For the first time in either of my collegiate careers, I went on vacation for Spring Break. To Puerto Rico nonetheless. It was awesome. But first, some things from Columbus.
As I’m sure all of you readers out there recall from high school literature class, the dramatic structure consists of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and finally the dénouement. Well, as it turns out, business school sort of follows a similar structure.
The climax of my business school career was Winter Quarter 2011. Similar to what I expect boot camp to be, this place had built me up and broken me down in a way I had not experienced previously. But with the end in sight, many things began to clear up and started going well. Whether this was the result of the efforts of those around me and/or my own or just luck, I’ll never know. But a climax had certainly occurred and thus cleared the way for the subsequent falling action.
The Spring Break trip to Puerto Rico begins the falling action and probably in some respects the dénouement. Except there really isn’t an audience to experience these as dramatic events and sense of catharsis, just myself to experience them as life. But I’ll share some bits and pieces…
For those of you that know me well at all, you know that I am usually on or off. Work hard, play hard. Burn the candle from both ends because it burns twice as bright. One of those people. The Fisher MBA program has consistently been an “on” period since the day I set foot on campus. I consistently pushed myself harder and harder to see how much I could take. This peaked in Winter Quarter 2011.
Planned or not, the Puerto Rico trip was the first extended “off” experience in the better part of two years, with the exception of the weekend trip to Thailand this past summer. Except on this one, after the first day or two, I even stopped responding to many emails. I was disconnected and just off. After seven days of relaxing on the beach and reading, I could feel my body in a more relaxed and unwound state. I will have to do this again.
Part of that seven days was spent eating. Part of that seven days was spent reading. And Part of that seven days was spent flying. Now, a little about each.
Eating – I was looking forward to experiencing Puerto Rican cuisine in Puerto Rico finally. The samples that I had in Ohio were delectable, but I figured the real deal would be better. Results were mixed.
Lupi’s in Isla Verde turned out to be a place we frequented often during our stay. Nothing particularly fancy but friendly and quick service made this place a standout. They even turned all the TV’s in our area to college basketball as we watched the Buckeyes and the Boilermakers perform and disappoint. There’s always next year.
Oh, and it never hurts to randomly run into OSU alumni several thousand miles away from campus. On an island. In a local sports bar. To watch a basketball game.
Mi Casita was another popular stop. Inexpensive and delicious, you can’t beat that combination. Paella. Sangria. And a delectable, liquidy, pineapple-ly, local hot sauce that made everything taste better.
If you’ve never had Mofongo, try it. I prefer it with skirt steak. I miss green plantains already.
Reading – After reading so many cases and business related articles, I had almost forgotten what recreational reading felt like. The much needed break gave me the chance to finish two books and start a third.
Promised Land by Jay Parini was the first I finished. Although it started slow, by the end I was happy I spent the time to finish. I think Parini does a masterful job of highlighting some of the literature that shaped the American landscape – as well as Parini himself.
The Art of War by Sun Tzu was the second I read. The classic is short, succinct, and powerful in its simplicity.
I’ve saved the best for last though: The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman. While only a little over halfway through the book, I find myself stopping every 5-10 pages to digest what Friedman has written and working to tie it all into my experiences and world view. I even went to my bag in the overhead compartment to get a pen so I could take notes as I read. I’ve heard some people claim the book is 600 pages simply stating the importance of China and India. I feel this misses so much of what Friedman has put on paper and will use two thoughts to illustrate this point.
1) Four Feet Eight and One Half Inches. Friedman discusses at length how the investment in laying high bandwidth fiber optic cables and the standardization of internet protocols (think languages) has dramatically changed the importance of location in many industries. In short, it supports outsourcing of many tasks to the other side of the world. But, in discussing the standardization and its effects he makes a subtle but well crafted reference to railroads which I will elaborate on.
As railroads became a dominant way to move people, communications, and materials across the United States in the 19th century, several different gauges – or the distance between the center-lines of the rails – emerged with each often being unique to a certain company. This meant that rolling stock – locomotives, passenger cars, box cars, etc. – could not be used on each company’s unique set of tracks. Further, it meant that if you wanted to move a package via rail across the country, you had to unload and reload it several different times on several different cars that could operate on several different gauges. The inefficiency of this system should be obvious. Why don’t we just load and unload the package once – at the origin and at the destination. This was made possible in the United States in 1886 when nearly all railroads adopted standard gauge: Four Feet Eight and One Half Inches. Railroads could now focus on moving packages long distances and not on unloading/reloading packages.
Standardization of internet protocols has had a similar effect which many of us take for granted. As a result of a common communication standard for the internet, there is no need for dedicated machines to convert one version of the internet to another version of the internet. All versions are essentially the same and accessible by nearly all. This standardization allows the world to use the internet for what it’s best at: a common way to move information long distances efficiently.
2) Borders, Customs, and Immigration. Centuries ago, the only way to stay in continuous contact with the other side of the world was to actually go there. Intermittent contact could be had with written communication. Then, telegraphs and telephones allowed more rapid - albeit expensive – long distance communications. Now, with long distance fiber optic cables and the standardization of internet technologies, rapid and essentially free communication is possible with a large portion of the world. You can now work alongside someone 9,000 miles away without getting your passport stamped or negotiating customs in several countries. In many situations, physical distance is no longer relevant. In some ways, political borders are no longer relevant. While some implications of this are obvious, there are certainly many we have yet to see.
So, what does all this mean for you and me? Read the book to find out.
Flying – As I’ve highlight before, the MBA experience has allowed me to physically travel to a lot of places. There are so many great stories and insights from this experience, many of which tie into the things Thomas Friedman discusses in The World is Flat. One of the perks of all this travel surfaced during the flights to Puerto Rico – Silver Elite Status with Continental and Star Alliance. We got to cut to the front of the line when negotiating customs. And I got an entire row to myself – with plenty of room to set down The World is Flat and digest.
Freytag would be proud.