November 30, 2011

Professional Development Write Up: Networking Seminar

Darren Sears recently gave a seminar on networking to the MBA Professional Development class. Much of the focus was initially on dispelling myths about networking while clarifying the actual processed that are at play in effective networking. To that end, a handout entitled “The Branded Networker” was given out that contained numerous examples and exercises designed to facilitate the study of networking. As well, the seminar had an unintended side effect in that it made me consider how I differentiate myself and how that can be used to aid networking.
            Five popular networking myths are as follows:
1.      Networking doesn’t work.
2.      Networking just happens.
3.      Only outgoing people can network.
4.      I don’t have time to network.
5.      Networking only happens at events.
Darren’s presentation aided to dispel these myths. In response to the first myth listed, he pointed out that people are often afraid to network or get discouraged because they don’t see immediate results. Networking, he explained, is like farming in the sense that you are cultivated relationships for later use; The relationships frequently don’t pay off immediately. In response to the second myth listed, the handout states, “Networking is not a spectator sport. It’s not enough to just show up. You have to follow-up.” The follow-up can be almost as important as the initial contact between people and perpetuates any relationship. In response to the myth that only outgoing people can network the handout states, “Good news for those on the shy side. People at networking functions are expecting to be approached.” People who think they do not have the time to network may think that they are not experiencing a positive return on their time invested in the process, but in reality are attending the exact same networking functions and stagnating. In response to the final myth stating that networking only happens at events, the handout states that networking not only happens at events but anywhere and anytime people meet together. Networking is not so much about how many people you know but how many people know you.
            An activity we performed called “Sharpen the Nail” made me think about ways in which I differentiate myself and their effect on my environment and networking. It is very simple to describe yourself as honest, reliable, or any other token adjective. Everyone says they are honest and reliable. That doesn’t differentiate anyone in the long run. What is more useful was what this exercise had us do: think about our past experiences and how we got to this point in our lives and then attempt to come up with four terms to describe yourself, placing them on a figurative diamond. I, for one, would like to emphasize the things that make me different from other people while letting the more obvious aspects of myself pass unspoken, being legitimized by my actions rather than my words.
            My diamond described me as being a people person who is adventurous, eclectic in my interests, and creative. I was labelled as a people person because I love to be social and meet new people. The adventurous tip of the diamond is because I enjoy travelling and have been to South Korea to live and teach English. The eclectic tip of the diamond describes how I have interests in Business, Chemistry, Music, and Writing. My undergraduate degree focused on Chemistry, I’m currently in a Business degree, I aspire to learn how to play the piano, and I enjoy writing stories, novels, blogs, and poems. I am creative in the sense that I enjoy writing and music and the deep thoughts and feeling they instill within me. This all may seem like a pat on the back to myself (and it is) but I think it’s far more effective than saying that I’m nice, honest, reliable, dependable, funny, or anything else like that. It’s not so much about the bragging. It’s about forming connections with people and making a lasting impression. I’ve a much greater chance of making a lasting impression by focussing on what differentiates me rather than the qualities that make me similar to so many others.
            Since re-entering school in the MBA program, I’ve given a lot of thought to differentiating myself from others. I want to be seen as different and great in so many ways so I form a lot of connections and have employment opportunities when I finish the program. I think that others can benefit from this differentiating way of thinking as well. If you make legitimate efforts to hammer home certain aspects about yourself to others, you might just see a change in yourself, even if it’s not true to begin with. In that respect, I see the “Sharpen the Nail” exercise as being extremely helpful in my life and the MBA program. Hopefully it will prove to be helpful to me in the workforce as well. I like the Tyler Milson that I’ve created. That doesn’t mean that I won’t stop trying to improve him. But I’ve got to say, looking back on how things have went for me in this term and the recent past, so far so good.

November 25, 2011

Rambling that turned into thoughts about writing

I'm at the point where I can feel the break. So close and yet so far away...I can taste the things I want to do. Somehow, I know that first bit of freedom is going to either be spent very drunk or doing absolutely nothing at all. Either way is fine with me.

I'd like to have some time to pursue my special "projects." Not only the ones that I had mentioned in a previous post of mine but maybe even just some small term things like day projects.

One thing I'd really like to do is write another short story in the near future. I had great fun with the last one. Last time I was taking someone else's ideas and world as inspiration. This time I'd like to use my own ideas and come up with something just as, if not more, outlandish than before.

What I really want to do is write something that effectively calls religion into question. I have no quarrel with religion per say, as long as it lets me do my own thing (You're on notice, Jehovahs). I'd like to call it into question because it evokes such strong feelings in people. You want to write for yourself because there's a good possibility that no one else will appreciate your thoughts and what they mean to you, but if you've got the chance and you think that even one other person might read something you wrote, you want to provoke an emotional response in them. That way they get more invested in what you write. But here's the thing: you have to do it in a way that most people will be able to comprehend. That's the tricky part. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't think these things should read like a Greek manuscript but I think it's important that they're not too simple either.

One trick I learned from trying to write more in the first-person perspective is to pick a main character who has a good education or is smart so you can be legitimate when you're describing the things that he or she sees. If the observations don't fit the intelligence of the character it's weird and you might as well be writing in third-person. The other side to that is that you can make things purposefully obscure by using younger characters or those lacking intelligence to mask some elements of your plot and story. That doesn't really interest me, however. Maybe it's the scientist in me, but I like to write things from a logical point of view and work with characters who are smart and can make those observations and logical decisions. In that way some of myself will always end up in whatever I write. I can see why people might mistake some characters for being analogues to me in some of my work. Perhaps I can differentiate them a little better to make them a bit more distinct...

Anyway, I'll be looking for some inspiration in the coming weeks, especially once school is done. Here's hoping that I'll find some and be able to remember it long enough to make it into something awesome!

November 21, 2011

How to better differentiate yourself

I've given some thought to differentiating myself lately. A session that we had at Professional Development had the fortunate side effect of making me really think about this type of stuff.

So often you see everybody else saying obvious stuff like, "I'm reliable," or, "I'm an honest person." Well, of course you are. Everybody is. Or, more importantly, everybody claims to be. I want to highlight that I think I am too but I don't make a habit of stating it. I'd prefer to have that type of information pass unspoken in an effort to legitimize it. What people really need to do is to take a look at themselves and find out what makes them different.

We pretty much did this in the seminar I was at and we found four words that ended up describing me. I was adventurous in that I enjoy travel, eclectic in that I try to embody the "best" of all my interests, creative because of how I like to express myself, and a people person in that I enjoy meeting new people and being social. Already we can see that this is way better than honest and reliable. In looking at yourself this way, suddenly you're not just part of the herd but someone that really stands out. How many other people can say they have the exact same four words that describe them for the same four reasons? Not many, I'll bet.

Since going back to school I've given a lot of thought about not repeating what I had done in the past. Not that I made any mistakes, really, in the way I have acted and presented myself in the past, but I find that I am a different person than I was three or four years ago (Hell, even two for that matter) and I have to show that in making an effort to not be the same. So whereas before, when I would have presented myself a certain way, I may not choose that presentation anymore. That's not to say that the past isn't a component of who I am today, because it totally is. I'd like to believe that I can keep improving this Tyler Milson thing and make a really good one that is always improving. Hopefully I'm right. And you know what? So far, so good.

November 12, 2011

My 'Life' To-Do List

I've noticed with the small amount of free time I've been given recently that there are a great many things I would like to do at some time. The only problem is that, at present, I've not the time to do any of them.

With the exception of this 1.5-2 week period, school has taken up a lot of my time this term. The bright side to my current position is that there's finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Well, halfway through the tunnel there's a skylight, more like. Be that as it may, there will be a repose and I've been wondering what I will choose to do with that repose. To that end, I've been trying to come up with things I'd like to do but haven't done yet. Some may be possible over a Christmas break, some might not be. I'll at least start a list that I might be able to go back to at some point.

This one's recurring so whoever's reading these on a regular basis won't be surprised that much: I'd like to learn how to play piano. This one definitely isn't something that can be done over the Christmas break. I want the ability to be able to play at least "recreationally" well. Like, to be able to sound something I hear out and make an approximation of what it might sound like on piano. Maybe I could play for other people at parties or something. I think it would be pretty cool. I like piano pieces. I find them quite a bit more moving than some of the contemporary music that's out there. Maybe it's that it's more focused or evokes more feeling. Who knows?

I'd like to finally make some headway on the novel that's in my head. I know this could happen at any time, but I'm reading all the time for school that I often don't feel like looking at more words - even if they are my own. I've got this thing all planned out and executing it just seems like such a daunting task. I guess that might mean I'm not a true writer. People would say, "If you like writing then write and stop complaining about it." I think that's an uninspired commentary that a lot of people would have about me. The thing is, I don't want to just do one thing. So naturally I'm going to end up taking shit about a variety of topics from a variety of people. But you know what? I've probably got a lot more different things on the go right now than they do so I don't expect them to understand. People can get tunnel vision sometimes. Add on to that the fact that we only see what we expect to see and...Well...That's that I guess.

I'd like to get in a little better shape. That one should be something I'm doing already and can happen at literally any time. A few small problems, though. One is that my schedule is so dynamic it can easily throw off things like eating times and time that I have to do pretty much anything in a given day. The other thing is that I still like to drink because it's fun. People will say, "If you want to get in great shape, you can't be drinking a lot at the same time." This time "people" are absolutely right. So maybe that goal is a little unattainable unless I'm willing to commit to a change in lifestyle. At this point in time, I don't really see a change in lifestyle happening, so excuse me while I go grab another beer.

I'm sure there's more but I'm at a loss for what right now. So far I'll be playing the piano while dictating a novel to someone and drinking a bunch of beer, all while running on some crazy treadmill. Sounds like a pretty screwed up way to spend one's time. Then again, I wouldn't consider myself an ordinary person by any means, so maybe it isn't. 

November 2, 2011

Write-Up for Professional Development: UNB Counselling - Round Two

Continuing the second in a series of three seminars devoted to UNB Counselling and our careers, Rosemary Whitlock delivered a seminar that dealt with how our interests relate to our career paths. With that goal in mind, Rosemary had us complete two activities that discussed what we would do if we won twenty-five million dollars and another that discussed our interests in general. After performing these tasks, we were each given personalized reports very similar to what we had received in the seminar that dealt exclusively with personality except this report was solely based on our interests.

The first activity stated that I had won the lottery and stressed creativity in deciding what I would do with my winnings. It highlighted that relaxation time would soon get boring and that I would need a more concrete plan for the future. The way I described how I would spend my money is expressed in the following summary I wrote on the exercise sheet: "The first thing I would do would be to build my ideal home. It would probably be similar to a large manor with a rustic feel and a personal study that would double as an office. It would have all the amenities one would typically think of when picturing a “rich” home. After a while, I would go travelling all over the world. I would basically just go wherever suited my whims. Afterwards, I would put my money into safe long-term investments which I would run out of my study. I would write as a hobby in my spare time and have a vast library with which I could hone my skills as a writer." It was obvious that the activity was designed to help us more easily express our interests without the burden of money getting in our way. Personally, I’ve felt that I’ve always had a good image of what my interests are and don’t have very much trouble separating them from money. This is likely why I chose safe investments when describing how I would perpetuate the money. What’s the point of getting that much richer if you can already afford everything you want?

The second activity highlighted individual interests that each of us selected from a list or from what we had written in the first activity. We then compared those interests aloud and on a board in order to see if there were any notable similarities or differences. Some of my interests were financial planning, psychology, travel, foreign languages and cultures, writing, tourism, nature, and sports. Interestingly enough, most of my group’s interests were very similar to mine barring a few personal touches. Another noteworthy element of the discussion was that most people in the group elected for safe investments rather than riskier investments to perpetuate their wealth. It seems that the others felt the same way I did about having enough money to buy whatever I wanted.

Rosemary then explained that students often liked the results of either the personality evaluation or the interest evaluation but usually not both. I am inclined to agree with that statement as I personally felt that my MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) report listed occupations and information that I agreed with more closely than my STI (Strong Interest Inventory) report. The significance of the report in terms of the MBA program or future employment is obvious: it helps to discern where one’s interests lie and what type of occupation they might see themselves in based on those interests. Rosemary did stress that this was only one-third of a more complete picture that was yet to be painted and that we would get a clearer idea of what occupations best suited us after the final seminar from UNB Counselling.

The STI report considered numerous factors which were used to communicate which fields of work we might be most strongly interested in. The report broke us down into three of six general occupational themes which measure interest patterns that can be used to describe our work personalities. I had the greatest correlation with Social, Conventional, and Investigative. Artistic, Enterprising, and Realistic held the least correlation. The Social theme means that I value cooperation, generosity, and service to others. This seems fair, but I also consider myself quite logical and doubt I would be as altruistic as performing any of these tasks at great personal risk. That being said, the categories seem intentionally vague when compared to the MBTI test which described me more or less perfectly. The Conventional theme suggests that I value accuracy, stability, and efficiency. The Investigative theme suggests that I value independence, curiosity, and learning. I don’t disagree with any of the elements of the Conventional or Investigative themes. The themes were used to generate our list of top ten occupations based on our interests. My top three were Corporate Trainer, Marketing Manager, and Attorney. While the only position I can see myself in would be that of Marketing Manager, I do understand that the other two positions correlate with my interests quite strongly. The results of the test were also used to list our work styles, preferred learning environments, leadership style, risk taking style, and team orientation. Needless to say, it is a lot of information. To summarize, I fell into moderate strengths on the scale for each factor and thus was comfortable with some measure of compromise for the greater good. These results were used to generate a list of what my strongest interest areas are. Management, office management, writing and mass communication, taxes and accounting, and human resources and training were my strongest areas. I find that I agreed with this latter portion of the report much more closely than I did the former portion.

All in all, it seems that this report did shed some light on my career path but that light was like a match struck in a dark room compared to the MBTI report which was more akin to a bright flashlight in that same room. These results are to be taken with a grain of salt as it is impossible to perfectly summarize people on paper. Nevertheless, it is interesting and does give me some career options to consider in the future. I am eager to see how this will all be tied together in the third seminar.

Write-Up for Professional Development: Rivers Corbett

Rivers Corbett is an award winning entrepreneur most notably involved with Relish Gourmet Burgers in the Fredericton area. A graduate of the UNB MBA program in 1989, he is also the founder and CEO of Corbett Ventures, responsible for the Chef Group which includes The culinary Adventure Company, Relish, and Trivnet Media Systems. He has received numerous awards for entrepreneurship and has taught courses at UNB. On October 21, Rivers taught our MBA class about how to give an effective business presentation.

He began by explaining that the business team is the centre of success and that it is not so much the individual work but the synergy of those individuals that make a difference in the long-run. Continuing on a somewhat humble path, Rivers went on to mention that presentations must be concise with a very specific strategy and that if certain guidelines are not followed, one can easily lose business. Presentations should be no longer than fifteen minutes with the average length being twelve minutes. He also stressed the importance of doing ample research before-hand in order to make the presentation simple. By doing this research you can show the company in question that you’ve taken an interest in them and their goals and that you care about their pain points, the points of business that cause them to lose sleep at night. Before explaining the presentation itself, Rivers also took the time to note that the communication of ideas is central to a business presentation and, to that end, the ideas must be communicated using a universal language.

The goals of a presentation can be simply stated as establishing the sale (also called the lead), establishing trust, and building confidence in the idea being presented and the person doing the presenting. The first step in the presentation is reminding the audience about how they got to this point. In other words, explaining why the presentation is happening and the background behind it. This enables the less-informed members of the group to feel included and enhances the overall clarity of the presentation. It is also important to take the time to learn about some of the people in the room to make them feel more comfortable. The second step is to talk about their company in relation to yours. It is this step that enables you to communicate that you understand their company and their goals and objectives. This is also a point where the aforementioned research is very valuable. It is also the step where the key initiatives are identified in terms of what actions the company has taken or are interested in taking. The next step is to identify the pain points of the company. This step gives an opportunity to deal with that pain by talking about a solution that will benefit the company. In this step, testimonials can be used, highlighting how you have dealt with other companies’ pain in the past. It is an opportunity to understand the problem at hand and to meet in the middle to reach a solution. The next step is to outline the budget and cost in relation to the return on investment (ROI) that the company can expect to see using the proposed solution. Rivers stresses here that it is important to ask for the sale and not for the next date, meaning that it is not enough to merely perpetuate the relationship and that we should be actively seeking to close a deal as soon as it is feasible. This is a stage at which it will be important to involve decision-makers and influencers in the room into the presentation. The final step is to review what was just discussed and to talk about the next steps in the process.

In addition to the actual presentation itself and the steps therein, Rivers mentions that many people lose the sale by not performing adequate follow-up afterwards. As important as the presentation itself is, it may be equally as important to physically call the person who was presented to within a twenty-four hour period to review the information once again. This places a sort of unspoken contract into effect between the two and is especially important in Atlantic Canada where people tend to be a bit more conservative and may be less willing to enact plans without being pushed a little.

The final part of Rivers’ seminar covered some odds and ends and unveiled some more information regarding some of the concepts discussed. One of the more important points during this section of the seminar involved ensuring that we come out with the business message immediately in the presentation and continuously support it. He stressed that it is not necessary to talk about your own company more than is necessary. What will be more effective to have most of the conversation relate to their company. He highlighted the importance of ROI in getting people in the room to sign off on a deal. Finally, he recommends asking, “Does that make sense?” on a periodic basis to ensure that no one in the room gets lost during the presentation.

This session was invaluable as it gave me an idea of how to conduct a business presentation from a successful entrepreneur in the Fredericton area. It is highly likely that I will be doing many presentations during my career and MBA degree. The skills and tips I have picked up from this session may be critical to my success in the business field.