Last night I had the honor of serving on a guest panel for the Madison Business Mentors student group event. The seven panelists had a variety of backgrounds: finance, investment banking, retail, sales, non-profit, and even a couple of current MBA students. The moderators had us sharing our experiences with graduate school, interviewing, career choice, and networking.
Networking came up again during the Q&A session. A student inquired about the best way to stay in touch with colleagues or connections, especially when you know you may need to network with or ask a favor of them but don’t want to come across as using them. The answer seems simple — you just stay in touch. But is it actually that simple? My fellow panelists had different answers — schedule two hours a month and systematically work your way through your LinkedIn contact list (knowing myself, this behavior would fall away before it even started); shoot a value-add email to the person every 2-3 months (more realistic for me, but often feels a little contrived); do it when you think of it. I was mum on the subject, admittedly a little dumbfounded and completely caught off guard. I’ve never been fabulous at staying in touch with my high school or college friends, and today I maintain an ongoing relationship with only a handful. The most intriguing answer was to respond to whatever made you think of a person. If you read an article that reminds you of someone, share the link with them. If you visit a place that holds a joint memory for the two of you, reach out. I guess I relate with this approach most closely.
But this gets me thinking. I recently tipped over the “500+ contacts” threshold on LinkedIn. I’m fairly conservative about who I connect with, so I’m a little surprised that network is as large as it is. Although maybe I shouldn’t be. I ran in fairly unique circles in college—my architecture friends had little or no overlap with my fellow track & field athletes, who also barely overlapped my fraternity’s membership, which shared only a modest handful of my fellow soccer teammates, and were different still from the committee work I did with the Thurtene Honorary. I guess my life since undergrad is no different. I coached soccer and now know those families; I continued to advise with the Thurtene Honorary at Wash U for seven years after graduation; I play Australian Rules Football and could easily drop into any of 30+ cities in the US and already know people at the local club, not to mention all of my overseas connections; I’ve held four-year stints at two different jobs in different industries with dozens of clients, and can now add a third industry when I include Design Concepts; my time in grad school added 100+ contacts as well. So how can you possibly consider that many people your close network? Can I honestly say I could send a message to any of those people asking for an introduction, solicit them for a recommendation, or refer someone to them? I had to take a peek to test it. And surprisingly, the answer is yes. I would have little hesitation to reconnect with any of the people in my LinkedIn network should the need arise. But stay in touch? That would take a colossal effort. It would be a monumental task to even select one tenth of them to try to converse with even on a quarterly basis. So what does it take to stay in touch these days? Does the definition actually have a different meaning in this digital-Twitter-Vine-profile-update-in-the-cloud day and age? I don’t have an answer, but maybe I’m satisfied for now having shared experiences with an individual for a certain period of my life, and know that for a lifetime, I can always count on them for a favor.
Thanks to Belle and Maggie from MBM for the chance to expound some wisdom last night. I always end up learning more than I feel I teach.
Myself and two of my colleagues – Stefanie Norvaisas and Ami Verhalen- co-teach a Design Thinking class in the Center for Brand and Product Management in the Wisconsin School of Business at UW-Madison, and on Tuesday the 11th we held our final class of the semester. We switched things up for this class, hosting the students at the Design Concepts office for a screening of the documentary Design & Thinking, to celebrate our success, and reflect on the semester as a whole. As we reworked the course over the summer, one point that became important for us to emphasize was the process and power of reflection. Most of us grow up learning a very linear decision-making process, and it can be difficult to break out of that mold. We asked the students to not only learn a nonlinear and iterative process like design thinking, but to more or less live it. And they had to do so at the breakneck pace expected in graduate level studies of a high-caliber program like the Wisconsin School of Business. As expected, it was difficult (for them and us), and that deserves some time to look over your shoulder and see where you’ve been.
From our perspective as instructors and facilitators of the class, there were a few highlights during the semester. “Ah ha!” moments are always fun to observe, helping the students work to generate insights from their research was rewarding, and their final presentations were excellent across the board. But this time we were especially proud to see the reflections they had about their experiences in the class and with the process of design thinking. Some of them were genuinely surprised at what they were able to create and deliver to their client in only 10 weeks. And the students’ efforts generated some outstanding results that will really help a real company with real challenges they face in their business. Grounding design thinking in reality this way really helped them see its power.
From our perspective as practitioners, this was also a time to reflect on our own thoughts regarding design thinking. Even though it’s something we do everyday, it’s not often something we think about explicitly. Wouldn’t you know it, we disagreed on some things. Of course, the big lesson to come out of all this reflection was that these differences in opinion add up to more robust and well-rounded teams. Two people won’t look at a problem the same way even though they may be looking at it through the same lens of design thinking, and this means the number of possible approaches and solutions will be expanded. A valuable insight, indeed. Thanks due to the students for not only a great semester, but for teaching us a thing or two, as well!
A few quick pic’s from Sao Paolo that not only turned our heads, but made us say, “Huh?”
Sometime’s design is in the details. For example, the sidewalks in the area where we worked were of different materials. The variety was fairly broad and almost always associated with the building architecture and materials. It was particularly noticeable when jogging and the running surface changed every 5-10 meters. Some of the nicest were marble or granite mosaic, and usually received a daily scrubbing with a bucket of soapy water and stiff bristled brush.
Traffic. Oy, the traffic. That explains why Sao Paulo has the highest number of helicopters per capita. I can see daily commuters taking severe umbrage with the congestion while they watch their life drain away in gridlock. In an effort to manage the congestion, there is a rule based on the last number of your license plate that prohibits you from driving during rush hours one day a week.
The skyline in any direction often features multiple tall thin structures, the actual purpose of which we were not able to understand. It occurred often enough that it seemed to have some sort of purpose to the design. It remains an open ended observation, but I will put forth one possible explanation. Sitting in traffic, jammed between cars and trucks across as many as 8 lanes in one direction, you have only a brief view of the building facades that line the road. It’s entirely possible that billboards are simply too wide to be viewed when your car is in traffic, so the tall thin structures may be more effective. Thoughts?