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!

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