Teamwork

Hard Work > Working Hard

hard workToday was filled with a lot of really hard work.  Not to be confused with the fact that we were also working hard

“Working hard” is what we do every day. For me it’s usually billing more hours than I can count for weeks at a time. I’m sure many of my readers have similar experiences at their jobs.

But “hard work” is what we do when we work on gamechanging ideas together.  Bringing a team of lots of people together to discuss disjointed ideas, debate different points of view, mesh our worldviews, and take a stand about an idea.  And often we are charged to do all of this without any framework, structure or leaders in the group.

Working hard is not new.  We all know how to buckle down and work hard.  But hard work flexes an entirely different muscle.  Because it’s difficult adapting to having more cooks in the kitchen, navigating a setting where at times it might be hard to speak up or propose an idea, wondering how many others are still not convinced with the concept, and skeptical whether you can actually make a difference. I have felt all of these things over the past day or two.

It always takes a lot more hard work (and perhaps a lot more risk) than working hard to answer these and other hard questions.  This is why is so important to be part of not just a talented team but also a “good team”.

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Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013 Careers, Entrepreneurship No Comments

Leading Matters: Stanford University At The Forefront Of Change

As an anthropology major, I’ve read a lot of papers by the great anthropologist Margaret Mead. In one case she said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” Well, if this is true, than we certainly need more of these groups today. The current economic crisis is still on everyone’s mind, in addition to other issues like clean energy, new Supreme Court justices, and failing investment banks and law firms.  I’m not surprised that many of the law students and business students, not only at Northwestern but also across the nation, are feeling a little nervous in the midst of uncertainty. But in my opinion, times of uncertainty are good because they also create opportunity. And “we have to be willing to take chances, to push the boundaries, to work in collaborative new ways to try to make a difference in our world.” At least that’s what Stanford President John Hennesey told us at a leadership conference in Chicago this past weekend.

This past Saturday, I returned to Stanford to reconnect with hundreds of alumni and former classmates. No, not literally; it’s finals week here at Northwestern Law. Instead Stanford came here, to Chicago, as part of their Leading Matters tour to showcase how the school is playing a leading role in helping solve some of the world’s biggest problems. And the Cardinal crowd in Chicago was well represented—students and alumni from the GSB, alumni from the law school, and others from various departments and schools at Stanford–and there were over 500 alumni registered for the Chicago event.

Among others, Penny Pritzker, President Hennesey, and Helen and Peter Bing were there.  And for all my law school readers, I also had a chance to hear and meet Constitutional Law expert, former Stanford Law School Dean, and current litigator at Quinn Emmanuel, Kathleen Sullivan. I found her talk to be especially compelling, given my first final exam is in Constitutional Law and given that all 65 of the rest of my section mates were in their apartments or at the school studying while I was at the event downtown. (Click here for my follow up post on the Constitutional Law exam).

The entire crowd was engaged and ready for an inspiring afternoon. After almost every remark for the first five minutes, a series of claps, and “wows” would ripple through the audience from front to back, and sometimes back to front, often ending with those around me, an entire row of Stanford MBAs. In his welcoming address, Mr. Hennesey ended with the remark I mentioned above … that “This is a university willing to take chances, to push the boundaries, to work in collaborative new ways to try to make a difference in our world.”

In that moment, right at the outset, I re-connected with Stanford, which unfortunately has been a rare experience given I’ve spent the past four years in Boston, Phoenix, and Chicago. And for the day, I didn’t think much about my upcoming finals here at law school. Instead, I took the day to engage in the event, connect with old friends, conjure up old memories and traditions, think about the broader vision that Stanford had, and finally to do what I enjoy most, meet lots of new people.

I attended the first few sessions with GSB alum Marquis Parker (MBA & M.Ed, Class of 2006, and Stanford MBA blogger).  I also re-connected with fellow 05 Anthropology major, Andrea Lazazzera, who also happened to be the master-organizer of the Chicago event! I saw two of my good friends from my undergrad days, who I met during Stanford’s Engineering Academy. I had drinks with  a good buddy who also lives in Chicago but who I don’t see often because of law school.  And I even ran into a Stanford grad that graduated from Northwestern Law in 2009. It was great seeing everyone again.

But more than the great connections that I made at the event, the underlying purpose was to show that leadership matters and that Stanford is playing a leading role as the nation is facing real challenges ahead.  And “in a series of panels, speeches, and seminar sessions, President Hennessy, deans and faculty shared their bold visions for Stanford in the 21st century.” They discussed the current financial crisis, foreign policy issues, clean energy, Obama’s appointment for the Supreme Court, and how Stanford leaders were leading in all the fields.

“It was pretty impressive. The entire event blew me away. I was inspired,” one of the guests said to me as the day concluded.  Another alumni commented that “it was good to see everyone again in such an inspiring environment.” I agree with both of the comments. And what I found most interesting about the event was that topic of money or donations never came up, at least not to my knowledge. Instead, the focus of the event was on education and on leadership.

And in the end, I re-engaged with the idea that when we bring ourselves together around a common purpose and when we connect with others, with ideas, and with inspiring leaders, then we can effect change on a broader scale.  Not only because we have more hands to help and minds to come up with ideas but also because you can connect with the hearts of the people, and inspire them to do more than they could have ever imagined on their own.

And after being capped off by a 15-20 minute video during dinner, the event did just that.  The message was compelling and well worth the time, even in the middle of finals week. In fact, after the event, I’m now even considering heading to the one in Boston toward the end of the year (I spent a few years in Boston before Chicago) and maybe even to the one in the Bay next month, depending on how my summer work schedule plays out.  The event in San Francisco already has nearly 900 registered attendees, and could turn out to be a huge reunion-type event.

Either way, Bravo Stanford! And best of luck the remaining events!

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Monday, April 19th, 2010 Leadership 13 Comments

Recap of MLT’s Kick-Off Seminar In Houston

I’m not surprised that MBA applicants are feeling a little more nervous than usual.  Given the uncertain economic times, many experts don’t even know what to expect in the admissions cycle, let alone inexperienced applicants. It doesn’t help that some applicants still rely heavily on too few schools, so the odds are stacked against them. Others have been superstars since graduation, but now fear the prospects of failing. And for a third group, job insecurity reigns. These applicants work at unstable firms and fear being laid off, so they feel the pressure to get in.  These and other applicants should strive for nearly perfect applications. That not only includes good scores and a well-written application at fit schools, but it also includes a career roadmap and a compelling story to tell the committee. At least that’s what John Rice came to discuss at MLT’s kick-off seminar in Houston.

At long last, the newest class of MLT’s MBA Prep Program was finally welcomed in person at the 2010 kick-off event.  The event took place at Rice University, and the good news was that I was able to get a sneak peak at this year’s new class. Even though I haven’t even finished my first class at Kellogg yet, MLT asked me to volunteer at the event. And I’m sure glad they asked. For one, it allows me to contribute to the MLT community, which is something that’s been on my mind a lot these days, even as a first year law student. It also give me the chance to meet and help current fellows, to re-connect with alumni and with the awesome MLT team, and also gives a chance to become part of a movement that’s much larger than myself.

And so all of that began late Thursday night when my flighted finally landed in Houston around midnight. Interestingly enough is that fact that a current MLT fellow was also in my SuperShuttle, and so that we chatted on the way to the hotel MLT reserved. Like a large number of fellows, she was from New York and also very nice. Arriving at the hotel sometime around 1:00am, I unpacked a few things, took care of a few dozen emails, and prepped for a couple of phone calls and a meeting I had the next morning. Time flew by, and before I knew it, I was hopping in a cab to head over to the conference.

Shortly after entering the building, I joined the current fellows in a session about “MBA, leadership, and success.” As I walked in, a tsunami of laughter went across the room. I suspected that everyone was probably having a good time. Gazing around the auditorium, I noticed the room was jam-packed with over 200 fellows, all intensely concentrating on the guest speaker.   I noticed right away that the crowd of fellows was incredibly diverse. It was especially good to see that there was a good mix of women in the room, something I suspect that MLT is keeping in mind. Before entering the room I figured everyone would all be a lot younger than me, but boy was I wrong.  Not only did I come to find that the average age was something similar to mine, but I also found a number of students that were older than me, and others who were in my class back at Stanford, including my really good friend Khalilah Karim.  (Any current fellows who stumble on this post should definitely take a few minutes to meet her!)

And not only did I catch up with her for a bit, but I also spoke to a number of fellows on Friday. Working with Michael Pages, a friend from my MLT fellowship class (2009), we spoke with a good number of people at lunch, between sessions, and later that night until the wee hours of the morning. Working with a bigger group of MLT alum on Saturday, we discussed application myths and took part in a Q&A, as part of an organized panel. Our approach was to structure part of the initial discussion and then let everyone pick topics based on interests. The session was highly energized, non-stop, and went well.

But more than a single energizing panel, the conference was the combination of lots of interesting sessions led by alumni, staff, and guest speakers, many of which were compelling, especially to the new fellows.  Similar to my year, almost every session was informative and interesting, and collectively the sessions began to foster ties between having goals in business and concurrently having goals that improve the community, where that topic pinnacled during John Rice’s session about passion on Friday.

It’s no surprise that the highlight of these weekends often tends to be John Rice’s session, “Defining your passion.”  It’s funny, inspiring, insightful, and participatory. John did a similar session my year, which was a big hit, and it seemed like it went over pretty well this year. “Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep in this session” he began, as his session took place right after lunch. And after reeling in a quick laugh from the audience, he moved on to substance and gave a crash course on figuring out your passion and integrating that into your story and essays.

“To have the best chances at admission, you need to have a road map” Rice said.  “And to be truly great, your passion has to be part of that road map.”   In layman’s terms, applicants should think about passions, goals and other personal issues that are often left out of MBA applications. What an insight for the new class! This isn’t what many us first hear about MBA applications. I sure didn’t. But John emphasized the idea and then illustrated it in a real-time activity in front of the class, keeping the session interactive as possible. In the end, the session was more refined, fun, and compelling than I even remember from my year.

Sitting in the session this weekend also made me think about my conference two years ago and about meeting my cohort for the first time. My group was lucky enough to connect fairly early, which is something I relayed to the new class this weekend. And although a few people in my cohort transitioned slower than others, somewhere along the way we all really jelled. We brainstormed ideas, shared personal stories, provided feedback on career thoughts, and learned from each other in a way that helped us to really grow, both as applicants and personally.

And in the end, we not only became a cohort that worked well together, but also a group that had a stake in each other’s success.  And still do. And that’s one of my biggest takeaways from being a fellow—that there’s power in having a small team of people where everyone has a the same specific interests, similar common goals, and everyone is on the same page.  And in some sense, I suspect that’s part of why I was excited to head back this weekend, to see that connection again.

And after day one of the session I began thinking.  What if all MLT alumni decided to come back? And what if everyone started going to all the big MLT events? And not for the sake of networking or to enhance career opportunities, but instead to work together on bigger issues that impact broader global communities. And what if they worked just as well together, or even better, than my cohort did?  Sounds impractical? Maybe.  But definitely not a bad idea. Because the best leaders understand that there’s power in teams, that sharing common values harnesses even greater potential, and that having both together can lead to profound impact.

And for the second time in my life, I left the an MLT Kick-Off Seminar with inspiration and a competing need to get back to work. But this time not on applications or in the office. Now, I have to finish up my second semester of law school.

But either way, I still sort of know how the MLT’ers feel, and I encourage the fellows to join forces as you head through the year of MLT together. Good luck!

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Sunday, March 28th, 2010 Admissions, Business School, Diversity 10 Comments

Running for Leadership Positions On Campus

Perhaps you’ve seen it before.  A leader in your organization that can’t bring the team together to work toward a common goal.  Well what about the reverse?  Someone in your organization without a leadership title, but with a natural ability to persuade others and to really make things happen. I suspect most of us have seen both types. In my opinion, that’s because often times a title doesn’t always mean what it suggests. And because generally you don’t need a title to have an impact. Here’s why I think that’s relevant for some people at Northwestern.

Just last week here at Northwestern Law, many of the school’s organizations began sending mass emails to the Listserve. Be on the board of this club, become the president of that club, join our new committee.  These are the slogans that clubs send out, hoping to find a few interested and over-ambitious students to take charge in the club next year.  Because Northwestern  has a diverse set of student clubs, many of them tend to have a pretty big role on campus and in student life. They put on conferences, bring guest speakers to campus, organize panels and networking events, and often join forces with other clubs to come up with events that are bigger or more innovative. And for a club to pull that off, it needs to an organized group of students that want to both plan and execute all those events for the year.

Well, the good news for schools is that there’s never a shortage of students willing to do that. Many students flock at the chance to sign up for leadership roles, both in clubs that are for leisure and in clubs that aim to have impact.  In fact, I’ve even put my name in a for a position or two, including one on the JD-MBA board. I hope I win the vote, because I think I’m a good fit for the role. Similarly, I’ve also done a lot of work already without technically being in the role.  It’ll be interesting to see how the results turn out.

But generally, here’s my opinion on club positions.  If you’re able to get a lead role in an organization, then you should take it. Landing the role will probably earn you at least a little respect from some of your colleagues, it might also give you more self-confidence as you try to make change, and at times it may give you the status you need to make organizing a bit easier.  But at the end of the day, having the title usually doesn’t guarantee any impact.  Instead, what guarantees impact is being able to work with other students and finding a way to achieve results together. Because that’s what adds real value to a club and also to any organization.

There’s an old proverb that says: “A good leader is someone who can motivate his colleagues to get things done without making his teammates feel that it was the leader who actually did the work.” What does that mean? Well to me, it means that the best leaders understand the value of teamwork. That a team working together can accomplish more than the sum of its individual parts and that the best teams work well together on a level playing field to achieve their objectives. And in the end, a team is most effective when everyone’s title plays a very small part in that process.

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Friday, March 5th, 2010 Law School, Leadership 2 Comments

First Day of Law School

After eight months of impatiently waiting and two weeks of chaos during orientation, it finally happened. Just Monday I began my first day as a JD-MBA student at Northwestern Law. I can already tell it’s not only going to be an incredible journey but also a long one. For one, I’ve got about 1,000 days until the bar exam, should I decide to take it. I’ve got another 200 or so days until my last day as a 1L. That will be a huge day of celebration. I’ve got about 100 days until my first midterm. I’ve got 2 days until my first “official” bar review. And finally, I’ve got at least another 10-12 hours or so until I can leave the library and go home from school today. I look forward to all of it.

It all started this past Monday, when I began my first class at 8:45 am. Before class, everyone was on Facebook and Twitter posting about heading to their first day of law school. I did the same, and got a really great response from all my facebook friends. My first course was Contracts As a JD-MBA student I love contracts, because the topic sits at the intersection between both business and law. The class will be quite practical in the long run, and even now it makes a lot of sense for me, since I drafted contracts regularly at my old company. The MBA side of me came out right away in the first class, when we were discussing the idea that contracts are “promises”. While most people in the class were talking about friendships and “Moral Obligation” (a term often used in contracts), I couldn’t help but bring up the notion of incentives and how those affect contracts. Personally, I believe that most of what we do in life is driven most by incentives, incentives for money, incentives to be liked, incentives to manage relationships, etc.

After Contracts, we had Torts. More important than why the name of the class is Torts, which I don’t actually know the answer to, is the fact that our professor is a rockstar. Professor Speta is a great speaker, is as sharp as they come, and is definitely a good entertainer. He employs the Socratic method and case method for the entire class and always seems to have an agenda for everything he does, including the specific person he calls on. In fact, he reminds me a lot of the professors I encountered visiting HBS, another school I considered attending.

My last class of the day was Civil Procedure. The class was a lot better than I expected, and a lot less dry as well. In fact, I think it may end up being one of my favorite classes. Although even if it weren’t, I couldn’t say so. Our professor just so happens to be the wife of the school Dean. So we’ve got to be extra nice all semester long.

But more than all the classes, what we did on Monday was get to know our section team members. Northwestern believes that the first step to a great career is having a strong team foundation. Developing relationships with members in your section is an important process. And although that will take time, the fastest way to start this process is through shared experience. This is probably part of why school gives us so much work so quickly.

Coming from a business background as a JD-MBA and former consultant, this topic is not new. Having worked on a couple of human capital engagements in the past, I’m quite familiar with the perceived benefits of shared experiences and with team-building activities. It’s been two days so far, but so far my section seems really great, friendly, and of course, very diverse – a staple of Northwestern Law. I look forward to working with them over the next 9 months.

What’s also great is that the JD-MBAs are pretty evenly spread among all the sections. My section has five or six and the other sections have anywhere from five to eight. While we try and succeed at integrating in the sections during the day, the JD-MBA crowd is very close. We started a Google Group list back in March, so we’ve been in touch daily ever since then. Also, we’ve already had a couple of huge gatherings before school began, including two that I organized and hosted during orientation. It’s definitely going to be a great couple of years together.

But for now, I’ve got to stay grounded in the here-and-now, because I still have massive amounts of reading to do for today, tomorrow, and Friday. It feels like I’m drinking from a fire hose, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out. Everybody does.

Anyhow, thanks for reading my first official post as a student. Please keep reading and feel free to comment as I continue to share perspectives on my JD-MBA experience.

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Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009 Law School 3 Comments

PepsiCo Challenge

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a pre-MBA workship with PepsiCo in New York City. The purpose of the event to show the attendees a little about what it’s like to work in marketing at Pepsi. I was personally interested in the session because Pepsi has a huge presence in Chicago, so I know that at some point, I might make my way there for interview or at the very least, an event they sponsored for Kellogg.

As expected, our day was jam-packed with panels, Q&A sessions, case studies, and a team based project, just like all the sessions I’ve been to. Also, like most of the other boot camps I’ve been too, I was really impressed with all the senior folks who took time from their day to come chat with us. There were a couple of Senior Managers, one or two Directors, and a VP. All the executives came from schools such as Kellogg, HBS, Stanford, and USC, and they all seemed to be high trajectory employees. Reflecting on the personnel who attended and on the rigor of the event, it’s pretty clear that the event was twofold: 1) to sell us on why Pepsi (and marketing) is a great company and 2) to profile potential applicants to PepsiCo down the line.

While I don’t plan to interview for marketing roles after school, the session definitely opened up the marketing profession for me. I got the chance to experience firsthand how marketing professionals approach problems and how cross-functional the marketing role is, at least at Pepsi.

I was also impressed to the extent to which the employees talked about values and how they used them to employ marketing strategies. While a lot of talk a lot about values, Pepsi definitely stood out. Every color they used, slogan they created, and campaign they launched touched on important company principles, such as youthfulness, daringness, larger-than-life attitude, and human performance. It was pretty impressive to see how everything connected behind the scenes.

The highlight of the day was our team project, where the groups was broken into teams, and each team was charged to come up with a new product for PepsiCo to sell. There were 8 or 9 groups, and we all broke off for about 90 minutes to brainstorm, come up with the product details, draw out a informal presentation, and pitch our idea to the Pepsi executives. It was pretty cool to see the variety of different products that the teams came up with, such as a new health drink, a new low-fat ice cream bar, and a new energy snack.

As I’ve continued to experience in these sessions as well as in my pre-MBA consulting career, there is definitely an art to working effectively in diverse groups. No matter how good you are with people or how charismatic you are, working effectively in a group of 5 or 6 people, especially type-A personalities is really hard, especially when there is no clearly assigned leader. I look forward to continuing to practice at Kellogg, where teamwork definitely takes center stage.

Reflecting back on the overall session, I learned that marketing is less about creativity and fuzzy ideas than it is about analytics and rigorous business analysis. The teams who did the best in the Pepsi challenge seemed to work pretty well together and had a solid business plan to back up their creative products.

After chatting with the executives, I also learned that there’s not a whole lot of room for JD-MBAs in the marketing profession, at least not right out of school. While JDs are definitely smart enough to do well in the profession, many of the recruiters don’t see a strong academic fit. The good news is that if you are considering the JD-MBA and if you are interested in marketing, the business development function (a cousin to marketing) is definitely a good fit in the long run because of its deal, negotiation, and contractual components.

Although I don’t plan to go into marketing after I graduate, I’m still glad I went to the PepsiCo event and ecstatic that I’ll be going to Kellogg, where I’ll learn a lot about marketing and where I’ll probably get more “teamwork” than I can handle.

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Tuesday, August 4th, 2009 Careers 2 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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