The Boston Matrix of choosing electives

I’m having a problem with my electives.

Choosing electives should be fun: a total of 6 from a list of 30-odd. The idea is you build your own MBA beyond the core modules depending on what your interests and ambitions are.

Warwick’s system for choosing electives is about as fair as it can be given finite resources; 2 from a list of 5 in the Spring Term (next), then a further 4 from 25 or so during the Summer, some courses repeating to minimise clashes. (Summer term’s going to be fun: instead of the 30-hour courses spread over a term, the Summer options cram each elective course into a single week so those lesser mortals doing the part-time and distance learning MBA courses can join the fray.) With a decade of experience in load balancing and demand management, the calendar clashes aren’t creating too many problems.

That is, unless your interests and ambitions are as weird as mine.

It’s possible to draw a 3D Boston Matrix for the activity. (A Boston Matrix is one of those quartered squares management consultants love, with two axes of high-low letting you categorise things to match them with resources.) A 3D version extends the matrix into the Z-axis: imagine a cube made up of eight smaller cubes.

My cube’s front face contains axes of ‘interesting’ and ‘established’, with the third axis being ‘relevance to intended career.’

The ‘interesting’ axis is easy: stuff I find fun. And there are plenty of elective courses on things like complex adaptive systems, organisational behaviour and the like. But such courses often score low on the ‘established’ axis, because they’re young fields still bedding into business life. An ecological viewpoint of management may be interesting, but the course material will be out of date next year. The fluffier subjects, however interesting, are the first to be crossed off the list for me.

While the two ‘big’ courses I want to take – Management Accounting and Corporate Finance – are both established disciplines that’ll still be relevant in decades to come. Not so interesting to me, but to share a boardroom with the investment banking types I tend to work for I need to know it.

(Unfortunately, I have to make a choice, because I can’t do both and still cover the Marketing Strategy I want to counter the accusations that I’m too much of a marcom/tactical marketing person.) Big choice to make there. I could drop Marketing Strategy – but it’d be a bad idea to drop something that score high on all three scales, even if I’ll know a fair bit of it already.

However, taking care of this clash in the Spring Term at least gives me some leeway for the one-week crammers in Summer; maybe I’ll do Investment & Risk Analysis for fun. It’s about time I learned what a ‘derivative’ is. Oops, that requires Corp Finance – time for iteration 13…

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