Curious Gorge: Scratching the Surface on Two Hearty Years in MBA School (Incl. Anarchy)

Curious Gorge: Scratching the Surface on Two Hearty Years in MBA School. (It’s a long one: 1500 words, 5 pictures, 1 video, 1 App)

I’m a second year MBA graduating today, June 10, 2011 from the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. My friend and cohort Nate Kalaf, the current MBA marketing guru asked me to write a blog about working as a graduate research assistant working in marketing for the UO Libraries at the main branch, Knight Library (named after Phil Knight, founder of Nike. Thank you, Phil!) I thought writing a post was a great idea, because there’s a lot going on there re: the future of libraries. Who knows what will happen now that print, a technology we’ve had for over a thousand years, begins to disappear in favor of digital. Beginning to write, I started thinking about a lot of other highlights through out the 2 year MBA program that I wanted to capture too. Things that I wanted to remember, and things others considering the Oregon MBA might be interested in.

So this post is about scratching the surface of things that made me go “Whoa” in MBA school and it’s about my fellowship in marketing at the UO Libraries. Maybe it will give some insights into the MBA experience at Oregon (rad). And it’s cathartic to get all this out while it’s fresh.

For a Good Time, Call the Oregon MBA. 

It’s hard to believe all the things I’ve been a part of in the last two years, and these are only the highlights: In my time here I held a research fellowship at the UO Libraries for two years, joined the Net Impact Conference 2011 Steering Committee & helped our chapter to achieve gold status, worked as a UO Technology Entrepreneurship Fellow on a three month project for Microsoft, travelled to China, San Francisco, Seattle, Detroit, New York and Boulder to visit with companies, led a team to win a grant to develop and launch an iPhone app, played on intramural sports teams, and just finished MBA capstone Strategic Planning Project for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials – Track & Field at Hayward Field. Wow, that’s a lot to do in two short years, and that doesn’t even include classes. (It’s true, most MBAs don’t sleep much.) But I had the help of a lot from new friends and professors with nearly supernatural business powers, that they were willing to share. That’s what ties each project together, teamwork, and lots of it. The experience has been everything I hoped for and more.

People of the MBA: The Unsinkable Erin Malone means business at HP.

People of the MBA: Brett Ratchford Takes on Innovation with Clif Bar Wrappers for TerraCycle

People of the MBA: Orit Ofri & JJ O'Connell, Smartest Kids on the Block Take a Break

People of the MBA: Tiffany Yep, Lauren Schwartz, & Emily Byrd promote the beta of our Bike App.

People of the MBA: Jia Hu Inspecting Microsoft's Work. Redmond, Wa.

What Are You Even Talking About

One thing that made me go “Whoa” during MBA school is that I realized business will never ever get boring. Frustrating and messy? Yes, sometimes, but not boring. My undergrad was in fine art and professionally I worked as a manager for creative businesses, and even started my own design company, but it took me a long time to admit that I love business. Why? Because I just did what I liked and didn’t consider it business, necessarily. There was some vague notion of business being about wearing a suit, or being a jeans-wearing Silicon Valley entrepreneur. That was different from what I wanted to do. And, for a long time mashing creativity + business raised eyebrows among both worlds. (It still does, but there’s more people doing it,  it’s our revolution.) I’m not talking about a business that only produces creative offerings, I’m talking about creatively building a business. Some examples are models like Kickstarter, Threadless, COMMON. Creativity + Business? They are perfect for each other.

Business is inherently creative because what you are doing is controlling chaos while you solve problems, and combining external and internal factors that make a statement. (Hopefully positive a cash flow statement—heh heh.) Creativity is about solving problems, and so is business, and you need to build skills in strategy, finance, operations, marketing and organizational intelligence to be effective.

Birthplace of Nike + The “Anarchist Capital of the U.S.”

Now I’m going to answer the question “Why Oregon?” There are a lot of reasons.  Cultural diversity is one. Take Eugene itself. It’s the perfect place to earn more than an MBA (e.g. more than a suit-&-tie-Wall-Street-investment-banker-type-MBA, not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Back to Eugene. It’s great for a lot of reasons, but my favorite is because it’s a small city that holds two extremes on the business spectrum: a huge brand name multinational, and the HQ of anarchists. Huh, what?

Yes, the University of Oregon, is the birthplace of Nike (you know, the powerhouse brand with some human rights violation issues that caught the attention of activists a few years ago–but it worked to overcome the issues and now is a leader sustainable design innovation.) On the other end, we have another Eugene, which is  nicknamed the “Anarchist Capital of the U.S.” most famously referring to the group of WTO protestors made famous in the “Battle of Seattle” in 1999. (But I haven’t really seen many. They probably live in Portlandia or Seattle now.)

The Graduate Teaching Fellowship with UO Libraries.

During the last two years of attending the full-time MBA program, I have worked as a Graduate Teaching Fellow in marketing & communication for the University of Oregon Libraries.  My boss there is the Director of Communication, and I assist him in developing marketing strategies for the library….Wait. Did you just chuckle at the thought of marketing the library? Because sometimes (often), when I tell people my job is marketing at the library, they chuckle and say, “marketing the library? What is there to market?” And that’s understandable, that’s why it’s been so fun.

It’s understandable because think about all the things the library holds, things you can’t see. Think about all the thinking that is happening at the library. Think about the vaults of information—print, digital and ephemera. Right now UO Special Collections has an exhibit of a private collection of model zeppelin airships, and 1940’s comic books and Ken Kesey’s original Jail Journals.

Add to it that the way we get our information has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. For the past 1000 years or so before that, there was not much change. We got most of our information from books. Not anymore.

Questions We Wrestled With

Library treasures are out of sight. Information is buried–out of sight, out of mind.  How do we talk about what the libraries mean now? Because it’s not about stacks of books and being shushed. How do you talk about what academic research means in the age of Google? How do we communicate with digital natives? How do we say that not everything is on Google? (Yet.) There are thousands of ways to perform research. Here are a few other questions.

  1. Where do we start, we have six audiences., and there are 24,000 kids here.
  2. What should our goal be?
  3. What is the opportunity cost of time, what is our decision criteria for choosing which strategy, tradeoffs, options we should focus on?
  4. How do we know if our strategy working?
  5. How can we facilitate internal communication for self-marketing and manage expectations?
  6. How can we move beyond “Analysis Paralysis”?

Part of my job included hashing out these questions with the marketing committee. Over the course of our meetings together, using inputs gathered from observation and interaction with students, staff and faculty, we decided to focus on the student audience first (faculty, donors, public to follow.) Then, based on the inputs we gathered, we held brainstorming sessions to identify our goals of the marketing to students, performed a SWOT analysis, had a lot of side discussions and formed marketing protocols designed to help focus communication decisions. Long story short, my favorite marketing tagline our team developed is “Wow, I love the library!” For me, the “Wow” indicates a newfound appreciation. Communication protocols include using stories, humor, interaction, and highlighting benefits. The tagline facilitates the ultimate mission of facilitating development of lifelong curiosity in a student. And you know what? I am still impressed that there are study rooms and coffee available, and Knight Library is open 24 hours a day. And the books, oh the books. I wish I could eat them and know everything in them. I wander the stacks just to take Instagram pics of the incredible treasures there. So they got me. And I’ll say it. “Wow, I love the Library!”

“The ones who are crazy enough to change the world are the ones who will.” – Think Different campaign.

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Twitter: @katibren