NOTE: If you are still trying to find all of the members of your project team, let me know. In this online class, we can’t rely on seeing everybody in the classroom, so make yourself (virtually) visible to those you work with.
I’ve already seen and heard a few messages about the challenges of a team project, particularly in an online environment. As a note of encouragement, let me offer you this quote:
“My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people.”
– Steven Jobs, Interview with 60 Minutes, 2003
It’s time for my next humble offering of some wisdom:
I urge you to “embrace your inner court jester.”
It is this philosophy that helped me survive my MBA program, and I share this advice in the same context.
The court jester was the member of a king’s royal court who could speak truth to power, who could tell the emperor that he was wearing no clothes… and tell the ruler that he or she was wrong without fear of penalty.
Now, I had experiences like this during my own MBA career.
I was one of only four or five students concentrating my MBA studies in Human Resources Management at Ohio State.
HRM? Remember, I was not always planning to be a marketing professional or university professor, and certainly not a marketing professor.
For what it’s worth, I didn’t move to my current career path until I was almost 30.
I didn’t start my first full-time job as a university professor until I was 34.
As I told you earlier, I eventually added Marketing to my concentration, making me, I believe, the only Buckeye student at that time focusing on both of these concentrations. In either category, I was among the minority; most OSU students concentrated in Accounting or Finance. Important areas, obviously. Not among my strengths however.
Yet I would work in project groups with the accounting majors and finance majors (no dietitians back then, though), with these students speaking in words and phrases that I barely understood, solving business problems with tools too large and unwieldy for my tiny brain and my little hands.
But I understood HRM (at least I used to). I understood marketing. Often, these areas did not even qualify as afterthoughts for my colleagues.
So when the solution to a business problem might be to slash payroll, the accountants would agree. The financiers would agree. But as the only HR major in the group, I had to hold their folly to their faces with observations like:
“The unions will never allow you to cut so many jobs” or “you’ll crush the morale of those who stay with the company.”
When faced with declining revenue, the financiers would urge a reduction in marketing expenditures that bore no measurable or timely return on investment. The accountants would agree. But as the marketing major I would cast a light upon their limitations:
“The key to success in bad times is to strengthen your relationships with your business partners and maintain your share of voice.”
It brings to mind Tom Hanks’s performance in the movie Big. Have you seen Big?
Hanks’s character, the 12 year old Josh Baskin, wakes up one morning to find his wish of being a grown-up fulfilled: a 12 year old boy in a grown man’s body. Baskin, in Tom Hanks’s adult form, gains employment at a toy company. During one key product development meeting, a colleague who sees Baskin as a rival presents a Transformer-like toy that changes from a building into a machine.
Baskin, who as a 12 year old is a member of the firm’s target market, cannot comprehend the niceties of corporate behavior and cannot speak the language of the conference room. He does, however, know a bad idea when he sees one. He responds in the only way he knows how:
“I don’t get it.”
Simple yet powerful.
Despite his rival’s exuberant presentation of this ill-conceived idea, Baskin insists, with a pristine innocence and intuitive sense of what is right: “I don’t get it.”
Baskin has no choice but to embrace his inner court jester. To tell the king he is wrong. To do what he knows best, and what he does best.
I tell my MBA students that there will be times that they feel overwhelmed or out of place, at work or in school, just as I experienced as an MBA student.
Click here for another example from more recent history.
Do you want to be Josh Baskin, telling somebody what nobody else dares to say?
Do you need to be Gene Frenkle, playing your heart out even though others claim you don’t belong in the same room?
I’m going to offer to you one more example, and this one is pretty personal. Before I came to Dominican, I worked at another university on a one-year appointment. Just a year, filling in for someone who had left unexpectedly. During that year, the department and university would decide how and if they wanted to permanently fill that teaching position.
Throughout that year, I tried to be everywhere. I would offer to do work and tackle assignments usually reserved for the more permanent faculty. I was, in fact, doing the opposite of some of the worst advice I had received in my previous job: keep your head down.
Keep your head down? So no one knows I’m there? Well I guess I did a pretty good job of staying out of people’s way at the job before that one, hence the new, temporary position. But now, I wanted to impress them. I enjoyed this community. I hoped I could stay.
So after one particular faculty meeting, the chair of the search committee- searching for someone to replace the person I was filling in for- told the adjuncts and visiting faculty that they could leave, for it was time to talk about the faculty search. As several profs started to leave, I leaned over to one of the more senior faculty members and whispered “do you think I can stay for this?”
And his voice filled the room.
Those two words filled me with so much confidence, they’re still echoing in my brain.
The epilogue is that they changed the position from a prof specializing in consumer behavior (like me) to another specialization that I simply did not have. My time there was over. So it goes.
Now, obviously I’m not there anymore, I’m here and I am as happy as can be.
So my questions to you:
Have you ever had to honor your inner court jester?
Have you ever been personally inspired, not just by a quote or a book, but by someone who believed in you?
Whether you are emulating Josh Baskin or Gene Frenkle or just being yourself, it helps to know that there’s a Professor Rick or Mr. MacMillan (Robert Loggia’s toy company founder in Big) or Bruce Dickinson (yes, THE Bruce Dickinson) on your side.
But that won’t always be the case.
Do what you know is right. Embrace your inner court jester.
Share your story!