It is surprising how quickly one gets used to almost everything and does not really notice what is going on or what is special in one’s surroundings. As a person who has a privilege to read and comment both research theses and strategy documents written by executives, I also get used to the special way how business phenomena are examined and developed in those reports.
However, there is always a possibility to wake up and notice something one may not have noticed that clearly before. Somehow the recent EMBA reports caught my attention, and I realized that there is something very elementary, quintessential in these reports; something what makes these reports excellent type of business research; something which merits to be mentioned and noticed distinctly.
That something is that in EMBA research the writer is also the doer. S/he is the one who is the middle of those phenomena what s/he is examining and developing. This setting gives to reflection and learning a very special basis - it is different if you are in the middle of the action what you are developing or if you are examining things from afar.
In Avance EMBA we have always emphaziced that EMBA students should focus on their real-life situation and apply theoretical frameworks in that setting. Interestingly in one table discussion in AMBA conference for Deans and Directors I heard that in some Business schools EMBA research is approached from different angle. Their view was the EMBA thesis should be done for some other organization on not for student’s own organization. There are certainly merits on that approach also, in particular from the perspective of learning how things are done in other organizations. Still I would maintain that learning and in particular learning from deep personal reflection are on their best when you are doer and learner at the same time.
The well-known model from Kolb depicts how learning is a cycle : from concrete experience to reflection and to learning, which could lead to renewed experimentation and experience on the new level of expertise and capability.
What this blog wishes to take up and discuss separately is the vital importance of a starting point - a point from which the learning journey starts. For instance, in business life a personal development road - which one must travel before a doer role on the strategic level is possible - is often long and demanding. To become a doer at the strategic level is an achievement as such, often the path to that role has demanded years of hard work and success in different tasks. So one cannot just adopt a doer role and consequently a learner role on the strategic level, one has to achieve that status and possibility to examine and develop issues from that perspective.
Hence EMBA research is quintessential business research in particular on strategic issues because when writer is also a doer then it is possible to deeply and richly evaluate one’s own experiences, learn from those experiences and develop ways forward, ways where the developer herself/himself maintains and often strengthens her/his strategic doer role.
But wait, can it happen that also EMBA student becomes so familiar with her/his situation that s/he may not be fully aware how s/he could benefit as much as possible from her/his special strategic position throughout the EMBA thesis writing experience. This may happen, actually it is almost bound to happen, because we all tend to forget how to take a fresh look to our situation. Hence I suggest three points which a writer of an EMBA thesis could ponder in order to make her/his report a quintessential business research and in order to leverage her/his special position as much as possible in her/his learning journey and also in order learn and benefit from the process in the long run as much as possible.
1. Doer role
Recognize clearly, discuss analytically, take an insightful look to your past development and to your future possibilities about your doer role on the strategic level. Also notice acutely, that when selecting EMBA thesis topic it is often possible to take even a bit more demanding and/or general strategic perspective under examination than what is right now the everyday reality. However you must genuinely feel and anticipate what that new topic and perspective on strategy work would entail, so that doer-learner setting still remains true. Hence, EMBA thesis is a good place to stretch one’s doer role and at the same time enhance one’s learning on strategic issues. At its best EMBA journey is a learning experience, and also a growing journey.
2. Honesty and courage in reflection
In order to really reflect how one’s organization operates one must be both able and willing to see alternatives to current route of action. The present reality cannot be the only possibility, it cannot dictate without question what is right and possible. Could impossible be possible? Which new routes of action would be possible for you and for your organization? EMBA thesis is a tool to dig up strategic alternatives which busy everyday may have buried under numerous day to day activities and busy schedules.
3. New capability
It may be that one writes only one EMBA thesis, but this process creates capabilities which one can use throughout her/his working life. To write an EMBA thesis is not just an exercise to conquer new knowledge, it is also a way to acquire new capabilities. And while we are bound to forget pieces of knowledge, capability on its part is different entity because capability just gets better the more we use it.
Hence while writing an EMBA thesis is demanding task as such, one should not submerge herself/himself into details of writing the thesis. Instead, one should all the time keep in mind the bigger picture.
Throughout the EMBA project, one can develop her/his capabilities to become a doer who is also an astute learner and developer. The way to speed up learning cycle in the long run is to be able to create constant dialogue between doing and reflection.
In sum: starting point matters
It has been said that all paths are as good if you do not know where you are heading and what is your goal. Certainly goal awareness is important.
At the same time in the learning journey it is also important both to recognize the starting point and work diligently in order to develop the starting point as promising as conceivable. It is essential to do everything imaginable in order to establish a starting point which opens most promising landscapes for learning.
In learning journey also the starting point matters a lot.