Management: Get Outside Your Bubble

I recently returned from a gathering of colleagues who run MBA programs. As I was jotting down notes and discussing insights gathered with my team, it occurred to me how glad I was that we have occasional opportunities to get outside our “bubble” and hear what others are doing. It reinforced the importance of challenging your thinking and creating space to allow exposure some external ideas.

So what can exiting the bubble briefly do for you?

Give perspective – It helps to chat with others and share your experience. In my case, it helped me get a better sense of what made my programs unique and what trends were “macro”, or national. My discussions around program structure and online efforts with other schools helped me get a sense of where we were (which wasn’t as bad as I’d feared…) and of the rate of change. Many industries are “opaque”. There isn’t a lot of data or the data is old. These types of experiences allow you to build an anecdotal sense of how things are going. I felt great about my school, market and team after talking to others. (Already did, but perhaps appreciated our assets more after…)

Compare notes – Sometimes it’s as simple as “what are you doing?” You can plan it consciously (like a recent benchmarking meeting we had with another school), but that’s a lot of work and planning. Conference-type gatherings allow you to create a huge “water-cooler” meeting. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and coffee breaks are all mash-ups with lots of people flow. The presentations can be illuminating, but the chats are more powerful in my experience. They also create personal connections you can leverage. So what did I learn at the water cooler? Some program details at peer schools not obvious on the web, general approach to key trends, new/looming program launches etc. All of it useful and none of it knowable without engagement.

Do a sanity check – “Are we crazy here?” helps to test flight your ideas. Similar to comparing notes, but this is a particular instance. Think of it as the “does anyone else see the same thing I see?” phenomenon, but when your eyes are seeing something different than the widely reported trend. One example in our industry is the rise of online courses and programs. There are a number of opinions, but the tide has turned and the fact of the format is inarguable. But how to respond? Our approach at school is a “do it ourselves to learn”, which many disagree with. Nothing I heard at the conference changed my mind about our path. Good gut check.

Gain insight – Much better to learn from others’ mistakes where you can. I learned several specific things about program-level possibilities that I’ll apply back home.

Commiserate – The conference type event also allows a certain amount of mutual support. I find people to be far more supportive than competitive, on balance. The things we share (unusual stresses, specific experience) are more important than those that potentially divide us (competing for rankings, students etc.). It’s great to have a venue to vent/share/”let it out” where people understand and empathize. We even had a whole session that I’d characterize as “just when you think you’ve seen it all…” CRAZY stories about student situations. Good to know you aren’t alone and students can be crazy everywhere.

Give time to reflect – The distance in space and time creates the opportunity to reflect without all the chatter of your daily life. There are new ideas, time in transit, time alone in the hotel. For me, it allows a little “gestational time” for ideas.

So my advice is to:

1 – Plan and schedule time

2 – Go with a few questions in mind, but an otherwise open mind

3 – Engage and participate

4 – Reflect and take action on what you learn

It also occurs to me that I didn’t get THAT far outside the bubble. What I’m talking about here is more about sharing, community and perspective. So maybe it’s getting outside the micro bubble without totally leaving it…Truly transformative bubble piercing is more divergent. Never-the-less, sharing is productive even within your industry. So take a trip outside your bubble…

2 thoughts on “Management: Get Outside Your Bubble

  1. Nicely said Phil! A few things you might consider adding to the list.

    Contemplate that most of the time you’re managing NOT leading. Managing makes existing things tolerable and maybe even successful. Leadership makes new things. Management is the easy stuff. Try leading for a change. It may get you to “next.”

    Consider that your multi-tasking, informationally overloaded, in constant motion lifestyle/workstyle is doing you and those you serve a tremendous disservice. Doing a lot of things in an average way will never trump doing one thing in a really excellent way. Focus for a change. Go deep once in a while. Pay attention.

    In the antiseptic, abstract, insensitive and scrubbed world of human communications via Facebook, blogs, email, texting and the occasional phone call (remember those), imagine actually having a face to face conversation with another human being. And, if you’re really daring, pick up a pen and write a handwritten note, stick it in one of those white paper pockets called an envelope and lick a stamp. Business, innovation and the world at large is powered by real human beings. Try being one of them.

    • Agreed on all counts. I’m wrestling with transitioning back into a leadership role and find that my calendar (and thus my time to think & do “generative” work) is the hardest thing to control. Your “do a few things excellently” point is a great reminder. I also wholeheartedly agree that a personal touch, whether face to face conversation or a tailored note has far more impact than digital clutter.


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