Thursday, February 9, 2012

Business School Lesson #632: Channel Your Inner 3-Year-Old

Tonight, many future members of Darden's Class of 2014 will set foot on Grounds as part of Day@Darden, a welcome event designed to give them the Darden experience. In the spirit of this event, I want to share the most important lesson I've learned so far during my time at school.
Remember that kid you babysat years ago? The one who questioned obvious things?
You: “Don’t stick your tongue on the frozen flag pole.”
Kid: Why?
You: “Don’t pull your sister’s hair.”
Kid: Why?

Turns out, that kid was on to something.
As a former journalist, asking questions was an integral part of my daily work. When I began my first day at Darden, I thought everything would be different. I was here to be transformed , and so I shelved my old habits.
Soon after school started, I realized that the rumors about the first semester of business school were true. It was challenging. Demanding. World-axis-toppling, even. Coming from a “non-traditional business background,” I experienced a steep learning curve compared to some of my classmates already familiar with terms like “BRIC” and “weighted average cost of capital.” I knew that I had the intellectual aptitude to master the topics we studied in class, however, despite my best efforts (and several bookmarked Investopedia pages), I found myself falling behind.

I was most acutely aware of this in my Learning Team. At Darden, you’re assigned a group of 4-5 other students with whom you meet four nights a week, to go through the homework. My Learning Team is filled with smart people. So smart that they seemed to fly through cases over which I’d toiled for hours. I found myself sitting back, stunned and quiet, as they keyed Excel formulas with the grace of an orchestra conductor. I left our meetings in awe, replaying the cases in my mind, struggling to close the gap between my comprehension and theirs.
After about a month of this, I felt a rising sense of frustration. Arriving early one night, I found my banking-bound Learning Teammate sitting by himself. And it all just came out: how I was concerned about pulling my weight, and about the steps I was taking in order to improve: attending tutoring sessions and devoting countless hours of free time to study.
He looked at me, blinked, and said, “Dude. Just ask us.”
Just. Ask. Us.
He explained, “The rest of us can tell when you don’t understand, but we can’t get inside your head to figure out what you’re not asking. So, seriously. Just ask.”
This, friends, was what they call a game-changer.
I shelved my pride and channeled my inner three-year-old. Any time we discussed something that didn’t make sense, I asked for clarification. Within the first week of trying this new approach, I understood so much more.
Even better, my teammates didn’t react in the way I’d feared. They didn’t roll their eyes, check their watches, groan at the notion of going over the same concept for the third time. They took my questions seriously and explained material to me without condescension. They encouraged me, saying I helped them challenge concepts they’d always simply accepted. In short order, I became a contributing member of my team.
This is why I love Darden. You come here to stretch yourself and be challenged by difficult material. But you also come here for the community, to support and be supported, and to help one another master skills we’ll need in the business world. As you make your decision about whether or not to join the Darden family, I encourage you to keep this in mind, and if you have a question, just ask us.

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