Archive for August, 2013

When was the last time you did something the first time?

LastTimeIt’s a good question.  Something I’ve seen a lot of in the last few weeks.

Grad students first day back in school after years of working full-time.  MBAs starting their full time jobs in a brand new industry.  Friends starting a new company for the first time. And many other people taking a leap of faith.

That’s because the feeling you get from doing something new is what rewards us as humans.  It’s exhilarating, it’s what makes our work worth while, and it’s the only thing you can do that might change everything.

But we don’t do it nearly enough. Instead we stick to the status quo. We get in patterns and enjoy the routine. We put our heads down and just do our jobs.

But what if you did it more than that? What if you did something that might not work? What if you worked harder than ever on something you care about? What if you invested all of your emotions on something new?

The possibilities could be endless.

Saturday, August 31st, 2013 Business School 1 Comment

How dare the critics?

CriticsHow dare the critics criticize the work you created?

So much of success is about doing things that are out of your comfort zone.  About trying new projects, being creative and taking on more responsibility than ever before.

But the problem is that fear of the response from critics keeps us from doing it.  The smartest MBAs become afraid that they didn’t format the slides quite right. The sharpest law firm associates afraid they have typos in a memo.  And the smartest kids in class, nervous about getting a algebra problem wrong in front of everyone.  All enough to keep the from putting themselves on the line or speaking up when it matters. All because the critic might say, you are wrong, you made a mistake.

It’s the same concept society used to keep women in their place for decades. The same one that is used to tell the underclass that they don’t have a say. The same one that makes you feel like you don’t have the right to speak up at meetings. Or tell your boss when they’ve got something wrong.

So we hide instead of speaking up. We add qualifiers to our answers and put extra words in our work to distract everyone from what we really want to say.

And over time it becomes second nature. It’s far easier to add another 50 words. And another 50 words. And a few more lines to distort our message.  Rather than just stand up and say the 5 words that we believe.  And in the end, the critics have kept us from doing our best work.

The problem is that so much of success is about doing things that are out of your comfort zone and things that have never been done before.

We just have to find ignore the critics and move on. Hard, but worth getting better at.

Friday, August 30th, 2013 Leadership 1 Comment

Embrace the pain

yogaPain, of course, is sometimes one of the worst things in the world. But embracing the pain is also often the gateway for change.

Along the way, it doesn’t usually feel like it’s true. Because by definition, pain hurts. It makes you uncomfortable, distracts you from the your end goal, and often makes you feel like you can’t finish.

But the thing is, that feeling is only in the moment. In fact, by the end embracing the pain makes you feel like you can finish stronger than ever before. Think about it.

In yoga, you feel the pain but by the end you feel more flexible, feel stronger, and at the end of class, feel like you can do anything. Even do a second class.

In sports, the same thing is true. Through the pain that comes with training you get better.  And if you embrace it, you’ll get faster, jump higher and perform better when the game starts.

In life, pain helps you learn to endure failure, learn how to make better choices, and learn how to stand up and fight back the next time around.

When we run from pain and quit early we don’t get nearly enough out of it. We get disappointed and we don’t make progress.

On the other hand, when we embrace our pain, follow it to its source, and learn to lean into it, we have the opportunity to grow in a way that could change everything.

[With that said, I’m off to my daily 6am yoga class now]

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013 Business School 7 Comments

How to build trust

TrustThis is a question some people spend a lot of time thinking about.

Yesterday a friend of mine said she finds trust from going out and having drinks with her friends. I understand what she was saying but I also think it missed the point.

In today’s age, it’s harder than ever to gain people’s trust.  And having a drink or two isn’t going to solve the trust problem.

As I’ve seen it, we don’t trust people just because of a few fun nights out in the city or because of an assignment we finished together. Instead, we trust them because they showed up for us.

We trust people because who showed up when it wasn’t convenient.  We trust people who helped us with an exam or project that we don’t think we would have passed without their support. We trust people who decided to tell us the truth even when they could have gotten away without saying anything. We trust people who don’t tell little white lies  even when they could have easily gotten away with it.  And we trust people who kept helping out on a project at work, even when everyone else already quit.

In today’s age it’s easier than ever to take the convenient route. And it’s harder than ever to find people you can really trust. When you find them, you should do everything you can to keep them.

Sunday, August 25th, 2013 Leadership 5 Comments

Reducing the Bravery Shortage

BraveryWhat would happen if you had the courage to stop doing what’s comfortable right now and instead do more meaningful work.

Just two days ago I heard of someone who had.  A colleague of mine told me she saw an update from a former classmate who quit her job.  After graduating one of the best law schools in the world and working at one of the biggest law firms in the world, she finally made the leap to go work at a nonprofit even though she was afraid.

What wonderful news.

In today’s world, taking that leap in spite of fear is not common. In law firms and consulting firms many people also leave, but usually for positions at companies not nonprofits.  In business school, most people aimed for the jobs with the best names and the highest salaries and forget about their passions by the end.  Law school was just the same.  Nearly everyone seeks out the firms with the biggest names.  Don’t get me wrong.  For some people these decisions are the right things to do.

But unfortunately, none of these companies give you a manual on how to eventually do meaningful work.  There is no kit.  No users guide. No terms and conditions. You just have to take the leap of faith, which gets harder and harder the longer you stay.

In today’s internet driven world, we have everything we need in front of us to do meaningful work.  We have the tools. We have the people asking about it. We have the resources to speak up. We have the platform to share our work with the world.

It is only when people are brave enough to stand up that we will actually make change.

Friday, August 23rd, 2013 Business School 1 Comment

What’s your grad school story? My small group seminar

jcw logo finalIn the next two months, I am organizing a free, very small, group seminar/phone seminar for up and comers considering grad school, career moves and new projects.  Fill out this form if you are interested.  

This is for the participants together to think about their careers and figure out their stories.  This seminar will be helpful for any aspiring MBAs and JDs but also for those seeking other grad degrees or looking to start new projects.

We’ll talk about applications but more importantly, we’ll talk about  your mindset, your values and your story.

Before we finalize all the details, we’ll need to get a a few to make it worth our time. Let me know if you are in.

Here’s a partial list of people that have given positive reviews about the blog/sessions/advice before.

Here is the form.

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013 Business School No Comments

Where are the real relationships?

friendsIn today’s internet-driven connection economy, there are two types of  relationships we tend to make.    Real relationships and drive-by ones.

The obvious choice for every single one of us is real relationships. But the irony is that most of us don’t act that way.

We send out our requests to our friends at the last second. We rely on the internet and text messaging to rather than calling or meeting in person. And we divide our time more than ever before leaving people who we went out of their way for us wondering if we even care.

But along the way, I’ve learned that there is also a lot of value in fewer but better friends.  At some point in business school, a lot of of us did.  And so many of us eventually asked ourselves, where are the real relationships?

We learned that you don’t all-of-a-sudden form real relationships after a night out on the town or just because you live in the same neighborhood.  Instead you make them through a series of personal interactions. By spending more time with them to hear their personal story.  By picking up the phone and calling rather than relying on a text or email.   By showing thoughtfulness and generosity, especially in times where they would have never expected it. And by being there for someone when they need your support.

One of the easiest things to do is to form drive-by relationships with people who you’ll keep at a distance.  But one of the hardest things to do is find real relationships with people that matter.

Real relationships are really hard, but they are worth spending more time on.

Sunday, August 18th, 2013 Business School 1 Comment

Will I see you again?

Shake handsWe all ask the question, but few of us understand how often.

But this question is far more important than you think. It’s what every business implicitly asks a customer after she makes her first purchase.

What a professor thinks after the first class when students are shopping classes before committing to a schedule.

What personal trainers say after giving a new member his first free session.

What an employer thinks when it gets a star candidate who just left her interview.

What a blog reader thinks after he had his biggest day in terms of hits.

What you think after you meet someone you like on a Friday morning in your yoga class.

Today it’s easier than ever to see someone once, have a transactional interaction, and never see them again.  It happens to most of us almost every single day.  On the other hand, we also have the chance to see some people a second time.  To form real connections and create an interaction that matters. When we do, especially when it’s on purpose, that opens up all new possibilities.

Saturday, August 17th, 2013 Business School 1 Comment

What story are you telling?

storyThat’s what really matters. Not the facts and logic that you keep giving to people all day.

The last job you applied to. Your pitch for you new startup. Your application to graduate school. It usually comes down to story.

Think about it.  More often than not, you can’t make people do things. But you can tell them a story. One that gets under their skin. And one that makes them remember that you are the obvious choice.

In the job application you recently submitted.  Does your life story fit with who the company needs to hire? The schools, past jobs, and recommendations? What they need RIGHT NOW.

The homeless person asking for money at Starbucks. Does the way they ask tell you something about their life story that makes you feel compelled that they can turn things around?

Your business school friend who just asked you to invest in her new venture. Does the mission reach you at your core?

Unfortunately, the answer to these questions is usually no. Because we usually focus on facts and tactics. That’s why consultants refine slides and lawyers draft memos and marketers estimate market size over and over.  These things often don’t work because they fail to reallly convey the story that needs to be told.

I propose the idea that rather than spend so much time thinking about those things, instead we focus more on the story.  One that’’s not only compelling but one that also resonates with things your audience already believe in.

So. What story are you telling today?

Thursday, August 15th, 2013 Business School No Comments

Revive the Dream: Join us in Chicago

classAn underserved education system results in increased poverty, higher prison rates, systemic inequality, and in the end an economy that is worse off.  One organization I am working with to help tackle the issues in Chicago is Revive the Dream.

Over the upcoming year, I’ll be working with my friend Meg as an organizer for Revive the Dream fellows program.

RTD’s mission is to revive the American dream for underserved children.  We do that by recruiting emerging social leaders and giving them access to a curriculum, to leaders and to organizations that can develop them into reformers not just in Chicago but across the U.S. when they are done.

In short, we’ll be bringing together a group of fellows in 2013, bringing in education leaders in Chicago to speak at our sessions, and then helping people get connected to special projects with education nonprofits after the sessions are over.

Interested in being a fellow?  We are currently recruiting for our 3rd cohort.

Join us.

You can also email with questions or to hear about our next happy hour in early September.

There’s never been a more pivotal time to develop leaders in the education space. Please help us spread the message.


Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 Education, Events No Comments

MBA Mondays: Fork In the Road

forkThe time has finally come.  You have a critical business decision to make.  You could choose one of two ways and from your seat, both ways look right.   Problem is, you can only pick one. What do you do?

Unfortunately, this comes up far too often. Many times you don’t even realize it.  But even when you do realize it, it still feels like its impossible to choose.

That’s because the two options are usually both compelling, even though they are completely different

In business, choosing one could mean changing your entire value proposition   When you get new feedback from users, do you use one name or do you change everything and go with the other? Do you choose to focus on the customer you had in mind or do you change to the other customer? How do you decide which one you care about more? Because you can’t see the end of the road from your seat.

In the legal world, lawyers face this same choice.  Choosing one strategy sometimes means you forego all opportunities to argue soemthing different.  Choosing to argue for theft and not robbery.  Homicide and not manslaughter.  Choosing to go to court rather than settle, even when a large settlement option sits right in front of you.

Once you see it and understand the choices, then comes the hard part: you have to take a stand.  You have to say, here is what I believe and I’m ready to risk it all to move forward. Even if people don’t agree. Even if I lose support. Even if I lose some of my customers. Even if I lose a few votes.

What fork in the road are you facing right now.  And what are you going to do?

**Full credit to Seth who talked a lot about the concept of forks in the road while we working on his new project a couple of weeks ago.

Monday, August 12th, 2013 Business School No Comments

Avoiding the small things that remind us of fear

fearEvery day, we make a thousand tiny little decisions.  Decisions that we may not remember the next day but ones that we might regret if we did.  Decisions that help us to avoid things that could be worthwhile, so that we can stay away from the emotion of fear.

The problem is, when we put all these decisions off, we dramatically reduce the chances that we will be successful.

We don’t get started on that tough project at work because starting reminds us that we may need ask for help from someone we don’t want to ask.

We don’t have a discussion with a colleague, because we know it’s possible it could remind them of the project that didn’t go well.

We don’t study for that upcoming test because studying reminds us that there’s a really hard test coming up.

We avoid answering a person’s phone call because they remind us of an awkward discussion that we want to avoid.

In every case, the longer we wait, the worse off we are.

When I was young kid, my dad used to make me confront one of my fears,  specifically regarding being shy (it’s true, as as kid, I actually used to be shy).

He would make me talk to people about things I didn’t know. He would force me to close out transactions with clerks at the grocery store and tellers at the bank.  He would have me talk to people on the street: bus drivers, volunteers, salesman, and homeless persons.  As a very shy kid this not only made me uncomfortable, but it helped me to get me out of my comfort zone.  At the time, I didn’t like how it felt.  Today, I see it’s one of the best things for me.

When we go about avoiding our fears, we spend so much time and energy avoiding things that we reduce our chances of things working out.

On the other hand, when we embrace these fears, talk about them and  dance with them, we not only improve our odds of success, but we also give ourselves the chance to make decisions that could change everything.

Really great video that I recently found online

Sunday, August 11th, 2013 Leadership 2 Comments

Guest Post by Varsity Tutors: How to improve your score on the GMAT [or any test]

VTAny friends studying for a standardized test these days?  Then this guest by my friends at Varsity Tutors could be for you. Whether you’re studying for the LSAT, GMAT, GRE or the SAT, these general tips may be helpful on your second attempt.  More importantly,  they reinforce the idea of just how much #EducationMatters.

See below for the article.

How to Improve Your GMAT Score

“B-School applicant, you just finished a grueling four-hour test. What are you going to do now?”

“I’m going to…take it again!”

Well, that wasn’t the answer everyone was expecting. However, retaking the GMAT is a reality for many test-takers. Some simply feel they could have done better than they did, others need a certain target score to get into a particular school that they have not yet reached. In fact, students are often encouraged to initially sign up for two tests, hoping that a scheduled second test will take some pressure off of them the first time, ultimately leading to better scores.

If you have a solid reason to take the exam again, get the test date locked down as soon as you can. You have to wait 31 calendar days before retaking the GMAT, but in the interest of keeping your knowledge fresh, you shouldn’t schedule your retake too far after that time.

So, you’ve got a month or so before another test day, and you need a plan. It’s time to figure out what to do so that this extra effort expended will not go to waste.

1. Review your initial test day experience immediately.

As much as you probably don’t want to relive an experience that you possibly found about as fun as dental surgery, an immediate debrief is a necessary evil. As soon as possible, go back over your entire test day experience and take notes.

  • Remember your physical condition. If you were sleepy, felt hungry, or were uncomfortable in any other way, these circumstances could very well have messed up your score. Thankfully, they can all be fixed for your retake.
  • Remember conditions of the room. Things like temperature and noise can also affect you negatively, and you can be better prepared for them next time.
  • Remember your actual test-taking. Timing and concentration during long reading passages are examples of important concepts that should be always incorporated into your preparation. Did you have problems with these the first time?
  • Remember the test content. There may have been specific concepts, vocabulary, or problem types that were vague or unknown to you and that, to your dismay, popped up repeatedly. Jot them down so you can work on them, since it’s likely that they are important and you will see them again.

2.   Take a short break.

Once you’ve immediately recapped the day, it’s time to shake it off and move forward with the lessons you’ve learned. It’s important to give your mind a little bit of time off and put some distance between you and the first test.

3. Address your weaknesses.

When you analyze your test day experience, look at the items that you saw consistently and didn’t feel confident approaching. Hit those hard by doing drills and in-format questions until they are no longer a problem.

4. Shore up your strengths.

Don’t let the things that you are good at fall by the wayside. Instead, keep them fresh by continuing to work on them while simultaneously reviewing the more challenging material as well. And, in all question cases (but particularly when you’re trying to keep your good skills fresh), go over both correct and incorrect answer choices. You may have answered the question right, but was there a faster way to do it? Is there any lesson shown in the wrong answers that you could use regarding eliminating wrong answers in the future?

5. Work on time management.

Time management is a big problem for most test-takers, so don’t neglect it. You’ve got to improve how quickly you get correct answers and how much time to spend on questions before giving up on them or guessing. Once you have concepts down, complete timed problem sets and exercises as soon as possible.

6. Change it up.

The results of your first test were clearly subpar for you, so perhaps your method of test preparation needs to be changed. If you keep preparing the same way you did before, how will you ever increase your score? Einstein famously described insanity as performing the same task over and over and hoping for a different result. To avoid GMAT “insanity,” change the method somehow – get a GMAT tutor, use a different test prep book publisher, do a better job simulating the real test day experience when you do practice tests – really commit to working on the test everyday and not just sporadically. Shake up your learning and pump up your score!

It’s important to be very honest with yourself when analyzing your first test day experience. Only you can really know if you really were absolutely committed to the process and if you truly grasped what you kept saying you understood. Make some truthful assessments, change your preparation appropriately, approach test day with the confidence that comes from experience, and you’ll be well on your way to an improved score.

This post is written by Toby Blackwell. Toby is a GMAT tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. He graduated with honors and received his Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University.


Thursday, August 8th, 2013 Business School, Education, Guest Posts 1 Comment

New project based on bravery

BraveryDuring times of change, there’s nothing more important than bravery.  So I’m going to explore the topic over the upcoming months.

Whether deciding to take a stand on an issue that is controversial.  Going out on a limb to take on a risky project.  Or deciding to risk everything and tell someone exactly how you feel.

Brave acts are the things that help us make history.  That’s why giving people a platform for bravery is so critical.  That’s why I am exploring the topic.

No details yet, no decisions on platform, but the time will come.

Click here to let us know if you have a story of bravery to share.  I look forward to sharing mine.


Wednesday, August 7th, 2013 Business School, Careers, Consulting No Comments

Pattern Recognition

PatternsOne of the most important things I noticed working with Seth Godin over the past week was the importance of patterns. This idea was also pointed out by one of the team members Josh Long.

Every time we had an idea or posed a question, you could see Seth thinking of patterns. Patterns in people, patters in markets; patterns in the future.  We try to hedge our bets with information and analysis, but more often than not it comes down to gut feel – that intangible pattern recognition that tells you that your next project could be a big winner.

One pattern Seth discussed was how people look at risk.  He noted that the pattern that many people attempt to fail small.   At the last minute, we all take a step back and take that compelling elements out of our work because it’s safer to fail small.  He noted it not only in individuals but also in groups.

Another patten he discussed was the concept of barriers. On one hand, he noted that successful people get out of dead ends quickly. They see when a project won’t succeed or when the team isn’t right, and they back out before the going gets tough.   But on the other hand, there is a really big reward for getting through the big barriers.  If you are working on the right things and can get past the barriers in front of you, then you can become the best in your field.

In addition to patters in people he also noted patters in the way the world works.  Through frameworks like scarcity, choosing yourself (a Seth concept) and generosity.  Also, the ability to take a stand for what you believe in and have a point of view.  Every suggestion anyone in the room made, Seth continually asked, what do you think? Do you have a point of view? All to lead us down the path of making a decision, not just endless discussion.

Patters are good because they help you understand the issues, pick precise words to describe them, and communicate your ideas with the masses for change.

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013 Careers, Entrepreneurship No Comments

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.


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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect the views or position of Kellogg, Northwestern Law, the JD-MBA program, or any firm that I work for. I only offer my own perspective on all issues.
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