Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsEvery year I offer my heartfelt encouragement to the many newly minted MBA students leaving their classrooms and cohorts behind at graduation. In prior years, my “Congratulations! Now What?” post was intended to offer some transition guidance for leveraging the degree. For this year, I’m emphasizing the need for new graduates to retain their hunger for learning and shift their efforts to regular and far-reaching exploration of the ideas changing our world.

Class has ended, however, the real work of leveraging those tools and the fundamental knowledge you gained in your program is just beginning. The winners in our world…those who will advance their careers into senior roles or launch successful new ventures will be the ones who are able to make sense of both the macro forces propelling change in our world and translate those insights into solving problems for increasingly smaller (micro) markets.

Cultivating your perceptual acuity and developing the ability to translate the big issues into insights and ideas is now mission-critical for you. In the past few years, you’ve simply had to satisfy your professors that you are able to apply the tools they are teaching. Now you have to please a much tougher audience…your customers, your bosses, your stakeholders and in some cases, your investors.

I encourage you to take a few moments to celebrate your accomplishment and then after a very short break, recognize that it’s time to get back to work. Here are a few ideas for you to apply as you rededicate your efforts to learn and grow in your new, beyond school life.

4 Ideas to Stimulate  Post-Degre Learning:

1. Devour the content being developed in your chosen vocation. It’s great to start close to home and for the moment, you’ve chosen a distinct area of emphasis for your work. While your degree doesn’t make you an expert…it absolutely offers you a license to better engage with and understand the real experts. Learn who the movers and shakers and thought leaders are in your discipline and get to know what they’re writing, saying and doing to advance practices. If they’re blogging, join the conversation.

2. Put the MBA tools to work and really study your firm’s industry through multiple lenses. Cultivate a close, intimate view of the industry dynamics. Study and map the ecosystem, value-chain, competitive forces and follow the money and power. Who’s winning? Who’s losing? Who’s in danger of being disrupted out of existence? What are customers doing? And then address the all-important question of how you can maneuver or act to grow your firm’s strength or leverage new opportunities.

3. Read. Constantly. Every Day. Even if you hate to read. If I had a dollar for every MBA graduate I encountered in interviews who had not touched a book for several years after the program ended, we would have a nice lunch. Instead of exploiting your freedom from assigned reading, take the opportunity to rededicate yourself to find the people writing about and acting on changing the world and read what they are saying. You don’t have to believe their ideas or adopt their ideas, but you do have to think about how their ideas might fit in your own world. You must always be looking for insights and Ah-Ha moments for vexing challenges in your firm and the work of others will serve to catalyze those moments.

Some Reading Prompters:

  • Read periodicals that cover a wide range of topics. A few of my favorites: FastCompany, INC., the Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes, Fortune, National Geographic, Popular Science, Outside, MacWorld, McKinsey Quarterly, MIT Sloan, HBR, a variety of fitness magazines and just about anything else that crosses my path.
  • A few of my books in process: The Attacker’s Advantage (Charan), The Soft Edge (Karlgaard), No Ordinary Disruption (Dobbs et. al.), the updated edition of Blue Ocean Strategy (Kim, Mauborgne), The Advantage (Lencioni), Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader (Ibarra), Power Cues (Morgan). My own library of must reads for all professionals is considerably lengthier than referenced here, but this is a great, mostly current starting point.
  • Read History. Given today’s geopolitical tensions, it’s essential to understand the historical precedents. Those who don’t know are doomed to repeat… . Currently, I’m losing sleep because I cannot put down Doris Kearns Goodwin’s, No Ordinary Time, focusing on the lives of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Read enough history and you will see patterns of human behavior that transcend the times. How might these patterns apply to our own times?
  • Create an Internal Reading Club. Leverage all that great reading by talking about it with your colleagues. Always strive to translate the insights into “What this means for us is… ,” or, “Here’s an idea we can adapt to our own environment… .”

4. Become a Bridge Builder. The books and magazines are great, but you want to tap into the gray matter of people who see the world through different lenses. Internally, become a relentless networker across functions. Learn what’s going on in other areas and find mutual opportunities to collaborate. Externally, it’s time to join and contribute. From your alumni association to industry conferences to professional seminars and workshops, the ideas and answers are out there in someone else’s mind.

Learn to build and connect bridges and watch your reach, knowledge, power and influence grow!

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Rather than bestowing wisdom (only gained through experience), the MBA degree is an apprenticeship that offers exposure to the tools and concepts of management. Much like the tools of a master craftsman that enable creation, your true challenge is to apply these tools in solving problems and creating new opportunities for you, your firm and your stakeholders. To do this, you need ideas. A lot of ideas. Go forth and prosper, armed with the insights of those pushing the boundaries of our thinking and seize ideas to apply to your own situation. Best of success and happy learning!

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

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An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.