3 Practical Life Lessons I Learned From My MBA

ProfessorDuring the last day of any MBA course, your professor will most likely say something along the lines of, “Years from now, if you can use one thing from my class, it would be…” Now I won’t be able to enumerate every single lesson I learned over my time at business school, but these lessons have become part of my mental toolkit, and always come to mind when I evaluate business odds or manage ambiguous human factors.

Here are three of the most useful life lessons that I became very aware of during my time in business school:

1) Build a buffer of time into your day
From my Operations Management course, I learned that in the manufacturing process, buffer zones or “slack time” are critical in ensuring that a delay in one part of production cannot easily cripple the whole chain. This concept has proven to be helpful now in managing day-to-day activities – rather than filling every hour of the day with minute tasks, it is more productive to identify key priorities and create some free time around them. This time can then be used to absorb tasks that unexpectedly take longer than you thought they would, or to spend as additional time for personal interests. Planning out the day like this can greatly reduce your stress and allow new ideas to ferment, making for a more productive and fulfilling life, long-term.

2) You can negotiate for more than you think
From my Negotiations course, I recall that I learned the most common error people make in their dealings is to take too many points as given or fixed and not even bother to try and negotiate them. Thus, they miss out on the potential to further benefit their own organization as well as the party they are negotiating with.

Being more aware of this tendency will encourage you to try negotiating for things you may not have tried for before, which will help open up more business opportunities and deepen your relationships with the people you work with. In addition, it is important to understand that the motivation of the person you are negotiating with is not always exactly the same as that of the unit he is representing, as this will help in the way you approach the conversation.

3) The creative process cannot be forced
In one of my Strategy classes, we discussed the creative process of Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega, best known for her 1987 hit “Luka,” which raised awareness for domestic violence. In this case study, the singer was encountering writer’s block as she was creating her new album and found that to do her best work, she couldn’t be forced to grind it out in the recording studio as many musical artists do – living life and drawing inspiration and stimulation from everyday encounters was the best way to go.

I have found this lesson to be very applicable as I help guide MBA candidates through their business school applications. Applicants tend to maintain their better balance in their lives by continuing with their exercise, hobbies, and vacations, even as they prepare for the GMAT and the business school application process as a whole. Living full, normal lives will keep you refreshed and inspired to work at your peak performance level, and to deliver your best work possible.

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Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD.