Monday, November 23, 2009

MBA is a TLA

MBAs became masters of arbit jargon by years of constant practice, starting with their 2 years in b-school. These finely honed skills translate to pompous execubabble like 'leveraging technological synergies' later on in their career. The starting point, however, is a small set of terms that form the basis for a successful career in BS-ing.

These are terms that are used on a day-to-day basis and convey complex meanings. Take 'globe' for example. If somebody was making a presentation and it was full of obvious facts, truisms and globally acceptable generalizations, a normal human being would have found it difficult to convey this feeling to another . However a MBA backbencher would immediately whisper 'globe', loud enough for the last 2 rows to hear. This leads to much nodding of heads and smiling. Talk about efficient communication.

Another word which conveys complex meanings is 'god'. Somebody who is remarkably good at something is god, or said to be at god-level. This has led to offshoots like fin-god, mark-god, etc. However, not everybody who is called god is a god. If you find yourself being called god, then be careful. Either you really are a god (highly unlikely) or being made fun of. One false step and you have to live with the consequences for the rest of your life. God-level reputations are carefully protected, whether it's a fin god or a prof.

A peculiar aspect of b-schools which takes some getting used to is the phenomenon of class participation or CP. Most profs have a part of the final grades set aside for the student's participation in classes. This leads to class dynamics that are hard to describe. Even before a prof has completed a sentence, 10 hands go up to give examples/refute the prof/seek clarification. CP gods are extremely good at hogging the air time, masterfully leveraging globe when they have nothing much to say. (See how I used 3 of the jargon I described above in one sentence?)

CP too has offshoots, some of them being RCP, ACP, DCP. Suppose you fell asleep in class and woke up suddenly to realize that the class has almost ended and you have just a few minutes to achieve your daily CP quota. You pick up the last few words that the prof uttered and string together an elaborate speech (globe, of course). That is Random CP. What happens if you didn't wake up in time to do CP? Then your only option is After-class CP, which is when you run after the prof after the class and ask arbit questions about some topic. A related concept is the 'ACP tail' that each prof has after class. It starts out with half a dozen people behind the prof immediately after class. Only the most desperate survive by the time the prof reaches his room, as described by the Law of Diminishing ACP Tail. Of course, some people are not successful in both of these, they resort to Desperate CP (DCP). The difference between DCP and the other 2 types is subtle, but while ACP may be genuine, DCP is never genuine. RCP is marked by a degree of skill and subtlety which DCP never has.

Whatever the type of CP, most people in class view it as a form of RG-giri. To put it simply, it is the opposite of Gandhigiri (Gandhigiri would be showing your friend the other assignment when he copies one assignment from you). It is a phenomenon resulting from the relative grading (RG) system used in IIMs. Suppose you have an assignment to submit tomorrow. As per norms, everybody waits for someone to do it first and email it to them. So you get an email at 4 am with the assignment. You sit down to copy it (if it is a handwritten assignment) or 'customize' it (if it is a soft-copy or printed submission). You go to sleep at 5 am, satisfied with your work. When the graded assignments come back to you with a zero, you realize that the assignment emailed to you was 'Engel Curve for Bangalore' when in fact you had to submit 'Okun's Law for Australia'. Obviously, only one person in the class did the assignment properly and no points for guessing who. Thankfully, RG-giri of this proportion does not happen and has been mentioned only for the purpose of explanation of the concept.

If you wonder where your manager learnt to be a lazy-ass smart worker instead of a hard worker, the answer is b-school. By second term, all students become masters F-riders (also knows as FRs or Fracs). In the 5 or 6 projects that have to be done in a term, each person tries to attain F-rider position in at least 2. Some guys F-ride in all their projects - they are the perfect smart workers who know that somebody or the other in their group is desperate for grades and will end up doing the project before the deadline. Some guys are so poor at it that they end up contributing to every project. Obviously, the optimum level is somewhere in between if you want to survive b-school.