Feb
20th
Sun
2011

What could possibly give you a 7x advantage over other people in the realm of “eminent creative achievement”? One word DISTRACTIBILITY.

I just ran across this article in the WSJ that fits in a bit to my previous post. The article describes new research connecting creativity (the fuel of breakthrough innovation) to the INABILITY to focus on one thing—it also shows correlation between college students diagnosed with ADHD and above average creative achievement.

Check it out!

(Disclosure: I have never been diagnosed with any attention disorder.)

Feb
14th
Mon
2011
A jack of all trades is…

… a master of people?

You all know how the old quote goes, “a jack of all trades is a master of none.” Seeing as I am now only a few short months away from graduating this wonderful experience that has been the Darden MBA, I figure it is about time I address this nagging question about why I would choose the basis of this quote as my blogging namesake. I guess the short answer is that not only is it a great play on my name—even though most know that I actually go by middle name—but it also describes one of my favorite things about life: the opportunity to explore and enjoy many different things.

Who knew that I could actually enjoy living in China AND Latin America (along with the U.S. of course), or that I could enjoy playing a wide variety of sports (golf, soccer, football, and hockey, in my case) on a competitive level, or that I could enjoy multiple artistic hobbies. Some would look (actually some have) at this “lack of focus” as a negative thing… “look at the budding talent you have in each one of these areas, if you would have just picked one thing to specialize in you could have been excellent!”

For a while I didn’t have any answer for those people, but now I do: it’s all about the journey, the ride. In the above cases it just wasn’t my goal of being a top competitor or becoming “an expert” or “the best”. I started with the feeling of, “wow, I really like this.” That capriciousness would then turn into a passion, a passion that would feed right into my competitive DNA and bring out that extra drive for continuous improvement in my athletic skills or language/cultural immersion.

While that competitive nature still leaks out sometimes when playing sports (since the passion is still there), I have realized that outside of the athletic world the only person I am competing against is myself. What then is the goal, the finish line? For me it takes the form of two questions: 1) how can I work each day to make myself a better and more capable individual?, and 2) how can I help others accomplish the same for themselves? The funny thing that I’ve discovered is that both questions are interconnected in a sort of feedback loop. The funny part though is that it seems as though the second question is always what feeds into the first one.

I have long been very passionate about people. I absolutely love to meet and get to know all types of people. I like to watch how they respond to all types of situations, but even more important I want to get to know them—I enjoy hearing about their goals and dreams, their challenges and successes, their viewpoints and ideas, and how their past has shaped all of the above into who they are now and who they want to become in the future. As I get to know more and more people, getting to know their worldview changes a bit how I see the world. I’ve discovered the plain and simple fact that I can learn something from practically everyone I meet—essentially, I can take keep the good and ignore the bad. The more I get to know people for who they really are and strive to help them achieve their goals and dreams, the more I myself am benefited.

While I am far from being an expert on people, it is the one area for me that I will always strive the hardest to be the best I possibly can. I also think that it is extremely relevant for my aspirations to run a global business. A general manager is ultimately responsible for various different parts of a business. While he usually has a specialty or a passion for one of the multiple areas he is responsible for, he ultimately has to know enough about each part of the business to be able to stay informed, but of equal importance is his ability to provide a vision to his specialists in each part of the business that report to him. Since he relies so much on his direct reports, he essentially is a jack of all trades. He is not a “master of none” though, his core competency is people. I truly believe that success in business (and in life itself) is dependent on how well one can leverage the strengths and passion of those around him via a vision that directs them a to common good. Managers that can inspire those around them with a sense of purpose will never lack the necessary talent to overcome any size of obstacle.

Though I still have a ways to go—I’m sure my wife will second that—hopefully this jack of trades will become a master of people.

Sep
30th
Thu
2010
New Darden Blog—Global Voices of Darden

Here is my latest post on Darden’s new forum for global discussion Global Voices of Darden.  Global Voices will be the place to go to find out about what Darden is doing overseas as well as hear about the experiences of international students exploring U.S. culture, and U.S. students discovering other cultures through Darden’s Global Business Experiences and exchange opportunities.  Faculty, staff, and alumni are also invited to share their international experiences and viewpoints on events of global economic significance.


Global Voices of Darden » Greg Little » What do China and Chile have in common?

Greetings from China! As I sit here watching darkness descend on the Beijing skyline from my 19th story window near the heart of Beijing’s Zhongguancun District—also known as China’s Silicon Valley, and home to what are arguably China’s top two universities in Peking University and Tsinghua University—it’s great to think that the sun is now rising in Charlottesville and classes will begin for the week in less than an hour. While I miss being back at Darden, especially now that the section athletic competitions have begun for Darden Cup points, I am enjoying the experience of living here in China.

Although I had taken a few vacations outside of the U.S. growing up, I got my first taste of living internationally less than ten years ago after volunteering to work as a missionary in Chile on behalf of my church. As I spent the better half of two years living and working among a culture much different than my own, I was taken by the similarities I shared with the Chilean people. I really grew to care a lot for them as we worked side-by-side and as I struck up random conversations with people in the street; in fact, I even ended up marrying someone from Chile! These past three weeks in China have surprisingly had a very similar feel to my first few weeks in Chile. While I am still not sure whether the feeling of déjà vu is due more to the realization that my language skills aren’t as good as I thought (everyone talks so fast!) or because of commonalities between China and Chile, living here does have a very familiar feeling. That being said, my wife has remarked on more than one occasion how such-and-such is just how things work in Chile. She almost even feels at home… until, of course, she steps out onto the street and realizes that she can’t read any signs or understand what people are saying. Our little son seems to have adapted quite quickly and is already learning new words from his little Chinese friends during evening visits to the playground—he even made friends with a Chinese grandfather the other day whom he played with on the see-saw. One thing we have thoroughly enjoyed is walking down the street amidst the rest of the people, exchanging glances, smiles, the occasional verbal greeting, and sampling the local cuisine along the way. Of course, we also get our fair share of wide-mouth stares, but can you really blame them? I imagine it’s quite a site seeing the three of us walking the streets together… we are in China, after all.


Greg Little, President
International Business Society at Darden

Epilogue: As President of the International Business Society, and this year’s editor for the Global Voices of Darden international blog, it is my distinct pleasure and honor to present to you this new forum of international discussion for Darden. I can only smile at the path this blog has taken. From a simple idea that I thought could be an asset to the Darden community, I have seen it progress to a work-in-progress and now to its launch. The best part is that I know it will grow and flourish over time into something even bigger and better, long after I have graduated from Darden. That, of course, will depend on all of you as current and future members of the Darden family—the great thing about Darden is that you are forever a part of it, so there are no past members! So sit back, stretch your fingers a bit, and start writing to add your global voice to the mix. Then come back again and again to learn and discover the world through the experiences of the rest of the Darden community.

Sep
26th
Sun
2010
China Adventure

Guanghua
While most of my fellow SYs at Darden will soon begin studying for Q1 exams, I feel like I just barely got settled this last week into the rhythm of being back at school.  After a wonderful internship at Celanese this summer, I spent about a week traveling to visit family in nearby Arkansas before jumping on a plane to Beijing.  Many of my classmates have discovered (especially after my part as President of the International Business Society in this last week’s advertisement for our upcoming International Food Festival) that I am away at Peking University taking part in an exchange program at Peking Unviersity's (PKU) Guanghua School of Management. (Yes, the picture above is really what the campus looks like!)

Summer PalaceThis last month has been quite an adventure—my wife and son deserve a medal for tagging along with me—and I feel like I have been through enough setbacks and frustrations to last a whole year!  Despite trying to spend the summer brushing up on my Chinese and trying to remember what I learned in Mandarin classes during university (about seven years ago), I quickly discovered that my ability to effectively communicate and understand is much more limited than it once was.  While I have been given compliments on my accent, generally it just gets me into trouble as I can clearly ask questions, but my vocabulary has been reduced the point where I can understand less than half of the response.  Somehow though (i.e. with lots of help from friends and friends of friends) we’ve been able to rent a decent apartment, hire a nanny to watch our son while my wife and I study (she’s starting to learn Chinese), and generally survive.

While I definitely miss Darden’s very dynamic and engaging case-method classes, my mostly lecture-based courses at PKU have been largely interesting (despite being three hours long), and I have still gotten a chance to do some great cases.  One of the great things about taking classes here is that every course has a very real China-focus to it.  I have already learned a lot about the ever-evolving business culture here, and how things have changed since the economic reforms pioneered by Deng Xiaoping more than 30 years ago. Along with two business-specific language courses (and private language classes) I am taking China-focused courses on personal and corporate taxation, business and investment strategy, international trade, economic transition, and cross-cultural management.

The context of our cases and lectures have been very specific to operating both within China and internationally from the viewpoint of Chinese businesses who must deal with a wide range of concerns including global partnerships, foreign capital, dealing with the Chinese government, and cultural barriers.  While I always seek to maintain informed opinions about all issues in life—I tend to keep my opinions to myself on any particular issue until I feel that I have informed myself enough to opine—this China-focused flavor to discussions and lectures has really cleared-up some misunderstandings regarding the culture and business of China that had previously crept into my thinking (mostly based on my limited previous exposure).  My two bSummer Palaceusiness language courses have also been culturally enlightening as I learn the underlying significance of why spoken and written Chinese has evolved the way it has. By the end of the year I hope to be much more proficient with the language, and be better equipped to work with companies who do or desire to do business in China.

P.S. My family and I have also had the chance to visit some wonderful cultural places… keep checking back every couple of weeks to see new pictures!

Jul
5th
Mon
2010
Back to work!

CE logoI can’t believe the last couple of months have gone by so fast!  Of all the summer internship offers that I was extended, I ultimately decided to come to Dallas, TX and work for Celanese Corporation—a Fortune 500 multinational chemical company—as a part of the Celanese Leadership Program.  The internship is meant to give us an inside look into the full-time rotational program which consists of three year-long rotations within finance and commercial functions of the company.

So far I have very much enjoyed my time with the company.  For the last month I have been working in Investor Relations.  It has been a great opportunity to learn a lot about the company from an enterprise perspective and to see how each of our portfolio business fits together into the overall strategy of the company.  I have been privileged to get involved with projects that run the gamut of experiences, from analyzing our place in the minds of investors compared to our competitors (and the overall market), to the formulation of a communications strategy as the enterprise shifts to a more differentiated position in the market, to the preparation of presentation materials outlining our plans for continued growth in China (where Celanese has a large presence) and the rest of Asia. 

For me these projects have been exciting because I’ve been able to creatively apply the tools I developed during the first year of business school to real issues within the company.  I have meta lot of great people in different functions across the company.  One of my favorite things about the internship is our “passport” program where we are given the opportunity to sit down with many of the company’s top executives and spend time learning from their experience inside and outside the company as they reflect on their careers.  So far I have found this to be a great opportunity to learn about the company from different angles, and the executives have been very candid about what they feel are strengths and challenges for the company moving forward.  At the end of the day, my purpose is to gather as much information about the company as I can in order to make an educated decision about whether I want to come back full-time after I graduate from Darden.  So far, so good!

Mar
18th
Thu
2010
Springtime!

Spring has finally arrived in Charlottesville!  After a winter of surplus snow that quickly wore out its welcome, followed by lots of clouds and rain, the sun is here to stay (I’m keeping a positive attitude!).  Exactly two weeks ago, I finished off my last Q3 exam and (with a big smile of course) got ready to give my tired brain a rest for the next week and a half.  I had originally thought of going on a Darden Global Business Experience (GBE)—where Darden students can spend 1-2 weeks exploring the business environment and practices of another country as a substitute for an elective—but since I’m planning to spend next fall semester on a Darden-facilitated exchange in China, I decided to stay back and spend some time with my family.

After three busy quarters I definitely made the correct choice.  Though I spent the first few days do pretty much nothing (it was a nice way to decompress from school), I enjoyed sleeping in and spending most of the day with my wife and son taking a walk around the little lake at our apartment complex or visiting the playground.  Two of my wife’s cousins from Chile flew in and stayed with us for part of the break so I did get out to enjoy the sunshine.  Washington MonumentWe visited Jamestown and did the tourist thing around Washington, D.C. for a couple of days and spent the rest of the time in Charlottesville where we introduced the cousins to ice skating and hitting golf balls at the driving range.  Of course I absolutely had to take play a round of golf with one of my classmates on the last day of super cheap winter rates at Birdwood—I was six inches away from my first hole-in-one on the signature 14th and, notwithstanding a few bad holes, actually played well for not having swung a club in a few months.  All-in-all it was a very relaxing and enjoyable spring break, and just when I was starting to get used to it we started Q4 this past Tuesday.

Q4 is the first quarter that we are able to take electives here at Darden (while I chose to build on the finance, economics, and decision analysis courses we had during the first three quarters by selecting those electives, I chose not to start at 8am every day!).  To be perfectly honest, before I came to Darden this was one of the things I had reservations about.  Lots of other B-schools let you choose your classes from the beginning, or at least starting with the second semester, so I wondered this last of customization would be a negative.  After experiencing the first three quarters I can resoundingly say that is not the case.  I really think part of the Darden is found in the dynamic of the first-year core in the form of Learning Teams and our section environments.  While obviously a small part of the core material may be basic for those who have specialized expertise in certain areas, not only does the material scale very quickly (getting more advanced as time moves on), but the case method allows even those ‘experts’ to derive value for themselves and contribute to the learning of their classmates through active participation in the case discussions.  The Darden administration does a really good job of designing a great first-year experience and giving students opportunities to interface with a wide range of faculty and classmates, while working together (case method) to advance learning and synthesis of the material; they are also constantly innovating to improve the already spectacular first-year experience—as we found this year and the class of 2012 will see in the way their first-year program differs from ours.  At the end of the day, I have absolutely loved the first year experience so far… it was everything I expected and hoped for!

Mar
18th
Thu
2010
March Madness!

March Madness is in full swing, and that of course brings on the Darden First-Year Bracket Challenge.  While the Cougs advanced on to the second-round in a 2OT nailbiter (Yay!) my other picks aren’t doing too well.  My current standing (T-18) out of the 108 first-year brackets submitted… here’s my bracket (click on the bracket to enlarge):

My Bracket

Feb
25th
Thu
2010
International experience (and an MBA) means better CEOs

I ran across a BusinessWeek article this morning that I found particularly interesting.  While the title of the article, Why Do MBAs Make Better CEOs?, obviously piqued my interest—I can confidently say that many (if not most) of my fellow Darden students strive to run an enterprise as CEO in the [near] future—what I found really interesting was not the quantitative analysis (i.e. CEOs with an MBA grew shareholder returns over their tenure by a statistically significant 15% more than those without an MBA) that supported the article’s thesis.  The article goes on to list out a few points of observation as to why CEOs with MBAs are more successful, namely:

  • An MBA provides a good base of skills and helps to teach the right- and left-brain to work together.
  • The selectivity of B-schools gives MBAs an “elite” status that companies look for in selecting their leaders.
  • The B-school experience help students create and access a powerful network.
  • Choosing to pursue an MBA means that a person is dedicated to self-improvement and willingness to learn—attitudes that are valuable throughout one’s career.

What I really found interesting though is the following quote found towards the end of the article (which reflects actual research instead of just conjecture):

[INSEAD] Professor Will Maddux, has carried out experiments demonstrating conclusively that the simple fact of having lived abroad makes people more creative.

While I am confident that most multinational corporations have long ago discovered value in providing cross-cultural experiences for their talent pipeline—likely because the experience can provide them with a better understanding of international operations and corporate practices outside of the home country—I don’t believe that an “increase in creativity” is quite the goal they have in mind.  In one sense, I think that B-schools get this.  Though B-school motivations might also be of the former variety, I think they are a bit more skewed towards the latter.

The Maddux research mentioned in this article, Multicultural Experience Enhances Creativity: The When and How, found that “extensiveness of multicultural experiences was positively related to both creative performance (insight learning, remote association, and idea generation) and creativity-supporting cognitive processes (retrieval of unconventional knowledge, recruitment of ideas from unfamiliar cultures for creative idea expansion).”

To be honest, even though I lived in South America for a few years and have visited different regions of the world, I never really thought about my international experiences in the context of how my personal levels of creativity have changed.  I think it has definitely made me even more cognizant of the huge benefit that diversity bring to an organization in terms of additional opinions and differing ways to approach and solve problems, but I never really saw myself as one of those cogs that could add diversity to an organization.  Even as a member of the Consortium I always felt more in the role of a very strong advocate and believer in their mission, but until now I hadn’t really seen myself as someone who contributes to a diverse environment solely on the basis of my presence and my cultural attitudes/perceptions—though I am a small part Hispanic, I was never exposed to Hispanic culture, traditions or the Spanish language in my home growing up.  My big drive for living and working abroad post-MBA (I hope to spend a few years working in China) has always been, first, to more thoroughly experience the rich Chinese culture and language that I enjoy, second, to provide a unique and diverse living experience for my family, and third, to participate in a fast-growing emerging market with a constantly changing environment.  Looking back though, I definitely see my time in South America as something that has given me the confidence and desire to broaden my horizons even more.  Had I not already gone through learning to live in a different culture and gaining local language fluency the first time, I doubt that making the jump to China would really seem that feasible.

I believe that my personal experience is definitely in agreement with the conclusions of BusinessWeek and Maddux, et al.  I think that in the same way cross-cultural experience breaks down cultural barriers and biases, exposure to different ways of thinking must break down the single-minded thinking (a.k.a. “tunnel-vision”) underlying the basis of poor decision-making.  Of course, I am confident that neither of these broadening effects of cross-cultural experience actually take place without a positive and open disposition toward it—much like the value-added to organizations who approach ethnic and racial diversification as a real contribution rather than merely a numbers game.  Maddux, et al. also found evidence for this in their reseach:

studies showed that the serendipitous creative benefits resulting from multicultural experiences may depend on the extent to which individuals open themselves to foreign cultures, and that creativity is facilitated in contexts that deemphasize [sic] the need for firm answers or existential concerns.

So, if the benefits of an MBA and international experience can provide such a benefit to corporate leadership, why aren’t more companies pushing their talent to go to B-school or facilitating international opportunities?

Feb
10th
Wed
2010

On Monday a house on Robertson Avenue was engulfed by fire and the three renters (doctoral students in the Chemical Engineering program at UVa) lost all their possessions and housing furnishings.  Like so many of our international students, they did not have renters’ insurance.  I hope you can join me in donating even a few dollars directly to these students using the link above.  It’s not often you donate money that the entire amount you donate will go directly to those that need it.

"Among the ways in which the Office of the Dean of Students is assisting them is the establishment of a fund to which donations can be made and from which our students can satisfactorily settle themselves in a new place and finish the semester successfully.  I send you this link with the only expectation that you kindly forward it widely so our University community can respond generously if they so choose.  And, I thank you for your good efforts."

— Aaron Laushway, Associate Dean of Students

Feb
10th
Wed
2010
A couple of weeks ago I ran across a familiar face as I was doing research for job interviews.  I pulled up the Darden Employment Report that recently came out and staring back at me were pictures of fellow Darden Blogger Sierra Cook and myself.  In fact, in one of my interviews the interviewer asked me about it.  I told him that Darden reserves that honor for the students it feels have the greatest potential to be future world leaders, of course.  (Hey, it’s a cutthroat job market out there, what do you expect?)  Hopefully there’s no Madden Curse or something we have to worry about for our Summer job search!
What do you think? Will I have to worry about my summer job performance suffering due to some unexpected case of carpal tunnel or eye-strain?  Or even worse, **gasp!** will I suffer some injury rendering me incapable of “networking” on the golf course?

A couple of weeks ago I ran across a familiar face as I was doing research for job interviews.  I pulled up the Darden Employment Report that recently came out and staring back at me were pictures of fellow Darden Blogger Sierra Cook and myself.  In fact, in one of my interviews the interviewer asked me about it.  I told him that Darden reserves that honor for the students it feels have the greatest potential to be future world leaders, of course.  (Hey, it’s a cutthroat job market out there, what do you expect?)  Hopefully there’s no Madden Curse or something we have to worry about for our Summer job search!

What do you think? Will I have to worry about my summer job performance suffering due to some unexpected case of carpal tunnel or eye-strain?  Or even worse, **gasp!** will I suffer some injury rendering me incapable of “networking” on the golf course?