The Gordian Knot of career dilemmas

They say that people with a ’successful mindset’ are less affected by cognitive dissonance and are able to operate efficiently despite holding two or more contradictory ideas at the same time. Having a natural need for consistency, the second week of the NYC Module was quite a test for me.

What should an MBA graduate do to pursue his/her dreams? Last week the entrepreneurial take on untying the Gordian Knot of career dilemmas sounded something like: ’Just do it! Aim high! In a vibrant ecosystem like New York you could be the next Airbnb or Uber!’ What some of this week’s guest speakers told us to do, however, was something fundamentally different. According to these professional managers, one should find an estabished corporation with outstanding training first, then strategically navigate his/her career forward. ’Learn on someone else’s nickel.’ Of course one should never take his/her eyes off the long-term goal. One could start in Security Analysis, then get an MBA and continue in Consulting, only to end up in Private Equity. What gave these pieces of advice a lot of weight was that these professionals run some of the largest companies in their respective industries, with vast resources at their disposal – resources that most startups can only wish for. There is something fundamentally entrepreneurial about becoming a professional manager these days.

Some messages were loud and clear. Thomas C. Barry, CEO and Founder of Zephyr Management, told us to look for relative competitive advantages, with emphasis on the word ’relative’. One should not try to be the smartest and compete in a crowded space. Instead, one should go where no one else goes, do what no one else does. For example, why go to China to set up a business and compete with tens of thousands of geniuses from all over the world when you can go to Sri Lanka instead and be extremely successful with less effort? His second piece of advice was to always respect macroeconomic trends. ’A rising tide lifts all boats’, as he put it. Why try hard to keep up sales on a stagnating market when you can easily double sales in a developing country? Competing in a smart way and managing one’s ego may just be the two most important skills to have.

A rare combination of skills can also be a source of relative competitive advantage. After two weeks in NYC one of my key takeaways is that whether you want to start your own business or become a professional manager, a business professional should also have technical capabilities and hard analytical skills to succeed in a competitive ecosystem. There seems to be a bright future ahead for MBA’s who can code.

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