pieces of the puzzle.  It is something easy to recognize to get you started.  Business ethics is similar. Economics, finance, and strategy are like other pieces of the edge of the puzzle.  For these, it is somewhat obvious where they fit in and connecting them to the cornerstones of your education is not hard.

The integrative classes are like the inner pieces of the puzzle.  Sometimes you have to stare at them for a while and work very hard to put them together.  But you can immediately see that they are holding some of the most beautiful parts of the picture that is being created when you are doing a puzzle.  And in the GMBA curriculum you can see that these are some of the most important courses that hold the key to your future success.  But they can be a struggle.  They can be time consuming.  The Innovation for Humanity class is incredibly intense.  Yet, it offers some of the most exciting experiences that students in our GMBA program have working with clients outside Baltimore on important consulting questions.  Discovery to Market is another integrative course that offers you the chance to do just what the title says—think about how to take a discovery that has not yet been brought to market into the marketplace.  A piece that connects both of these to the edge and corner of the puzzle is the new business problem solving class that uses a framework focusing on people, plans, and presentations to help to get you to think about the most effective way to help others to solve their business problems.

When you take the entire set of courses, you will have done the work like putting a 1,000 piece puzzle together.  The “new you” after you are done will look different than you do right now.  If the “new you” after your Carey MBA education is not different, then we haven’t done our jobs very well. In the “new you” we will see someone who has begun to set their professional image as one of integrity and honesty.  One that focuses on doing well in business while considering the good of humanity.  One that puts together a series of skills ranging from highly quantitative to highly conceptual and in which you can put all of them to use.  As your career moves on some of those skills will become more important.  I wouldn’t say that others become less important.  It is just that some of the skills will become things that you don’t have to do for yourself.  But it is still critical to understand them.  You have to know whether the people you will someday hire to do those tasks are doing them correctly.  And part of understanding things like economics and finance is not only to be able tot use the reasoning yourself but to be able to figure out when those around you are not using the reasoning quite correctly.

So, in this morning’s comments we have covered a lot of ground.  Not quite the 26.2 miles of a marathon or even the time it takes world class runners to run the marathon—fortunately I am not here to lecture you for more than 2 hours this morning.  But the comments are a reminder.  You are here to learn and learn a lot.  You will work hard and keep working hard.  It will feel like a marathon of activity involved in assembling a complicated puzzle.  But when you are done, you should have opportunities that are limited only by your imagination and your ability to continue to grow and learn and work hard.  None of what I described ends at the end of your graduate education.  Every day you should continue to grow, continue to learn, and continue to work hard. The structure of growth and learning will change, but to continue to learn is absolutely necessary.  We give you the tools to get started and complete the first puzzle.  You have to use those tools to complete other puzzles in your career.  You have to use those tools to practice business with humanity in mind.  

Mixed Messages About Public Health Surveillance

An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal today left me wondering after I read it.  The piece focuses on how concerned we should be about Ebola.  The writer's opinion is that we should not worry too much.  While this outbreak has been bigger than any in the past and killed more than any in the past, the spread can be contained.  And while someone may emerge as being ill after reaching a more developed part of the world, it would be noticed, contained, and not spread widely.  

The writer mentions his own experience with respect to SARS (he was suspected of having it but did not, fortunately) and concludes the piece talking about international commitments to prevent the spread of disease throughout the world and the reason that the US should invest in science and public health surveillance at home and abroad.  

Many readers might be puzzled by that conclusion.

For control abroad (paritcularly for something like Ebola which is only spread through contact with bodily fluids) the steps to control can be fairly straightforward.   As the writer points out, cultural traditions of family caring for sick individuals at home and touching dead bodies in preparation for burial make avoiding all bodily fluids difficult.  (I do find it interesting that most accounts I have seen don't mention sweat as a bodily fluid by which the disease can be transmitted but it is clearly listed on a WHO website. That may be more of a cause for alarm in countries in which individuals are on public transportation in very close quarters.  Or perhaps for those of us who sweat like crazy at the gymnasium.)  However, the steps toward control are well known and may have as much to do with culture and the availability of personnel than anything else.

Would science help?  For preventing transmission and a cure, of course.  Would surveillance help?  For making sure that a minimal number of people are exposed, of course.  Would education and personnel help?  From what I have read, perhaps this would help more than anything else.  And while education often takes a long time, none of these will help very quickly.

For control at home in the US, it seems like we generally have things under control.  At least the writer does not suggest that there is a need to worry given current circumstances.  So, while a failure to act at all would be a disaster, our current infrastructure supports quite a bit of activity already.  Do we need that much beyond what we are already doing?  How much extra would it cost to go beyond what we are doing?  And if we are not likely to end up with a whole lot of morbidity or mortality with current activities in place, how much more would be prevented?  

I am in favor of wise icreases in investments in multiple aspects of public health and science.  But for an opinion piece to make the argument that there is not much to worry about while saying that investment is the right thing to do--unquestionably--is confusing.  Readers will wonder--appropriately, in my opinion--about how much investment will be needed to make a difference and how much of a difference will be made.  Clearly, in a world of limited resources, we cannot make every possibly investment in every mechanism to control all threats to public health.  This is one that appears to need more justification in light of what is already being done.  Using a potentially questionable line of logic to call for greater investment may not help when there is a clear need to make more sustainbed and larger investments later on.  

I, of course, am not saying that I have zero sympathy for the 1400+ infected so far.  I am saying that we have to live with some public health risks and this may just be one to live with or to leave to the market to solve.