Semester Introspective – Part 2

As I alluded to in my previous entry, it’s been a rough go this past year. I’ve essentially been in class, without a break, since January, while simultaneously working a full-time job that has only grown more challenging and time-intensive over the same period as our departments has faced a dramatic change in the makeup of our personnel.  I’m tired.  But as hard as this semester has been, there’s a lot of value to be taken from the classes I was in. 

Looking more closely at Fall semester of 2009, I think there are some very interesting lessons that I can glean from “Product & Brand Management” and “Processes & Systems”.  The former is a marketing-centric course and the latter more of an operations course. 

Processes & Systems was very useful in providing a lot of tools for analyzing how we do the work we do, understanding the tradeoffs between efficiency and effectiveness, the challenges of process complexity, and many other topics.  I could see right away how there were significant process-based problems right in my own organization as a Financial Analyst: problems with who does what, when they are supposed to do it, who has responsibility for what outcomes, and political challenges related to how certain responsibilities roll up through certain reporting structures.  Largely, the class serves as a cautionary tale, but hopefully it will also prove useful in actually performing deep-level analysis of processes and finding solutions to process problems.  One of the challenges of the class, however, is in dealing with having knowledge of process problems but lacking authority – formal or otherwise – to institute changes to those processes.  As the guy at the very bottom of the totem pole (granted, it’s a totem pole set on a hill, compared to my last job, but I’m the bottom man nonetheless), it’s a challenge looking up toward the top and realizing: you guys are doing your jobs wrong, and it’s affecting me, here at the bottom.  It’s just not feasible, or career-friendly, to make those observations (especially during a recession), no matter how diplomatically you put it.

Product & Brand Management is a course about maximizing the value of a brand by carefully managing all the elements that touch on the brand.  This starts with defining what you want the brand to be – who is going to be the most ardent users of the products labeled under that brand (the term “brand” is usually used interchangeably with the product the brand represents) and why they will prefer your brand – to how you craft your communications and customer interactions around that brand to  how you actually design the product to meet the needs of those ardent users.  It’s a class that has little applicability in the current iteration of my career (in Financial Analysis, Budgeting & Forecasting) when viewed narrowly, but has more applicability when viewed broadly.  In particular, there comes the issue of how I brand myself in the workplace – what needs my services will meet, who will be the users of those services (in other words, who will be my employer), and what image I portray to my customers and how I interact with them.  From that angle, the concept of Brand Management takes on a potentially different light that necessitates deep introspection.  Whether I’m considering my current customers or planning for future customers, I need to think very carefully about what products & services I will offer, and how I want those customers to perceive me.  One example insight: while my workspace normally appears as a disorganized mess (although of course I know where things are) my customers (my boss and other superiors in the organization) may view that differently.  Is that image – a disorganized mess – part of the message I want to broadcast about my brand?  If not, then good brand management dictates that I make a change to that aspect of the communication with my customer.

In addition to these insights on the professional, business-world version of my career, they give me some bones to chew on with regard to what I plan to make of the writerly version of my career.  Since childhood, it has been my goal to become a professional novelist.  To succeed as a novelist – that is, to transition from a business-world career to a novel-writing career without damaging my earning potential and putting my family at risk – will require me to take some of these lessons to heart in my own life.  The first insight: whether I’m preparing monthly financial forecasts and accompanying analyses, or performing deep strategic analyses, or writing novels and stories for the entertainment and edification of science fiction and fantasy fans, I need to look at what I do as a business.  In the latter case, I become a business that produces an entertainment product.  Next time, I’ll talk more about what these lessons mean from a writing career perspective.