Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Mediation Skill Set

There are five concentrations at Graziadio for full-time students: Marketing, Finance (probably the two “big” ones), Entrepreneurship, Leadership & Organizational Change, and Dispute Resolution. Due to the fact that Dispute Resolution courses are managed through the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Pepperdine Law School, very little is really discussed about this concentration. Not only is this a concentration, but students have the opportunity to pursue a certificate as well.

Throughout the Fall semester, I struggled with what concentration(s) to pick. Obviously, I don’t need to make that choice until Fall of my second year, but I wanted to make sure my coursework in general was on the right path. I looked into both entrepreneurship, leadership & organizational change and dispute resolution. I have decided to pursue a double concentration (yes, it can be done) of Leadership & Organizational Change and Dispute Resolution. Why, why would this crazy girl want to do that??

From my research, it is clear that if I want to pursue consulting, which is my end goal, then I need a tool belt that has a variety of applications. In consulting, there is no predestined industry, just to promise of knowledge to help that company with their problem. I interviewed Nancy Caplan, a divorce mediator and attorney, for her view point on how mediation skill sets could be applied to business. In addition, she runs her mediation practice, so her entrepreneurial skill set is equally as important.

In what ways do you feel mediation could be useful in business?

In every way by an exchange and debate of ideas to reach compromises, people learn from each other, gain an understanding of each other, they find out how their interests are joined in many situations. In mediation, the ultimate goal is to figure out how their goals are similar so that they can reach that point.

In the Graziadio program, there is sometimes a differentiation between the “hard skills” and the “soft skills.” If one were to learn a “hard skill” and dispute resolution, how naturally would these fit together?

Mediation is about subtle persuasion. It’s really about communication and being forced to listen to the other person and also about learning to express yourself, since both parties have to express themselves and listen. These are skills that cross all professional boundaries, every profession and in general people who need to communicate with others would benefit from mediation training. Anyone from a stay at home mom to the top of any corporate ladder would benefit from being able to keep an open mind to think about compromises to reach solutions in disputes. Whether you are dealing with children or with friends or business partners.

In business, leadership means understanding the perspective of people throughout your organization and resolving conflicts everyday. For those seeking management positions, what skill set can they expect to utilize on a regular basis?

It gives your back some control, having a background in mediation. You get to make choices, don't let life happen to you. Mediation is all about controlling your own choices and self-determination and learning to figure out how to settle your own problems. This can be very empowering to an executive, especially someone who owns their own business or works closely with unions.

Dispute resolution also has the added value of affecting the type of person you are, especially at Graziadio where values-centered leadership is highly prized, and in a world where corporate social responsibility is one of the top buzz words. How has being a mediator affected your personal life and relationships?

Being mediator means you are always looking at both sides of a conflict and being able to always see both sides let's me have better understanding of how you could have a different perspective of the same situation and that both sides have validity. This makes me less judgmental of other people's perspectives.

From Nancy Caplan, I learned that this subtle skill set, even when not paired with a legal background, can help to emphasize negotiations, listening skills, management-level conflict resolution, and just enhance the way you look at the world. It is often very difficult to get people to tell you the truth, trust in the fact that you will make a weighted decision or explain things in a way that makes sense. This can be extremely frustrating to a manager and often has the impact of shutting down completely and turning off to your employees. With a skill set based in dispute resolution, whether you do the concentration or not, having some of these skills in your tool box may give you the personal edge and confidence to tackle any problem.

Some of the courses available in the Dispute Resolution concentration, that based on conversations with Mike Beaudoin, a 2nd-year student pursuing this concentration, and talks with Sarah Gonzales, a program counselor at Straus, are some of the most applicable to any business student:

Cross-Cultural Negotiation- very applicable to those interested in international business
Environmental Dispute Resolution- interested in sustainability audits? Pursuing a SEER certificate? This might be good for you.
Communication & Conflict- a basic skill set for anyone interested in developing a problem-solving vocabulary
International Investment Disputes- great for a finance concentration student

And many more, too many to name. Contact Sarah Gonzales for more information about how to sign up at: sarah.gonzales@pepperdine.edu.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

First Semester Blues

Grades make no sense. The GPA points system is extremely unclear. At Graziadio, an A gets 4 pts/unit, an A- get 3.7 pts/unit, B+ gets 3.3 pts/unit, B gets 3.0 pts/unit, etc. There is nothing in between. If you got a 90% or 94%, you still get 3.7. Also, in some classes, I've noticed that teachers grade down. If you got an "A-" on a presentation, they put it in the gradebook as a 90. If you got an "A", it's a 94. With this scale, you will always average out to the lower grade, even if your actual performance was closer to a high A- or an average A- (94, and 92 respectively).

There are certain classes I've worked very hard in and felt that no one got an A, including those who probably put forth A level work. In some classes where the grading it more quantitatively explained, I am okay just being shy of an A, for example, in a class where I was 9 pts off from an A (out of 950, marginal by percentage). This is not just the difference between an A- or an A but anyone who feels like they should be getting a B+ instead of a B, etc. With the GPA points system so definitely defined in these wide margins, someone with a B- ends up in the 2.something category.

They say this is "B-school" and B's are expected graduate level work, but in a field like consulting, my grades were required just to apply for an internship. To differentiate ourselves from the competition, especially when our competition are name schools like UCLA Anderson and USC Marshall, clarifying the grade point system is extremely important, as is coming to a unified understanding of an "A" versus "A-" versus "B+" etc. It is every professor's discretion to grade and curve or not curve as they see fit and I am not trying to debate that, but I am also trying to understand how the "best" a person can get in a class is a 94%? Doesn't that mean we enter the course only going down from there? This issue should be addressed with faculty going forward to ensure that there are at least some As in the class, without being perfect. Exceptional effort and learning can be demonstrated without perfection and it's important that those students be acknowledged and their GPAs are not dramatically penalized.

Car Buying isn't easy

In early November, I crashed my car and totaled it. I received a settlement from my insurance, and combined with some personal money, was able to pay cash for a new car. I knew exactly how much money I had to spend, knew exactly what car I wanted (a Nissan Versa) and knew that it had to be a certified pre-owned. After a few test drives at a few Nissan dealerships, I realized finding the right deal was going to be difficult thanks to Los Angeles County’s ridiculously high sales tax. The Certified Pre-owned Kelley Blue Book value on a 2008-2009 Nissan Versa automatic hatchback is about $11500. I had that much to spend INCLUDING taxes. So I knew I might have to sacrifice higher mileage and probably go for a 2008 instead of the 2009, but I was okay with that.

On a whim coming home from school one day, I pulled into Woodland Hills Nissan. The salesperson who greeted me was Frankie Mercado, probably the nicest, low pressure salesperson I’d met thus far. I test drove a 2007, 50k mile Nissan Versa that just wasn’t my style and wasn’t worth the money. It was boring silver and had a worn in steering wheel, which frankly weirded me out. When he reported my feelings to his boss, Ali, it was just my luck that this afternoon, a woman had traded in her 2008 Midnight Blue Nissan Versa hatchback with 41k miles. It was exactly what I wanted and they made a deal with me at $11,500. The car had not been certified, inspected or detailed yet, but they promised me it would be done.

Unknowingly, when signing all my contracts, because the car was not a certified pre-owned yet, my contract was inadvertently written up as a used car (which has a shorter warranty and a lot less benefits in the long run). This is where I screwed up. I knew I wanted a certified pre-owned but I hadn’t done my research as to what that meant. Also, I shouldn’t have signed the contract until the car was cleaned up, inspected and I saw it in daylight.

When I came to pick up my sparkly clean Mindy (that’s what I named her), I realized there was a deep crease as if a shopping cart had hit the side door. In addition, the bumper was a little loose, the hood had a golf ball size ding, and worst of all, the car had an issue turning over when we started it. It started the second time after Frankie repositioned the battery, so we thought it was a glitch.

With verbal promises to fix the cosmetic issues, I left with my new car. Eight visits later, I left with a new car that was fixed.

Over the course of trying to get the cosmetic issues fixed, there turned out to be a light bulb issue and leaking in my back blinker, and the starter issue did not go away. It just got worse. Of course, every time I brought it in, the problem would not re-create and the service manager and I began our unfortunate stand off.

The sales team was always on my side, and I will credit them for trying to make it right. They gave me free rental cars, sincere apologies and never blamed me or harassed me for this issue. In fact, when I realized the car had NOT been a certified pre-owned, they promptly re-did the warranty contracts and certified the vehicle, all of this at cost to them. Obviously, had they not been in a rush to turnover the car in the first place, some of these issues could have been avoided, but I was equally in a rush to get this new car. I would BUY a car from Frankie and Ali again, just taking careful steps to make sure I knew what I was getting. I think this can be said of anyone buying a car. Inspect and be clear every step of the way. Document the process in writing and make sure you understand what you want from it.

Regarding the service team though, I have some complaints. As a consumer, when you are in the right, keep coming back. They have to fix the problem eventually. It’s exhausting, frustrating and sometimes you think, “the car is driveable…forget it.” But don’t give up. So their first attempt to fix the starter issue, they “recharged the battery” which is frankly, a lie. One of those fake mechanic fixes meaning they tightened a few things and checked the connections. Secondly, they replaced the battery, again never having re-created the problem and making assumptions. Next, they “reprogrammed the keys” which have a chip inside, something that should be unrelated to the issue I was having. I am convinced that they never did their due diligence in trying to recreate the issue and were hoping it would stop eventually. Finally, I told them to let it sit a few hours and then try starting it. That was the only way they would recreate it. Also, I recorded the sound on my phone at home when I started the car, giving me evidence to say I’m not crazy, something is actually wrong. They finally found the problem and replaced the fuel pressure regulator. This took exactly 30 days since purchasing the car.

What I have learned from this experience is both a study of how to run a business and how NOT to run a business. Their siloed disconnection from each department, sales and service, created a customer runaround that was frustrating and led to many miscommunications. In addition, their goals were different. Sales saw this as helping a potential future customer and someone, who threw word of mouth, could improve their business. Service saw all these “free fixes” as a bleeding budget for a girl who wouldn’t go away and a problem they weren’t patient enough to fix. Their goals were not in alignment, and it affected the service I received.

In addition, as mentioned before, I was not fully armed and that affected how I acted, not protecting myself as thoroughly. Without knowing what certified pre-owned meant, I did not immediately recognize the discrepancies in what I was signing. In addition, I should never have signed a contract on a car that had not been inspected and detailed. My urgency and frustration after my car accident definitely impacted my emotional response to buying this car. I am hoping that over time, I will learn to love Mindy despite this tumultuous first month and that we are both better for the experience.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ethical Leadership Highlighted on The Apprentice

On week 9 of “The Apprentice”, after two previous weeks where lying had come up as an unacceptable factor amongst the contestants, one contestant was fired at the beginning of the show for cheating.

On week 7, Mahsa was fired after initially breaking her team’s trust by discussing their financial winnings with the other team prior to the board room. She later denied this interaction to Mr. Trump and was fired because of it. Not only was she going into the board room with an unfair advantage, but she then lied about it.

The following week, speculation came up regarding Stephanie’s involvement on a task. She denied certain actions, and it was unclear if she just truly didn’t realize she was lying or if in fact it was a calculated move. Either way, she has been spared thus far as it could not be proven.

On week 9, Anand, who during week 7 had been project manager, was caught sending texts to friends in New York asking them to come take a pedi-cab ride from their team. He asked that they pretend not to know Anand and give the men an advantage. The men ultimately won that task, even though Anand asserts none of his friends came by. This was a direct violation of the rules of the show, but was it actually unethical? When he was confronted by Mr. Trump on episode 9, he initially denied it until Mr. Trump read aloud the said text message.

After two weeks of being in ethical case competitions, and hearing about ethical leadership in the classroom, it is interesting to see what people do. It is also refreshing to see that one of the most powerful businessmen in the world holds a very hard line against certain blatant unethical acts. This season has been about candidates who come from unemployment, underemployment or diverted career paths. These people are more desperate then seasons past and probably, therefore, have more to lose. It’s important that they remain ethical, even though this season seems to be the least ethical thus far.

In lieu of these unethical acts coming forward, the candidate I suspect might actually win this thing is Clint. He not only has been the most forthright about ethical behavior and honest accountability, but he seems the most disturbed by his teammate’s behaviors. He has held himself heads above the competition if only in his ethical stance and Mr. Trump seems to be noticing. What is also extremely surprising is that he has the most buttoned-down attire and least “classic” background and yet seems to be succeeding in spades. His ethical behavior might have a lot to do with this. I will let you know if ethical leadership continues to be rewarded going forward into these final episodes. Thus far, it has been an interesting case study just to observe. It also seems to encourage me that ethics has a place amongst the highest echelons of business acumen. Graziadio’s stance on ethics has a real influence, and Mr. Trump said, this type of behavior is what is killing Wall Street and what we need to move away from. Let’s hope the rest of the industries think so too.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bad-luck Baylor Competition

Cursed from the start. It felt like we were cursed from the start. On Monday before the competition, I totaled my car. My face was bruised and a little worse for wear. However, I had been working with Dr. Andrea Scott preparing for this competition for a few weeks and was not going to let something like this stand in my way. I packed my bags.

At the airport, I received a distressing phone call. Matty Sujatha, one of my teammates, was supposed to be on the morning flight but had missed it due to three hours of traffic. As Brett Jamison and I sat pondering how this would affect us, we boarded our plane. Luckily, in Houston where we switched planes, we found out she had actually snuck onto our flight just before the doors closed. Disaster averted.

Or so we thought. As Brett went to grab his carry-on that had been stowed in first class, he realized someone had mistaken his generic black bag for their own. He called the guy’s number, rushed through the airport to meet him, changed terminals and went back through security just in time to make the plane to Waco.

Now three of us had been cursed. When we arrived in Waco, we had been prepping on the plane for the competition and hoping nothing else would go wrong, but in my gut, I knew this wasn’t the last of it. We still had one team member who was unscathed.

After a little team pow-wow at the hotel, and realizing we could actually use powerpoint, our own computers, and the internet for the competition, we went to bed relieved and a little nervous. Thursday morning, Kamika Dillard, our fourth member, had an upset stomach brought on by food poisoning. It had officially come full circle.

Despite all of these set backs, we received our case and got to work. The most surprising part about this case was its structure. It was a 4-page case largely describing the situation and allowing us to make our own assumptions. The quantitative data was thin and the company information we were able to ascertain was limited as it was a 2010 start-up company.

However, what was most challenging in this process was working together and figuring out each other’s working styles. We each had very distinct, somewhat competing, styles. It was 24 hours working together on this project, and we evolved throughout to learn how each person functioned best. It was trying at times, especially because I had not worked with the other three before, as I was the only first year student.

That being said, we figured out our strengths and each worked on our parts of the presentation. The following day, Friday, we were going to present twice. We stumbled upon another set-back. As we did a quick run through in the hotel room, and thought the shuttle to campus would leave at 8:15, we missed the shuttle by 4 minutes. The last team to get to campus, we rushed carrying all our luggage through campus, and a little worse for wear, arrived.

We went second in the first round, having some time to re-compose ourselves. The first presentation went surprisingly well. We were all confident afterward, and felt we had successfully addressed all the judges questions. As an ethics case, we included an ethical framework from which to evaluate our decisions and recommendation. This definitely set us apart from the competition, something that we had been trained to include thanks to our coach.

At lunch, we learned that we had moved on to the final, money round. This was a different set of judges and we were presenting to an open audience. Ultimately, we felt good after this round as well, except for an unfortunate diverted question & answer session where the judges got stuck on something we hadn’t really discussed.
Ultimately, we won third place.

Some of the takeaways:
- Sometimes it doesn’t matter how bad you think you deserve it (especially because of bad luck), you must manage your expectations and do the best you can and be proud in that.
- Don’t propose ideas that you haven’t fully thought out. Sometimes the most innovative surface ideas can bog down an otherwise healthy recommendation if you aren’t careful.
- Take time to discuss your working styles prior to getting in the room. Be honest and open in the way you like to work. It will help to get through that process in advance.
- Be kind to each other. This is something Dr. Scott told us in advance and probably is one of the most important things we achieved.
- Don’t take anything for granted. They give you a judging criteria because that is what THEY are looking for. Be more cognizant of that as you work through your ideas and presentation.

If you are interested in seeing more from the Baylor Case Competition, videos and pictures will be posted soon.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Drive without Distraction

I am busy. Being an MBA student makes me extremely busy. I am always making to do lists in my head, making phone calls from the car, and checking my emails at red lights. My commute is often 45 minutes to an hour. If I don't get work done in the car, I have trouble with my time management.

Yesterday, I crashed my car. No, I totaled my car.

On my way to school, I was in my head about a stressful conversation I had with my brother the night before, and I was strategizing the week ahead. I probably checked my phone 3-5 times looking at emails or adding something to my ongoing to do list. After getting off the highway, the radio stations disappear and I had to switch to CD. Without some music, I find it difficult to unwind before school. My thoughts sometimes literally overwhelm me.

I can't possibly be the only one who does this. But as I was switching, a pick-up truck slammed on its brakes in front of me, and I slammed on mine. Thanks to the water and oil mix on the road from the morning's rain, my car slid much further than expected and completely crumpled into back of the truck. My airbags went off and my face is definitely a bit burned and banged up. But I'm mostly okay. Thank god, I am mostly okay.

This was an eye-opening experience. One that I equate to the stress of being in school and all the potentially dangerous situations we allow ourselves into.

We drive when we're tired, having a phone conversation, checking emails, reading texts, jotting down notes, eating meals, doing our makeup, fixing our ties. Any slew of distractions can plague the busy MBA student. Hell, they can plague any busy person, especially businesspeople. This behavior is something we must stomp out NOW before we run the risk of future disaster.

When people asked me today if I'm okay, I say no. Because I'm not. But where I'm really not okay is psychologically. My face will heal no problem and my hand will stop being sore, but psychologically, I'm just as stressed as ever. As if I have time to go find a new car. However, this stress needs to be managed or the same thing, or worse, could happen again.

Some stress relieving advice:

When I was swimming the first month of school, I was much less stressed. I did my thinking time in the pool. It was awesome.

Play with a puppy. My dog is both an amazing hassle and an amazing distraction. If you don't have a dog, go find a friend and walk the dog together. There is something truly lovely and relieving about puppy kisses.

Write to do lists before you leave the house. The extra few minutes will help to clear your mind in advance of the drive. Or, on the way home, make sure you write the list in advance.

Don't be afraid to say no. You can't do everything. I recently had a conversation with a friend who has been overextended. The pressure of being at every meeting, every event, is exhausting.

To that end...get a good night's sleep. You are less likely to hurt yourself in any number of ways (including getting good grades and keeping up your health) if you get a good night's sleep.

These are just a few tips from someone who has not been sleeping well, been battling a head cold, not making enough to do lists, not exercising enough or eating well, and not been spending enough time with my puppy. And this person just totaled her car.

Case Competition Results and Reflection

Friday morning I arrived at school with nervous energy and positive thoughts. My team, Canyon Curves Consulting, was competing in the Values-Centered Leadership Lab Case Competition. This is an ethics-focused case competition. You are given 2 hours to read the case, analyze it, form a recommendation and create a presentation. Then, you present for a panel of judges for 20 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of Q&A. The judges are looking at 3 brackets of 3 teams, one winner from each bracket moves on to the finals.

Our team consisted of Sean Gray, Noreen Okarter, Jeff Kraft, and myself. We each brought different skills to the table. In preparation for the event, we had done a lot of research on the process of case competition problem-solving. Our case, about Dannon Yogurt, dealt with Corporate Social Responsibility issues in marketing. As we had prepared before the event, we had allocated time to certain things.

That all went out the window. It took much longer to read the 27 page case than expected, almost 40 minutes of our 2 hours. Then, when we went to organize it, there was some disagreement as to which direction to go with the recommendations. As time ate away, our dream of a practice run quickly evaporated.

In the first round, we were crunched for time, not giving Noreen enough time to finish her section on risk analysis. After the questions, we weren't even sure if we made it through the first round. Waiting for the results seemed to take FOREVER. But we had won our bracket and were moving on to the money round.

We had 30 minutes to adjust the judges issues and make some changes. The questions were an amazing guideline for the process, and, as another team divulged, by having easy judges in round one, they were at a disadvantage going into the final round.

We felt much better after our second presentation, despite having very difficult questions thrown at us. This is a very difficult section of the competition and one that most teams don't practice for. Thinking on your feet and understanding what information you had to leave out of your presentation, these two skills allow you to excel during the Q&A. And that part is judged!

In the end, we came in second to a team of 2nd year students who competed last year and came in second place. It was actually a result we were anticipating, so in our hearts, it felt like a complete win. I would recommend this experience not only to people interested in consulting, but to anyone who expects to make managerial decisions. Thinking on your feet, presentation skills, and problem-solving are as critical as it comes for MBA students. I was ecstatic to be a part of this and look forward to competing with my other team at Baylor University next week. The format of that case competition is very different and I'm sure I'll have additional reflections on that one.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Prepping for case competition

The next two weeks are nutty. I have always had a drive to win. I don't like not winning, and the reason is not actually for the "glory" or the "bragging rights." I like winning because it means I challenged myself and it was worth the effort.

That being said, I don't win very often. Athletically, I was ecstatic when I finished about a millionth in the LA marathon. And I actually didn't engage nearly as much as I could have in high school competitions, like debate or other things. I won a poetry contest once, that was pretty neat. And I did win elections for my youth group chapter. That is about where my glory starts and ends. So now, as I get older and I am more confident in my abilities, winning has taken on a certain self-fulfilling notion.

On Friday, I am participating in Pepperdine's Value-Centered Leadership Lab Ethics Case Competition. I have assembled a team that I am damn proud of. And the best thing is, we all are "in it to win it" as one of my teammates said. Sean Gray, Jeff Kraft, and Noreen Okarter make up the team and we each bring unique perspectives to the case. The most nerve-wracking part is being able to analyze a case in only 1 hour. Not just analyze, but prepare a presentation on this analysis.

Today, I met with my other case competition team. I am on a team that is being sent to Baylor University to compete in their ethics case competition. This competition, we are locked in a room for 24 hours to work on our case. It's obviously a very different format. Today, as we met to discuss a practice case, it took about 3 hours to really lock down what we were going to do. This scares the life out of me in regards to Friday's competition. Can it be done?

Clearly it can, as this same format has been used for a few years now. However, sticking to a process will definitely be key. We didn't do that nearly as much today, and as formulaic as that is, it will probably be the only way to jam through all that information effectively. This is getting to be a bit of a ramble, but I'm just excited to work on these two case teams. As a burgeoning consultant, I better be good at this or I'm in the wrong field. Time to test out my skills and see how I fare.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The SEER Certificate & My personal SEER efforts

Today I attended the SEER certificate information session. For those who don't know, the SEER certificate is a brand-new program specific to Graziadio that focuses on certifying that those who complete the coursework are Social, Ethical and Environmentally Responsible (SEER) individuals who will be applying that psychology to their business lives.

The program is not derived solely from coursework. Besides needing to take 3 electives which are deemed SEER relevant, there is also a SEER capstone course which focuses on tying all this learning together. Coursework is not enough to be truly SEER. There is a service component that is extremely important. Without applying this learning, what's the point? This can manifest itself in a variety of ways, which is the amazing part. It can be certain active levels within Challenge 4 Charity, Values-Centered Leadership Lab, or, the club that championed this certificate, Net Impact.

As this program is still in its infancy, it will continue to change and evolve. As someone interested in consulting, how does this program apply to me? This is not just for those 'greenies' who want to change to planet one pretty green leaf at a time. This program focuses on the lesser discussed ethical repercussions of doing business as well as the social rights and well-being of employee relations and social justice. This "Corporate Social Responsibility" focus is growing with consulting as each company realizes that securing greater employee loyalty and increasing profits is dependent largely upon CSR. Consultants are constantly being hired not only to evaluate sustainability practices but also to look at smaller efforts that could improve the business model through social re-structuring.

On a personal level, I have always recycled, even going so far as to now have a compost bin on my balcony. I feed my worms with food waste and junk mail and friends say, "ew" but I do it anyway. I have always had an affinity for the greater good but knew that beyond that, I wasn't sure how I would impact the world. My social values are much stronger than my 'green' planet values, and now I feel like I have a way to implement them into the path I am already on. I encourage the SEER program for people in all industries. Dig a little deeper. This may be the way of the future.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Apprentice- Shared Vision and its impact on Group Dynamics

In the most recent episodes of the Apprentice, group dynamic issues are a direct reflection of a lack of shared vision. In the case of the show, this means that they each want to get the job and are not working for the greater good of the team. One strategy that has gone largely underutilized is the fact that by succeeding, no one from the team is “fired.”

When operating from a perspective of shared vision, people are more willing to utilize people’s strengths and also encourage greater idea flow. In the case of The Apprentice, when someone is failing, even the leader can be reluctant to step in, preferring to have someone to blame if they lose the task. While this may not be directly relevant to how the real world works, it can give lesson to changing group dynamics in business school.

In every class, in every new semester, our groups change. Also, the expectations of that group change based on the professor’s grading style and learning needs of the class. Even deeper than that, however, is what additional expectations each member brings to the group. Some people care very deeply about their quantitative grades while others are just happy to survive having learned more than they knew before. Others have no interest in the class, their grades, and just want to get through it. Finding this shared vision and build that into the motivating factors can be difficult.

Oftentimes, people can confuse “purpose” with “vision.” In the Apprentice, everyone has the vague purpose of being a good team member or helping to complete the task, or in the simplest terms, maybe not to seem stupid on National television. Each person does, however, have a concrete personal vision, and that is to get the job. However, even that lacks true specificity and clouds their ability to actually obtain the job. In a book I read for my leadership class, “The Fifth Discipline” by Peter Senge, “Purpose is abstract. Vision is concrete. Purpose is ‘advancing man’s capability to explore the heavens.’ Vision is ‘a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.’ Purpose is ‘being the best I can be,’ ‘excellence.’ Vision is breaking the four minute mile.”

To this end, creating shared vision means finding that uniting specificity that can both motivate as well as envelope the intrinsic desires of the group. One way to view vision on The Apprentice and make it more specific is to not just think about the job, but viewing that job’s direct impact on your life. One way to frame it would be: “I will get this job by brainstorming at least 3 ideas for every task and helping to implement the agreed upon team action by being candid in my thoughts about the direction of the team.” This attitude is both quantifiable and qualifiable. It frames certain personal values that will motivate the individual and give them a benchmark to constantly work toward.

In applying this to group work at school, it is important to figure out everybody’s strengths up front and what tasks will motivate them. In such a short time period, it may not be possible to achieve true shared vision, but by creating an open dialogue up front that addresses intrinsic needs as well as quantifiable benchmarks, the group dynamic has the potential to be much more successful.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Strengthsfinder 2.0 and the Gallup Panel

The first question the recruiter from Gallup asked the audience was, "What do you think of when you hear the name 'Gallup'?" The obvious response is polls. However, as she went on to explain, the skills they have to successfully generate polls are the same observational skills that allow them to improve businesses on a significant scale.

They are a consulting firm. During Consulting week in October at Graziadio, there was an alumni panel as well as a Gallup panel. Unlike typical strategy firms, Gallup's focus is two-fold and very different. First of all, through their polling and general information gathering, they have tremendous resources in which to pull from when advising their clients. However, almost more importantly, they know how to build values in relationships and to do that, they use strengths-based analysis and implementation.

They are often involved in improving productivity by generating new ways in which to utilize your work force. Most people are dissatisfied by their job, I believe that stat was 90%. And more than that, people are not doing jobs that they are innately suited for. One of the books they gave out, "Strength Based Leadership", revolves around the concept that you should be enhancing and expanding upon your already pre-existing strengths, not spending twice the energy trying to fix your weaknesses.

This is where they differ greatly from other consulting firms. Most firms go into a company and try to "fix what's broken". Gallup tries to enhance and reorganize around what's working. Through scientific analysis and quiz-taking, they have been able to determine what each person's 5 strengths-based themes are. By being armed with this knowledge, you can not only figure out if you are in the right position, but if you are exercising these muscles on a regular basis.

During the panel, I received the book "Strengthsfinder 2.0". It is essentially an abridged version of the larger book previously mentioned. As part of it, you are given an access code to the strengthsfinder.com quiz that will analyze your strengths.

In order, mine were: Communication, Significance, Strategic, Activation, and Woo. These themes are not just strengths but they include recommendations as to how to better implement them in your work and personal lives. By living from a positive perspective of what you do right, it is only a matter of time that you will just inherently get better at what you are doing. Also, they teach you how to partner with people of other strengths to enhance where you are weak.

The books and online analysis obviously go into more detail then I can do here, but it was refreshing to look at these strengths, keep in mind my current career goals, and realize they were congruent and compatible. This is where Gallup strikes a very emotional cord in their approach, and one that I found unique and fascinating.

The Gallup panel was eye-opening in a variety of ways, and it seems that there is no end to the way in which "consulting" can manifest itself. This field, as my mentor Jeanne Hartley said, "Is a way of doing things, not a way of being." Consulting has many forms and it seems like I must keep investigating.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Finals & Twitter

This week is finals. I thought it would be harder...that it should be harder. My fellow classmates post facebook comments that they are up all night studying and practically living in the library. Maybe I got lucky, maybe my teacher's just aren't that difficult. More than anything I just think it's how my brain works. I was talking to my mom about it and she noticed that none of us study very much. Josh was a straight A student, Brad is practically a genius, and Alex got B's without doing much work at all. I'm not saying we're brilliant, but clearly we absorb and can structure out the information within our heads in such a way that it is easy to apply on tests. This is just an observation and one I would have to delve into more deeply with time and science.

Also, I started a twitter page. More about the benefits of cross-promotion in another blog. For now, here's a link :) Check it out.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tiny kernels of influence

My iPod is riddled with memories and influence. Better than Ezra is a reminder of a guy I briefly dated, Mika was received from a co-worker, and Billy Joel is one of the gifts my father gave me. When I hear “Build me up buttercup,” my mind immediately goes to the moment when I crossed the finish line with my friend Kendall. No matter to what extent these people have touched my life, these tiny little remnants still remain. Sometimes, I can hardly remember where I learned something, or how I got into something, but I know there was an influence, a moment, I’m forgetting.Even when someone significant touches your life, the tiny everyday reminders enhance the existing relationship.

I feel like my working experience has been similar. I wracked my brain trying to remember all of my relevant skills to pepper my resume. Sometimes, these skills were not part of my everyday life, but someone taught me something little that now has significant value. Obviously, it’s hard to remember who taught you what, but these tiny interactions are not to be ignored. Based on recent discussions with my career counselor and other informationals, I realized I was leaving off valuable skills from my resume because I didn’t perform them everyday. Even though I don’t hear these songs everyday, the memory is intense when I re-hear it, just as my learning comes back to me incrementally and I can readily apply it.

One of the hardest things to remind myself as I try to figure out my life is that I’m not going to figure it out alone no matter how hard I wrack my brain. Someone else is going to say something, perhaps miniscule at the time, and it’s going to leave a mark. Taking in all these small details is cumbersome and exhausting to wade through and try to find the value. However, if I am open to the learning, it will make the task easier. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m embarking on something I’m not an expert at, and that’s super scary. To keep my mind open and be willing to gather each kernel of knowledge or influence, while still remaining true to myself? That’s the real challenge, but I’m ready to take it on. I don’t want to come across as flippant or easily influenced as my journey becomes more planned out and fine-tuned. Right now I feel like everyone is an influence and my mind and plans change day to day. However, I know that with every kernel, eventually I’ll find a playlist I can live with, and that permanently defines me. Or maybe not permanently.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Apprentice as Business School-Sales Tactics

"The Apprentice: The Recession Era"

In the second episode of season 10, the task was to sell ice cream. Seems simple enough, children could do it (granted, they are very cute). However, neither team seemed particularly effective.

Tactics utilized:

By the men's team "Octane"
-Barber shop vests and hats
-Whatever price they could get someone to agree to
-Attempt to spread out

By the women's team "Fortitude"
-Tight tank tops
-Moving their cart around from spot to spot
-Giving out free ice cream at the last minute near the men to deter sales

When examining sales tactics (and watching this show) it is always important to think how you would have done it better. These people all have an education, often times powerhouse MBA educations, and yet they are running around like an unorganized mass, with little to no strategy ever discussed fully. Leadership was chaos management at best. There were some attempts to delegate but the follow-through efforts were minimal.

Some ideas that would have increased sales:
-Sales rules--tell your sales team what the expectations are and set goals. If they are not meeting those goals, check-in and re-strategize
-Group sales- it goes without saying that if you can sell 20 to one person in 5 minutes, do it. Picking one or two people to go to nearby businesses and focus on group sales strategies, and creating new pricing structures for bulk sales, would have benefited both teams. The girls had 2 bulk sales that were shown during the episode...not nearly enough, and those happened to be lucky, not thought out.
-Market research-ask people what they are willing to spend and tailor the price points to reflect the market, when the day gets warmer, maybe you raise the price because people are willing to spend more, but everyone on the team needs to be on the same page. Both teams on the show just picked prices out of the air, hoping they could get it. The girls were selling consistently at $5, however, one woman actually told them "They should be ashamed of themselves" for charging people so much for a small ice cream sandwich.

These are just some of the strategies that could have been implemented by either team to really focus the task and drive up the revenue. It has always fascinated me to watch "The Apprentice" and figure out what I would do differently. Motivating this is a desire to succeed and the only way to do that is to recognize where people have failed and improve.

I will be watching the show and highlighting certain business analysis throughout the season. Keep checking back!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Apprentice Season 10--The recession era

Donald Trump, you might actually be doing something right for once. This recession has largely been about good, solid workers losing their jobs. Not just good workers, but sometimes, burgeoning success stories that never had a chance to blossom. Donald Trump has returned "The Apprentice" back into a show worth watching...or so I hope. His recession era theme is examining the brilliant minds that in any other economy would be successes. All the contestants have either been laid off or barely gotten off the ground for one reason or another. I am excited to watch this season. During my undergrad, I wrote a paper about season 1 of the Apprentice and how people studying business should watch this show. It has an amazing observational impact on how you should, and more often, should NOT do business. With Celebrity Apprentice, it definitely lost its business application somewhat, but now I believe it might be worth watching again.

In addition, it puts things in perspective. A recent conversation I had with a 2nd-year told me that our incoming class has far more real world, and extremely applicable, experiences than her class. Our knowledge base is brimming with talent that hasn't been fully realized. The recession played its part but using these resources, accepting that being in school does not mean we weren't on our road to success. I believe watching this season of the Apprentice might be a good lesson in sharpening our minds to what our competition is and what everyone is going through right now.

Is "crazy" a trait you might want to have?

Hypomania- a mild form a mania, primarily characterized by an abnormal state of extreme excitement, great optimism, overactivity and reckless spending of money.

This condition has recently been linked quite extensively with success, specifically in entrepreneurs. Sparked by a recent New York Times article, I think it's important to examine this quality in ourselves, in myself, going forward. How can I capitalize on my crazy? As Graziadio increases the focus on the entrepreneur concentration, it is only natural to examine what would make our class of entrepreneurs more successful. And, it's possible, that it may be something you can barely examine on a b-school application. Largely influenced by psychiatrist and author John D. Gartner's work and book "The Hypomanic Edge," ongoing studies and articles could help you to examine if you have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur...in other words, are you crazy enough?

New York Times Article: "Just Manic Enough" http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/business/19entre.html

Dr.Dobbs.com Article: "The Hypomanic Entrepreneur" http://www.drdobbs.com/184406082

John D. Gartner's 2005-2006 Blog: " The Hypomanic Edge" http://www.hypomanicedge.com/blog/blog.htm

James Koch & James L. Fischer's Book & an article about it: "Born not Made: The Entrepreneurial Personality" http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2010/mar/29/james-l-fisher-hypomaniacal-entrepreneurs-on-the/

Tim Ferriss' Blog: "Harnessing Entrepreneurial Manic-Depression" http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2008/10/03/harnessing-entrepreneurial-manic-depression-making-the-rollercoaster-work-for-you/

Entrepreneur Magazine: "Turn up the Crazy" http://www.entrepreneur.com/magazine/entrepreneur/2007/may/177156.html

Entrepreneur Magazine: "New Blueprint for Successful VC Funding" http://www.entrepreneur.com/money/financing/article206914.html

Friday, September 10, 2010

Advice for Businesswomen who Live healthfully

A woman who I have worked with who is a Registered Dietician recently posted on a topic I specifically asked for. As a woman who worked in a network heavy industry, I was always struggling with my weight, both due to the "required" alcohol intake and food. Business school is far from a break, like I had hoped it would be. Networking is just as important now as it was before. Check out her blog for some useful advice! (Good for men or women...but obviously it's more difficult to hide chubby tummies in a cocktail dress then a suit!)


Thursday, September 9, 2010


Business school is one of the few places where the overachiever is no longer the teacher's pet. We become the "popular kids." This seems very high school in its simplicity but it's true. The second year students who are most noticeable and have a positive reputation are those who are mentors, club leaders and have attained exceptional internships. There are already whispers of who completes their work and who doesn't. It greatly effects group dynamic and truly impresses, IF the rumors are good.

This leads me to one very clear dilemma. In addition to being instantly appreciated for a quality that may have earned you the term "OCD" or "overachiever" or "the girl who asks too many questions", you are also slammed with a million decisions on how to spread out your time equally between clubs, socializing, homework, and networking for internships/jobs.

I have decided to join 5 clubs actively. I am a part of the National Association for Women MBAs, Consulting Club, Entrepreneurship Club, Challenge4Charity, and Values-Centered Leadership Lab. While I hope to attend other events sponsored by other clubs, this involvement is more then enough. It took a great deal of soul searching to narrow this down and figure out what I was truly willing to designate time toward. It's important to realize it's not just about interests but existing leadership. I definitely applied for leadership roles within the clubs where I knew I could collaborate with the leaders on a regular basis. In addition, I followed my passion. I did not expect to be as excited about Challenge4Charity as I am, but somehow, through persuasive existing leadership and a genuine part of me that loves philanthropic endeavors, I found my passion. "Overachieving"can only be successful and prevent burnout when you know how to manage your time properly. Part of that management has to be the motivation to keep up. I so badly want to be a part of all these clubs that I will find a way to manage my time.

I already know that NAWMBA will be a club lower on my priority list if only because it doesn't ignite my enthusiasm the way some of the others do. Also, while entertainment is an interest (and previous job) of mine, I realized that the club goals did not necessarily gel with my current career focus. I still intend to check out some of the events but it didn't end up being something that I can throw myself into.

It is very overwhelming but also a little awesome. I feel appreciated for my eccentricities and my natural leadership response seems to fit into business school just perfectly. It's a matter of balance, and I hope I can achieve it throughout school. I think it's also important to be open to the possibility that my passions, expectations and interests might change a thousand times before I settle into a rhythm that makes sense for me and for success.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mac vs "Knowledge"

Macs are arguably the "smarter" computer when compared to the consumer diverse PCs. They are more uniform both as a company (seeing as how PC manufacturers are many) and in the user functionality. Despite this, however, there is a down side. They do not always integrate well with PC based software/hardware. For example, my blackberry (of which I LOVE) is windows based, and therefore, PC-compatible. While there is PocketMac for syncing capabilities, it is glitchy and does not allow for internal updates to the blackberry software. My Mac and I have had a tough road to go down.

I was a reluctant converter to Macs. I am still not a proponent of the iPhone (did I say glitchy before?). My iPod is fun but not a purse must-have. And I just bought a Kindle over the iPad. That being said, I worked in the film industry where it is very much the standard. When my PC laptop died and my desktop Dell proved not so portable, I invested in a MacBook. I am a pretty happy girl and relatively Mac-savvy now.

Then school started. For my Data Analysis class, there is an add-in software called "StatTools" that makes Excel more user friendly for calculating out those difficult quant problems. Super big bonus! Anything to make my math illiterate self have to do less physical calculating is awesome. HOWEVER, my Mac is not compatible with StatTools. Being that Macs are so self-sufficient, it makes it very difficult for third-party programmers to design for both PC & Mac equally. So, PC almost always wins when they are determining their demographics. While Macs are catching up in popularity, they still are not as practical for a smaller programmer with less R&D money to invest in making Mac compatible software.

Oh, dear Mac! I feel like you are testing my loyalty! You have a work around, yes. Boot Camp. You can actually boot your Mac as a virtual PC but utilizing a free program on your harddrive. However, you need to invest in both Windows and Microsoft Office for PC. This process was extremely frustrating. Probably the most difficult part of my first week of b-school was this disaster. After much misinformation, I was able to figure it out. My advice for those reading this is that they speak to someone who has done it before. Also, buying a student version of the update software can be installed on Parallels or Boot Camp but using a work around. ASK FOR HELP. *rant over*

My point is this. While I still do not regret my decision to buy a MacBook, I do wish there was more market continuity in products. As Macs rise in popularity, I'm sure some of this will be remedied. For now, I will just sit here, head spinning and wishing the world of computers could live in harmony.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Play well with others

This is what it's all about. When your parents sent you off for your first day, as you got on the bus, their main concern was that you would have fun, be safe, and make friends. As I began orientation, the little giddy girl inside me was reminded to always play well with others. This is something that has not been easy for me in the past. I learned, often the hard way, that my opinions were not common, and not everyone cared. I can be off-putting. Back in grade school, I was teased, as most kids are at some point. This developed into a snarky, defensive facade, pushing away people before they could be mean to me. As I've gotten older, self-reflected and attempted to change this about myself, I was struck once again with a "new school" situation.

Not only is this a pressure we put on ourselves, because truly, who doesn't want to be liked? But this is also a pressure put onto us by business school. For two days, every presenter, all the alumni, faculty, and current students spoke about the importance of networking. Coming from the film industry, this is a mantra I am very familiar with. That being said, what networking really means is "go make friends, sweetie." Going forward, as I begin my two years in business school, this is one of those quiet fears no one dares to mention aloud. They might say "I'm not big on networking" or "Networking is really intimidating" but what it really comes down to is that kindergarten fear that the other kids won't like you and you'll end up eating alone. The strongest networking relationships are those in which people also count you as at least an acquaintance, if not a friend. So if you fail at this, what hopes do you have in succeeding in your career?

Doom and gloom, hardly. Because truth be told, if you can't make friends, make yourself valuable. People may not like you, but they'll need you. We're all brilliant or we wouldn't be here (so they tell us). Find your niche, your personal brand, and run with it. Show it off and let it shine...then the friends should come. It's been hard to breathe this week, but I'm learning. I don't think I'll be eating alone...at least I haven't yet.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Networking as Yourself

There are a ton of networking "rules." Part of being in business is that it requires connections to get things done and to excel. While my experience is specific to entertainment, the mother of all networking industries, a rolodex can rule just about any businessperson's life and success.

Especially if you are new at networking, I feel like it is very easy to just play the game. "Drinks," "coffee", "lunch." The ways in which you can connect with someone seem to be horribly limiting. You have to go to the "parties" and you have to dress the part. While I may not have the highest quantity of contacts, I do believe I have extremely high quality. How did I manage this? I don't play the game the same way everyone else does, and this makes me seem more genuine.

I act like myself. I love hockey and halloween and softball and frozen yogurt and wine. I do not like trendy cocktail bars or paying a cover or loud parties where you can't speak and you blindly trade business cards like that means something. My contacts know me on a personal level. We've gone horseback riding and to a hockey game. We've gone to a gallery opening instead of drinks. At Comic-Con, an event in San Diego that has become a huge hub for Hollywood networking, I have not once attended a party but I have approached executives dressed as Harley Quinn, the Joker's girlfriend in the phenomenal 90s cartoon. This executive who had a new deal with Top Cow publishing was impressed by my actual fangirl persona, not someone faking an interest in Comics because Comic-Con is "the" place to be.

This year at Comic-Con, I knew someone was speaking at a panel for the Jim Henson Company. This is someone I had met before and wanted to renew the relationship. I went to the panel and spoke with him afterwards. What made this exchange more valuable is my ACTUAL interest in all things Fraggle Rock and Muppets. This validates my being there as well as sparks a conversation in a more unique and specific way. Finding a way to connect honestly is far more important then faking it. First of all, if you are good enough to fool them upfront, eventually, when projects and meetings become reality, your facade will fade and the relationship may ultimately suffer.

At an entrepreneurship conference I recently attended as a volunteer, I listened attentively to all the business proposals, trying to find a connection. One guy was Canadian and was starting an internet sports network. He had started as broadcasting curling and hockey, two things I had genuine interest in. I approached him, spoke honestly about my television watching habits, a curling clinic I had attended, and my love of the Washington Capitals. As it turned out, he knew the owner. I eventually mentioned my background in entertainment and he offered me his card, encouraging me to keep in contact as they might have a job for me down the road. I know that by starting the conversation on common ground, asking him questions about our mutual interests, and laughing over the playoff catastrophe that was my team, we forged a connection and a memory that is far more vivid then if I had feigned an interest in what he was doing to get employed.

I have always had a sincere interest in breaking the mold of Hollywood Networking and forge relationships that mean something and have genuine staying power. Rarely does a person not remember me and often I have repeat endeavors with the same person. Be yourself. Join a softball league if you ACTUALLY like softball, go to wine tasting events if you like wine, head to a non-profit art gallery if you like art. Obviously, occasionally you have to play the game, but don't fake it. When you don't have things in common, ask questions. Find that connecting factor that will make you more memorable. Besides, do you really want to always do business with people who you don't relate to? The mask wears out and the lies get old. Bring some integrity back to the networking process, and you might actually get better at business.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Hormone Imbalance

Kiddo is a seven year old white and calico cat. Chronically sick, he's always had problems with his skin, respiratory infections, and tummy issues. A lost cause, I had just given up that he would ever be a happy, healthy cat. He has his kitty playmate, Billie, who he loves dearly, and is passionately sweet with me. But he is always sick. This is not a good life for a cat.

Today, he was diagnosed. He has a hormone imbalance. This causes flare ups throughout his systems, causing an almost constant pinkish tone in his skin, as well as on his nostrils, gums, esophagus, and lungs. It is easily treated with some hormone pills. Finding this out was like having a new lease on life. He may not know it yet, but I am celebrating for him. His life is about to get exponentially better and I couldn't be more jazzed.

I sometimes wonder just how sick I am as well. I am in an industry that seems chronically ill. The film industry has little festering wound after nagging cold. Nothing that serious that you would scream abandon ship quite yet, but alarming nevertheless. As every new film comes out, the same generic actors grace the screen in mediocre scripts with formulaic plots. Everyone I know complains and everyone in the industry complains and everyone at the studios complain, and yet who is making the decisions? Who is ignoring the cries and complaints and hoping it just gets better on its own? Financiers and marketing teams. At one of the major studios, the co-head of distribution and production started in marketing and worked up to distribution. This person has never been on the creative side yet holds some of the great greenlight power. It's like a doctor who hasn't had an internship treating cancer.

I hold out hope and leap into my MBA convinced that I will find the cure, the new cocktail of meds required, to turn this business around. However, it is just as likely that I'll find out that, unlike my kitty, it's not a simple overarching problem. If that occurs, I have two choices. Either keep treating each little illness that comes along, or find an industry that isn't chronically ill. The further I get from gainful employment in the industry and the more conversations I have with people who work in it, who are coughing and sneezing and just plain sick about how things are working, I sometimes wonder if this industry that I love has a cure or if I'll have to put it down, step away, and put my love and passion into something new. I guess that's why I'm on this journey.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Student health insurance is about to save my life

On my 2009 taxes, I claimed over $6000 in medical expenses. That includes my monthly premium, which last year was only $403 (This year it sky-rocketed to $458/month). Considering my income last year, I will state that it was approximately 1/4 of my yearly expenses. I have gone into massive debt at only age 26 to secure a civil right-health care. I have the added unfortunate problem of a nagging heart condition which prevents me from getting reliable, basic care.

When I ended up in the hospital last year due to food poisoning, I was honestly ecstatic. Because I felt my money hadn't been a total waste. Woohoo! I finally had a reason to be paying this exorbitant amount. And beyond that, I am still fighting with an Emergency Room doctor who is claiming that he was "out of network" and therefore I owe him an additional $125 that my insurance wouldn't pay. This story could go on forever, but I digress.

My sanity has been forever saved by the student health care plan. After a little research, I am comfortable in the idea of going on Pepperdine's actually affordable (well, compared to what I've been paying, almost anything is) health care plan with Aetna. In addition, for only about $200/year, I can get dental! If you haven't looked into it, I highly suggest it. Having this issue taken care of not only allows me to use more of my loan money for actual living needs but also allows me to breathe. It is extremely frustrating feeling like your healthcare needs are holding you hostage, and now they aren't. I can only hope that the one issue, going to the student health clinic, won't be so bad. I have gotten very used to my overpriced doctors and I hope the Pepperdine doctors are comparable.

For incoming students, check it out:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Matching Your Personality to Your New Neighborhood

I loved West Los Angeles. It fit me. When I first moved here, it was thrust upon me, as that was where my aunt lived and I was moving in with her. I stayed there for over five years. I literally had to be kicked out (new ownership) to move. I decided to broaden my horizons and try the hip new area, Silverlake. Hip it was, but perhaps I am not as "hip" as I thought. We were mismatched. I had plenty of friends who lived near there who were totally in love, but I just couldn't get into it. I spent a lot of time that year in Downtown Burbank, where my boyfriend lived. I immediately knew that area was not for me, reminded me too much of the suburban, generic chain restaurants and petite, lacking interest houses that seemed just like Maryland. However, compromising when we moved in together, the small village of Toluca Lake reminded me in many ways of the sweetness of Brentwood and the proximity I required to areas outside my neighborhood.  I was home again.

Los Angeles is the epitome of urban sprawl. Neighborhoods and "cities" and villages spring up from block to block, each with their own personality and set of rules. This specific blog entry is dedicated to all the new LA transplants, whether you intend to make this home forever or you're just trying it out, it's important to find a neighborhood that feels inherently "YOU." I hope this information helps.

You have options. Yes, Pepperdine is in Malibu, but I will warn you now, it is almost as far from the LA Basin as one can get. Some facts about living in Malibu:

- It's gorgeous.
- It has temperate weather all year round.
- The apartments that most students could probably afford are going to be insanely tiny, especially if you want one on the ocean.
- Shopping and city amenities are lacking...you get what you get. It is 25 miles of Pacific Coast Highway and there are intermittent strip malls with grocery stores, banks, etc. A lot of it caters to the upper class because that is who primarily lives there. If you want to shop elsewhere, you'll have to drive to Calabasas or Santa Monica or maybe Pacific Palisades (which is as equally upper class).
- There is limited public transit to get you into the LA Basin. So if you are living in Malibu without a car, understand you will probably rarely leave. Which is fine for some.
- It is definitely the place to be if you are a beach person. If you have no interest in city amenities, pull out a beach towel, a fruity cocktail and enjoy.
- You will be nearest to campus.
- There is limited parking in some neighborhoods, so just be aware.

As I mentioned above, if this does not sound good to you, you have options. The most obvious choice after Malibu is Santa Monica. Some facts about Santa Monica:
- It is also near the beach.
- It is not nearly as beautiful.
- It is a city designed around "beach-going" tourists. This keeps the area bustling and busy, and not always in a good way.
- This means there is a homeless population, riddled with so-so street performers and obnoxious teenagers who took the bus to get away from mom and dad.
- It has amazing weather. It is a cool 70-some degrees most of the year. It can get cool at night, so you will almost always need a jacket or sweater. But it's lovely.
- Compared to Malibu (or Calabasas which I'll discuss in a second), it has the best access to the rest of "real" Los Angeles.
- The bar scene is top notch and has great variety. There is stuff near Main Street and up Wilshire and Santa Monica Blvds.
- It is EXTREMELY difficult to park here. Many neighborhoods are permit parking only, which is fine if you live there, but hard to have guests over.
- There are "bad" parts of Santa Monica. I personally would suggest not living south of Olympic Blvd. Stay closer to Wilshire and Santa Monica Blvds...also easier to walk to many, many things. Stay away from apartments that boast close proximity to Santa Monica College! Not a good area and too far south anyway.
- You should have a car or at least share one with another student/roommate because the public transit to school is a nightmare. However, there is plenty to walk to, lots of variety, and good public transit around Santa Monica and surrounding neighborhoods (so won't need to drive all the time).
Surrounding Neighborhoods
Almost as easy to get to Malibu (about a 20 minute drive from Santa Monica), for a bigger bang for your buck (Santa Monica can get pricey too), try West LA. Yes, as I mentioned above, I'm a bit partial. But if you stay just south of Brentwood, you can hop on the 10 to the PCH and get to campus almost as quickly. You will have a less touristy feel, still near plenty of bars, less permit parking, and bigger apartments/nicer apartments for the money. You are also closer to UCLA and the nightlife that Westwood has to offer. I would suggest staying out of Westwood as they start to jack up the prices for UCLA students. Again, if living in West LA, stay North of Pico Blvd, West of Veteran, and East of 26th Street (which is the Santa Monica border) for the best deals and quality neighborhoods. 

One more main option, and less discussed, is Calabasas. Here are some facts about Calabasas with the caveat that I have spent less time there, however, I did ask many friends and coworkers to compile this information.

- It's going to be a lot quieter. It's the suburbs. As one friend said "it's suburban cowboy." There are some fantastic rodeo bars in the area. Line dancing, anyone?
- It's going to be HOT. Anything in the "valley" can get hot during the day and cool, even cold, at night. The temperatures vary greatly. Make sure the apartment has central air!
- The BIGGEST bang for your buck will be in Calabasas or Agoura Hills (a close neighbor to Calabasas--most of this information goes for both).
- Parking is a breeze. It's the burbs!
- You will need to drive around here. Not a lot of walking, it's definitely more chain restaurants and shops, and you need to drive over the Canyon to get to campus. Also, as some networking events are in the LA basin, you will want to drive to those as well.
- You probably shouldn't pay more than $900 for a one bedroom or $1400 for a 2 bedroom in this area.
- Pools are a common feature for apartments in the valley.
- The drive to campus is GORGEOUS! You are also near tons of outdoors activities, such as Malibu Creek State Park which has some of the best rock climbing, tons of hiking trails, and cute watering holes.
- You are closest proximity to the valley and the 101 freeway. Which makes it easier to get to Burbank, Sherman Oaks, and even all the way to Downtown LA.

Surrounding neighborhoods
 As I mentioned above, Agoura Hills and also Thousand Oaks, but it can be a bit pricier as it starts to become "upscale cowboy." It's not Hollywood money, so it will definitely have a different feel than Santa Monica, which can have a Hollywood money sort of feel. If you want to live on the Valley side but get closer to the action in the LA Basin, Sherman Oaks or Encino have more you can walk to if you live off Ventura Blvd. You will definitely need a car from here, however, you are sort of in the middle a circle from Malibu to Santa Monica to Sherman Oaks to Calabasas. So it's convenient to many off campus activities. You are now approaching closer to a 30-35 minute commute, but if you stay just west of the 405, you should avoid some annoying traffic at rush hour. And there might be even better apartment deals.

I hope this helps you figure out what neighborhood will fit you best. Here's some advice regarding HOW to find an apartment.

Craigslist. It can be rather precarious, as there are sometimes people looking to con people (do NOT send money through bank transfer or wire transfer EVER). However, it is one of the best places to find people who already have an apartment (more likely to be mostly furnished) and are looking to replace a roommate who is moving out. These people are established and can be, though no guarantees, a great way to make friends outside of school. If you are looking for a place just for you, or 2 new students have paired up and are looking to start fresh, you can try Craigslist or Westside Rentals. I found Westside Rentals to be less successful when looking for a roommate situation, but more successful for brand new, unoccupied apartments. They tend to be screened beforehand and have more information. For either one, never give out too much personal information. Also, SKYPE or talk to them on the phone at the very least. When an ad on either website looks too good to be true, it probably is. Ask for references of past tenants.  If you are specifically having issues or questions, just leave them as a comment and I can probably add some insight. However, this blog is long enough.

For other people who were LA transplants, please leave helpful comments and feel free to disagree with me. These are just my observations and opinions. I hope you can all find a neighborhood and home that fits you.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Studying Mandarin

Working at the Census, my inclination to learn another language has been reinforced tenfold. I have always believed that those who speak more then one language have a benefit, a profound natural understanding of a variety of cultures, especially if they were raised bilingual. Not that I am any closer to having children, but I have always wanted to raise my kids bilingual. Unfortunately, both my boyfriend and I are failed Spanish students who have retained almost nothing from generic high school programs. Beyond that, I attempted Italian during my sophomore year of undergrad but never really immersed myself in it.

Living in Los Angeles is a constant reminder that I do not have the added language skills I wish I did. My friend Jane is Taiwanese and speaks both Mandarin and Taiwanese. At the census, it has been practically a requirement to have additional language skills, especially Spanish or Armenian, as I live in a highly Armenian area. I find it totally charming and fascinating, and as I begin to think about my internship next summer (premature, I know), I am trying to decide what language to learn. Ideally, I would like to be in Hong Kong, which I know speaks Cantonese, however, a girl I work with at the census from Hong Kong said that Mandarin is quickly becoming the Asian business language of choice and it would behoove me to learn that opposed to Cantonese. Also, the idea of learning 9 tones versus 4 (something I have come to discover as a big difference between the two languages) seems wildly overwhelming. My friend Jane gave me an example of 4 tones, and I could honestly barely tell the difference.

So, in an effort to begin expanding my repertoire early and get a jump on potential internship opportunities in Hong Kong, I will be learning Mandarin. Oddly enough, my boyfriend has expressed interest in doing this with me. As shocking as it may be, I might be able to raise my kids bilingual after all. Fingers crossed!

By the way, any help or advice as how to go about learning Mandarin would be greatly appreciated! I am looking forward to speaking with my Mandarin-speaking classmates as well!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Making peace with my commute

Today, Friday May 7th, I went to my first MBA-related event, The Chick-Fil-A Leadercast. Leaving my house at 6:45am to arrive by 7:45, I realized this was going to be my life. I live in Toluca Lake, a small neighborhood near Burbank, a good 35 or so miles from Pepperdine. My lease is not up until February, so for at least the first six months of school, I will be commuting.

During the simulcast, we heard from more then ten speakers, focusing of various subjects revolving around good leadership skills and tactics to employ if you are to be more successful in your life; job, personal, or otherwise. One speaker in particular reminded me of something very important. Steve Uzzell, a National Geographic photographer, spoke about the spirit of the open road. The “spirit of the open road” is not just the freeing feeling you get when driving through the Malibu Canyon toward Pepperdine, but is a specific mindset you can put yourself into in an effort to achieve greater clarity. He explained that by using the spirit of the open road, you could begin problem solving, as it helps to clear your mind and give you a different focal point. He, of course, had the luxury of using this concept literally, having traveled down many open roads throughout his life. Living in Los Angeles, we may not always be so lucky.

However, this is not just a literal experience, but can be a frame of mind. He said there are steps you can take to access the spirit of the open road.
- Make all preparations necessary. This means a few different things.
*Know where you’re going. You don’t need to know how to get there, but know where you want to end up.
*In addition, question all previous expectations, everything, and be willing to start at the beginning. Even things you thought you knew can be reexamined and perhaps reconfigured to suit your needs better.
*While attempting to challenge what you know, ask an additional question: “Are you sure?” In other words, is this the best way to go about this?

When you ask all the right questions, and put yourself in a prepared state of mind, you are more likely to solve even the toughest problems. Because you were in the right place at the right time. As Steve Uzzell said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
- Have the courage to always pursue your passions. This is something that, in business, sometimes falls to the wayside, as life gets in the way. Obviously having the ability to combine to two is ideal, but making time to pursue your passions, regardless of how it impacts your career, could surprisingly do just that. Impact your career. He explained that by expanding your knowledge base and becoming an “expert” in something, you are more likely to find a use for this surprising knowledge. No knowledge is useless. In addition, when you feel passionately in something, you are more likely to trust your instincts and be more finely in tune with them.

-Lastly, you have to love and respect the journey. This brings me back to my commute. My trip home began with the winding, sunny road and shadowy mountainsides along Malibu Canyon Road, a reflective smile across my face and enjoying the commute just a little bit. Hitting Calabasas, the nature I had been entranced in slipped away the closer I came to the 101. The ups and downs of this short trip turned into a near standstill as I creeped home, my car seemingly stuck in the rolling parking lot that is the 101. Eventually, once past the 405, my car picked up speed and I was briefly blessed with as close as one can get to an open road in the middle of a Friday in Los Angeles.

On this brief hour-long trip, I reflected on the many speakers I had heard and planned article after article in my head. Hastily jotting down notes when the traffic allowed me to, I realized what Mr. Uzzell was talked about. By respected my commute, and making peace with it, I could get a surprising amount of work done. The pre-planning stage unraveled in my head, barely noticing the annoying traffic or the people who don’t know how to use a blinker. I honestly barely noticed it had been an hour. And I respected the journey. I knew that there were beautiful moments thrown in amongst the chaos and on either side of this voyage were a stunning college campus with reflective ocean moments and on the other, a warm bed and a smiling kiss from my boyfriend. This metaphor may have not only opened my eyes to the benefits of a long commute but also reminded me that everything in our life is a journey, and as long as you start out with a positive frame of mind, you will end in a similar fashion. Just be prepared for the commute.

**For those interested in other reflective articles about the rest of the event, please leave me a comment with your email address and I’ll send it to you. It was far too fruitful an event to post everything here. Thanks!

Sunday, April 25, 2010


August could not come soon enough and slow enough. The pressure at times feels overwhelming, trying to prepare for so much. In a way, getting ready for the full-time program, I feel like I need to completely finish this chapter in my life or I won't be able to focus on the next one. For the last year, my focus has been playing creatively with a variety of projects. A few spec commercials that I produced last August are finally almost done and are getting some traction. It would be amazing if we could recoup our funding and sell them before I start school. This is just one of the many little goals I would love to accomplish before I embark on this new crazy "academic" section of my life. Even while completing my undergraduate degree, I worked. I always worked on films and creative projects. While I believe school does not completely hinder this side of myself, I feel like it needs to go into hibernation, if only for practical reasons.

I hope that my friends and family and boyfriend (who is also in the film industry) will keep me connected, allowing me the blessed closeness and distance to my field. I am ready to learn something new, stuck in a career rut that won't allow me to achieve my ultimate goals. However, this summer feels like the last hurrah from my "old life." My last fling of creativity for a while, except for this blog. I am hurriedly trying to finish a comic book proposal that I've been working on with my boyfriend before Comic-Con and feel like after that, which occurs during the end of July, I'll officially be a "student." A real, full-time student. Terrified is probably an accurate word.

For now, I will remain a juggler, meeting with financial aid, attempting to secure loans, and holding on the part of me that would kind of like to stay in the simple, known world I exist in. But I know that isn't reasonable nor would it truly satisfy me in the long run. For every step I take forward, I have to untie the strings that bind me to safety. And that's ok. I think.

Friday, April 23, 2010



It's the second after an event where your reaction surfaces and your emotions bubble. It's in that instantaneous silent second where future opinions are created and stereotypes live. It's where expectations gather and you categorize your feelings. Whether the moment be as big as watching the towers fall or as small as the second after you say goodbye, it's within the seconds after the moment where you assess and address what has happened. Sometimes it is within the crinkling of your cheeks, gathering together to form a sly smile. Sometimes it is within the furrowing of your eyebrow and the gathering of your forehead, perturbed by the event. It is also with these miniscule reactions that people judge you.

Often people read too much into the smallest twitch or accidental wiggle. Reactions building on reactions building on reactions yet no one truly knows the catalyst that formed the first reaction. This is the moment where miscommunication lies. Not in what is said, but the silence. In the reactions that we read into. I watch you brush your hair back and identify a widespread emotion for what may have been an itch. Is it boredom? Is it insecurity? Is it longing? It was just an itch, sweetheart, and here you are off on an internal tangent of possibilities. I catch myself caught up in the seconds after the real moment and I'm left longing and lingering on what just happened. And my brow furrows in thought as a co-worker approaches. No, I don't hate you. I'm just thinking.

Fingers and the story they tell

**WRITTEN ON APRIL 19, 2010**

Today will be a more interesting day then anticipated.

I head to work at my “fascinating” temporary position working for the Census Bureau as an office clerk in recruiting and administration. Killing time and trying to pay off some credit card debt before I begin Pepperdine in the fall, this job is beginning to grow on me. I have been working here for a month now and today is the second day in our big processing of 800 enumerators. Wow, I am so jazzed for this week. Bring it on.

I can tell you why I am jazzed. I have found a skill I am pretty fantastic at, a real natural. I am so good at said skill that I have already begun training the other clerks in my methods. I am called upon when things get tough and I am the go-to gal. Fingerprinting. This is my new hidden talent. It amazes me that I could have this skill hidden in my repertoire and not even know it. Last week, after only a half-day of training and one set of practice prints, I was flung into the chaos. These have to be FBI classifiable prints and as I have discovered, working for the government is no joke.

For at least 4 hours today, I will be handling many people, twisting their arms in bizarre ways and showing them things they also did not realize about themselves. Just as this skill materialized in a unique way, scars and memories and little stories reveal themselves within our fingertips. Today I learned about a man who had lost his right index finger in a construction accident. A woman hadn’t realized that years of accounting had created tons of micro-scars from all the paper cuts. Another woman revealed herself to be a female boxer in her twenties whose finger hadn’t set right. Throughout my day, these minor self-revelations and introspective memories came flooding back. You could see people smirking to themselves or getting remarkably pensive, surprised or quieted by the revealing prints.

Despite the everyday repetition of this task, I found that the people kept me thoroughly engaged. As a filmmaker, these little stories remind me to dig deeper, not only within you, but also in the story and in the characters. You never know what you may be capable of. Just last week, I was begging not to be fingerprinting people, uncomfortable with the ink and invading people’s personal space. And now, I’m the “expert,” the “resident troubleshooter,” and adorable other nicknames that my colleagues have bestowed upon me. Not only does it make me smile, but also there is some pride in doing anything well, even something you will never have to do again in your life.

At least now I know I have options as a back-up career. Maybe tomorrow I will look at FBI applications. Today, I will finish off my day with some friends and some “research”: going to see KICK-ASS! No matter what my day job is, there will always be time for my real passion. I can’t wait to see Hit Girl do wildly inappropriate things for a 12 year old. People really can manage to surprise you, characters or otherwise.

Quick facts about the blogger

My name is Hannah and I am a 26 year-old aspiring film producer. For the last 6 ½ years, I have lived in Los Angeles and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. I have an east coast personality, having grown up in Maryland. I am the oldest of four children, six if you count my step-sisters, and I don’t know how to not be in charge.

My parents are divorced and are both happily remarried to amazing people who I love dearly. I can honestly say I have one of the craziest but most loving families in the world. We’re Jewish, so that pretty much explains the crazy part.

I have varied interests that range from a sick love of NHL hockey, specifically the Washington Capitals and adopted western conference favorite the Anaheim Ducks, to horseback riding and attempting to travel to all fifty states by the time I’m 30.I’ve been to 36 so far. If I spent the time to list all my other random fascinations, you would be reading for weeks. Just know that Princess Bride is my favorite film and no, I don’t have a favorite musician, but Billy Joel often rocks my socks.

For the last six years, I have worked in the film industry, starting at Madonna’s now-defunct Maverick Films, then interning at ICM Talent Agency, followed by getting my real break in the Paramount Story Department. After 2 ½ years there, I moved on to Robert Cort Productions where I was promoted to Creative Executive. Due to financial reasons, I was laid off and began an introspective journey to figure out where the film industry was headed and if I pictured myself going along for the ride.

After producing three spec commercials and continuing to work with writers, I decided that film is exactly the industry I want to be in, even if it is in complete flux right now. That eventually led me to pursue my MBA, which I will begin this fall at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.

This blog will contain my observations of daily life as I attempt to weed through the next few years. First and foremost, I am a storyteller and I will always have the perspective of someone looking for the momentous feeling that little moments can often have. Thank you for going on this ride with me.