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Are You a Business Poet or Librarian?

Posted in Test Prep on February 26, 2011 by

library booksI recently came across a blog post from Rob Go, a cofounder of NextView Ventures, about some research he’s been doing surrounding the roles of product leaders in successful startups. In his post, Rob details an interesting analogy developed by Drew Houston, CEO at DropBox. The basic concept? Great product managers have the qualities of both a poet and a librarian.

If you’re not interested in product development (or even if you are), at this point you may be wondering: how does this apply to me? I haven’t even gotten into b-school yet — let alone graduated and secured a job! Read on: even at this early stage of your business career, as you apply to MBA programs, Houston’s distinctions may prove a helpful lesson.

Rob writes:

“POETs are product visionaries.  They often are deeply in tune with the problems they are solving, and are instinctive about how to build products that succeed.  They are extremely creative and are willing to trust their own gut over the reported needs of customers who might think they need feature x, y, or z.  They often think many moves ahead, and see the implications of individuals feature in the evolution of the holistic product experience…

LIBRARIANs are organized and systematic. They are data driven in their decision-making… As the product and engineering team scales, a Librarian can figure out how to create a structure that can coordinate the efforts of many while maintaining the creativity and information flow between teams.  A librarian is also obsessed with the details and data.  They understand how small things can make a huge impact, and understand how to unlock the value of data to optimize a user flow or build a beautiful new feature.”

Rob goes on to argue that a successful company needs both poets and librarians over the course of its lifetime (and, it would seem, if one employee could fit both bills, all the better!)

What this means for you:

No matter your future or current business interests, the poet/librarian metaphor (and others like it) can help you conceptualize yourself as a business leader. Are you meticulous, detail-oriented, creative, intuitive? A mix of all these qualities? How does your personality manifest itself at work? What can you do idiosyncratically better than anyone else? Do you have any strengths you can press harder on? Any weaknesses you can understand better? Are you a non-traditional applicant (a real poet, in other words) looking for a way to tell your story in a fashion that business people understand?

Self-awareness is an important part of the MBA application process.  You can demonstrate this key quality by pitching yourself in a memorable way that admissions officers grasp quickly and easily. Also remember that the “story” you tell during your interview (“I have always been obsessed with operations and perfecting work-flow….”) should make sense, and be backed up by your past pursuits (academic, extracurricular, and career-related).

Even if you do not explicitly connect the dots in certain parts of your story, admissions officers will notice details and facts you do not draw attention to and arrive at their own conclusions. For instance, if you describe yourself as a team player but have little experience functioning in teams, your words will come across as hollow, no matter how elaborately you praise the virtues of teamwork. In other words, expect follow-up questions to your initial answers. It is always a good idea to assume that your interviewer will be skeptical and that you will have to work hard to convince him/her that you are suitable for the school.