Business School

The Ten Biggest Lies of B-School

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by: Eric Jackson

I went to B-School about 10 years ago.  I remember the good times, the parties, the camaraderie.  I also remember the long hours in the library, working on team projects with other keen classmates, and the sense of accomplishment at graduation.

However, 10 years later, Business School missed out on a lot in terms of teaching me the skills needed to succeed in my career and life.

Here are the ten biggest lies of B-School you should protect yourself against:

1. You will be rich. My experience (and from talking to others) is that it will take you 2 or 3 times as long as you think it will take to succeed after Business School.  So take it easy running up your student loans and credit card debts expecting you’re going to be a rock star later.

2. You are smarter than people without an MBA. You were smart enough to get in to Business School.  That doesn’t mean you are smarter than other people without an MBA.  Stay humble.

3. There’s always a right answer. B-School students are usually very analytical and achievement-oriented. They like to think there’s always a “best” answer. There’s not.  The perfect answer is always the enemy of the good enough one.  You make decisions you can with the best information available.  Life and business today doesn’t let you count how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.

4. If you’ve made it this far (to B-School), you’re destined to succeed. In my B-School, there were always amazingly talented executives coming in to give talks on business and life. They’d always compliment us on what a great school we attended and why we had our future by the tail.  It made us all feel invincible — destined to succeed once we set out on our various career paths.  It doesn’t work that way. I know B-School classmates who’ve failed miserably, under-achieved, gotten divorced, gotten severely depressed, etc.  B-School is a great educational opportunity in life, but you still have to go out there and succeed. Nothing is given to you as a birthright.

5. You know how to “fix” the first few companies you join after school.You’ve probably worked at companies were people who’ve been there for 2 decades roll their eyes telling you about the new hotshot MBA who just started and is now telling everyone how to do their jobs.  It’s so clear to him, yet others find it deeply offensive that he would think he knows how the company works when they’ve spent countless years there and are still trying to figure it out.  All hotshot MBAs should wear tape over their mouths for the first 3 months on the job and not be allowed to “fix” anything.

6. Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) will always tell you what a company is worth. MBAs love DCF. They think the true answer to what a company is worth is always a DCF away.  Just crank it out on a spreadsheet or whiteboard, show the boss, and move on to the next problem.  Unless you’re going to be a sell-side analyst, you’ll never do a DCF after B-School.  And even the sell-side analysts get their underlings to do them.  And no one reading your reports will read them anyway.

7. The “soft” courses (leadership and people management) are least important. I remember talking to the professors from the Management Department at my school who had to teach the courses on leadership and people management.  They used to lament that the MBAs never paid attention to them in class.  Yet, the Executive MBAs (usually in their 40s or 50s) always told them that these courses were the most important of all the B-School classes they took.  You learn after B-School that the perfect answer or strategy means nothing if you can’t get people around you to buy in to it and help you achieve it.  To do that, you need to motivate them, listen to them, connect with them, and support them when they need it.

8. You are going to be more creative and entrepreneurial after Business School than before. In my experience, B-School makes you less creative, the longer you’re in it.  They teach courses on entrepreneurship but it’s kind of an oxymoron the idea of the analysis paralysis B-School Students being entrepreneurial.  You will learn a lot of tools and frameworks in B-School, but you won’t learn how to start a company.  You just need to start a company.

9. Your peers will give you lots of tips and insights that will help you succeed in your career. In my experience, the majority of B-School students are lemmings.  They don’t know what they want to do afterwards, so they just do what their peers say they should do (maybe that’s why they applied to B-School in the first place).  Ten years ago, everyone at my school wanted to be a dot com entrepreneur.  That didn’t work out so well and most students later went back to being investment bankers or management consultants.  Your peers don’t know what you want to do with your career.  You need to start listening to that voice inside your head.

10. The Ivy League MBAs will be even more successful. An Ivy League credential will be a big plus for you on your resume – no question.  However, you have to realize that if you’re getting an Ivy League MBA, you’re probably 10x more susceptible to the previous 9 lies than other MBAs.  Don’t let yourself be the next Jeff Skilling, the smart Harvard MBA, who worked at McKinsey and then went to Enron and drove the company off a cliff.  He had a golden resume – and where did it get him?

If you treat B-School like an amazing educational experience, chances are you’ll get a lot out of it.  Just keep your attitude and sense of entitlement in check.As Casey Kasam used to say, “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.”

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Post-Grad Management Cliches for MBAs: 97 More Dumb Cliches to Help You Get Promoted

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by: Eric Jackson

Last month, I tabulated 89 management cliches that have become commonplace in every organization across the country – large and small.

English: MBA Master Business Administration

These hackneyed phrases, unfortunately, have become so popular that many people think they’re prerequisites for getting promoted to middle and upper management.

However, the list was woefully incomplete. You happily contributed many more in the comments section.

So, listen up MBAs, it’s time to go back and do a little post-grad work on more management cliches.  Here are 96 more — longer than my original list — that you certainly need to memorize and commit to practice if you have a hope of getting promoted — or at least avoiding being part of the next round of layoffs in your organization:

  1. We’re going to open the kimono with them = This sounds marginally better than ‘we’re going to drop our pants for them’; basically, we’re going to do what they want
  2. Let’s take it to the next level = Prepare to work twice as hard as you have been for the past 6 months
  3. Feel free to reach out to me [or any version of “reaching out”]/you know my door is always open = I have no intention of ever talking to you about this issue again but I want to make it seem like I’m a touchy-feely boss who’s always there for you so you don’t give me crummy anonymous feedback on my upwards 360 this year like last year
  4. Good meeting = Hope someone took notes and will follow up on this because I sure didn’t or won’t
  5. It’s money for jam = I’m sure to get my executive bonus based on all the hard work you’ve been doing
  6. It’ll be a walk in the park = You’d better have these critical business issues sorted out by the time I get back from my overseas vacation
  7. We’re living and breathing this 24/7/365 = I’m leaving tomorrow for a two-week trip to the south of France to watch the Tour De France but I’m telling people I’m going to meet some of our “most important customers”
  8. Let’s take a helicopter view of this/we’ve got to be strategic about this = I’ve been consistently rated by my bosses as having no ‘strategic thinking’ aptitude so I’ve trying to over-compensate by saying this
  9. It’s a no-brainer = You must have no brain because you needed me to tell you
  10. I want you to be proactive about things = Why can’t you read my mind by now?
  11. Going forward = Never do this again, ok?
  12. What’s your color/your Myers-Briggs type/some other wacky Personality Profile typology?= It’s so boring around here that let’s waste time by talking about what type of people we are and guessing what type other people we hate are….
  13. I can see where you’re coming from = I am not interested in your point of view
  14. I hear what you’re saying but = I don’t intend to do anything about that
  15. I’ve taken on board/in what you say = I still don’t intend to do anything about that.
  16. Who’s running this monkey show anyway? =This thing is going sideways and it certainly isn’t my fault
  17. Remember, I’m the one who started this whole monkey show in the first place = It seems like this is quickly becoming a little silly
  18. We need to swim in each other’s wakes/walk in each other’s shoes = Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
  19. I totally have a crush on this idea/I’m loving this idea = I need more of a life outside of work
  20. This doesn’t work with the matrix environment structure= No one inside or outside this organization seems to understand how this matrix structure works and yet we never get rid of it
  21. That’s an aggressive timeline = Yeah, that’s not happening; you need a new plan
  22. It’s working as designed = The design sucked, but we’re/you’re stuck with it
  23. You’re boiling the ocean = This job is too big for us
  24. This is a potentially disruptive innovation = This stuff is so new that we have no idea who will use it.
  25. We’re locked and loaded= Things are pretty boring here at our company so we like to talk like this to make it seem like we’re starring in an action movie
  26. I’m just going to go ahead and get the ball rolling= I’ve called a meeting because I was hoping someone could tell me what’s going on, and now you’re all staring at me…

    English: Virginia SCC Organizational Chart

  27. Is there a better way to articulate that? = What did you just say?
  28. Don’t go there = You’re ripping open an old scab with that issue
  29. Let me noodle/marinate on that and get back to you= I really wish I’d gone to cooking school instead of getting an MBA
  30. But is the juice worth the squeeze?/Are we really going to get our bang for the buck? = Maybe we should just keep our heads down on this thing and let it blow up because our necks aren’t on the line
  31. What a keener  = I used to have bright ideas and say them out loud at meetings too 25 years ago when I started here….
  32. I’m crazy busy right now = I really want you to think I’m busy so I’m not part of the next round of layoffs
  33. They loved the pitch = What else am I going to say about something I prepared 6 weeks for?
  34. My travel schedule is IN-sane = I am probably IN-sane for saying that; maybe I watched too many Krazy Eddie commercials as a kid….
  35. I just got back from Asia, and Monday I leave for Europe = I really want to underline to you that I’m very important; the more airports I see, the more important I am
  36. We can ask the web guys to throw that up on the website = I don’t have a technical bone in my body but I’m sure our IT guys will get on this right away and they’re not swamped with other stuff at the moment….
  37.  We’re the tip of the spear on this = Why do I feel like I’m about to get a spear in me?
  38. Isn’t that out of scope? = That sounds like too much extra work
  39. Our culture really values work-life balance = The only time I see my kids is when I look at their photo on my desk
  40. A lot of our workers telecommute = I want you to sign my offer so I’m going to try and make you think we don’t look down on people who work from home, but, of course, we do
  41. I worked from home this morning = I had to meet my cable guy at the house this morning
  42. He/She/They can go pound sand = They can go stuff it
  43. Their perception IS their reality = I’m not about to tell the boss that his ‘next big idea’ is totally off the planet.
  44. English: An artist's depiction of the rat race...

    Let’s get some runs on the board = I don’t care what it is, but you’ve got to make it look like we are actually achieving something.

  45. We’re going to throw this against the wall and see what sticks = There’s a big RIF [reduction-in-force] rumored to be happening, so let’s just do a bunch of stuff that hopefully makes us look good
  46. This is what separates the wheat from the chaff/the men from the boys [or other non-sexist variant] = I want you to work harder so I’m going to make it sound like you’re a total failure if you don’t work twice as hard for the next month on this…
  47. We’re trying to finish building the plane while we’re flying it = No one’s got a clue what’s going on around here…..
  48. We’re 4th and inches on this, guys = Look, stop complaining and just get it done, ok?
  49. It is what it is/that’s life = stop crying you big baby
  50. You don’t get a medal for showing up = I never won any trophies as a kid….
  51. Well, I guess it’s your turn in the barrel = Look, [Boss X] was mad at me for 6 months last year, so don’t expect any sympathy from me on this….
  52. LOL/LMFAO/Sad Face = [Anyone who tries to use texting language in discourse is horribly old]
  53. My kids tell me this is big right now = What’s an iPad?
  54. Let me give you a card = I want to stop talking to you now and go and talk to someone who I can make money from
  55. Boil it down for me = Sorry I wasn’t paying attention for the last 10 minutes because I was responding to other emails while you talked to me. Can you summarize?
  56. Google it = Shut up and don’t you see how technologically savvy I am now because I use Google?
  57. We’re going to have to push that to the back-burner = My boss just got chewed out by his/her boss and told me to drop everything but this new pet project
  58. Who’s the lead on this? = What’s going on? I was just reading my Facebook News Feed
  59. I’m in fire-fighting mode right now/we’re in crisis mode/it’s all-hands-on-deck right now = It’s Tuesday
  60. Didn’t you get my email on that? = I know I screwed up, but let me try to artfully make everyone at this meeting think I foresaw this issue and emailed you about it last week, so they think it’s your fault
  61. You’re not being a team player = What do you mean you don’t want to do my job for me?
  62. When’s the site going to be updated? = All I know is I did my part and now I can’t be blamed any more…
  63. We need one throat to choke on this = Someone needs to be accountable for this (with a little passive-aggressive imagery thrown in there)
  64. Are we on Facebook yet? = I’ve heard it’s a big deal
  65. Hey, people can “like” us on Facebook now = Just when I got used to telling people what our AOL ‘Keyword’ was, we have to move to this new Facebook thing
  66. I tweeted that last week = I’m sure my 4 followers couldn’t stop talking about it, as it was only my 11th tweet
  67. I’m going to put that up on my blog this weekend = Any excuse to spend 3 hours on Sundays from the wife because I’m a frustrated Mark Twain sounds good to me….
  68. We’re all on the same team here = Don’t you dare try to take credit for that; I want at least some of the credit
  69. C’mon guys, this is right in our wheel-house/up our alley = We didn’t you think of this before our competitor did?  I surely would have thought of it if I’d been in your shoes.  Sheesh.
  70. We’re studying that right now = I have no intention of doing that but telling you this is going to get you to shut up, get off my back and hopefully forget to ask me about it in the future.
  71. [Company X] is doing something really interesting right now = I really want to do this here but I don’t have any credibility so I’m going to cloak it as a company more forward-thinking than us is doing it, so we should ape them.
  72. You know who you should talk to is [so-and-so] = I’m bored of talking about this with you.  Why don’t you go talk to [so-and-so]
  73. We need to run it up the flag pole and see who salutes = I’m not doing this until I’m sure I’m not going to get yelled at for going out on a limb and doing this
  74. All we have to do is plan our work and work our plan = Just do it and stop yapping
  75. I read this amazing book on my vacation…  = I just bought 20 copies of it on Amazon and expect you to read it and implement all of its management ideas here by next Friday to solve all our problems
  76. Your problem is you’re too negative = my problem is I have no clue what our current reality it is and how to get from there to my far-off vision of the future
  77. I’m all about [x] = I do [x] so much I should get it tattooed on my forehead
  78. I get all my best ideas in the shower = [Don’t ask]
  79. The confluence of these events led to a result that was situationally sub-optimal. = We did badly
  80. Guys, we need to prioritize this = Why haven’t you done this already? Do I have to think of everything?
  81. At some point, you’ve got to stop living in the past = Yes, we screwed the pooch last time, but this time it’s different because…
  82. We don’t know what we don’t know = I think someone read that in an airport management book last summer and told me that; it sounds deep
  83. It’s on my radar = Enough already…
  84. And then I had an “A-ha” moment/a bell went off in my head/it hit me like a lightening bolt = Let me tell you how brilliant I am… this is Thomas Edisonstuff

    Dilbert (character)

  85. Let’s not try to reinvent the wheel here = I’m not following what you’re talking about so I’m going to take a helicopter view and make you think you’re over-complicating this issue
  86. When we do our long-term planning next year…. = Funny how we think we work in the one industry left on Earth that only has to do long-term planning once a year to keep up to date with changing trends
  87. It’s about Substance vs Style = And I’m all about making you think I’m about substance so I keep my job
  88. She hasn’t drank the kool-aid yet = She’ll soon just think, act, and speak like the rest of us automatons
  89. We’re not seeing the forest for trees, here = You’re not agreeing with me enough yet….
  90. The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing = You two groups are doing different things then I told you to but let me emphasize that it’s your fault and not mine for my unclear instructions
  91. OK, we’ll play it by ear = I’m not going to give you any clear instructions on what you should do…
  92. And as per usual…. = My old boss used to say this, so maybe I’ll get promoted if I start saying it too
  93. We’re in the weeds now/we’re now going down a bunny trail = OK, let’s get back to what I want to talk about and stop talking about what you care about
  94. This is cookie-cutter stuff = You’re an idiot
  95. OK, but we’ve got to connect the dots for them/spell it out for them = They’re idiots
  96. Get with the program = You aren’t following our groupthink yet
  97. If you can’t dazzle them with brains, baffle them with B.S. = Nice to see you got with the program

Feel free to add to this list in the comments below.

Keep on keeping on with those cliches, people!

[No positions in the stocks mentioned]

89 Business Cliches That Will Get Any MBA Promoted And Make Them Totally Useless

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by: Eric Jackson

** Update: Some people couldn’t stop themselves from opening their kimonos after they read the original list.  You really put your thinking caps on.  You decided to chime in with some cliche classics of your own.  We’re all on the same team here, rowing in the same direction, and it’s not about me, it’s about us, so see many worthy additions to this cliche list in the comments below. Thanks to everyone circling back to me with your comments. All hands were on deck for this activity. Let’s take the time to celebrate this important team win! **

If you’re an MBA at Business School right now, stop studying for that Accounting test next week. I’m going to make it much easy for you to succeed in your career.

Assuming you get your MBA, you’re going to have a basic requisite degree on your resume when applying for most managerial jobs. So, what’s going to ensure you get the job and then get promoted to middle management? Well, aside from combing your hair, brushing your teeth, and wearing nice looking clothes to the interview, you’ve got to be able to speak well.

We all laugh at how the managers in Dilbert or on the The Office constantly spew cliches that don’t seem to mean anything. But those parodies shed light on a basic truth: some tired management cliches will impress enough people that they’ll probably help you get promoted to middle management.

Of course, if you really become a samurai master of using all 89 of these cliches, you probably have no hope of moving up to upper management, because your mind and vocabulary will be filled with complete and utter nonsense.

Then again, for those of you who are believers in the “fake it until you make it” approach to career progression, maybe your self-mastery of these cliches will baffle your bosses so much that, eventually, they’ll let you into the inner sanctum of senior management.

My advice, however, would be for you to avoid all of these hackneyed phrases and find a more original way of talking/thinking about the problems you’re facing.

1. It’s a paradigm shift = I don’t know what’s going on in our business. But we’re not making as much money as we used to.

2. We’re data-driven = We try not to make decisions by the seat of our pants. When possible, we try to base them in facts.

3. We need to wrap our heads around this = Gosh, I never thought of that. We need to discuss that….

4. It’s a win-win = Hey, we both get something out of this (even though I’m really trying to get the best from you)

5. ROI [used in any sentence] = Look at me, I’m very financially-minded, even if I never took any finance classes in school

6. Let’s blue sky this/let’s ballpark this = Let’s shoot around a bunch of ideas since we have no clue what to do

7. I’m a bit of a visionary = I’m a bit of an egomaniac and narcissist

8. I’m a team player/we only hire team players = I hope everyone on the team thinks this is a meritocracy, even though I’m the dictator in charge

9. Let’s circle back to that/Let’s put that in the parking lot/let’s touch base on that later/let’s take this off-line = Shut up and let’s go back to what I was talking about

10. We think outside the box here/color outside the lines = We wouldn’t know about how to do something innovative if it came up to us and bit us in the behind

11. I/we/you don’t have the bandwidth = Since we cut 60% of our headcount, we’re all doing the job of 3 people, so we’re all burned out

13. Net net/the net of it is/when you net it out = I never studied finance or accounting but I sound like someone who can make money if I keep talking about another word for profit

14. We’ll go back and sharpen our pencils = We’ll go back and offer you the same for 20% less in hopes you’ll buy it before the end of the quarter

15.  It’s like the book “Crossing the Chasm”/”Blue Ocean”/”Good To Great” / “Tipping Point” / “Outliers” = I’ve never read any of these books but I sound literate if I quote from them. And, besides, you cretins probably never read them either to call me out on it

16. Let’s right-size it = Let’s whack/fire a bunch of people

17. It’s next-gen/turn-key/plug-and-play = I want it to sound so technical that you’ll just buy it without asking me any questions

18. We need to manage the optics of this = How can we lie about this in a way people will believe?

19. This is creative destruction = I’ve never read Joseph Schumpeter but our core business is getting killed so it’s your responsibility to come up with a new product the market will buy

20. We don’t have enough boots on the ground = I don’t want to be fired for this disastrous product/country launch, so I’m going to sound tough referring to the military and say I don’t have enough resources

21. Deal with it = Tough cookies

22. By way of housekeeping = This makes the boring stuff I’m about to say sound more official

23. That’s the $64,000 question [sometimes, due to inflation, people will denominate this cliche in millions or billions of dollars] = I don’t know either

25. It’s our cash cow/protect/milk the cash cow = If that business goes south, we’re all out of a job

26. It’s about synergies/1 + 1 = 3 = I don’t get the math either, but it sounds like more and more is better, right?

27. Who’s going to step up to the plate? = One of you is going to do this and it’s not going to be me

28. We’re eating our own dog food = It sounds gross but we seem like honest folks if we do this.

29. We need to monetize/strategize/analyze/incentivize = When in doubt, stick “-ize” on the end of a word and say we’ve got to do this and 9 out of 10 times, it will sound action-oriented.

30. We did a Five Forces/SWOT analysis/Value Chain analysis = We didn’t really do any of that, but none of you probably even remember Michael Porter, so what the heck

31. It was a perfect storm = We really screwed up but we’re going to blame a bunch of factors that are out of our hands (especially weather)

32. At the end of the day…. = OK, enough talking back and forth, we’re going to do what I want to do

33. Who’s got the ‘R’? [i.e., responsibility to do what we just spent 20 minutes talking about aimlessly] = If I ask the question, it won’t be assigned to me

34. Let’s put lipstick on this pig = plug your nose

35. I’m putting a stake in the ground here… = I’m a leader, simply because I’m using this cliche

37. Our visibility into the quarter is a little fuzzy = Sales just fell off a cliff

38. That’s not our core competency/we’re sticking to our knitting = We’re just glad we’re making money in one business, because we’d have no clue how to get into any other business

39. Well, we’re facing some headwinds there = You put your finger on the area we’re panicking over

40. It’s a one-off = Do whatever they want to close the sale

41. Incent it = That’s not a verb but I just made it into one because I’m a man/woman of action

42. I’m an agent of change = This makes it sound like I know how to handle the chaos that our business is constantly going through

43. We’ve got to do a little more due diligence there = Don’t have a clue but does that legal term make me sound detail-oriented?

44. Don’t leave money on the table = Be as greedy with them as possible

45. We take a “ready, fire, aim” approach here = We totally operate on a seat-of-the-pants basis

46. Hope is not a strategy = I don’t have a strategy, but this makes it sound like I’m above people who also don’t have a strategy

47. We have to tear down the silos internally = Our organizational structure is such a mess that I’m going to be under-mined by other departments at every turn

48. I don’t think it will move the needle = This won’t get my boss excited

50. Let’s take the 30,000 foot view… = I like to think I see the big picture

51. It’s the old 80-20 rule = I really have no idea what the rule was, but I just want to focus on the things that will make us successful

52. We need to manage expectations = Get ready to start sucking up to people

53. It’s not actionable enough/what’s the deliverable? = You guys do the work on refining the idea. I’m too tired.

54. My 2 cents is… = This opinion is worth a heck of a lot more than 2 cents

55. I’m going to sound like a broken record here… = I want to clearly point out to you idiots that I’ve made this point several times before

56. We’ve got too many chiefs and not enough Indians = I want to be the Chief

57. Going forward = Don’t screw up like this again

58. My people know I’ve got an open door policy = I’ve told my direct reports to come to me if they have a problem, so why should I feel bad if they complain I’m too busy to talk to them?

59. It’s gone viral = Someone sent a tweet about this

60. I know you’ve been burning the candle on both ends = Get ready to do some more

61. It’s scalable = We can sell a lot of it in theory

62. It’s best-of-breed = We hired a market research firm to say that

64. What’s our go-to-market? = Has anyone planned this out, because I’ve been too busy?

65. I’m drinking from a fire hose right now = I want a little sympathy over here, because I’m tired of carrying this company on my back

66. We’re getting some push back = They’re not buying it

67. We need to do a level-set = I’ve never been inside a Home Depot, but this phrase makes me sound handy

68. It’s basic blocking and tackling = How could you screw this up? I also played high school football and those were the best days of my life.

69. Let’s put our game faces on = Get serious, guys

70. We’ve got it covered from soup to nuts = I have no idea what that means, but don’t you dare question my prep work on it

71. We don’t want to get thrown under the bus = So let’s throw someone else first

72. But to close the loop on this… = Always the more theoretical Business Development/Strategy guys who say this, so they can sound thorough

73.  What are “next steps”? = Did anyone take notes during the last 90 minutes of this meeting?

74. This is low-hanging fruit = Get this done quickly

75. We need a few quick wins = We’ve got to trick people into thinking we know what we’re doing by some successes we can point to and claim as ours

76. It’s a [Insert Company Name] killer = Did I get your attention yet with the Freddy Kreuger imagery associated with the company who’s currently eating our lunch?

78. This is the next big thing/new thing = Some of our 20-somethings have told me this is really cool

79. This time it’s different because… = Don’t wait for the explanation… simply run for the hills.

80. What are the best practices on this? = How can I cover my behind that we’re just doing stuff the way other good people have supposedly done this?

81. This is our deliverable = I know this sounds like something that comes in a body bag, but it makes our PowerPoint sound tougher than it actually is

82. We’ll loop you in when we need to = You’re not that important to know about all the details on this

83. We want this to move up and to the right = I failed high school algebra but someone said this means we’ll be making a lot of money if this happens

84. We’re going through a re-org = No one knows what the heck is going on at the moment

85. We’ve got to increase our mind-share with the customer = I think I would have been happier as a doctor doing lobotomies than in marketing as a career path

86. I don’t think you’re comparing apples to apples = Let me tell you how you should really think about this issue

87. Let’s peel back the onion on this = I want to sound thorough so this is a better way of telling you that than simply clearing my throat

88. You phoned it in = I was too busy checking my email during your presentation that I didn’t listen

If you commit all these 89 to memory, I confer onto you an MBA of Business Cliches. Congratulations!

[No Positions]

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Ten Things They Don’t Tell You In Business School

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by: Brett Nelson

Listen up, budding Masters Of The Universe, and all those who dream of walking their path to wealth, power and spacious summer homes.

At many business schools, boot-camp week–where the unwashed get a taste of debits, credits and such–starts in less than a month. After that, and just beneath the throb of your hangover (a B-school accessory), you will detect another inexorable rhythm–a faint ticking to be precise. This is the tell-tale heart to your two-year, $100,000 investment. The relentless reminder that you better get to learnin’ (or at least networking), lest you end up working for, and maybe getting laid off by, one of your classmates one day.

Now for the good–or totally vexing–news, depending how you take it: After all the spreadsheets and cost-of-capital calculations, after all the case studies and Power Point presentations, after all the tuition money is gone and it’s just you and your pedigree, contacts and gumption, guess what?

You get to start over again–in the real world.

As anyone who employs people and writes checks will confirm, turning $1 into a $1.10 is a real bitch. Turning that $1.10 into $1.25, even tougher. I had to laugh the other day when a former colleague, now a partner at a boutique digital-marketing firm, sent me the following text out of the blue: “Generating positive cash flow is one of the hardest f—ing things in the world.” And then some, Matt.

For all the wonderful instruction at places like Harvard, Wharton and my alma mater, the Stern School of Business at NYU, b-schoolers should remember that making money involves so much more than columns in a spreadsheet and the ever-shifting assumptions behind them.

With that in mind, here’s a supplemental, 10-step curriculum:

1. If It Ain’t Broke, Still Fix It

One of the hardest decisions business owners have to make is turning their backs on cash when it’s flowing. But that’s exactly what you must have the courage to do sometimes to protect your franchise. Think about all those aggressive mortgage underwriters who scooped up fees by the shovelful during the housing bubble, when they should have been tightening their lending criteria. Or USA Inc., which ran deficits for years–because, well, our creditors didn’t seem to mind–and now faces a staggering $60 trillion fiscal hole (including the present value of all future obligations to its entitlement programs).

2. If You Don’t End Up Working At Goldman Sachs, Forget What You Learned About Finance

Discounted Cash Flow Calculator - is a tool to...

This one comes courtesy of one of my classmates, now finance chief for the unit of a large manufacturing firm, who would rather remain anonymous:

“In a 12-year finance career with large respected companies (General Electric, Honeywell, BASF), I can count on two hands the number of IRR (internal rate of return), DCF (discounted cash flow) and NPV (net present value) analyses I have completed, and I am pretty sure that I analyzed exponentially more balance sheets in a classroom than I ever have in a boardroom. It is obviously important to be fluent in the language of finance, but as for the finance majors I hire (graduate and undergrad alike), I spend the first year or two retraining them.

“A career in corporate finance is nothing like what is taught in school,” he adds. “The job is largely to be the conscience of the business–expecting and demanding explanation for decisions and acting as an internal chief operating officer well versed in most topics (products, customers, manufacturing process, supply chain, etc). I am sure a career at Goldman or a hedge fund is different, but my guess is that life at most large companies lines up pretty close to my experience.”


3. Take Your Financial Models With An Indiana-Jones-SizedBoulder Of Salt

Another biz-school mate, now a health care consultant, chimed in with this stern admonition:

“Too often people in business rely upon a model demonstrating projections out 15 – 30 years.” I was astounded: Fifteen tothirty, I confirmed? In school we worked in more modest 3-to-5-year increments, with an understanding that anything beyond that was magical thinking. “Believe it or not,” he went on, “I have seen some done out that far for deals [acquisitions] and often for public-private partnerships.”

Find me an industry (save for perhaps utilities) where the assumptions you make today apply for three years, let alone 30. No, really, find me one.

4. Overpromise And Try To Deliver

Under-promising and over-delivering may work on conference calls with Wall Streetanalysts who need earnings projections for their valuation models. (GE made an art out of that game for years under Jack Welch.) But that strategy won’t always cut it when chasing new business to meet growth targets (or just payroll). Sometimes you will have to bite off more than your models–and your gut–say you can chew just to win the business. It’s an uncomfortable sensation at best, and a reputation-damaging maneuver at worst if you don’t come through. Get ready–and no tears.

Dumb and Dumber

Yet another B-school colleague of mine, who probably plays too much poker, recalled this adage, a favorite around the halls of Forbes . “People are happy to take your money by pulling you off your home court,” he says. “Don’t let them. Deploy capital in ways that you understand not only intellectually, but also viscerally. Stick to home games–that’s where your instincts will flourish.”

6. If No One “Owns” A Project, It Won’t Get Done

Most people don’t put in long hours for their health, or to make shareholders wealthy, or because their families drive them nuts and they’d rather grind it out in the office. (Okay, sometimes that last part is true.) They do it because their job demands it, and with any luck they take a lot of pride in doing it well.

Nominate A Contender For Forbes’ List Of Most Promising Private Companies

In Pictures: Best Business Quotes From The Silver Screen

Which is why all projects need champions. Not the kind who beats his chest and spews happy mission statements. The kind who’s backside is on the line if things don’t pan out. More importantly, the kind who has the authority and resources to make decisions that other people have to follow, else their backsides are on the line.

It’s not that people are lazy or incompetent (they may well be, but that’s a hiring issue). It’s that, over time, you get what you incentivize–or don’t.

7. Be Clear

They actually do tell you this one in b-school, but not in so many words and not vehemently enough. The clearer you are, the more thoroughly you probably understand what you’re talking about, and the more capable and trustworthy you will seem to customers, colleagues and employees.

San Francisco in fog

Being clear has immense ramifications–on productivity, customer satisfaction and employee morale. If your Power Point deck contains the word “ideate,” cut, and do not paste. In fact, eliminate all jargon from everything you do. (If you think the word “utilize” is a smarter version of “use,” please, please read The Most Annoying Business Jargon.) This applies to electronic exchanges as well. The simplest, most straight forward emails can, and will, get twisted beyond meaningful comprehension. If the message is mission-critical, communicate face-to-face, or by phone, as best you can.

8. Business Involves People

People are a pain. They whine, mess up and have all sorts of problems. That’s why every now and again you should ask how they’re doing–and actually listen to the answer. It doesn’t cost a cent and helps lift spirits and build trust. (For more on bucking up the troops, check out 10 Ways To Boost Morale On A Budget.)

9. Read Forbes

Consider the source, but here are just two justifications for following this advice: Amid Turbulence, The Flight Plan That Sets Forbes Apart andWhat Makes A Good Business Story?

New York University

10. Entrepreneurship Better Be A Labor Of Love (At Least At First)

Some final words of warning–and encouragement–from a fourth classmate, who runs his own small clothing company: “Unless you have a partner, family member or some other person who has to give you capital, your [entrepreneurial] experience may amount to a salmon swimming upstream in a 2-inch deep river.” Inviting.

That said, he adds: “Three years after graduation, I have to say my life is beautifully enhanced by my MBA. Kind of like when you need it, ideas descend in a timely, light and resonant fashion to help me cut to the chase.”

I’ll second that.

Have any valuable insights on business school, or on what it takes to turn a profit in the real world? Jot a comment on this post.

And if you run a small business with real growth potential, or if you know someone who does, please nominate a contender for Forbes’ List Of Most Promising Private Companies.

For now, class dismissed.

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