Episode 35 – Doris Korda and Alison Tanker
IN THIS EPISODE WE DISCUSS WHERE THE STUDENTS ARE, GIVEN THAT THEY JUST FINISHED THEIR FIRST BUSINESS CHALLENGE AND THEY’RE ABOUT TO UNDERGO A MAJOR SHIFT.
Alison: Today, the students gave their final presentation for their first business challenge.
Doris: How do you think they’re doing?
Alison: It’s interesting. I feel like, at this stage of the course, they still don’t get it.
Doris: Of course not. Right? Of course they don’t. How could they?
Doris: Of course they don’t because they come in… Let’s think about this for a minute. They come in to this class. They’ve been in school which is…look like “Now, I’m in calculus class, then I go to English class, then I go to this class.” And all of which are great classes and they’re learning a lot of great stuff but it feels a certain way and then they come into this one and… In other classes, no matter how fabulous they are, they can predict a little, they can anticipate what the class is like, okay?
In this class, they come in, they really don’t know what it’s going to be and day two of the class they get their first challenge and two and a half, three years later they’re going to present a solution to the CEO of a real business and they have no idea what the whole process should look like, can look like, will look like. The whole thing’s totally uncertain. Instead of what leads the journey being, “You now need to learn this. Here’s what you need to learn and so therefore this is what we’re going to do.”
This is different. “Here’s the problem. How do we answer that question? How do we solve this problem? How do we solve this problem?” And the first and most difficult thing is coming up with, “Okay, what are…” We talk about what are the questions that matter most and then they do some research and then they get a zillion…you could do research endlessly, right? And they come up with all kinds of data upon data upon data and endless thread that you can follow but they realize, “Wait, we have to get to an endpoint. We have to get to some conclusions.” And they don’t have the tools to do that so it’s…
Alison: And they’re frustrated by that.
Doris: And they’re very frustrated and so we heavily guide, heavily guide without… And it’s a tricky dance, right, because you have to be careful about how you do it, how you stay one step ahead, guide them so that they’re progressing without knowing how to progress by themselves and yet not feeling like we’re the ones telling…
Alison: And the way you do that is actually pretty specific. I’ve been impressed over the past year in trying to learn from you in the best ways to guide them and a lot of it comes down to the types of questions. You have this just innate sense and I’ve been really trying to learn how to ask better questions because you have this sense of balancing the question between it being too limiting but also specific enough, right, where you’re able to get to that point where they realize they can be creative and do some divergent thinking but also focused enough that they are really responding to the broader challenge that they’re trying to solve and I think that way in which you guide them is pretty…it’s specifically helpful to the depth they get to in this work.
Doris: Yeah. The reason that the training we do is so important is because it’s specific and we give educators, “Okay, here’s exactly how to do this.” And if we’re just talking like this about it, it seems to somebody who’s listening “Okay, it all sounds fine, what they’re talking about. I have no idea how to implement it.” I was talking to somebody, Gabby, actually, the other day from one of our most recent workshops from Georgetown Academy. She’s amazing and she was saying that what we developed, what I’m giving people is what a teacher needs, to teach it. It can’t just be this open-ended, “Okay, give them a real problem. Have them present three weeks and the rest will come along the way and ask a lot of questions.” They’re actually really specific. You’re right. There are really specific strategies about how to get them through this, what they need to learn along the way during the first one, what do they need to learn along the way during the second one, how do we bring that in and what’s interesting now in terms of where the students are? So today they present it.
Alison: To their first business.
Doris: To their first business and as promised to Evan who was our first CEO, not much of what they gave was very useful to him and that’s the truth of it and that isn’t a criticism of the students. This is true every single semester the first time and how could it not be? These students are fabulous and smart and hardworking. They’re not equipped yet to do this.
Alison: Right, they have no background in business, they have no background in entrepreneurship.
Doris: That’s right and the value of… At the beginning of the class in particular, the value of having a real business for them to work with is that the work they’re doing is relevant and so they…because they’re working on something relevant for a real person and they’re going to have to present to that real person, they’re really, really eager to learn some things and it’s learning on demand. It’s like, “Okay, wow. Here are my questions. I have absolutely no idea about how to answer these questions.” “Okay, guys. Do you want us to teach you some methodologies?” “Yes, please, please because we’re in pain. We have no idea what to do.” So we guide them very, very heavily in a pretty specific curriculum in the first one and then also pretty specific although…during the second one, although it’s more tailored to the subject matter itself of the business. So the first one is always going to be a pretty simple product marketing, “How should this business…what should this business do next to blah, blah, blah?” And we take them through these steps.
Coming out of today, they presented, they even had meetings afterwards and it was interesting to see, they presented a whole bunch of stuff and then they walked into the meeting and it was in the meetings with them afterwards that they said, “Okay, by the way, we just presented all this data and graphs and research and quantitative stuff.”
Alison: In front of an audience, in front of a big room for eight minutes. It was…
Doris: Tons of stuff, tons of charts, tons of quantitative analysis, tons of everything and they walk into the room when it’s just their group with Evan and they say “Oh, by the way…”
Alison: Let’s get real.
Doris: “By the way, we didn’t say this in the presentation but we want you to know that fruit roll-ups are candy and your product is actually about health and…”
Alison: So they’re not actually your direct competitor…
Doris: “The whole presentation we just gave about a fruit snack and what you should do, we didn’t really…we gave you a lot of information but what we really know is it’s not actually a candy or a fruit snack. It’s this other thing and because it’s this other thing, here’s what we think you really need.” So then, today at the end of the day, they’re all gathered, they’ve had a successful day of presenting, they met with it, they feel that accomplishment which is great and what do we say? We say, “Okay. You saw all the stuff that all your teams presented to Evan. Take a big step back and if you’re Evan, think about, of all the stuff that you heard today. You’re just one person. If you did just one thing, what is the one thing you would do?” And you could see on their faces, their eyes wide as they were thinking, “I have no idea.” So they’ve been working for three weeks to answer exactly that question and they have no idea, okay.
And so next week, when they come back after reflecting all weekend…so we have very specific assignments over the weekend to get them to reflect.
Alison: On themselves, on their team, on their peers, all of that.
Doris: What did you personally do best as you look over the last three weeks? What did you learn? What did you learn about yourself? What would you do differently next time if you had it to do again? What were the strengths of Alison who was on your team? What did she bring? What do you hope for her as she joins her next team and does her next challenge? Do the same for Tim. Do the same for…what is the team? Monday, when they come back, we’re going to have them do a journey map of their last three weeks, how they got to the finish and then we’re going to have them reflect even in different ways about how could they have done their work differently for Evan and how would they do it differently so that he has actionable, useful…
Doris: …solutions? And they’ll be able to themselves uncover the lack of depth and the lack of any kind of strategic thinking in what they did today and it isn’t a criticism. How could they be? People all over the planet, graduate students, marketing firms who…so they’re…and I think about that and we’re going to talk about “Okay, so let’s really talk about this. What does it mean? What does it really mean to solve a problem like that and how do you actually present that well?” And they’ll understand that if you have eight minutes and what you do is you think mostly about what’s the best way for us to pack into that eight minutes and those slides every single thing we came up with and…that if that’s what you do, which is what we saw today, that you actually weren’t successful in solving the problem. They weren’t successful and they’re going to have to…
Alison: Come into that realization.
Doris: …conclude, yeah. They’re going to have to figure that out themselves. So for us to come in and say, “Okay, you weren’t successful and here’s why.” We will eventually tell them.
Alison: Have those conversations, yeah.
Doris: But first they have to come up with that.
Alison: That’s something I really appreciate about the structure of this class, as well, that from business one to business two, it seems, in the cohorts we’ve worked with that I’ve been a part of, I’ve recognized that that shift that takes place between those two is probably the most dramatic in the semester. Biz two to biz three or biz three into their final business, there are certainly learnings that go on in those places too but having the opportunity for these students to continually practice, “All right, we just finished that one. Now we have to get our head into how we’re going to approach this differently for the next round.” It’s that sequential learning that…the opportunity to keep practicing where we frame academics in that model like, “Hey, come back on Monday. We’re going to get our heads into how we can do this differently for round two.”
I think it’s pretty amazing but knowing that we have that shift coming up, that this is the moment, the biggest shift in the class for these students to realize there’s no recipe to doing this work, there’s no answer in the back of the book and that you really need to do evidence based… You have to have evidence based solutions that you’re going to present three weeks later to your CEO. How are we going to approach that? From a teaching perspective, what are we looking at next week?
Doris: And this is the thing that when I see the latest fads in education and I’ve been now in education for 21 years and depending on the stretch, there are different “Edu jargon de jour”, okay. Experiential learning, PBL, innovation, Design Thinking and there’s all these. I’m not saying these aren’t great things but there is real quality work versus not quality work. So when these students do this, there’s no recipe, it’s true. There’s no answer in the back of the book, it’s a real problem but there’s such a thing as really doing quality work and thinking and there’s a lot of not quality work and thinking and so one of the things that happens also in this first one is they start to experience that working hard doesn’t necessarily…and having a lot of volume and quantity doesn’t have any connection with the quality of the result and that’s a very, very important point.
When people graduate into industry and we’ve seen all the research and we’ve talked to our friends in industry who say they’re not getting people, young people in, who have the skills they need. That they get the absolutely supposed best and brightest from the top schools with the top grades, phenomenal resumes in terms of academic credentials and performance and they come into a job and there’s…what distinguishes someone who’s really productive and useful in their job from someone who isn’t is their ability to be resourceful and think outside the box about “Okay, what would I do next?” And have judgment. Make good judgment calls and things like that and to be able to know with all the busyness and all of what’s going on, to be able, on their own, to think of something good that they should do next without being told, “Here’s…” And they’re not getting that.
Well, that is the learning here. They have to learn real things. They have to learn actually about what does it mean that antioxidants are good for you and what does antioxidant rich mean and what does it mean to be certified organic and what is the science around… Yeah, there’s real stuff they have to learn but their inability to distinguish on their own between what are the good questions to ask and chase answers to and what is not worth my time right now and why and how to get the process and how to get a team of people to work well together. Those are the things that they’re going to learn here and the first one which they’ve just concluded, no matter what happens, the learning in the first one comes from what they didn’t do well, actually.
Alison: Where they were just really flailing. A lot of the past three weeks they were just trying to do anything with hopes that some of that spaghetti would stick on the wall and they were looking today for any indication from us like, “How did it go? What did you think? Did we do good? Are we going to get an A?”
Doris: Right and you talked about how this is very specific. Well, just to throw an example of something. So we have very, very specific ways that we get them to reflect on different things at different times and the problem solving. Very specific and that is crucial to the learning. It’s critical. If all you do as a human is keep doing stuff and then going to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing, maybe you’re very reflective and you’re the kind of person who takes a step up occasionally and looks back and says “Oh, wow, wait. Here’s what happened and here’s why it happened and here’s now how I’m going to do it differently.” But for most people, that is something that doesn’t come naturally, doesn’t happen naturally and in the education process, we now know that that’s absolutely critical for the learning to be internalized and owned and we built it in very specific ways into the curriculum and the instructional practice and the assessments and the assignments. That’s massively important.
But anyway, so they just finished their first one. They’re going to go into the weekend feeling very good. “Oh my gosh. You did so well.” The parents are going to say, “Oh, you were great.” And then they’re going to come back on Monday and with all those very specific things we have set up for Monday and Tuesday they’re going to be forced in a way to really assess what they did, how they did it, what was quality, what was helpful and useful and what wasn’t and we’re going to really get them to think about and then communicate and process. “If I had it to do differently, how would I do it?” And we have very specific ways to get them to do to that and that’s when they’re going to come out… Like you said, the big growth is from the first one to the second one. During the course of Monday, Tuesday and then Wednesday when they get their new one, they’re going to be done with their deschooling. They’re going to say “Wow, okay, I get it.” And they’re going to head into their next one in a very different place, in a very different way, because of that.
Alison: Absolutely. I almost think it’s one of my favorite moments in the class when… I mean, I think it’s because they start to take ownership over their learning in that way where they recognize, “Okay, here we have a new challenge and a new industry with a different CEO who has different challenges. We can’t waste time like we did in the first challenge. We need to hit the ground running. We have a better sense of the type of research that needs to be done.” We start, I know, from a teaching perspective, poking in even further about statistical analysis and data driven decision making and really getting them to that next level and even if, had we…it’s not a question of time. If we had six weeks for the first challenge and we threw all of this, it wouldn’t work that way. Again, it’s the way you sequence it that you allow them to go deeper each time into a more sophisticated challenge so that they really cover a lot of ground in that learning train you talk about.
Doris: Right, and that’s… Actually, and that’s why I spend so much time in the training talking about, “Okay, what is the learning that you need to get to happen in the first problem they work on?” And because that’s this…very specific things. These are the things that you need to get to happen. The learning they need and because of that, the complexity of the first one has to be limited to the process. You can’t make the problem complex. You can’t make any part of what they’re working on complex. That’s why the first one…I’m summarizing. Obviously, there’s a lot more to it but that’s why the first one has to be an easy product. They can immediately relate to, “It’s a fruit snack, it’s hot chicken, it’s…” Something like that. That’s not what’s complicated. The challenge itself isn’t complicated. How to get this to scale, who are the first, the next market? That kind of thing because they are going to have to learn about the whole process of problem solving, of collaborative work.
The second one, now, when we talk about more sophisticated, we talk about, “Now, the following are the things…this is the learning that has to happen in the next one.” And it includes the complexity of the subject matter itself. It’s why in this second one, like many of them there’s…it’s a much more…they’re going to have to learn some science. They’re really going to have to learn…they’re going to have to learn about biomimicry. They’re going to have to learn some science. I hope they’re not going to hear this one before…
Alison: They won’t hear it before.
Doris: Okay, good. Because we never tell them what they’re working on. I just realized I’m giving it away. They’re going to have to learn some science because they can’t do well unless they do and so people who say, “Oh, it’s more about skills. The content doesn’t matter.” I don’t even understand that statement. In order to do…to problem solve well, you have to learn some stuff along the way and you have to know what is it that I have to learn well and there is real stuff, okay. There’s some real properties of fabric that they’re going to find out about. There’s some real properties in water filter systems. There’s some real things they’re going to have to learn about and if they surface scan and come up with their opinions and you can tell, “Okay, they are not doing their homework at all. They have no clue what they’re talking about.” Then, before they can do any of the rest, you’ve got to learn about this. You have to learn enough about it to know what you’re talking about. So anyway, it’ll be different. It’ll be fun, the next one.
Alison: It is going to be fun. I look forward to next week and starting to foster that shift.
Doris: Yeah. Realize that the beginning of next week, as we’re basically getting them to realize that what they came up with for their first business challenge was really shallow and really not helpful and that the end result really wasn’t that great, which is fine, but as they realize that, they’re going to go through an angry stage as they always do and then we’re going to give them feedback and they’re going to not like it a whole not but it’s going to get them to realize that, “Okay, this isn’t just playtime. It’s not just about let’s give a little presentation and see what happens.” There is real high expectations about the quality of their work.
Alison: So this is an exciting time, this semester, and I feel like those who are a part of the Facebook group have also been starting their sessions with their students as well and just to keep each other informed about where we’re at with our students and the deschooling process that’s likely happening for a number of us right now at the beginning of the year.
Alison: As we all start to transition into the next phase where we can take those students to the deeper level.
Doris: Yeah, and I think it’s fun also to hear from the people we’ve trained as they do their pilots.
Doris: They’re using all the stuff we gave them. Day one, day two, what do you assign, what you do, what you…the workshop and they’re having the same results with it. They’re going through the same phases and it’s fun for them to experience that.
Alison: It’s fun for me. I mean, even knowing we have this cohort of other educators that are moving through it together.
Doris: Yeah, it’s fun.