Sunday, October 12, 2008

Where to place our efforts

While in business school, I participated in the Innovation Challenge - a program that asks teams of business school students all over the world to solves a set of business challenges put forward by a handful of sponsor organizations. This year I was invited to be a judge in the competition and just completed the first round of judging. 

Someday, when I am old and wise (or at least old), I'd like to teach a class at a business school for one very simple reason. While I think our business schools may be teaching the fundamentals of how to value a bond and manage a P&L, they aren't teaching a skill that is so crucial to success that many assumed it was an ability that everyone has - being able to write clearly and concisely. This afternoon, I would have settled for written proposals for the Innovation Challenge that were at least free of typos, used correct grammar, and exhibited a grasp of basic English vocabulary. 

Of the 11 proposals I was asked to judge, 2 of them were well-done. The ideas and solutions put forward by 2 teams were innovative and creative with sound success metrics and a long-term vision. Beyond those feats, they were also well-written. The other 9 were awful. Truly awful. Forget about the solutions not being feasible or short-sighted. Several were so badly written that I could barely read them. Those 9 badly-written proposals have nothing to do with talent or education level. It has everything to do with care and concern, or lack thereof. 2 teams put together the best case they possibly could. 9 of them slapped together some sentences in record time and handed it in.  

I considered writing a long set of notes for each team, and then I considered that that wouldn't be fair to the 2 teams that put in so much of their own effort. So I wrote a paragraph for the 9 who didn't care about the project, and saved my lengthy responses and comments for those 2 teams who got their act together.

After I completed my evaluations, I thought about my work experience and my own business school education. No matter what company or set of circumstances are in place, there are always a few people in the pack who shine because they are concerned about the quality of their work and how their work reflects on them. As business leaders, or teachers or judges of a case competition, our role is not to dwell on the ones who don't put in the time or care or concern. That is a road to nowhere. It's important to place the emphasis on the ones who want to do well and will take the time to put together the best they have to offer. That best won't always be perfect - sometimes it won't even be any good. I'm happy to spend time helping those who want to help themselves rather than spending it on people who don't even care enough to run the spell check on their writing before they hand it in. 

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