When I was in high school (and up to this point in college) all my school work had been rather lonely. In high school, group projects were only in class. In college a group meets just to delegate work for the individual members to do at home, and then meets up again to fit everything together. Most work is done silently and alone. The flow of knowledge is from teacher to student, and rarely do other students get involved in that relationship.
For most people, that works. I always thought it worked for me; it’s how I’ve been learning for the past 19 years. But this semester I started participating in more activities in the business school, and I found a totally new way of learning that makes more sense to me than anything before.
In late January, I participated in a conference called 3 Day Start-up, where teams literally build a company in 3 days. We started Friday night with everyone throwing around ideas for start-ups. New businesses do not need to be unique or revolutionary – you just need to do whatever it is better than anyone else. The 3DS participants with the best ideas pitched to the group, and we voted on 3 of our favorite ideas to execute during the weekend. We then split into groups and got to work. I ended up on a team that was trying to design a new hotel management system in which customers could check in on iPads and bypass the long check-in process. The traditional system costs about $30,000; we would sell ours for $4,000. Hotel clerks and clients would both have less hassle.
The guys who proposed this idea had been working on it for a while and already had a prototype set up. The team split into a group who worked on coding the system and a group who worked on marketing and business pitches. I was on the business side. My team spent Saturday doing market research – actually going from hotel to hotel to ask clerks what they thought about the product and what kind of suggestions they had for us. Learning about our market opened our eyes to a lot of nuances we would have never known about. Great Wolf Lodge, for example, we thought would love the idea because they get so busy at certain times. However, since they value customer interaction, they weren’t as enthusiastic about it as we thought. Other hotels, like the Hilton, thought it would be great during peak seasons or for business people who would rather avoid interaction.
On Sunday we worked on pitching the idea to investors and fitting the last pieces together. Watching everything come together was amazing! The prototype that the coders were working on all weekend looked like a professional app on an iPad. The business team had all the details of the pitch worked out. It was absolutely flawless, and I was so proud of the team.
The second instance of true teamwork happened for my Social Entrepreneurship class. The big project for the class is creating our own social venture in groups of 4. This is essentially like the 3 Day Start-up, except the start-ups are non-profits that help alleviate some sort of social problem. My group of four met up on a snowy night to figure out what in the world we were going to do for this project. What big social problem were we going to attempt to solve? We sat around pitching ideas, until someone said something that clicked for all of us: a website that crowd-sources local suggestions to fix local problems. We figured the best people to solve social problems are the ones actually there witnessing them.
With a big whiteboard and a rush of inspiration, we hashed out the business plan right there, challenging each others ideas and encouraging innovation. It was here that I had what I would call my first “flow” moment.
“Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.”
I felt invigorated and unstoppable, and this, I realized, is why I’m a business major. I learn from my peers, not myself. Sure, studying for an economics test is rewarding and challenging, but my own efforts are not nearly as spectacular as the ending product through teamwork. Both these experiences showed me that the combined knowledge of multiple people who are committed to a goal is far more powerful than the singular knowledge of one person. A team is the convergence of multiple experiences, viewpoints, and educations. A well-functioning team can increase productivity exponentially.
I just got my acceptance letter to the business school a few weeks ago, and I’m already ecstatic by the possibilities ahead. In the first semester, called “the block”, administration puts together groups of 4 or 5 students that take all classes together and work on homework and projects together. I’m so excited to integrate teamwork into my everyday education. For the first time in college, I can really visualize transferring my classroom setting to a work environment. It’s thrilling and satisfying to know the path I’m choosing is leading to a career that I’m going to love.