Resolutions for 2019 from an MBA

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

With that in mind, here’s to continuing to strive for different thinking, as the calendar turns to 2019 in my first year as an MBA candidate at UC Davis Graduate School of Management.

EMBRACE SILENCE

“I think silence is one of the greatest gifts that we have.” – Fred Rogers

I finally watched Won’t You Be My Neighbor? this week, and I was reminded by how much I am still influenced today by the lessons I first saw through the screen back when I was just a toddler.

As an adult, I once had the honor of working with one of our countries best theater directors, Blanka Zizka of The Wilma Theater, who not only inspires by constantly reinventing herself and her company (see the linked article), but also gave me a memorable lesson in leadership over a decade ago.

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She does a tremendous thing before she gives notes to her cast after a rehearsal… she sits in silence, and only speaks once she has figured out what she wants to say. At first, it’s highly uncomfortable for everyone in the room, as she just sits there, staring at us, sometimes for a couple of minutes. After the second or third time however, we all get used to it, and soon everyone does it, taking long pauses before they respond to a question or prompt. The power of thinking through what you want to say before you say it, so that your input can be well-constructed, empathetic, and clear, is a tremendous creative leadership tool.

Fred Rogers apparently once wanted to explore the element of time with his viewers so he set a timer for a minute and we all watched in silence as it counted down. He was also noted for not responding immediately after an interview subject finished a thought, giving them space and permission to continue, reaching topics and feelings they might not have otherwise. More on this later.

FIND STORIES

“For true story finders, the world is a scavenger hunt” – Latif Nasser

It’s probably appropriate that a lot of my business lessons I’m thinking about during my winter break off of business school come from the realms of art and story-telling, as they are the core of my professional background. If you are at all interested in how to ask good questions and investigate challenging problems thoroughly and dynamically however, which is a definite MBA skill, you should be listening to RadioLab, whose most recent episode explored one of their most prolific producer’s process in finding stories. Latif Nasser has great, practical examples of how to use google alerts and Wikipedia for exploration into the unknown, but I preferred to think about his larger message towards exploration.

In doing so, it coupled wonderfully with this great GQ interview with Andy Serkis that I found in my own idle surfing on YouTube this week, whom you may or, aptly, may not know from his motion capture roles as Gollum in the The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, King Kong in King Kong, and Caesar in The Planet of the Apes re-make trilogy, and more.

When I was a director, I would talk about two main types of great actors, the “larger than life” ones and the “slow burners”. There are people who can just walk into a room and be the most outlandish, vibrant person there, think Jim Carrey, and that’s an amazing gift and skill, undoubtedly. But as a director, or more generically, a leader, it’s hard to work with those people, as you mostly need to leave them alone to be the genuises they are. But then there are the ones that you don’t recognize the genius in right away, who give a first read of the script and it’s relatively bland and shapeless and aren’t busy brooding in the corner refusing to lose character. But… they ask you great questions, and they come in the next day with their own pile of research on the character or something they were playing around with, in the mirror quietly at home perhaps… those are the ones you love working with. Andy Serkis really showcases this here, and, I believe, in his work.

So, there is probably some inherent MBA-style value in this notion for some of you, but those looking for a more specific connection…

GIVE GIFTS TO MY NETWORK

I started a new job last week with The Potrero Group, as a Thought Leadership and Branding Associate. I can’t describe what an amazing feeling it is to be offered the opportunity to put the learnings of this past year with my classes at Ideo U and now with my MBA into practice, while I continued my studies and growth simultaneously. Moreso, I am being offered a chance to explore and support the expansive thinking of a team that “are really great social scientists” and “think deeply about social processes and people”, as their clients have raved. So far, that couldn’t be more true.

One of the “Learning Resources” articles on their website, which I perused today AS PART OF MY JOB (how LUCKY AM I), had a section that just killed me, so I am going to present it to you here in whole. Please check out Cracking the Network Code: Four Principles for Grantmakers to read it in its entirety.

“As former regional director for Habitat for Humanity International in the Middle East and East Africa, David Haskell oversaw HFHE’s meteoric rise in impact. In that role and his current role as Executive Director of Dreams InDeed International, he has observed many networks functioning in distressed communities. Haskell noted that networking to accomplish goals is the norm among people in poverty. ‘You have to make ends meet, so you are always finding solutions in suboptimal conditions. But beauty comes out of this. Imagine that you were tiling a floor. You could use uniform tiles that all fit together nicely but are rather expensive. Or, if you cannot afford those tiles, you can make a mosaic of discarded tile shards. It winds up far more beautiful and functional than the fine tiles. That’s the picture of how you do this networked approach,’ he said. ‘You look around, take stock of the broken and missing pieces, figure out how you can support each other, develop trusting relationships so everyone will work together and hang in there, and you finally create a multiparty collaborative effort that produces better results than a simple grantor-grantee relationship will ever achieve.’ Since any given situation will present a different collection of tile pieces, every network is unique.”

For any team, in this case, my cohort at my program, this is such an important and valuable ideal to strive towards. I titled this section “give gifts”, because again, to pull out from my artist bag of tricks, I once got to work with a playwright, Greg Romero, who believed in the creative expression of “gift exchange.” As you may guess, the idea of gifts could range from the very traditional, an item or a long hug, to the very untraditional, asking a great question of someone or sharing knowledge. That the very last thing my class did together before we breaked was an unprorious White Elephant was not lost on me!

We all benefit from gifting each other with our presence and knowledge. It’s why I love the American idea of networking, that simply by introducing yourself and sharing your journey with another and asking them to share theirs with you, that they then can genuinely want to help you, and vice versa. As another great Potrero Group resource article gifted me, “Emergent Learning: A Framework for Whole-System Strategy, Learning, and Adaptation”, we all “could learn something from ant colonies… the more they interact, the faster ant colonies learn where the best food sources are.”

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I just LOVED this graphic the included in the article, with the concept of “Node Thinking”, which, they say, “succeeds because resources of all types — leadership, money,
talent — have dramatically more impact when leveraged across organizations,
fields and sectors”

I want to give gifts in 2019.

Hopefully, this was a good beginning.

P.S.

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“I’d like to give you all an invisible gift. A gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Some of them may be here right now. Some may be far away. Some, like my astronomy professor, may even be in heaven. But wherever they are, if they’ve loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right inside your self. And I feel that you deserve quiet time, on this special occasion, to devote some thought to them. So, let’s just take a minute, in honor of those that have cared about us all along the way. One silent minute…

Whomever you’ve been thinking about, imagine how grateful they must be, that during your silent times, you remember how important they are to you. It’s not the honors and the prizes, and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It’s the knowing that we can be trusted. That we never have to fear the truth. That the bedrock of our lives, from which we make our choices, is very good stuff.”

-Fred Rogers

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Finals v. Job Search, a battle 16 years in the making

The MBA is a fascinating hybrid of job search and skill building. As someone going back to school for the first time in 16 years and who hasn’t had to do a full search for employment since college either, the last couple of weeks have been a fascinating experience of balance and prioritization and at what changes in life over time and what… doesn’t.

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I can’t honestly say that my first MBA finals made me nervous, or anxious, or scared. And that’s not because there wasn’t anything at stake. While I highly doubt my GPA will come up in a future job interview, I do rely on keeping a 3.5 to hold onto a scholarship which amounts to more than 1/2 the cost of my admission. And while the classes are curved to ensure that the lowest score you can get is basically a 3.0, I do not have a heavy quantitative background, which is the main basis of three of my four this quarter.

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One of the questions from my mid-term for Economics I actually answered by writing “Math is Hard.” I am not used to this level of intellectual challenge. I maintained a 3.5 in undergrad, and that was with a frequent focus on extracurriculars (and no, I don’t mean that in quotes, I really was involved in a lot of student activities!) And at a pretty damn good school too (as Lisa Simpson famously said, “There’s no way I’ll get into an Ivy League school now. At this rate, I probably won’t even get into Vassar.”)

 

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“I’ve had just about enough of your Vassar bashing, young lady.”

 

But, perhaps because old habits die hard, I found myself campaigning to my fellow students in this, my first quarter of grad school, to be careful how much they prioritized their classes and classwork. I actually take a lot of pride that I have had a couple of friends tell me they realized I was right and would focus less on their homework next quarter. The beauty of the MBA is that our goal, first and foremost, is to get a job after we graduate. That’s what ultimately drove me to this decision – I considered a Ph.D. – but knew that what I needed most was a chance to open doors to a larger salary and, I mean this sincerely, a larger impact.

Actually, check that. Not to get a job. Let me quote what I’ve said to a lot of people in informational interviews recently. And, again, it’s a good line, but I also really do mean it sincerely. “I’m not looking for a job. I’m looking for a career.” Translation? These two years are designed for us to explore, to dive deep, truly dive deep, into what excites us, moves us, and motivates us in the working world. And that can be partially discovered in a classroom. But anyone who has spent time outside of classrooms will be the first to tell you that the only way to truly learn it is in the real world.

 

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Easy opportunity to show how old I am by putting in a picture of the original cast of The Real World on MTV

 

And that’s both the contradiction and the beauty of an MBA. You are studying business. In a classroom. Because the idea that you can’t learn real-world skills in the classroom is kind of a tired stereotype too, right? Am I really paying tens of thousands of dollars a year just to have three letters by my name?

I didn’t have any perfect professors this semester. Anyone who knows me knows I am not shy to call out their imperfections. But I also want to take a moment to detail the kinds of things, I, who have already 10+ years in the workforce, most of it as the leader of my organization, learned just in the last 10 weeks alone.

And recognize these are core courses, designed not necessarily for directly applicable skills but to give you a baseline to build off of. And yet… some unbelievably pertinent learning, simple but profound, emerged from this quarter.

Micro-Economics (or as we call it, Markets and the Firm)

Every business I go into or connect with these days, I am aware exactly how they are trying to utilize price, sales, and a host of other techniques (in the case of the airlines, making things as unbearable as possible – actual reading from class) to make sure I spend exactly as much as they want me to spend. I can read financial news and not get overwhelmed by my lack of understanding – this is indeed a core skill to build off of.

Financial Accounting

After years of doing my own books for my small business, I sure wish I had taken a class like this. To be able to interpret the numbers for what they really mean… let’s just say I would have liked to have left my theater company in better financial shape than I thought I did when I exited.

Statistics (or as we call it, Data Analysis for Managers)

I’ll keep it simple here and say I hadn’t done any real math in fifteen years. And in a way, it’s like practicing an instrument. You have to keep it up to even keep your baseline skills going. I’m tremendously glad to have my baseline returned. But I won’t be taking Stats 2… at least for now…

Articulation and Critical Thinking

Two things stand out for me in this course. The first is a little bit of a humble-brag, but a necessary one to explain the value sometimes revealed in the learning process. I realized that all those years of learning to speak publicly in the theater will have a major payoff in my ability to impress and succeed in the more corporate world. I started out great in this class and never stopped.

That said… on the writing end, one in which I felt equally proficient, I finally conquered a nagging feeling that my writing, much like this blog, was too profuse and standing in the way of my efficiency in delivering my point to business audiences. As simple as it sounds, this class returned me to some basics I badly needed.

I delivered my point in short sentences. I used simple verbs to emphasize my ideas. I analyzed both sides of an argument, clearly articulating biases. In fact, I’m doing all of that right now.

On that note, I should probably go back and edit this post from the top…

But, I’m not being graded on it… so I won’t.

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*Interesting author’s note. As I was writing this my grades were coming in for multiple classes. I pumped my fist a couple of times. I frowned a couple of times. I felt my value as a person increase and decrease. I also quickly moved on. Things change. They stay the same.

Where There Is Smoke…

You are not quite sure what you want to say about this week.

At its face, the story of how an MBA program was affected by the worst wildfire in California history feels small and any focus on it insignificant at best and disrespectful at worst. Even the obligatory cover photo of a man in a mask feels trite – this is about so much more than masks.

Yet, there is a story there, and in the experience of the week, you think important and valuable lessons for the “beginner’s mind.”

What began with a surprise on the morning of the 13th to find out classes at UC Davis were canceled, led to a conversation on your class’s Whatsapp group about how by doing so, the university shot itself in the foot. If the weather did not improve the next day, or the day after that, they would have set precedent that they would cancel and open themselves to liability. Sure enough, after the initial announcement that classes would proceed they reneged on that promise the following morning. And they canceled the next day. And the day after that.

UC Davis has been closed for over a week now, leading into your Thanksgiving break.

And, to be honest, at first, it felt like a snow day.

Snow-day

This little inner child screams with glee about the ability to be irresponsible and un-adult. A day to just play. You make plans in the evening with friends. You take that trip to San Francisco for a meet-up and you do so with a lot less reservation of being sleepy the next day for classes. Your international classmates joke, rather darkly, that the air quality causing said cancelation is no worse than an average day in Beijing or cities in India. And they aren’t exaggerating. Which really, truly makes you think. Only when you live it, does the reality of what that means actually set in.

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Shortly, however, reality sets in.

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As one class after another, one club after another, one program after another, gets canceled, you start actually connecting to the inexorable truth that you are, in fact, an adult. You have paid for an opportunity to learn, one that you have placed all bets on to open up new doors of fortune for your life. You are “all in” as the poker players put it.

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You start wondering if you actually had a winning bet, or maybe you did, but the hand is going to have to be played over due to a freakin’ technicality. Sure, you and your classmates are graded on a curve, but will you now be penalized for being an aural learner? Will you lose your scholarship at the end of the year based on the fact that you couldn’t go to a class and learn the material as fully as you can? You are in a quarter system, so each class only has ten meetings. You have now missed two for accounting. This is not a small percentage.

Meanwhile, your professors are canceling homework, and you find yourself using valuable time looking into informational interviews and internship applications, and you are actually grateful for this added opportunity, perhaps, arguably, to do what is really, truthfully the most valuable thing you do in an MBA. Job search. You discuss the tragedy with a couple of people, and it makes you sound smart, informed and caring. Did you just use the tragedy to sound like a better person? Are you that ruthless about getting ahead?

You are also starting to recognize that the air… is getting worse. This is no longer a joke about Americans freaking out over an everyday occurrence overseas. Your family is texting you about wearing masks, and you know you should, but perhaps you are in shock, or maybe it’s your Beijing-resident classmate warning that masks themselves cause danger. You have come around to the idea that UC Davis did the right thing. Being here isn’t healthy.

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Inextricably though, you return to campus one more time. To the annual “Friendsgiving” celebration. You bring your “spare change” coin jar to the event after it is announced that donations will be accepted for the victims of the Campfire. It is completely full at the end of the night, and some of that “change” is in the form of $20 bills and gift cards. There is a low turnout – many have chosen to not come back to campus now that classes are canceled. But, then again, the turnout isn’t as low as you expected. Despite the fact that is now, at times, even hard to breathe INSIDE the building, everyone gathers, mostly people from countries outside of America, and a tradition is held.

You catch up with a few people from adjoining programs you haven’t spoken to in weeks. Who somehow now feel like old friends.

And honestly? You just feel lucky. Some absent classmates have relatives who have lost their homes. Others are absent due to being busy volunteering in Chico. You and your classmates are using the Whatsapp group to reach out to check on the former and reach out to support the latter with pride.

You hit the road the next morning, leaving the eerie grey calm of a near-empty campus behind you. You can’t help but think this all feels a bit post-apocalyptic.

You will be back next week. The journey continues.

You are, indeed, thankful for that. Whatever happens next.

Reflections on Human Capital and Social Impact in the 21st Century

“Organizations are no longer judged only for their financial performance, or even the quality of their products or services. Rather, they are being evaluated on the basis of their impact on society at large—transforming them from business enterprises into social enterprises.” – Deloitte Insight, 2018 Global Human Capital Trends

I recently returned from the Net Impact Conference, and for the first time since I started my MBA 2+ months ago, I have returned with a bit of an outline of a career pursuit plan. This, combined with the flexibility of a long weekend mixed with just finishing mid-terms, allowed me to return to some notes I had taken from some wonderful informational interviews I’ve had since beginning my program.

From Brooke Brown-Saracino, I had a note to read Deloitte’s report, as quoted above, to explore my interest in organizational development and human management (basically, HR for the 21st century.)

I was not all-together surprised (but still pleasantly so) that this year’s report was at the intersection at the three of my chosen career/intership pursuits, which I had spent this weekend refining different resumes in to highlight my abilities in each: Corporate Social Responsibility, Human Centered Design Consulting, and the aformentioned Org Development.

I next went to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, as recommended by Cleveland Justis.

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From there, I linked to this interesting article, which I found on the homepage though it dated to 2007… seems like it might have some current relevance I’m guessing?

So, if as Deloitte puts it, if orgs in 2018 are being transformed from business enterprises to social enterprises, what does that mean?

“We define social entrepreneurship as having the following three components: (1) identifying a stable but inherently unjust equilibrium that causes the exclusion, marginalization, or suffering of a segment of humanity… (2) identifying an opportunity in this unjust equilibrium, developing a social value proposition, and bringing to bear inspiration, creativity, direct action, courage, and fortitude… and (3) forging a new, stable equilibrium that releases trapped potential or alleviates the suffering of the targeted group, and through imitation and the creation of a stable ecosystem around the new equilibrium ensuring a better future for the targeted group and even society at large.”

Wow.

Is this even possible in our biggest corporations, existing, as they are, to make money for their shareholders? Deloitte notes that in a recent survey a whopping 65% of CEOs rate “inclusive growth” as a strategic concern, while only about 20% cited “shareholder value.” The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer reported that people worldwide placed more trust in business “to do what is right” than the government.

Of course, this definition is over a decade old so I went to the most recent issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

I found an article on Mastering System Change. The writing wasn’t directly focused on this issue of thinking about human capital and social change as a primary goal of a company, but it had some profoundly applicable points.

“Organizations are increasingly turning to system change to tackle big social problems. But systems are complex, and mastering the process requires observation, patience, and reflection.”

Two of the primary suggestions offered to master the process were “do things right before doing the right thing”, i.e., in this context, learn how to function as a social enterprise even if you don’t quite know what the perfect fit for your organization’s identity is yet, and “hire and nurture people with a commitment to learn”, urging away from the impulse to go with prior expertise and knowledge, and instead hire for curiousity and desire to learn.

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That made me think of Phil Balagtas, and the amazing role he is playing in bringing together futurists to engage online and in person.

So I decided to sign up for his event on Tuesday in San Francisco. Road trip!

Because clearly this is a question not just for the present, but perhaps more vitally, for the future. For, as Phil puts it, futurism is not about prediction, but about possibility.

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Wrong kind of Futurism…

And, as Deloitte puts it, “Foundational to behaving as a social enterprise is to listen carefully to the external as well as the internal environment—not just business partners and customers, but all parties in society that an organization influences and is influenced by.”

Music to my ears.

As I did last week, I’ll end by once again recommending Imperative, with its outgoing and hard-working CEO Aaron Hurst. You can request a 7 day trial of their purpose accelarator, and it is well worth it. It addresses, on an individual level, an interesting complement to what Deloitte is investigating on a multi-organizational level.

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Imperative Office (I’m assuming, it’s from their website)

I don’t want to give much away of what it goes through, as I urge you to try yourself, but I wanted to leave you with something I was very touched by in its assessment of my personal potential. It’s comething we can all strive for.

“You may already recognize how frequently you visualize the outcomes that work has on real people. You look beyond the “how” and focus on “what we are trying to achieve” for a certain target group. This is how the best impact-driven leaders show up at work. You bring this gift to everybody that you work with on projects, in strategy sessions, and in meetings. It’s where you feel in the flow, what gives you your edge, and what helps you to create breakthrough solutions.”

If that is not a reflection on human capital and social impact in the 21st century boiled down to its very essence, I don’t know what is.

Reflections on the 2018 Net Impact Conference (warning: inspiration ahead)

I want to keep this short and let my links speak for themselves. My attempt here is to share some highlights and inspiration with you, and allow you to take them in, as best you can, as if you were living in my shoes at the conference. Hope you take a little time to do so – enjoy what took me three days in maybe one hour? Seems like a good deal.

October 25

Opening Keynote speakers highlight – Antony Bugg-Levine, Nonprofit Finance Fund

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He convened the meeting that coined the term impact investing. How freaking cool is that. That was only TEN YEARS AGO.

October 26

Opening Keynote Speakers highlight: Stephen Ritz, Green Bronx Machine

This guy broke every rule in the book in his talk and in his life. He’s lost a lot of weight and made a lot of world-changing progress since this talk but it’s still enough to get you close to the inspiration.

Then there was this:

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Yup, that was my great addition to the conference. Some aluminum foil and some Play-Doh.

In a breakout session titled “Designing with Empathy at the Base of the Pyramid”, Pact‘s Michelle Risinger took about fifty of us on a journey towards taking the growing “design thinking” movement in the private sector and moving this unique brand of human-centered research, empathetic listening, and prototype building based off building off the needs of a client or customer to those most in need. This was my attempt to provide a better waiting room experience for my partner, including a dance floor, a board game area, and a private booth to facetime with family. She revealed the true project that Pact had covered in the end, which was to take a plain and lonely hallway where patients awaited teenage circumcision as a form of STD prevention, while hearing the screams of the patients in the room right next door, after walking for hours to get there and with no recovery area.

We redid our assignments and thought about simpler needs, placing ourselves in shoes (or lack thereof) very different than our own. Ear plugs, slippers, blankets, going through the procedure three at a time for support, and more

October 27

It was hard to hear about the Pittsburgh shootings, but I was inspired to be able to watch this woman speak immediately after.

Opening Keynote Speakers highlight: Gina McCarthy, C-Change

She reminded me how much I miss President Obama, to say the least, he just had a real knack for finding amazing people to place in important positions, but McCarthy, as former Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, also gives me such hope for the future. Even the future of politics. Please watch.

And next was actually the final keynote I saw, but it was, rightfully so, a bit of a downer. So I’m jumping to it now so I can end on an up note. It’s a downer, but it’s among the more powerful messages delivered in a powerful way that I’ve ever seen. He is the first speaker I’ve ever seen stop the audience from cheering for his success, because he believes, like so many of us in the room, his success was only possible by winning the luck of the draw while others are deprived opportunity.

Closing Keynote Speakers highlight: Adam Foss, Prosecutor Impact

Finally, I am extremely interested in utilizing my MBA to address, well… work. Particularly how low America is in terms of the average happiness of our citizens, and the lack of fulfillment we get from the workplace.

Here are two wonderful resources I learned in great detail about at the same time in sitting in my final session, led by Aaron Hurst of Imperative and also attended by the equally compelling Jeff Hittner of Project X.

Click on these links. The first if you work anywhere or plan to work anywhere, to understand your role in the “purpose economy.” The second if you study anywhere or plan to study anywhere, you can find a way with this “purpose company.” You will be glad you did.

https://www.imperative.com/blog

https://www.yourprojectx.com/sec

Hope you enjoyed your conference via blog experience! See you next year!

A Response To Harvard Business Review’s Ideacast: The Power of Curiosity, an interview with Francesca Gino

I’m going to do something a little different this week. I’m going to use the entire blog to give a blow-by-blow response to a podcast I listened to a couple of days ago that was tremendously inspiring and triggered many ideas within me.

First, a direct link, for those who would like to listen along: https://audio.hbr.org/ideacast/20181009152347-episode_651_gino.mp3

0:22

In 2011, Clara Ma won a competition put on by NASA to name its third Mars Rover.

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“People get annoyed by how many questions I ask”, the then-11-year-old says.

This reminded me of another idea I had heard earlier this year. That as we grow older, in school, we are rewarded more for having answers than for having questions. I recalled memories I hadn’t really delved into in years, in studying the trees in my backyard with my mom. As a person who became an artist, I like to shock people by telling them my parents were scientists. But then I quickly follow up with stories of my grandmother taking me to Broadway plays, of my mom changing careers mid-stream to design jewelry. That’s why I turned out so creative, I tell people.

But not one minute into this podcast, I have a realization that ties my art career to my MBA experience and my professional desires more clearly than ever previously. Maybe I wasn’t just creative.

Maybe I was curious.

1:48

Let’s introduce this person. Francesca Gino.

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She wrote this article.

2:22

She notes that curiosity peaks at the age of 4 or 5 but then declines from there. She talks about her children and how the questioning never ends. “Why is the sky blue?” She tells a story about how she encourages, rather then shuts down, her children. 6 am in the kitchen – opening up cabinets, making a mess. But now she joins in, in the exploration, asking them questions.

First, of all, way to parent Francesca! But secondly, I have yet another epiphany. What a tragedy this is. What a challenge we have as humans that the thing that advances our society, that makes us special, is something we start losing so young. I think about how I have been interested in trying to help others be better empathetic listeners, at various points in my life, most recently in developing a prototype for a worksheet in my class with Ideo U. I think about an exercise we had at the orientation for the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. How we were supposed to listen to our partner and only respond with prompt questions of “Who, What, Where, Why, and How” to help them dive deeper into a topic.

And it hit me. The only word that matters (OK slight overstatement but go with me here) for an empathetic listener is… WHY. In my own frustrations in conversations in which I don’t feel listened to, I was never able to put my finger on what would bother me. It’s WHY. Why helps us understand. Why gives the gift of allowing a person to dive deeper. Why allows them to explore uncharted territory. Why encourages the thing we are slowly losing. Curiosity.

If you are someone who would like to be a better listener, try something next time. Be a three year old. Just keep asking why.

4:00

She aligns her fear that her children would make a mess with the worries leaders have that they will make a mess. “You have to be willing to clean up the salt”, Curt Nickisch responds. New life quote. Thanks Curt!

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5:00

We are learning about “opportunity costs” in my Microeconomics class taught by Brett Saraniti. In essence, this is the loss of a potential gain in other alternatives when you choose to invest in something. Gino talks about how “costly” it is to shut down curiosity. She talks about Intuit, and how it gives failure awards that give important learning opportunities to the team. The employees even get a failure party. It made me think of Intel (come on, they are similar names, easy jump) who came in and gave us our first “case competition” during orientation. I can tell you first hand that they had inquisitive, satisfied employees. We were abuzz with dreams of interning there after they left. If you measure the cost of lack of curiosity by whether or not MBA students are excited about working at your company… well, I think it’s a halfway decent measure, is it not?

7:30

She points out how curiosity is not talked about as often as creativity and innovation. Bingo. But it is KEY to creativity and innovation. So instead of fostering creativity and innovation in your organization, foster curiosity. Not everyone can just be innovative. But we can all be curious. I wonder, if you have been worrying about this in your own MBA journey, what would happen if you boil it down to asking “why” more often.

8:45

“I’m much more likely to ask questions” is an outcome she mentions. Bingo. But she crystalizes it further. “I’m much more open to a different view on the same task or problems”, she notes. Curiosity allows us to have a more open mind towards finding a solution. It makes us better at taking others perspectives and encourages us to see how someone can have a different viewpoint. It improves our decision making.

Putting on my “systems thinking” hat here, which I am prone to do, Gino is not just proposing a solution to making companies more effective, she’s got the world on a string. I get my progressive education now. Wow. Thank you Park School of Baltimore. Thank you all my teacher friends fighting to encourage better citizens of humanity. What would happen if we were all encouraged to see how people can have a different viewpoint?

 

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This is where I got to go to school every day. I am so grateful.

10:15

There is no evidence that when you allow curiosity to stay alive in organizations, efficiency becomes an issue. The notion of “curiosity killed the cat” is raised, or more accurately the embarrassing humorous image of a cat with a tissue box on its head is pointed out.

 

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Not exactly a tissue box on a head moment, but couldn’t resist an excuse for a cute kitten photo!

As I’ve noted in my podcast previously, we had an opportunity to decide what animal we were in orientation, and what animal a partner was. Cats were often mentioned for their laconic-ness, their even-keel, independent nature. For being hunters and going after what they wanted. Curiosity was pretty much ignored. Small but powerful nugget there about what we are encouraged to value in each other.

11:15

“Yes, and.” OK, Francesca. You have my heart now. For anyone from a performance background, those words ring loud and strong. It’s what you learn in your first improv class, the core concept of creating a new world from scratch.

The idea is that to build a world you have to accept and agree with whatever your partner decides to be true. Disagreement becomes immediately confusing. If I say “that was a good game of catch, Dad” and you say “but I’m not your dad, I’m your sister, and that wasn’t a baseball, but a penguin”… sure that’s funny at the moment, but what the heck do I say next. If you say “thanks, and I’m so glad your Mom finally mowed the lawn so we had room”, that sets up some funny potential for my partner as to where the scene could go next and gives more information to play with.

Improv2_BaukeSchildt1

But what she points out about all of this is it starts with a point of acceptance. Then she brings up Pixar. One of my dream organizations. What are you doing to me Francesca!! She says they call it “plussing.” Build on top of each other’s ideas. Don’t shut down exploration before it begins.

toy-story-sq

I also like to refer to improv as we experiment with working in teams at the GSM. I brought up an idea a few weeks ago about choosing team leaders, and whether you should have a top-down approach in teams or a collaborative approach. The thing that I love about improv is that every choice that is made is in service to the team. Someone has to step out first. But you don’t do it because you think you are the best or you deserve to lead. You do it because… in order for the team to succeed, someone has to. And then someone has to step out next because, in order for the team to succeed, you need someone to talk to. Every step, including leadership choices, are in service to the team.

 

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Ha, I totally had this hat as a kid!

 

Aaaaannnddd… I’m going to leave it here. I have homework to do. And if you have read this far, I applaud you and imagine you probably are interested enough to listen to the podcast now, if you haven’t already. I left about half of it for you to take in on your own.

Thanks, Harvard Business Review, and Francesca Gino. Hope this blow-by-blow wasn’t a little much. I appreciate you all helping me process my thoughts here, and do also hope it was useful to someone out there in good ol’ cyberspace.

 

 

How I Had Ten Informational Interviews In One Week

Spoiler alert: I didn’t.

Not in the traditional sense at least.

But if you would allow me a humble brag this week, to veer away from my usual outward-facing style of blogging, I would like to take you through something I think I do pretty exceptionally well. It is my “designing my MBA” expertise if you will. And I found that the majority of my classmates have really benefitted from seeing my approach so I want to pass it on to whoever else may be reading this.

OK, let’s begin here. What are the desired outcomes of informational interviews? I can simplify what would probably be a long list into two buckets.

  1. Make a good impression on someone who you may want to hire you.
  2. Learn something about a potential job or industry that is of value to you (the often overlooked informational side of the interview.)

Why is this the most important and effective way to get jobs in America? Because bucket #1 allows people to be invested in you and #2 allows you to be invested in them. And it’s also, not this…

robin_job_interview

So, without further ado, my week of 10 informational interviews…

October 1

-I released a podcast I started in which I interviewed a different classmate every week. Yup, your classsmates. Do they fulfill both #1 and #2, at least in the long term? You bet they do. And podcasts also go out into the world, where potential employers hear your informational gathering, analytical, and listening skills.

-An email follow-up exchange with a couple of students on another campus that I had visited when considering where I wanted to go for my MBA, led to an offer to add me to an inter-campus collaboration conference call on design thinking, a topic I’m extremely interested in. That’s right, did you consider following up with students and staff you met at schools you weren’t accepted to/decided not to go to? That’s, I believe the industry technical term is.. a “baller move.”

October 2

-I listened to Learn, Educate, Discover. What a world we live in! There is a podcast that does the informational interviews FOR US! Their mission is literally:

Podcast with interviews of people from different professions. Learn about different careers, what each is all about and how to get in if you wanted to.

This one was titled “How I Got My First PM Job in 5 Weeks” with Nitin Julka, Group Product Manager @Linkedin. Which was based on…

This post on LinkedIn. That’s right if you are more a reader than a listener, info interviews can happen that way too. You aren’t getting to “impress someone” but you are learning. But also… what happens when you do sit down with a Product Manager or someone at LinkedIn. It’s perhaps quite impressive if you can reference Nitin Julka and this post. It’s now in your “toolkit.”

career-tool-kit

I come to all my informational interviews with a little something in my pocket that clarifies that I’m out there gathering information outside of this. The great news is that often saying “I met so-and-so at so-and-so and they said” is an outcome of an informational interview that helps you make an impression in further informational interviews. In other words, they feed into each other. Don’t see them as happening in isolation – it’s a snowball rolling downhill.

Giant_Snowball

October 3

-Meeting with a professor. Discussion about a topic I (and in this case, a couple of other students) want to learn more about. Note, how five “info interviews” in, none have been the traditional “hey person who works at company X who I know through person X, do you have half an hour to chat?”

-“Hey, person X who I know through person X”… finally, I do a thirty-minute video chat with an alumnus recommended by my career development staff (shout out, Elizabeth Moon), in the rooms at the Graduate School of Management set aside for these types of things. But here’s the unique element of this. I actually was notified earlier in the day that another informational interview scheduled for that time was going to have to be postponed, which allowed me to schedule this one and leads me too…

-A “postponed” info interview is an info interview unto itself. Or at least half of one. Did you learn something about the industry? No. But did you make a good impression if you are gracious…? Actually, you get a two-for-one deal here often. Not only are you gracious to the info interviewer, but you are gracious to their scheduler. Don’t think that matters? Have you never had a casual chat with your co-worker about how you liked the energy of the person who just came by the office? That matters too.

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October 4

-I go to meet with a professor (in another department outside the business school by the way, which opens up a whole new world of potential resources for you) during his office hours and guess what? The student who has arrived at the same time I have, I graciously let him go first, and what do I overhear…? He’s an entrepreneur with really interesting ideas. I end up joining their conversation. Put yourself in the position and info interviews can happen at any time in any place.

-I go to San Francisco in the evening to attend “Inside The World of a Tech Entrepreneur”, hosted by WSJ+ (Wall Street Journal Plus). Check out their world-wide calendar. I find out about this event through a classmate. I am NOT a tech-interested person, but I am, on the other hand, NOT NOT at a tech-interested person so why the heck not? We have a fun road trip on the way there and back, so what’s to lose (OK it cost $ but other than that.) I end up asking a question to the panel about organizational culture, which I am very interested in and get a wonderfully complex answer. I go up to the panelist after and ask to LinkedIn connect.

I also want to say, because it’s just a lovely thing you can offer your classmates, if you DO have a networking instinct, I have found myself literally pushing my classmates forward to talk to people when they are confronting their own shyness in these situations. My classmate who I pushed, in this case, was beaming the rest of the night, having made a big breakthrough to find the courage to approach.

October 5

-I have another more traditional phone informational interview. A key note on this one – this person never replied to my original email. I reached out again two weeks later. THAT DOES WORK. Not every time, but a lot of it comes down to busy people sometimes miss or forget things. That makes them human. And, again, if you follow up, politely and empathetically, well it actually can cast you in an even more worthy light than if you had just gotten the interview on the first try.

Ten

That’s ten, one bonus for good measure?

-I attend a club happy hour. My efforts to engage myself and my classmates have been noticed by a second-year-student. Without my asking, he tells me he has someone he would like me to meet and does an email-intro over the weekend. I respond with some dates for this week…

And the cycle starts all over again.