Jul 26, 2009

Is church larger than the universe?

In the beginning, God created the . God created the church (church, the body of Christ) as a vehicle to save the world. Hence, God created the world and called it into Christ. In that sense, church is larger than the universe.

Jul 22, 2009

Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box

I am guessing that this book by the Arbinger Institute is the book that sparked the "think outside the box" jargon in the popular culture.

This book, too, took the narrative form similar to The Goal, though not in the more refined novel form. Instead, in short vignettes, the book talks about what it means to think inside and outside the box. Incidentally, thinking outside the box does not refer to thinking creatively, which is what I always thought it referred to.

Thinking inside the box refers to a selfish mode of thinking where we treat others as objects to serve us. In this mode, we become selfish and all actions and interactions are geared toward self-justification. The end result of this thought mode is that we become defensive of our own actions while at the same time become dismissive of others' efforts. Often, this state of things poisons our workplace relationships. The bottom line is that we can't achieve results together as an organization (similar to not being able to meet the Goal).

As I read the book, I was reminded of the times I was in the box in my interactions with others, both in and out of my work place. Moreover, I couldn't help but think that the thesis of the book is basically "don't be an asshole." In many ways, the book discovers nothing new. In the bible, Jesus talks about poisoning affects of hypocrisy, and he also demonstrates unfathomable sympathy and love for the suffering. I think one has only to read the gospels and get far more out about management and relationships than in reading about getting out of the box.

Jul 20, 2009

"The Goal" by Goldratt

I read The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. Of the Darden book list, this book was the sole required reading for the summer. It is an interesting book that takes a form of a novel. Its key precepts are not expounded, but rather unraveled using platonic dialogue between its protagonists Jonah and Alex Rogo.

Put simply, the book asserts that the goal of a company (implicitly for-profit one) is to make money. Isn't that a bit tautological? Anyway, the three measurements to achieve that goal are concepts called throughput, inventory, and operational expense. Throughout equates to sales, and you want to have more of them. Inventory and operational expenses are counterforces to sales, so you want to have less of them, but of course, you'll want enough of them to meet market demand so as to maximize throughput.

I found particularly interesting two things. One is a question about accounting concept. The other is a question about corporate life. First, based on the precepts asserted in the book, inventory is not desirable. It can be seen as a liability. Of course, in financial accounting is an asset. Where inventory declines, one debits expense and credits the inventory (asset). I find this very interesting. For example, Dell made its name by pioneering just in time inventory. Also, it's common knowledge that old inventory may become worthless. Both of these examples show that inventory is not generally desirable on the company's books. Hence, conceptually, much can be said to support the idea that it's a liability, rather than asset. (Same can be said about its place as an asset. It can be sold to generate throughput.)

The second challenging matter, that about corporate life, was the following. At the end of the book, Rogo asks himself what the role of a manager is. He asserts that a manager worth his salary should know the answers to the following:

1) What to change?
2) What to change to?
3) How to cause the change?

It's interesting to find the paramount place afforded to change. I suppose this is the reality. Those organization that fail to change, fail to live on.

Jul 9, 2009

Preparing for Round 1

How do you know if Darden is the place for you? Think about whether you'll be happy living and studying here. After all, it's two years of your life. You can learn much about Darden community's worldview and its mission from the school website. But, I'm reminded of a scene from Star Trek in which Spock sacrifices his individual welfare for the good of the ship. While Darden isn't asking for a personal sacrifice per se, it is a place that encourages its members to think beyond the individual ego to the collective ego, to look beyond individual accomplishments toward collaborative achievement.

MBA application can be a daunting process. For those who have made up their mind to take the plunge, start organizing now:

1. Create an application timeline - organization is your best friend.
2. Line up GMAT - take the sample test here before buying bunch of review books. Identify weak areas so that you can focus your time and energy.
3. Line up professional recommendations - thing to keep in mind is to try to unify your application. If possible, try to obtain recommendations that shed additional lights on your candidacy and at the same time bolsters your qualifications.
4. Draft your essays - just outline a few things, achievements, challenges, leadership, fit with case method, etc. You'll have time to refine and review later.
5. Network - make a list of alumni and school officials you might want to network with. I would wait until fall though; these people need their summer to rest.
6. Finances - while you've not gotten into the program, I would suggest you start saving and looking into scholarships as if you'd just been accepted. If you start lining up finances after admission, it could be too late. Assuming you don't earn a fellowship, the cost will be around $160K for 22-months. It's expensive.

If you're not quite at this stage, start brushing up now by consulting many online resources. There are many, free online websites dedicated to MBA program. Clearadmit is one among many.

Jul 8, 2009

Thinking outside the sphere

Before there was management-speak about thinking outside the box (long before), there was a time when greatest thinkers on the planet debated whether the world was geocentric or heliocentric. Keenest among these, Kepler inherited Martian orbit data from Tycho, thinking he'd soon unlock the secret to planetary motion. Instead, in Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Timothy Ferris relates how Kepler struggled to find an answer for eight years. Ferris also relates Kepler's reflections on his own mistakes (Ch. 6): "My first mistake was having assumed that the orbit on which planets move is a circle. This mistake showed itself to be all the more baneful in that it had been supported by the authority of all the philosophers, and especially as it was quite acceptable metaphysically." Kepler is talking about the fact that it was something of an accepted wisdom, an axiom almost, that man was at the center of the universe. No one really seriously challenged the notion for almost two thousand years since Aristotle.

Kepler apparently tested seventy circular orbits against Tycho's Mars data. Then, he imagined himself on Mars, and realized that earth's orbit would trace the same trajectory across the sky. There it was: earth revolves around the sun.

I don't think it's necessary to conclude anything based on this story. It's just a neat reminder that for the most part, we have no idea what we are talking about, and it takes an enormous effort and insight to rid ourselves of our ignorance.

Jul 3, 2009

Big Picture: What is Wealth?

Now, Darden finally sent notice of loan awards. No grant, max Stafford loans, rest in Graduate PLUS loans. Oh well, at least I am grateful that I have access to loans to attend school. Better than nothing.

The biggest remaining financial hurdle is to sell my house. It's already consumed much effort (re-paint and re-carpet) and it promises yet more headaches as the market is very soft in North Carolina. Sure, it's far more robust relative to sub-prime markets elsewhere in the country, but it's still soft. The lesson to draw here are clearly to start early, very early. Also, I think you need a good agent, which mine is not. Be sure to shop aggressively and interview agents more thoroughly (and more than one) before signing.

Anyway, something else came to my mind. In particular, I thought about what it means to worry about the world, and realized there is a world apart from the world we now inhabit. I attended church last Sunday, and there were many old folks who are frail and whose days seem numbered. To the eyes, that church appears to be dying. Later that day, I came across an article about prevalence of plastic surgery in Asian countries. I'm sure there are many social forces at play, but my initial thought was that there is something morally wrong about it. I realized that using another set of eyes, the old folks who worshiped on Sunday were healthy, while a society that drives its youth to the knife for looks must be in the throes of a spiritual death. So, I must also watch out. If I don't be careful, I'll be just as lost in irrelevance instead of waiting on the Lord. It would be reactionary to simply state that plastic surgery is wrong; it isn't. At the same time, there is something not right about people who are forced to feel ugly due to some arbitrary conception of beauty, or for people who feel they must look a certain way on account of their peers, or just because they believe they must appear more comely to obtain a job, etc. Then again, that's no different from American female preoccupation with breasts size, and so forth. All of which reminds me that we really live in twisted times.

What then is wealth? Luke relates a story about Peter washing the nets by Sea of Galilee after a night of no catch. Jesus then tells him to cast his nets to the deep waters. Peter obeyed and caught so many fish that he beckoned James and John to come out to help him. Both boats were sinking, so rich was the catch. Once on shore, Peter confessed "I am a sinner." Why did he say that? Because, he realized that there is a world apart from that which he inhabited. Thereafter, it was no longer important to catch fish - though he caught many that day. Jesus took these men to make them fishers of men. World apart. Maybe it's another way of saying there is a bigger picture. For all the material wealth of this world, for all the worries about loans and this or that, there is something more important out there. I hope I'll have the humility to cast my net in the deep water when Jesus tells me to.

Jul 2, 2009

Gift of Music

There were two articles in today's WSJ. One by Rachel Silverman on A1 was regarding Jefferson's interest in ciphers - coded messages. I suppose many a statements (e.g. Caesar) have had need for such things and so the interest in cryptology for this former Secretary of State is not surprising.

The second article by Barrymore Laurence Scherer on D4 was titled "Thomas Jefferson, Musician." It prefaces Jefferson's renaissance man cultivation, then cites Jefferson's declaration that music was "passion of [his] soul." Incidentally, music played a role in his courtship of the young widow Martha Skelton.

(I'd once played my fiddle for a love interest, but not being Jefferson, the venture came to naught. But, I can attest to its effectiveness as she was quite smitten. The fault lay in my inability to capitalized on the good will from the performance.)

But, most touching of all was another article in D4 by Corinna Fonseca-Wollheim. The gist of it is that ordinary folks can commission new music; "Even Bach Needed Goldberg" as it was. In her article, she cites a touching anniversary gift made by a man in his old age through a commissioned violin sonata by Philip Glass. The connection was made through "Meet the Composer (MTC)," a non-profit that acts as a matchmaker. How wonderful, I thought, it would be if my Darden class would give a gift to the world at our graduation by commissioning a new piece. Jefferson would have approved.