A few months ago, I returned a written assignment to an MBA team of students. The assignment limited them to 10 pages of written content. Using Microsoft Word’s Track Changes Function, I think I made 130 or so comments on their 10-page assignment. I did not hear anyone say, “Wow, you certainly helped us learn.” What I did hear was concern about how this will affect their course grade. The team’s definition of failure was in terms of a grade and not in terms of learning.
I was reminded of my MBA student team’s reaction to my feedback while reading, “Redefining Failure” a September 2010 Harvard Business Review column written by Seth Godin. He makes several points that are worth emphasizing.
- Most of us think we know the look of failure
- Most of us think failure is the opposite of success; and we optimize our organizations to avoid our perceptions of it
- In our effort to avoid failure, we narrowly define it to insure that most outcomes become non-failures
- A failure often creates a panic or sense of urgency; redefining failure so more outcomes are included may energize the organization and employees to act more urgently and purposefully
I think most MBA students think they know what failure looks like in their MBA program. Perhaps they do; however, their undergraduate grading experience and their class standing are greatly influencing their view. After reading Mr. Godin’s column, MBA students and perhaps even faculty need to redefine failure some way other than in terms of a course grade or class standing. I thought I would help by defining possible MBA student failures. In my list, the first five are adapted from Mr. Godin’s article. The second five I created through my experience working with MBA students.
- Failure of will. If you prematurely judge the members of your MBA team as a group of individuals that will never learn to work together or from whom you have nothing to learn, you have failed.
- Failure of respect. If you succeed without treating your team members, your classmates, your faculty members, and your program staff with respect and honesty, you have failed.
- Failure of trust. If you waste classmates’ and teammates’ goodwill and respect by taking shortcuts in assignments, not fulfilling commitments, and not being engaged in program activities, you have failed.
- Failure of priorities. If you choose to focus on activities that do not contribute to your overall wellbeing, you have failed.
- Failure of opportunity. If you do not avail yourself of the learning resources available through your MBA program, such as classmates, teammates, faculty members, and others, you have failed.
- Failure of mentoring. If you do not engage others in mutual professional development, you have failed.
- Failure of feedback. If you do not take the time to provide thoughtful, constructive feedback when given the opportunity, you have failed.
- Failure of networking. If you do not take the time to establish lifelong relationships with your classmates, you have failed.
- Failure of leadership. If you do not take advantage of the opportunities to lead during your MBA program, you have failed.
- Failure of commitment. If you do not maintain the same level of commitment throughout your MBA program, you have failed.
Let me close with Mr. Godin’s closing sentence, “And, of course, the most self-referential form of failure is the failure to see when you’re failing.” Perhaps MBA students and faculty can help themselves see when they are failing by redefining failure.
What do you think, should MBA students redefine failure? What MBA student failures would you like to add to my list? What failures would you like to delete from my list? Provide your answers in the comments section below.
Invite others to join the discussion.
Rodney G. Alsup, D.B.A., CPA, CITP
Founder of MyeEMBA.com