You’re Fired!
Week Fourteen: If I Knew Then What I Know Now

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.” Insanity seems to be a regular companion of our Magna friends. Unfortunately it is also apparent in our education system. Consider the following question:

Educators widely accept Howard Gardner’s work describing the different ways people learn. Why then haven’t classroom practices changed significantly in the 23 years since learning styles and multiple intelligence were first discussed?

In a 1996 interview with CIO Magazine, Howard Gardner said “I often find that entrepreneurs think my theory is great. My interpretation is that they are people who weren’t considered that smart in school because they didn’t have good notation skills-you know, moving little symbols around. But they realize that often they were understanding things that other people, including their teachers, weren’t understanding.”

This week’s challenge showed Bren and Alex (both part of the original Magna Team) struggling with a lack of entrepreneurial skills. The two teams were asked to design a new office product to clean up clutter. Several resources were available to the teams including executives from Staples and a design/manufacturing group.

If At First You Don’t Succeed . . .

Bren and Alex thought they’d save time by meeting with the Staples executives via conference call. The meeting never took place due to poor cell phone reception. Did they:

A) Head for a land line
B) Go to the Staples office
C) Schedule a web cast
D) Send a carrier pigeon

None of the above. They simply moved on to the next task. Opportunity lost.

. . . Stop and Think, Then Try Again

Beginning with the graffiti challenge (week 6) and continuing through this week, we have been shown the importance of talking to the customer. In fact, it was Alex who won the graffiti task by chatting with local residents as they walked by. Ron Shaich, Chief Executive and Chairman of Panera Bread, understands the power of this strategy. He is known to regularly hang out in Panera stores to conduct guerrilla market research. He considers it a critical strategy for finding out what’s on the minds of his customers.

Tana and Kendra embraced this concept and talked with customers at a local Staples store. They easily identified what shoppers wanted and worked with their design and manufacturing team to create the customers’ dream product.

Following the insanity theory, Bren and Alex stayed in the office and tried to conduct market research by phone. None of the office managers they called wanted to talk with them. Rather than adjusting their technique, our Magna boys chose to ignore the marketplace and design a product without customer input.

I’ve noticed this same kind of tunnel vision where students and teachers are willing to rely on a single tool or strategy. If that tool or strategy fails, the task fails. When this tunnel vision becomes institutionalized, the results are extreme.

Consider the reliance on lectures as a way of delivering information? Only 8% of students are auditory learners. In fact, the greatest number of students are either visual or kinesthetic learners.
Why then does 90% of instruction occur through lecture and question and answer methods?

Risky Business

It should be no surprise that Alex and Bren lost the competition. They hadn’t used their resources well and hadn’t behaved like entrepreneurs. Is this something that should be expected from two successful lawyers?

In a recent speech, President Bush said “The entrepreneurs represent one of the great strengths of this country: the spirit of free enterprise, the willingness to take risks, the hard work required to move this economy forward.” According to the Small Business Administration, entrepreneurs drive the nation’s economy. A recent report shows that over 99 percent of all American businesses are small, they create 75 percent of the net new jobs, and they employ over half of the nation’s non-farm private employees.

Steve Mariotti, Founder of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship says “The characteristics of the successful entrepreneur – a positive mental attitude, the ability to recognize opportunities where others only see problems, an openness to creative solutions – are qualities worth developing. They will help you perform better in any situation life throws at you.” This competition seems to be the first time these two successful lawyers had been asked to think like entrepreneurs. Given the importance of entrepreneurs to our country, why aren’t we teaching these skills in our schools?

In the boardroom, The Donald asked for an assessment of what went wrong. Self assessment is always an area where the Apprentice wanna be’s struggle. They look at themselves through rose colored glasses. Bren finally admitted that he was still learning how to take risks. That was enough for the self-made magnate. The Donald said he was willing to be a teacher but Bren was “starting at kindergarten.” Bren was fired.

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