Why I Went Back to School

In 2017 I spent a year back in full-time education at the London Business School. It was a fabulous experience. Yet over the course of the year many people asked why I was doing it. They wondered why, after 20+ years in the workplace, go back to school, to learn about — the workplace.

Two clear reasons stand out. First, the subject matter. Many of us spend our careers becoming ever more specialised, applying our skills in a narrower and narrower field of expertise. Whilst there are clear economic benefits, this approach does not typically foster personal growth. There comes a time when it just makes sense to pop one’s head out of the rabbit hole and look around.

In the past year I learned all sorts of things I never needed to know in my former specialisation. More usefully I learned new frameworks and re-learned old ones in the context of new fields such as innovation, negotiation, and organisational behaviour. The ability to harness 20+ years of real-world experience to animate these frameworks made them all the richer. For an investor the fuller the toolkit the better and the past year was a great opportunity to re-stock mine.

Sceptics will argue that so much I could have got out of a book. In the words of Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting: “You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on an education you coulda got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the Public Library”. (Full disclosure: I didn’t spend that much).

Hence the second reason: the people. The opportunity to meet people from all over the world and in particular from outside the world of finance was quite unique. Entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, academics — all able to speak freely without expectation that they would be getting something in return. My fellow students gave new meaning to the concept of diversity. Sixty of them, aged in their mid-40’s, drawn from 25 different countries and multiple different industries, offered insights and perspectives that enriched any new idea that emerged. Getting a Brit, an Italian, a Brazilian, a Singaporean, a Pakistani and a Khazak into a room, each with a different career background and worldview, is a pretty good formula for problem solving and for forging bonds.

In their book, The 100-Year Life, Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott analyse the social and economic implications of longevity. They point out the challenge that emerges with people living longer — and therefore working longer — while technology gnaws at many of the facets of their work. The solution they propose is no longer to front-end education but to return to it in later life. It is something I can highly recommend.

LBS Sloan 2017

Originally published at www.linkedin.com.