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Research Triangle Business Advisors

April 2015 Newsletter


Over the past 12 years, we at RTBA have participated in many activities in support of the MBA programs at Duke and UNC.  The courses have included communications, ethics, and engineering management; judging the Carolina Challenge and Duke Startup Challenge entrepreneurial competitions, and more. Some of the students we have worked with are recent under graduates and others are seasoned professionals, with as much as 8 years of experience, who chose to continue their education.  Over the years we have continued to observer new approaches, actions, decisions and personalities from the students.  But, there are some common threads in these traits that have prevented the students from achieving the most out of their classroom and project work.  What follows is my attempt to summarize some of those missteps in the hopes that it may help you avoid some of the same pitfalls.


  Bob De Contreras




What We Can Learn from Duke and UNC MBA Students


  1. Millennials are technology and social media focused. Over the years, many studies have shown that communication that is done face-to-face has the opportunity to be 100% effective.  Likewise, communications over the phone, where you canít see the person you are talking to, are at best 20% effective.  And, most of that communication comes from tone not the words.  The reason: much of our communication comes from body language and facial expressions.  When evaluating effectiveness of email, text messages and other electronic media the effectiveness of the communication drops to a paltry 5% to 10%.

    Improve your communication by avoiding electronic/social media and get face-to-face.


  2. What you think is true, may not be. Often we get trapped by thinking we have the answers. We find ourselves asking our friends what they think, and weíre happy when they agree with our thinking.  What did you expect?  You are comfortable with them because they think like you. You might be surprised at the answers you get from strangers, clients, competitors, high school students and senior citizens. 

    Always ask questions to confirm your thinking Ė donít ask your friends, look for dissenting opinions to strengthen your decisions.


  3. You canít do it all yourself. Even if you could, you donít have the skills, desire, inclination, time, or energy to do it all. Why do you think you have heard so much about team and teamwork?  Itís about getting help and support, and giving help and support. Itís about the value of alternative opinions and collaborative creativity.

    Donít let your ego get in your way Ė ask for help.


  4. If itís obvious, itís not the answer.  There is never enough time to do the due diligence thatís required. So, we take shortcuts and often stop our analysis when we see an obvious problem or solution. The issue is that the problem we often see is just the tip of the iceberg.  What we donít see is the root cause of the problem Ė the 80% of the iceberg that is under the water.

    Build sound results from sound due diligence. Donít stop digging until you find the root causes.


  5. Sell your vision and ideas. When you share your idea, solution, plan or actions they may not be accepted by your audience. The reason? You didnít justify your statements, you were not understood, you were not believed, or other disconnects occur. You canít tell people what to do and expect them to do it if they donít buy in.

    Share your thought processes, involve your team in decision making, justify your solutions, consider cost, cash flow, and ROI in your decisions and how you sell them.


  6. Your experiences donít necessarily bring the best solutions. Your experiences are from a different time, a different situation, a different company and an environment with different people involved. So, a solution based on your experiences may not be the best solution for the current situation. Wisdom is getting more input even when you have all the answers from your experiences.

    Use your wisdom to ask questions, get input from others, and find better alternatives.

  7. When you think you have the answer Ė maybe not. Again, because we are so busy we are tempted to stop looking for a solution to a problem when we find the first solution.  How do you know itís the best solution if you donít have any others to compare it against? In fact I believe the first three solutions you come up with are motherhood and apple pie throw away solutions.  They show you have just begun searching. 

    Throw away the first three solutions you come up with and pick the best of solutions 4, 5 and 6.


  8. Nothing good happens without effective communications. A common thread in 1, 2, 5 and 6 above is effective communications. This includes all forms of communication Ėverbal, written, electronic, etc.

    Use feedback methods to confirm understanding between yourself and team members.


  9. Help your teammates.  Itís often forgotten that if you want someone to help you, you have to help them. Quid Pro Quo. Some books on leadership talk about ďServant Leadership.Ē The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.

    Give unto others, so they will give unto you (support you).


  10. Write down your plan on paper. If your plan is only in your head, every time you communicate it to a different person it comes out just a little different. Thatís why it looks like everyone on the team is moving in a different direction. If the plan is on paper, everyone you share it with sees the same plan. And, donít forget that no plan is ever done.  Update written plans as often as necessary.

    Write it down, review it regularly, update it often, and never stop looking for better answers.


Cary | Raleigh | Research Triangle Park | Greensboro | North Carolina
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