How to Build a Do-It-Yourself non-MBA, MBA

Certificate of who's got time_

Who’s got time to do an MBA. Not me… that’s for sure.

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of great people out there with great skills. Some of these people even have MBAs.

I can see the need to reskill and upskill. Especially in this weird economy. However, I haven’t got time for another qualification. And I don’t want a divorce.

Google it. MBA often correlates with divorce. It’s a real thing.

What I really need though is some new ideas. And some new tools that allow me to move forward in uncertain times.

And not everyone cares as much about degrees and qualifications as they used to. 

I decided all of this at Christmas time this year. Christmas is always a great time for introspection.

And by introspection I mean the general disillusionment and existential distress that follows too much eating, drinking and time with relatives.

But what I realised is that the best way forward for me was to look at building myself my own MBA.

And not really an MBA at all. A kind of DIY non-MBA, MBA. So I put a very fuzzy plan in place earlier this year.

What I needed, I decided, was some new inputs… a combination of things that made sense to me.

I’m sure research would suggest that eclectic approaches lead to incoherence. However, while this might be true for groups, eclecticism works on an individual level.

In other words, my choices for my DIY non-MBA, MBA don’t need to make sense to anyone except me. And I can choose them intuitively if I want to or let one thing lead to another.

So that’s what I’m doing.

Everything around me seems to be changing anyway. And rapidly. If I know one thing is true, it’s that I need to adapt to this pace of change and change too.

I also know that the toolset that I’ve been using for the last 10 years is no longer enough. At least that’s my perception.

I mean… I’m sure that I can get by on my existing toolset. But I’m no longer sure that I want to. I’m looking forward to the change and disruption that lies ahead.

Well, kinda.

What I’ve seen though, when I gaze into my crystal ball, is a mixture of opportunities and problems that I want to understand better. But I feel like I don’t have the tools to analyse them or manage them.

So here’s what I did. I had a look at what I’m interested in personally and professionally. And then I booked myself into a series of short courses over the last six months.

Three were with the Executive Education programme at the University of Auckland’s Business School. I already had a relationship with Auckland because I’ve studied and worked there.

The three courses I’ve undertaken so far have been excellent and I’ve blogged about two of them.

One I wrote about extensively. This was Service Design Thinking.

Then a few months later I picked another one. This time it was about Critical Thinking.

The one I haven’t blogged about yet was Project Management which I’ve just completed. I’ve got a lot to say about this in future posts.

One nice thing about these two-day workshops is that they keep the disruption of my life to a minimum. Each of these has been a two-day intensive in Auckland.

This timeframe is about right for me. I love Auckland, but too long and the traffic gets to me.

I’m going to write more about this soon, but the short version, for now, is that I got a lot out of the Project Management course.

It was just an introduction. And I don’t have any real desire to become a project manager.

However, I think the future of work – for myself, anyway – is projects. I know this is true for me for the last 12 months. And it certainly looks that way for the immediate future.

And managing projects is really hard.

I struggle to manage my own time and projects, let alone projects involving others. But I feel that I’ve got a basic toolset now to make sense of my own and others’ projects.

So… watch this space for more on projects and project management.

And if you’re good at maths, you’ll realise that I’ve only accounted for three of the four short courses so far in my DIY non-MBA, MBA.

The other one feels a bit weird to write about here.  But in the interests of full disclosure, I did a weekend course on sandal making at Shoe School in Wellington.

Before you judge me, there is a connection to all the other stuff I’m interested in. But I’ll have to leave that to another day.

In the mean time, check out the sandal workshop gallery here. If you see some black ostrich leather men’s scuffs. They’re mine. I designed them, cut them out by hand, then stitched and glued them together.

So much fun.

Service Design Thinking: Thanks to the University of Auckland Business School for the shout out


Updated: In collaboration with the University of Auckland Business School, get 10% off the course fees for Service Design Thinking at checkout by using this code before the end of 2018: GRAEME10

I blogged recently about the Service Design Thinking course I did through the University of Auckland’s Business School and Executive Education programme.

It was a great two-day programme and I learned a lot. They’ve featured my blog on their LinkedIn Showcase page. Thanks, team…!

For easy and quick reference, here are all the links to the seven posts I’ve written so far on Service Design Thinking.


Some Basic Service Design Tools

Got any Service Design Thinking tips or tools? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

What is service design thinking…? Part 2

Why do we need service design thinking?

Updated: In collaboration with the University of Auckland Business School, get 10% off the course fees for Service Design Thinking at checkout by using this code before the end of 2018: GRAEME10

This is part 2 of a follow up on the Service Design Thinking short course I did through the University of Auckland‘s executive education programme.

In Part 1 I talked about what service design is and how a service is different to a product. Here I want to outline some of the reasons why we might need service design thinking.

What’s a good definition for service design?

First, though, I want to look at a definition. There are academic definitions, but here’s a non-academic definition that I prefer.

When you have two coffee shops right next to each other, and each sells the exact same coffee at the exact same price, service design is what makes you walk into one and not the other. (31 Volts Service Design, 2008).

Now substitute swap out coffee shops for education providers. And allow for the fact that “right next to each other” in an internet economy includes online and blended education opportunities.

You get the idea… But see the short video above if you need some further elaboration.

How can service design thinking help me?

Drawing from my workshop notes again, here are some of the reasons why I need to embrace service design methods, tools and techniques. I’m not saying everyone needs to, but here are some of the reasons that stand out for me personally.

Service design thinking tools and methods could help me by:

  1. Giving me the tools I need to increase productivity. This includes my own and others that I work with. Actually, we need to increase our national productivity if we want to compete internationally.
  2. Giving me a competitive edge in a world characterised by increasing change. This applies personally as well as in terms of my organisation.
  3. Allowing me to embrace the increasing rate of change in the worlds of education and business and actually gain some leverage off this in my own work. If you’re about the status quo and business as usual then service design thinking is not for you.
  4. Helping me deal with the negative aspects of an educational culture characterised by “she’ll be right” and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
  5. Helping me learn how to recover effectively and quickly from adverse circumstances. This is a tricky one. No one wants to fail. But it has to be a given that in a world characterised by increasing change that we’ll all fail more frequently.




What is Service Design Thinking…? Part 1

Service Design Thinking

Updated: In collaboration with the University of Auckland Business School, get 10% off the course fees for Service Design Thinking at checkout by using this code before the end of 2018: GRAEME10

A little while back I did a short course through the University of Auckland‘s executive education programme run through their business school.

It was called Service Design Thinking.

For me, it was interesting as it brought together a lot of things from the worlds of design, lean startup, business and entrepreneurship… but in the context of service delivery. For me this context is education.

What’s wrong with normal design thinking tools?

Nothing is actually wrong with the standard design thinking tools. I love all the tools and techniques used by designers. But I’ve struggled with some of the application in my own setting.

The workshop training helped clear some of this up for me. For example:

  • Tools and techniques from standard design thinking and user experience (UX) design are primarily for online and digital products. Designing and implementing an effective website is important as part of delivering a service in the 21st century, but a website needs to serve the needs of the customers. Or learners, in my case. And these learners are only interacting with the website (for e.g.) as part of their journey through a much larger service experience.
  • Tools and techniques from the lean startup movement grew out of a focus on companies building – primarily – products, not services. The Silicon Valley giants of technology started out as product-based companies, even though many have now evolved into service companies. An example would be Amazon. While they still have a major focus on products like books and other goods, a massive part of their business is web-related services. But this means that a lot of the wisdom out there on building a business relates to product-focused business development.

Things like education and health are not products at their core. We might purchase products along the way, but receiving an education or getting good health care is fundamentally a service. It’s not a thing.

I have nothing against the idea of product-ising services and service-ising products… I just want to make the observation that something like education is fundamentally a service. And as such, we need to treat it differently to if we were making widgets in a garage somewhere.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but these approaches are not neutral. Approaching design from a service design perspective alters the design process.

Thinking of education as a product or a service affects how we treat our learners.

A service is not a product

Here’s a question to ponder:

  • How are services different to products?

Here are some possible answers. These grew out of my workshop notes.

  • Tangibility
    • Services are intangible. You can’t hold them or see them. You can’t drop a service on your foot.
    • Products are tangible. They are physical things that you can touch and hold.
  • Standardisation
    • Services are harder to standardise. This is because services rely on human beings more often than not.
    • Products are easier to standardise. This is where production lines and quality assurance processes kick in.
  •  Consumption
    • Services are co-produced when delivered or consumed. Services are sold, produced and consumed all at the same time. A service is a kind of eco-system. In other words, it’s a whole string of elements that make up the whole. And you have to look at the whole to make sense of it.
    • Products are produced, sold and consumed at separate times. You can break the process down and examine each of the linear components.

A further question to ponder:

  • What are the results of treating education as a product as opposed to a service?