Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Fiddly bits at the end that really matter

Whatever time of the morning it might be when you feel you have really finished your thesis, trust me - there are still a number of things that you need to do even when the text in your manuscript needs no more attention.  

Of course, you have been clever to utilise a couple of different proof readers (ideally whose mother tongue is English) already.  Why two ?  


  • One for a grammatical read - Do your sentences make sense ?, Have you repeated ideas and phrases ?, Have you used the right spelling of the word ? Is the punctuation in the right place to allow the reader to breath ? Best done using a red pen or track changes.


  • The other from someone who has a management background who can give you friendly, yet critical, feedback on where things need attention.  You do not expect this person to write the changes - just mark where a second look is needed.
Both tasks are best approached chapter-by-chapter as you go along - there is little then in the way of time pressure and you can focus on the next section whilst this is being done.  If you are lucky your content reviewer will join you on your journey and will develop an better understanding of the work you are covering, which will make their final read even more helpful.  

Asking for this help during the last week is unlikely to be realistic or effective, as you will not have the time and space to reflect and polish appropriately.  

What else do you need to do ?


Carefully inspect the dissertation guidelines - ours suggest a wider left hand margin (to allow for the binding), a particular font (& size 12 appears to be a standard), the contents of the acknowledgements, double line line spacing (often forgotten), an auto-updated table of contents and table of diagrams, page numbers in the footer and that the same font is used through out the document (triple click to highlight the whole document).  What is required to populate the cover sheet ?  All those little things.  

When you have grasped your final print out, check that each and every page is there.  I have seen manuscripts with missing pages (suggests a rush job and signals lower quality work) and binding that was so close to the edge that the pages fell out as you turned them !

Anticipate that your computer will crash:  Be prepared
Make sure that you keep working back ups of your work in several different places, I find that emailing myself is a good approach, but use a USB flash drive too.  We regularly have students cite crashed technology as a reason for late submission, unfortunately this is not admissible & our admin team always have a box of tissues handy for these kinds of situations.  Messy.  

That's it !  The end of my advice journey, but perhaps the beginning of your dissertation epic adventure ?   As you attack each section - remember to re-read the relevant guidance - it is ever-so-easy to go off track and forget what you need to be doing where.  

Good luck !  

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Writing up the Results


Are we nearly there yet ?

The results stage of a thesis is often the most satisfying, as you have completed the primrary research and covered a wide area of theory in the inital literature search.   You may begin to have strange feelings of actually knowing what you are saying ?  Perhaps for the first time in the entire process ?  Congratulations. It's working.  Keep peddling hard.

Of course for some with a looming portfolio of other deadlines and suffering from programme fatigue, it can pass in rather a blur as the desire to just get it done provides the over drive motivation that is required.

At this point you probably have exhausted all the euphoria and interest in the topic you once had (but this was important to get you this far...) and like a Tour De France cyclist on the final ascent of the day you need to dig deep to keep the momentum up.

In the analysis section that comes next where you should be looking to draw conclusions that effectively are the ends of long threads that have been woven into the fabric of the paper. You may need to go back to previous sections to ensure that what is clear to you is also strongly manifested in the body text, sign posting and summaries. Beefing key points up may require reducing the emphasis on interesting, but less central ideas. A difficult task if you end up cutting finely crafted paragraphs, but a necessity. 

The results chapter is often very influential in determining a strong grade. Although the word count is often lower than say the literature review, the impact of pulling together any disparite ideas and connecting for a-ha ! moments is crucial.   Make sure that your results focus is helping lay the foundations of your upcoming analysis.  It may feel obvious and repetitive to you, but the reader benefits greatly from touch points, reminders, heavy hints along the way - just like a good TV show where the final scene explains all of the pieces of the jigsaw, like why there was a pink flamingo floating in the pool during scene 1.

The coloured bars represent ?
Where a quants approach is taken, or multiple research objectives are invoked, this structure can provide a logical and clear framework for this section. Usually quants results are presented one question at a time, with a well labelled graphic that uses a numbered title, e.g. Figure one that runs sequentially from the beginning.  A table of diagrams may follow the main index up front too.  Under each diagram, that will opt to display each type of data using a variety of optimal formats and a consistent colour palatte, concise text will describe, but not explain, the data.  What does the diagram show, what are the most important elements.  Words are at a premium, thus write concisely using just key points in a few lines. Explanations (the Why ?) follow in the analysis section. Remember if you plan to print in black & white to use hatching/colours that work in monochrome.  Include any well designed questionnaire tool templates as an appendix. Take care with response ranges, many students erroneously over lap ages and income groupings e.g. 10-20, 20-30 - which group does 20 belong too ? 

In qual research pulling out the findings can be more challenging. With bigger concepts, perhaps a key theory can be used to offer a suitable analytical spine. Blending together a number of thoeretical concepts identified in the lit review, well referenced of course, can offer up a "conceptual framework". You may need to re-read the lit review to add any missing ideas you note are lacking and integrate the conceptual framework probably in the analysis section, but it may be useful to organise your findings and therefore consider the end of the literature review. New theory should not appear here first ! Adapting or adding to existing theories is another way of describing the idea of a conceptual framework. Many students struggle to understand this idea, no matter, if you are on a big journey of discovery you may never feel comfortable in developing such a framework, and certainly you should worry about this only after having completed the first draft of the results. Multiple iterations over several days allow the critical and considered reflection that sees a carefully crafted results chapter emerge. 

Reading journal papers that use similar research methods will help tremendously, with structure, theory and language constructs. Citing other similar published research for process enhances your work, as you demonstrate scholarship and good practise. The results section would typically use in text referencing less frequently, as this is your primary research that has not been published. You will link quotations to sources. If you have offered anonymity to your subjects, then use respondent 1,2,3 or x,y and z as appropriate. Sometimes altered or false names can be used, having been clearly identified as such as part of the ethical considerations. Take care not to identify individuals or companies by offering a jigsaw of crackable clues to the intelligent reader. Note guidance on the need for verbatum transcripts, which differ by programme. Keep recordings and notes, lest you are invited to a viva voce interview. You may wish to append a disk of results, but check the detail submission guidance. Use quotations liberally to illustrate depth and richness of research, although this should not dominate. Note complex style requirements that apply to longer quotations.

The use of historic and/or popular thoery as the basis for a theoretical framework e.g. whilst not inappropriate, Maslow's hierarchy of needs and many Porter models are unlikely to garner additional credit for originality. Twisting two frames appropriately together,  and/or using new or emerging ideas can demonstrate higher order approaches. Referenced Critique of thoery can offer justification for adaption.

File note: it is important to note that different chapters require writing styles. Clarity of what is needed in each section from the out set can greatly reduce uncertainty and help improve writing efficiency. 

On the home straight ?

You perhaps need to put more emphasis on dropping the bread crumb trail or the 'evidence' or thread connectivity in your final recommendations/conclusions - so that the lay reader says 'oh yes, of course' & there has been argument / evidential power behind the key summary points. Again here it might just be a case of tweaking what you've said & ensuring the recommendations are based on ideas/argumentation that has been well covered in the paper. Take care to draw on central ideas. Interesting but periperal ideas should be lightly covered as either limitations, or areas for future research.  Do not try to over complicate your writing.

Completing the French cycling metaphor as you head to the Arc de Triomphe finish line in Paris, the heavy lifting required in the mountain peaks is nearly over, you just need to keep focussed on the final stages, try not to fall of your bike and enjoy the final stages.  Well done, arise Sir Bradley Wiggins.
V is for victory: bittersweet completion

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The alternative MBA reading list ?

M
B  A
R  E  A
D  I  N  G
L  I  S  T  S


So you are thinking about an MBA ?  Great.

Or you are feeling that you would benefit from an MBA education, but are looking to do it fast and/or cheap ?  Ok - at least you are honest.

Perhaps you are just plain curious -FANTASTIC !

If you struggled to make out the pyramid above - perhaps it is time to visit an opticians ?



If you are looking for a quick fix - why not try one of the 30 day MBAs ?  

Barrow, C. (2013) The 30 Day MBA: Your Fast Track Guide to Business Success might be the perfect solution ?  Bye.


In discussion over the years with many Royal Holloway MBA candidates, from all over the world, I noticed that the decision to undertake a challenging, quite long and often reasonably expensive MBA programme is not something people tend to rush into.  Therefore looking to try-before-you-buy seems to be an entirely sensible approach.  Why not pick up a book or two and see if you really have the focus and motivation to study again ?  

When applicants visit my office I often lend them one of my books to encourage the early adoption of good habits perhaps ?, but also to offer a free test their motivation, if they do not pick up the book and engage with it, paying the chunky deposit for a demanding learning programme is not looking like a great idea.   

You READ for a degree after all. 

MBA texts:  Pile 'em high !
Business education has changed significantly over the last decade or so, since Enron and the sub-prime crisis, there is a much greater emphasis now put on business ethics and responsible management.  If you work in industry and graduated a while back, these significant changes may have passed you by.  Would you fit in ?

So whilst conservative business schools continue to perhaps peddle a strongly pro-business mantra that is embedded in their DNA, I work in a School of Management that proudly takes a more critical, societal view of commerce.  It is likely that the conventional programmes utilise marketing by Kotler, strategy from Johnson and Scholes, Slack for operations management and accounting for non-finance types by Atril, as I did back in the day during my turn of the century MBA.  

If you search 'marketing' in Amazon (which uses sales to rank) you'll find Baines & Fill and Jobber ahead of Kotler, but this might be a reasonable approach to identify the most popular texts in each field, provided you can filter out managerialistic 'airport books' like marketing for dummies.  

The popularity of my blog entry titled  'MBA pre-reading list' suggests there is quite some unsatisfied demand for text recommendations (and little search competition in this space). I suspect the number of requests I have had for me to 'email over' the MBA reading list were not always from bona fide applicants looking to prepare ahead of their studies.  We take the view that module reading lists are part of our intellectual property that students benefit from during their education experience, thus what you find  discussed here below does not draw on the Royal Holloway MBA programme, but my experience as a business school educator.  Some are quirky and unlikely to be on any MBA reading list.  Do not be surprised if a number of the authors mentioned below are colleagues of mine.  There you have it, full ethical disclosure, up front.  


If you find that you have been sufficiently excited to have got hold of and read one or two of the titles listed below and want more - please feel free to contact me to discuss further:  

justin.obrien@royalholloway.ac.uk   

I won't bite - promise !  


So what might a more critical or alternative MBA reading list look like ?



Devinney, T. Auger, P. & Eckhardt, G. (2010) The Myth of the Ethical Consumer 

Ciravegna, L. & Fitzgerald, R. (2013) Operating in Emerging Markets: A Guide to Management and Strategy in the New International Economy

Olivier, R. (2013) Inspirational Leadership: Timeless Lessons for Leaders from Shakespeare's Henry V

Dubner, S. & Levitt, S. (2007) Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

Hackley, C. (2009) Marketing: A Critical Introduction

Griseri, P. (2013) An Introduction to the Philosophy of Management

Monk, N. & Neelands, J. (2015) Open-Space Learning: A Study in Transdisciplinary Pedagogy (The Wish List)


Alexander, D. & Nobes, C. (2013) Financial Accounting: An International Introduction


Lowe, S & McArthur, A. (2008) The Best Of: Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit ? 

Awad, S. (2014) A Critical History of Social Media: The Culture of Connectivity

Chomsky, N. & Barrett, C. (2003) The Corporation (film)

Brooke, C (2009) Critical Management Perspectives on Information Systems

Maclaran, P. & Saren, M (2007) Critical Marketing: Defining the Field

Smith, C. & McSweeney, B. (2011) Management: Between Global and Local

Hackley, C. & Hackley, R.A (2014) Advertising and Promotion

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Je suis un Rock Star !

Je suis un Rock Star ! 
J'avais un residence, 
J'habite la, in the south of France

Those of a certain experience will recall this cheesy franglais lyric from a surprising Bill Wymann chart hit.

Le Rock Star ? Justin O'Brien
Of course I don't, the commute to our stunning Egham campus makes this dream unrealisable on my senior lecturer salary and dwindling pension.  But the song has been knocking around my head for a week now...why ?

Because I was described recently as a rock star, and before you get in there NOT because I just rock up to things, but for some imagined celebrity draw when applicants are thinking about applying to uni.  Not really me, but the breed I am now associated with, the media profile academic, or teleDon.


Of course even my two boys can't stand my singing and I really should monetise my awful crooning voice by inviting sponsors to pay me not to sing, a bit like that guy in US reality hit show Jersey shore who Abercrombie and Fitch asked not to wear their clothes in a self serving PR stormette.


New Profile Photo Creates Ripple
I have also been pleasantly surprised at the social media ripple created by my social media photo update.  Yes, I am wearing a trademark flowery shirt that emphasises my metrosexual and creative brand values.  But I sense it is more to do with the power of the facial image in engendering engagement on social media platforms.  Nota bene marketers.

My MBADirector blog's most popular post on fast fashion features a profile head and shoulders close up of guest speaker Pete Shonbeck that stands on the shoulders of giants with its number of hits it has collected.  I have struggled to understand why until recently.  We are working with Brighton based NetNatives on an innovative digital campaign and they advised that in social media split testing (using multiple variations of a handful of images, headlines and copy and seeing which gets the best click through rate) close up images of faces were the best.  Intriguing, methinks.


I spotted this amusing mirror decoration (below) outside the loos in a trendy Dublin restaurant.  Clearly I don't get out enough as I found it not only chuckle worthy, but good enough to whack out my phone and take a snap.  It was certainly the feeling I had last Saturday after my first radio chat show "down the wire" with financially feminist Victoria Hollingsworth on ShareRadio.  Office neighbour Professor Chris Hackley recommended me for the 30 min show that discussed Christmas advertising, of course the main feature was John Lewis and Monty the Penguin.  Having apprehensively accepted the unpaid offer, it went ok and I decided that I would seek out more opportunities for such activity going forwards.  


Zut alors, c'est vrai !  Je suis un Rock Star ?



Thursday, 18 December 2014

Shine bright like a diamond



"Diamonds"


Shine bright like a diamond
Shine bright like a diamond

Find light in the beautiful sea
I choose to be happy
You and I, you and I
We’re like diamonds in the sky

You’re a shooting star I see
A vision of ecstasy
When you hold me, I’m alive


We’re like diamonds in the sky

It is a surprisingly limited lyric that some interpret as celebrating the duality of love and the experience of drugs (ecstasy & its slang derivative molly) and alcohol (moonshine) using the diamond sparkle metaphor.  As you know I am quite partial to a good metaphor, having used the idea of hurricane formation in my most recent sports marketing paper submission.

Rihanna's anthem (500m+ views on YouTube) has gone beyond hit single and adopted and adapted and currently features in cover form by Josef Salvat in Sony's 4K TV global advertising campaign. You have for sure seen it and heard it.  Filmed in on of my favourite places in the world, Whistler in British Colombia, using no special effects the ad shows ice crystals forming on blown bubbles.  A clever connection between a hit song and crystal clear images, a little to literal and bland for me.  But a haunting version of the song none-the-less.






It reminds me of Exec Search friend Eileen Lee told me once; I didn't think to use a diamond image when I featured the below graphic in one of my blogs most read posts.



It also contains the quote I love:

 "Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without"

The Royal Holloway MBA is accredited by AMBA, the only MBA focussed quality assurance body.  We are looking forwards to a successful reaccreditation visit in June 2015 and noted that the associations brand relaunch has gone down the metaphor route too.  

Does it shine for you ?



Wednesday, 17 December 2014

End of Term 1: MBA celebrate in Royal Holloway style













Royal Holloway MBA candidates, faculty and alumni joined together for a festive end of term celebration in the remarkable Victorian Picture Gallery, a unique space that provides an appropriate sense of occasion.

The outstanding college choir, made up by many of the music scholarship students, performed a number of traditional Christmas carols, sporting santa hats and currently trending Christmas jumpers, slightly less formal than their usual gowns.

MBA Alumni Natalia Yudina and Andrew Arnold joined to re-ignite the Royal Holloway sparkle and share their wisdom with current students.

The atmosphere was particularly jolly as MBA candidates had submitted their final piece of coursework the day before, and although most were quite tired following an end of term crescendo, the group enjoyed the opportunity to dress up and relax together with staff from the School of Management.

Keen for the party to continue MBAs organised an innovative secret santa that saw them able to 'keep or steal' the gift they plucked out of the lucky dip box and the afternoon concluded (formally at least that is when I took my leave of proceedings) with a gathering around the grand piano.

Students, still with some work to complete over the four week Christmas recess, had plans to travel with course mates, or spend time with family.

MBA Graduation 2014






Monday, 15 December 2014

Yuletide Optimisation Framework



Seasons Festive Greetings

Christmas Jumpers - where did this social phenomenon come from ?

Christmas Jumper Par Excellence !
Today I am sporting a brand new Christmas jumper.  I don't really wear jumpers, I am more a fleece and rugby shirt type of guy who flounces in a floral shirt when forced to be formal.  Both my sons had Christmas jumper days this year and the School of Management admin team have encouraged this jolly festive behaviour on campus, thanks to a guess John Snow's jumper competition charity poster.  (I went gingerbread and penguin, unsurprisingly).

It is the last, last day of winter term and I am wondering how many students will be present to see me resplendent in my 100% acrylic sweater that depicts cup cakes and candy sticks.  I guess Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood have a lot of answer for with the fashionable resurgence of baking and particularly over decorated fairy cakes. 

Save the Children John Snow charity campaign
Colleague Emma flagged the world record set for the most people wearing a Christmas jumper happened in Windsor last week. The media is littered with stories on Christmas jumpers, for example Claire Cohen in The Telegraph on a story angle that flags the un-sexy nature of these garments manages to find some pretty racy options that are probably quite rude.

Jo Ellison in the FT tracks back to Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone and John Candy as perhaps the popularising factors, whilst lamenting this ironic behaviour she recommends only for children and the retired (who are allowed to wear whatever they like !).  

I think that Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones Diary lies at the root of this tacky (but socially cohesive) festive celebration.  Rene Zellweger & Colin Firth lamenting the embarassing must wear now gift - tapping into a wider common shared experience of the unwanted present (or presents if you are particularly unlucky) - coaching consulting needed in heavy hint giving to friends and loved ones ? 

For the record, I want the next Apple thing.