So you want to be a rock star? Take a strategy class with Harry Davis at Booth.

Over the last two years, I’ve had the opportunity to play in several rock bands with some incredibly talented MBA student musicians. There’s nothing quite like performing music in front of others. Every time I play a live show with my Booth rock band, Ida Noise, I feel overwhelmed with joy. It’s not that different from how I felt when I was working this summer as a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group – I loved structuring and solving problems for my clients and then collaborating with my co-workers in live, improvisational, brainstorming sessions.

Jamming at the 2018 Booth Battle of the Bands Auditions with Maroon 7.

Before coming to Booth, I always thought that my identity as a would-be business strategist conflicted with my love for playing and making music. How can you have a demanding, challenging, and financially rewarding career as a strategist and be a serious musician at the same time?

Taking the Business Policy course with Professor Harry Davis showed me how my passions for strategy and music actually fuel each other. I’ve never taken a class quite like it in all my time at the University of Chicago as either an undergraduate or an MBA student.

Professor Davis’s approach is truly interdisciplinary. He references material from sociology, psychology, history, philosophy, biology, zoology, art, poetry, theater, and music to show how interconnected the world can be. Required readings include “The Alchemist” by Paolo Coelho, “Personal History” by Katharine Graham (the former owner and publisher of the Washington Post), and “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance” by Lou Gerstner (IBM’s former CEO). Former students have struggled to summarize the class into a pithy sentence, proposing subtitles for the class such as “The Artistry of Strategy” and “Strategies for Individuals and their Organizations”.

Professor Davis teaches that great strategists are well-rounded people who can identify connections  across various bodies of knowledge. They are focused, but not single-minded. They are explorers on a journey; directed, but open to deviating from the original path they set upon. They experiment and reflect on what they’ve learned. They’re comfortable with ambiguity – they’re excited to think about how the world might change in the future. They love to learn. Professor Davis aims to show his students how to become, in his words, “The Compleat Strategist.”

You might be wondering, how exactly are strategy and music related? During class, we discussed what strategists can learn from musicians like the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra or Glenn Gould in terms of organizational design, improvisation, character, and culture. We read about how the structure and practices of jazz combos can be a model for embedding innovation in business units. Before too long, I started to understand not only what I could apply from my band’s experiences to my business career but also how to use concepts from the course to better direct my band in practice and on stage.

Bringing the funk with Ida Noise at Joe’s on Weed Street, 2019 Booth Battle of the Bands Auditions.

The final project for the Business Policy course is a long form paper that requires students explore their own personal and professional life strategy decisions. Professor Davis gives very little guidance around this prompt because he wants his students to be creative and personal with their essays. Many students write about their careers and lives post-Booth, but I decided to apply “The Compleat Strategist” model to my band’s preparations for the Booth/Kellogg MBA Battle of the Bands on Friday, May 10th. I wrote about how we could use the lessons from Business Policy to be competitive and yet collaborative with our friendly neighbors in Evanston.

Though it was a topic I cared about immensely, I was sure Professor Davis would think it was a trivial application of the concepts he taught us. Much to my surprise, Professor Davis’s feedback was extremely supportive and thoughtful – he gave me food for thought on other strategic challenges I might face with the Battle of the Bands, both on and off stage.

Performing live with Ida Noise at the Garage Band LPF in January 2019

We’re now less than two weeks away from the show, and my band and the other band representing Booth (The Invisible Hand) are practicing day and night. We can’t wait to show the Booth and Kellogg communities what MBA musicians can do by leveraging on stage what we’ve learned in the classroom. I’m so lucky be part of a community that gives me the flexibility and support to follow my passions. It’s what I’m going to miss most when I graduate in June.

Shredding with Maroon 7 to a crowd of 1,000 at the 2018 Booth/Kellogg Battle of the Bands.

Nick Balay is a second-year MBA student at Booth. He plays guitar and sings in the Booth rock band IDA NOISE with fellow second year students Ahmed Abdelsalam, Matt Bernstein, John Chiulli, Roi Kessler, Michelle Kim, and Chris Liquin. They will be playing at the Booth/Kellogg Battle of the Bands on Friday May 10th at the Vic Theatre in Lakeview. If you want to come enjoy the show with us, tickets are available here!

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