Saturday, November 8, 2008

This is Your Future?

While novelist H.G. Wells helped to popularize the concept of time travel with his Victorian tome: the Time Machine, we humanoids have never quite been able to conquer the space time continuum. Even in twenty first century of Pax America time travel has never quite made it to reality, and instead is relegated for use as a trope in sub-par popcorn flicks and sweeps week TV episodes. And now as we currently grapple with such crises as the sub-prime loan and the Madeoff scandals, I fear we are most likely never going to invent anything remotely close to time travel. It’s as we suffer from a collective: “Look things came up, we got busy.”

And while true time travel may have been forever lost to science fiction, creative pursuits and Michael J. Fox, every once in a while we’re given the opportunity to, if not travel into the future, peer into what is potentially to come.

I recently found myself at one of those holiday party’s where people were wearing blazers, shirts and jeans and I also wore a blazer and a shirt and a pair of jeans. It wasn’t very rogue of me – but I can only go rogue in so many areas of my life… at social events I’m about as conformist as they come.

The party was hosted by my good friend Kat who had recently renovated and moved into a rather sharp Victorian row house. To all of my MLS obsessed friends who gaze into the potentials of a starter home I have a friend who actually owns property in the 416 area code. She is our hero. Subsequently the demographic spread of the shin-dig, lawyers and business people in their mid to late thirties, was a bit beyond my current cabal of acquaintances most of whom are all in various professional schools and who pay too much rent for creaky apartments with leaky roofs in drafty old houses in the Annex.

Not only was this party also geographically out of my safety zone (ie it wasn’t sandwiched between Spadina and Bathurst) but it was also out of my financial league. Kat actually provided all of the booze, for free. It wasn’t one of those parties where your buddy charges you ten bucks for a plastic cup and a keg; Kat served martini’s and wine. I’m also pretty sure she rented wine glasses. The Chairman Mills truck is the number one sign you’re at a party which has not been paid for by the lovely Scotiabank Student Line of Credit.

I should have known something was going to be different when I responded positively to Kat’s Evite. Yes my friends, an Evite… remember, thirtysomethings are NOT of the Facebook generation. In fact my former boss once called me into her office for a very important meeting so I could show her how to set up her profile; we filed that in other duties as assigned. Thirtysomethings also RSVP to events along the lines of, “Joe and I will try and come - if we can find a babysitter…” eek.

As I didn’t know anyone besides my lovely date Julia I realized that this was going to be one of those party’s where I had better exercise a witty answer to everyone's favourite parlor game, “So what do you do?” The simplistic “I’m doing my MBA” makes me sound about as boring as is the reality of doing my MBA (shout out to my Rotman hommies).

Thankfully it turned out I was in fairly compassionate company, it was a house full of MBA’s and JD’s, where the topic of conversation oscillated between the piss-poor economic climate (“at least when we graduated law school, all of the firms were expanding; we thought we were the shit...”) and fine wine.

“A 2004?” Exclaimed Katherine as I presented her with my housewarming gift, a Vintages bottle of red wine. “You shouldn’t have.”

“Don’t thank me. Thank Richard Waugh. CEO of Scotiabank.” I deadpanned.

My newfound friend Mo overheard me laughing about student loans and then admitted that at 36 he was still paying his back, “but don’t worry,” he laughed, “You’ll be fine. We’re totally happy and stuff.” I was a bit surprised that he was still indebted to the bank for his JD/MBA. “Aren’t we supposed to make enough with a signing bonus to pay it all back?” I asked with a modicum of hope. “Things come up,” he admitted. “And It’s a fairly low interest rate.”

“So what you’re saying - is that these aren’t our Carlsberg years – they’re our student loan years?” Mo nodded his head affirmatively as I downed as much free martini as I could. With the ongoing financial crisis would I even find a job? Without a job how was I going to pay back my student loan? Without paying back my student loan how would I ever afford another martini at the Four Seasons? Kat’s house was, at this point, the next best thing to the Avenue Bar.

Meanwhile Jule had found herself a new bestfriend in Mo’s wife, Elle. Elle was fairly concerned that her 14 year-old had recently received his first blowjob; she had discovered this because someone had written so on his Facebook wall. The generational cleavage once again reared its head (no pun intended) and part of me thought - comparatively who hasn’t found out if an ex was on the receiving end of a blow job from a new person via Facebook?

Mo’s wife used to be a publishing executive in New York before they moved back to Canada to raise their 4 kids. For a mother of 4, she looked amazing, “I do yoga four times a week.” Which explained how she fit so well into a pair of Rock and Republics (And on top of that she advised me where I could get them for cheapsies in NYC, take that Rainbow).

“We’ve become so conservative,” the wife later lamented. “We used to smoke joints and Mo had the longest, nappiest hair. Now we’re suburbanites…” Elle yawned and as the clock struck 11, the party goers vanished into the night letting Jule and I down the last of our free martini’s.

Just a few days after Kat’s party, on New Years, Jule and I went to a party with our professional peers: ie people in professional school, people who have just graduated from professional school, and people who are applying to professional school.

“It was like going into the future.” I told everyone as I regaled them with tales of what people were wearing (Designer denim! Diamonds!) and their jobs (they were venture capitalists and partners in big important law firms) and their lives (they own property!)

“But were they happy?” Everyone asked.

“Well… they didn’t seem unhappy.” I answered truthfully.

And maybe that’s why we never got around to figuring out time travel; it would ruin the surprise.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rogue at Rotman

It was the wise words of my mother who declared way back in August that, "Rotman wasn't ready for me."

"What do you mean?" I asked. "I made a cheer: R-O-T-M-A-N - that's the way you spell Rotman."

"My point exactly." She said as she raised her eyebrows in worry.

B School? Surely the integrative thinkers at 150 St. George could handle an expressive aesthete in a J. Crew sweater. Besides, I was in “Section 1 – We Have More fun!” How bad could R World be?

By the time late September rolled around, as I was knee deep in debits, credits and something our professor kept referring to as sigma, I began to wonder what in Gods name I had got myself into. Not only were my initial marks fairly sub par, even by the standards of the Rotman [where a 9 is perfect….] grading scale, but also mildly disconcerting was the accompanying class-wide grade distribution and standard deviation analysis. The whole thing felt fairly mean; and by mean I ain’t talking about the expected deviation of a random variable.

Rotman, which introduces students to McKinsey’s “think outside the box” motif, can be a fairly isolating place for those of us who may not fit the mould of a traditional business school student. From the often times confusing subject matter to the hyper competitiveness, first year sometimes feels like a marathon. Running into your Rotman nemesis, the section keener, at Second Cup doesn’t help either.

“So what did you do this weekend?” They ask.
“Chilled, I think I’m still recovering from Saturday night.” I admit and order a large coffee, which will hopefully get me through two hours of finance, where I wonder if I’m the only one juvenile enough to laugh when Professor Goldreich introduces the cum day of a stock dividend to the class.
“Oh you didn’t start the MCV case analysis?”
“You know it’s due this Tuesday.”
“I know.”
“It’s just that we also have the group assignment due then as well – so if you didn’t start that…” I smile and nod amicably as my mind wanders: how Lady Gaga gets her hair like that?

As if such conversations weren’t alienating enough, in a cruel twist of fate the Gods have given us Facebook, the great social capital of the modern age and the schools unofficial gossip girl. Facebook is nice enough to let me know how my classmates have outdone me on the latest finance case. After all they’ve probably updated their status four times since they started, with the final, most offensive slap in the face: “Section Keener is finally done Southport Minerals Case and finally leaving Rotman.” Newsfeed time: 3:34 am.

A friend of mine almost de-friended a classmate over their Rotman related status updates.

“What if, they set their alarm at 4:00 am, wakes up, change their Facebook status and then go back to sleep.” I hypothesized. “Just to make the rest of us feel bad?”

A second year once told me that the first year Rotman experience was about taking 265 students, putting them through the same rigorous process, and bringing everyone up to the same base level of knowledge. “Its like a pasta machine” he said, “Someone’s wheat, someone’s water and we mix you together and force you out into similar strings of pasta.”

So what exactly do you do if you don’t want to become a piece of spaghettini at BCG for the rest of your life?

Think al dente; and go Rogue.

The great downfall of R-World (and perhaps of most business schools) is the emergence of the so-called B-School state of nature, which at times can be nasty, brutish and short, and where a seemingly diverse class of students is simply delineated into a West-Side Story-esque montage of Consultants versus Bankers.

Paradoxically this state of nature is in fact the opposite of how business schools are meant to be. Why when we entered the doors of Rotman did we shed our individualism to become a merry band of identical soldiers in Roman branded knapsacks? Especially when business schools are meant to breed “creativity”, “entrepreneurship” and inspire “leadership”.

My solution is to go rogue.

Going rogue is a state of being, a mindset if you will, that suggests success by flying under the radar and going your own way. It assumes that by acting as your own boss you may actually produce better quality, more noticeable work. And in today’s economy, as traditional b-school firms are cutting jobs and internships like Wal-Mart is cutting prices, there is an even greater need to go rogue.

Most importantly, rogue, in fact, further builds on the Rotman school of thought and the integrative thinking ideology. If integrative thinking is “the ability to face the tensions of opposing models, and instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generating a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new model that is superior to each.” Then the rogue individual is in fact best able to discard obsolete models because they are concentrating less on what’s expected of them and can actually concentrate on creating creative resolutions.

So if Rotman’s getting you down: Go Rogue!

P.S. I can see Robarts from my class!