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It is a rare business school programme that invokes in its participants a similar fervour to that experienced in a revivalist religious meeting. But this would appear to be the case with Srikumar Rao’s elective course, Creative and Personal Mastery.
Prof Rao, a businessman more than an academic and armed with practical experience rather than research, is one of a new breed of business school teachers. They eschew number-crunching and regression models in favour of personal issues.
“It is designed to get [students] to think about things rarely acknowledged in business schools. What makes me happy? What makes me happy at work?” Most people, he says, “don’t have a clue” about such things.
Many, however, would accept Prof Rao’s hypothesis. “When putting in long hours, if you don’t get a deep sense of fulfilment at work, you’re wasting your life.” His solution? “Your ideal job isn’t something that exists; it’s something you can craft.”
Just how to do that is at the core of his programme, which receives gushing praise from many students. “The technical skills that I learn at school will only get me so far and will one day be obsolete,” says Nick Wai, a recent LBS graduate. “What I learn in CPM, however, will help me build a foundation not only as a business person, leader even, but more importantly as a human being.”
Natasja Giezen, another London MBA, says the course teaches the “why” when most business school courses teach the “how”. She believes MBA students are the ideal target audience. “At business school we all think a lot about what we want from our future and this seems to fit in seamlessly.”
Prof Rao says there are four main planks to the course: learning techniques to spark creativity; helping students find their purpose in life; learning how to be most effective; and how to find balance in life.
Many university strictures have been rewritten. Students hand in written work when they think it is ready rather than to a deadline, and they have to make a public commitment to do something for their peers. A weekend retreat is included in the programme.
Prof Rao’s advice on landing a job flies in the face of many careers service dicta. You are most unlikely to find your ideal job straight out of business school, he says, so accept the “least worst” job you are offered.
As for interview techniques, he recommends that the aim should be to find out whether the company is one you want to work for, rather than trying to impress the interviewer.
Once you have your first job, you can start turning it into the job you want, he says. One piece of advice he gives is to focus on the good things about the job and then set the target of increasing the proportion of the job that is the good stuff. An element of learning should be involved in the process.
Prof Rao’s own work record includes experience in both the academic and the business worlds. His own MBA is from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and he has consulted for several blue chip corporations and taught on the corporate programmes of companies such as Bell Atlantic.
He also has a PhD in marketing from Columbia Business School and is no shrinking violet when it comes to promoting the programme he teaches. Students queue to learn about the course, he says, and it is the only business school programme with its own alumni association.
What differentiates the course from a self-help manual, however, are the mental models and long-term exercises the professor sets. MBA students are often labelled the most “me”-centric group on the planet. The obvious enthusiasm of past and present participants, who are undoubtedly some of the smartest cookies around, sets this programme apart.