Mid-Semester Course Review

I've been meaning to write this post for a couple of weeks now, but am only now getting around to it, so my apologies for the delay! The past couple of weeks have been best characterized by the words "over scheduled" and "under slept." Thankfully, spring break is just a week away, so hopefully it will be a chance to get caught up on life/work/the job search.

Overall, I'm very ambivalent about my courses this semester. Part of this has to do with the fact that my mind is really just elsewhere -- focused on the job search, my papers/projects, my personal life, basically everywhere except the classroom. This is bad, really, because this is my last chance to learn and soak up the wisdom that oozes from the pores of Harvard Business School and yet, concentration seems to be alluding me. With that said, here are my course reviews for the spring semester thus far:

1) Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries: This course is by FAR my favorite this semester, but I admit that I am entirely biased, being an entertainment junkie and all. The cases? SO interesting (I'm talking Maria Sharapova, LeBron James, Marvel comics, Warner Bros Entertainment, The CW, etc.). The class discussions? SO enlightening! Almost all of the students in the class are REALLY passionate about the entertainment industry, so we're able to dive deeper than we would if people didn't know about/have experience with the inner workings. One of my favorite takeaways thus far: the difference between a "House of Brands" and a "Branded House." Example: Marvel Enterprises has always been a "House of Brands" -- you know Spiderman, The Fantastic Four and Iron Man, but (unless you're hardcore), probably wouldn't know that those were all Marvel properties (versus DC Comics). Thus, the company operates as a House of Brands. This differs from someone like Disney. You hear the name Disney and know that Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and the like are all brands underneath that umbrella. Thus, Disney is a "Branded House" and you have expectations about the specific brands within Disney based on your perception of the company. Final mention about this class: the professor, Anita Elberse, is awesome. SO knowledgable, funny and passionate. Love her. Course Grade: A

2) Competing With Social Networks: Misiek Piskorski's class on Social Networks and the digital world is a very close second this semester, and is perhaps the class that I am LEARNING the most in (big points for that considering I thought I knew all there was to know about social media/utilities before taking this class and have squarely been proved wrong!). Truth be told, I've been excited about this class since RC year when I met with Professor Piskorski and several other students for a faculty research lunch where he presented his findings regarding Facebook. An interesting point? People spend 75% of their time on Facebook stalking other people's profiles or viewing their own profile. Also, where do men in relationships spend most of their time? Viewing profiles of women they DON'T know!

I digress. The course is really structured well. We spend time talking about the sociology behind the advent of social networks -- what offline failures are these sites/programs seeking to address? -- and classify things according to products aimed at helping people "meet" friends versus become closer with current friends. We also spend a lot of time analyzing the divide between time spent "writing" or producing on these sites versus "reading" as a bystander. We've done cases on Friendster, Facebook, MySpace, Meetup, Mixi, LinkedIn, Zynga and more. Course Grade: A

3) Digital Marketing Strategy (half course): Sadly, I've been fairly disappointed in this course. It's not for a lack of interesting cases (we've read about the JK Wedding Dance and United Breaks Guitars YouTube videos, as well as the interesting business models behind Communispace and Backchannel Media), rather I think it's a combination of taking this course in conjunction with Competing with Social Networks (a lot of the learnings are the same) and the fact that this is the first time the class was taught (meaning we're the guinea pigs set to help iron out the kinks for next year). The professors, John Deighton and Sunil Gupta, are incredibly nice and obviously brilliant. The idea to "team teach" the course was an interesting one in my view, but I personally feel that it fragmented an already short course. What I mean by this is that I think the case method works best when a class is able to develop a rhythm with a professor and get comfortable in their teaching style and expectations. This ability is already compressed with a half course, so when you further segment it with two professors alternating teaching, the students' capability to gel is nearly entirely compromised. I think this affects the learning environment and makes case discussions feel shallower. The other thing I dislike is the fact that we were assigned TWO group projects for one half course. Definitely a lot more work that I expected for a short course. Course Grade: C

4) Managing Innovation: This course is schizophrenic in my opinion. The first module was fantastic. We did some really interesting cases on product design and development issues at BMW, Bang & Olufsen and in the "magic" industry. We also had a really interesting session with NASA, discussing the problems involved with sending astronauts on long-term missions to Mars. And then something happened in the second module where I feel like I am in a completely different course. The cases are boring (Medtronic pacemakers, telecommunications software by Siemens), the discussions lack energy entirely and I don't feel like I'm learning anything new. Granted, we still have roughly 8 classes left, so there is definitely time for things to do another 180 in the last module, but at the moment, I'm feeling very dissatisfied. Course Grade: C-/D+

Since I'm doing a Field Study this semester on Jordan's Furniture (love them!), those are all my current courses. I do start another half course called Retailing on Thursday, so will have to let you know my feelings on that as we approach the end of the semester. I truly cannot believe how fast it is going! That's all for now guys, catch ya later!


Tausha responded on March 7, 2010 at 3:23 PM #

I found this really interesting, especially your first two reviews. I had never thought about a company being a house of brands vs a branded house but it certainly makes sense. So would something like General Mills be considered a house of brands since their products are so different from one another? Also, what would be another example of a branded house?

As far as the Facebook findings, I am not surprised but it's interesting to analyze its usage. I also wonder about the psychological ramifications of social networking over time, but I don't know if that's something you'd discuss in a business class. Either way, both courses sound really great!

Ps- yay for Jordan's Furniture!