The High Heels of Empathy

I recently found myself in a conversation with someone who was adamant about the need to find new solutions to existing problems, but was far from empathetic about the people around him.  For every issue, he expressed his view on the problem, but was not concerned about how other people in his team felt.  He kept harping on about his proposed solution, but was dismissive about how his solution would negatively impact the other team members, and add to their already overwhelming workload.  He also expressed disdain for team members who were putting in extra hours trying to solve the current challenges, but were struggling; his view was if it didn’t solve the problem, it was because they weren’t showing enough initiative.  Given that scenario, it was no surprise that there was disengagement from work, burnout within the team, and the team’s problems just kept getting worse.

That led me to wonder whether there is room for innovation in an environment that silences the dissenting voices without listening to them; that does not value the extra efforts of its team members; and that does not display empathy for its own people, let alone its users.

Empathy is not only an essential component of business (and being a good human being), it is also one of the fundamental building blocks of the Design Thinking process, because you need to understand the people for whom you are designing.  You need to put yourself in their shoes, and truly understand their experiences, their situations, and their emotions. 

While they may share the same root of the Greek word pathos (which means feelings, emotions, or passion), it is important to differentiate between Sympathy and Empathy, as you embrace the Design Thinking process.  Sympathy is more reactive, in that it shows concern for another person, which may involve projecting feelings of detached pity and sorrow.  Empathy is more proactive, in that it seeks to understand what other people are experiencing and feel what they are feeling, with a view to do something to help them. 

While some may be naturally empathetic, Empathy is not a secret skill but an inclination, and we can take certain steps to improve it and turn it into a natural disposition. 

Kiran Sajwani - The High Heels of Empathy.png
  1. Slip on the high heels:  While the “stepping into the other person’s shoes” analogy may have run its course, humor me for a moment, and imagine that, for your entire life, you’ve only worn flip-flops.  Now, pick up a pair of high heels, slip them on, and try to stand up.  All of a sudden, you feel taller, but you also feel like you’re teetering on those stilettos.  Your jeans suddenly got dressier, but your toes feel a little squashed.  This may just be a literal change of footwear, but figuratively “stepping into another person’s shoes” gives you an idea of What other people see, say, and do.
  2. Dig a little deeper:  Once you’re in the other pair of shoes, dig a little deeper to learn about that other person’s experience.  What is it like to walk in those pair of high heels?  Does the precarious balancing on skinny stilettos make it hard to walk even a few meters?  Try to learn about the other person, not just by observation, but by subtle, open-ended questions to encourage them to open up.  Digging involves trying to better understand how people feel, get context for the factors that affect their behavior, and learning more about the How of what other people see, say, and do.
  3. Be Objective:  For many people, it’s not easy opening up about themselves, and they may not be completely honest – not as a conscious effort to deceive someone else, but rather as an unconscious effort to protect themselves.  They say they really love those high heels, but do they kick them off at the first opportunity?  You need to be cognizant of people’s actions and behaviors, and whether they align with their words.  Being objective involves being attentive to the differences in people’s behaviors, and thinking about the underlying authenticity and Why of what other people see, say, and do.
  4. Acknowledge:  Empathy is a proactive state, which means that not only do you need to be proactive about understanding people and their feelings, you also need to be proactive about acknowledging that to the other person.  That doesn’t mean going up to the person and saying, “I empathize with you” (that would be creepy!).  It means acknowledging to the person that you understand them, their feelings, or their experiences.  For instance, if the other person has been walking in high heels for 20 minutes straight, ask them if they’d like to stop for a few minutes and rest their feet.  Or if they kick off their high heels and grumble about a shoe bite or blister, offer them a cushioned Band-Aid.  These are fairly simplistic examples, but the underlying principle of empathy is applicable across the board.  Be proactive about seeking to understand what other people are experiencing, and feeling what they are feeling, with a proactive view to acknowledge their experiences, and if applicable, do something to help them.

While slipping on the high heels, digging a little deeper, being objective, and acknowledging might help you become a little more empathetic, it is important to be aware of people’s receptiveness to external engagement.  While Empathy is a critical skill, it is not charging in with a bulldozer, but rather a diplomatic approach with a delicate touch.  Trying to understand other people and their experiences also involves trying to understand whether they would be receptive to an empathetic response.  Sometimes, the most empathetic response could be not engaging with the other person, and instead giving them their space.  People are different, and cultivating the essential skill of Empathy helps you become more perceptive about other people and how to best respond to them.

To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch may have captured the essence of Empathy best when he said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”  

Author’s Note:  I am not anti-high heels, and I think they are rather pretty.  I just hope you demonstrate some empathy for me as I kick off those high heels, and slip into some comfy sneakers instead!

Tales from the Golf Course - Third Time's the Charm

The sound of silence is so strong, that I feel I can hear the leaves rustling at the end of the hole.  I walk towards the tee box with determination, channeling the winner’s mindset of all the golfing greats.  I look at the flag, and place my golf ball and tee between the tee markers.  I look at the flag again, imagining a smooth, straight line from the tee to the hole.  I approach the ball, stare it down, take a deep breath, and swing with optimism. 

Swoosh.  Clink.  Soar.  Smile.  Thump.  Groan.

I could’ve done without the last two, as I realize my ball seemed to have landed in a particularly evil bunker next to the green.  I look towards the heavens, and slump down my shoulders in defeat.  I wonder when will my golf ball learn that the hole is the tiny hole with the fluttering flag, not the giant bunker with the frustrating sand?

The dejection with which I trudge towards the bunker, is a far cry from the confidence I was channeling just a few minutes earlier.  I gingerly step into the bunker, with all the elegance of trying to roller-blade on ice.  I approach my ball, and look up at the wall of sand staring me down, making me feel smaller than my little tee.  I hop up a little to get a perspective of the flag, dig my feet in a little, stare down the ball, take a deep breath, and swing.

Swoosh.  Clink.  Sand.  Thump.  Mumble.  Groan.

My ball barely rose in a cloud of sand, before hitting the wall of sand, and landing back in the bunker with a frustrating thump.  Which evil genius designed a six-foot-deep bunker?!  I shuffle towards the ball, dig my feet in the sand, stare down the ball, take a deep breath, and swing.

Swoosh.  Clink.  Sand.  Thump.  Mumble.  Grumble.  Groan.

My ball rose higher than the previous stroke, but it fell just short of the wall, and came rolling down to rest in the annoying sand.  I was so irritated with the ball and the bunker that I decide I would just pick up the ball.

“What’re you doing?”  asks my golf partner, peering down from the edge of the bunker (now looking considerably taller, as I look up from the six-foot-deep bunker).

“Picking up the ball.”

“Why?”

“To avoid holding up play?” I reply with a puzzled look on my face.

“Take another swing at it.”

“I’ve already tried twice, and it seems to be particularly stubborn.”

“Third time’s the charm.”

“I think I’m having better luck at creating a sandstorm, than I am at charming the ball out of this vindictive bunker!”

“You can get it out,” says my golf partner, with an encouraging smile.

“Oh, alright, I’ll give it another shot.”

I approach the cheeky ball with a smile, dig my feet in again, stare down the ball, chuckle, take a deep breath, and swing.

Swoosh.  Clink.  Sand.  Soar.  Roll.  Slow Roll.  Tip. 

“It’s in the hole!  You got it in the hole!  Alright!”

I climb out of the bunker with a huge grin, and dart towards the hole to confirm that it was indeed my ball that landed in the hole!  I high-five my golf partner, “You were right!  Third time was the charm!  Thanks so much!”

“I knew you could do it – you just needed to be reminded you could do it!” replied my very sage golf partner.

While I may not have hit any noteworthy shots for the rest of the round, and I did lose two golf balls to the water, the highlight for me was that third shot out of the bunker.  As I replayed that shot in my head, a couple of interesting lessons came to life.  Given that I uncovered lessons on Design Thinking from ‘The Godfather’ series, you can’t be entirely surprised that I found insights burrowed in the sands of that bunker!

Be Persistent
You could imagine the best plan possible, one where you are taking off like a bullet, soaring through the air, and charging straight towards your goal, without any hiccups or obstacles.  But things don’t always go as planned – sometimes you have a minor hiccup, and sometimes you have a six-foot-deep bunker that you think you’ll never be able to get out of!  But you can’t give up just because you hit a wall (of sand).  Try, and try again, and if that doesn’t work, try again – you never know, third time may just be the charm!

Focus on your Mental Game
Bobby Jones said, ”Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course... the space between your ears.”  While my friend and I were just playing a fun round, rather than competitive golf, Bobby Jones’ words are no less important.  Golf is as much a mental game of strategy and confidence, as it is a physical game of strength and dexterity.  That bunker incident reminded me of the need for mental agility, not just on the course, but off the course too.  Believe that you can do it, and when things don’t go according to plan, believe that you can overcome the obstacles to succeed anyway. 

This part is easier said than done, especially when life gets you down.  But if you find yourself in a particularly stubborn spot, with seemingly no way of getting out, if you pay attention, you may have someone peering over the edge of the bunker, looking out for you, and believing that you can do it even when you doubt yourself.  If you’re blessed to have these supportive angels cheering you on, believe in their words, lift your own confidence, and swing.  And don’t forget to high-five those angels when you finally get out of that damn bunker!

Smile
I'm not sure who said, "Your day will go the way the corners of your mouth turn," but I've come to believe in its truth.  A positive mindset has the power to turn things around, or at the very least, the power to believe that things will turn around for the better.  Just as the course is filled with bunkers, water hazards, and thorny bushes, the world is also filled with obstacles that will frustrate you.  But turning the corners of your mouth upwards, and having a little chuckle can help to put you in the right mood to tackle those obstacles.

While I could certainly spend more time practicing my shots, this bunker story just reinforces the need for patient persistence, mental agility, and a positive attitude topped off with a smile :)

Author’s Note:  Yes, I did rake the bunker after celebrating that third shot!

Design Thinking Lessons from ‘The Godfather’

Until a few days ago, I had never seen this trilogy of the trials and triumphs of the Corleone family.  The mobster genre of film isn’t really my cup of tea, but after much prodding, I decided to bite the bullet (pun unintended!), and watch ‘The Godfather’ series.  I was intrigued by the first part, fascinated by the second part, befuddled by the third part, and while I wish I could have gotten my last three hours back, I realized there were a couple of interesting lessons hiding in the shadows of “The Godfather.” 

While I wouldn’t advocate the violent approach taken in the series, some elements are strangely applicable to Design Thinking.  Now before you smother me with Post-Its (which might be preferable to sleeping with the fishes!), I’m of the opinion that you can learn from pretty much any situation (including movie trilogies), so, have a chuckle with these tongue-in-cheek insights :)

Focus on the cannoli
“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”
Linus Pauling said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.”  While that approach does work with idea generation, you can get bogged down with more information than you need, or have more ideas than are currently viable.  It’s essential to discern the really important insights, discard the nonessential pieces, and then charge ahead with what’s really critical to your project.

Be open to compromise
“I hoped we could come here and reason together.  And, as a reasonable man, I’m willing to do whatever’s necessary to find a peaceful solution to these problems.”
However much you try, it’s going to be very hard to make everyone happy, particularly in situations where multiple stakeholders are involved.  But if you go in with an open mind, and are amenable to different approaches and seeing things from other people’s perspectives, you might arrive at a solution that meets everyone’s requirements.

Be empathetic, but not too emotional
“Never hate your enemies – it affects your judgement.”
This could be a point of contention.  Empathy – the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes, and see things from their perspective – is one of the cornerstones of Design Thinking, and its user-centered approach to problem solving.  While you have to maintain a sense of empathy for your users, it’s important not to get too emotional, at the risk of drowning out reason.  Don’t abandon emotion and feeling, but ensure that your ideas and insights are based on rational judgement, particularly for those folks who may not be as passionate as you.

Be comfortable with chaos
“Papa’s all alone. I won’t panic.”
There’s a quote that always makes me chuckle in the midst of chaos, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”  It’s important to plan and anticipate problems before they happen, but even the best laid plans can fall by the wayside.  You have to be comfortable with chaos, otherwise the smallest spanner in the works is going to send you off course.  Take a deep breath, have a chuckle, embrace the chaos, and you’ll be in a better frame of mind to get back on track.

Good enough can be perfect
“Put your hand in your pocket, like you have a gun. You’ll be alright.”
In an ideal world, everything would go according to plan, and you would have all the time you need.  However, things can quite often go off course, and it becomes necessary to adapt to sometimes manic circumstances.  And while it’s important to strive for perfection, be willing to make do with what’s available, to meet the need at hand.  It echoes one of the key elements of prototyping – it doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be good enough to meet the need at hand, and help you move ahead.

When I sat down to watch ‘The Godfather’ series, I thought I would finally understand what all those iconic quotes meant – although I still think “Take the cannoli” is focused on the joys of dessert!  My mind just couldn’t help drawing parallels with Design Thinking – I guess you’re always looking for what you’re most passionate about :)

Inside the Creative Toolbox - Brainstorming

As a little girl, I was unfamiliar with the concept of idea generation – to me, if you had an imagination, you had an idea!  In fact, as a little kid, your ideas were probably more remarkable, what with brave dragons fighting your cold, trees growing pizza instead of fruit, and cars driving themselves to your destination!  Now that I think about it, I strongly suspect the inventor of self-driving cars picked up that idea from a curious child!

As an adult, however, having a wild imagination can get you a couple of funny looks from the people around you, “Who’s this kook, and what kind of crazy idea is she spouting?!”  Imagination is important, because it allows you to have ideas, and it’s alright if a couple of them run a little on the wild side, because even Albert Einstein said, “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” 

Even though Mr. Einstein endorsed the notion of an absurd idea, some people are still resistant, because somewhere between dreaming of pizza trees and our first day at work, a lot of us shunted aside our imagination in favor of pragmatism.  It’s okay though, with a little practice, you can get that ol’ imagination working again!  One way is through engaging in idea generation, with tools such as brainstorming. 

Developed by Alex Faickney Osborn (co-founder of BBDO), brainstorming refers to a group’s “attempts to solve specific problems or develop new ideas by amassing spontaneous, unrestrained contributions by members.”  Brainstorming can sometimes be a contentious issue, because some people believe that only the loudest voices get heard, only the charming presentation gets ahead, and you don’t need all those other voices in the room with the consultant.  I respectfully disagree, because when done right, brainstorming can be one of the strongest tools in your arsenal to begin solving those befuddling problems.

I like incorporating a guided brainstorming exercise, with timed individual and group phases, and strongly advocate visualizing their thoughts.  Once the buzzer beeps, each individual shares their ideas with the other members, putting up their post-its on a large sheet, setting the stage for a possible solution.  While there are other effective idea generation tools, I find that this approach to brainstorming works for a few reasons.  Firstly, it allows the team to work on their own, with each person's ideas being heard, without being squashed by other stronger/louder members, encouraging diversity of thought.  Secondly, it helps to break down possible walls of opposition when they realize that other people may have the same or similar ideas, building a sense of team spirit.  Thirdly, it helps keep my biases in check too - just because I'm the innovation strategy consultant does not automatically mean I'll be the only one to generate the best idea or have an eureka moment, and there's a lot to be learned from other people in the group, who may even become your champions as you take forward the eventual idea or solution into the implementation phase.

Brainstorming will not give you a neatly packaged solution; it is merely one step in the problem-solving process.  However, it is an effective idea generation tool, and when used in conjunction with other tools and exercises, brainstorming can help you think, imagine, ideate, create, iterate, and put you on the path for solving your problem.  

Value of Design Thinking

I was recently asked, what is the value of design thinking.  That's a tricky question to answer, because anyone who knows me can attest, I am passionate about design thinking and innovation.  

I've been a proponent of it ever since my alma mater (that phrase certainly has a ring of nostalgic pride!), the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, introduced me to it.  I grew to love it during all the time I spent learning about it and practicing it with the Business Design Club and Rotman DesignWorks.  I missed it even more when I wasn't practicing it, because you'd often find me muttering under my breath, "This would work so much better if we'd apply a user-centered approach to it!"

My time at Rotman may have come to pass, although I am still enthused about design thinking and innovation, soaking every bit of knowledge I can, about the space.  I'm often asked why design thinking, and simply put, it's a user-centric approach to solving problems, ergo, it makes sense.  I loved Tim Brown's view of design thinking in his book, 'Change by Design,' where he described it as "integrating what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable."

The part about design thinking that resonates most strongly with me is that it puts people first, not just in thinking about and solving problems, but also in everyday experiences and how might we make things better.  Design thinking prioritizes people to solve problems and delight users.  And what makes it even better is that it is iterative, with a constant cycle of curiosity, creativity and improvement.

This may explain my passion for design thinking and innovation, although I decided to doodle it all out, and leave you with a visual of my view of the value of design thinking.  I'd love to hear what you think, about the post, the doodle, and design thinking... So, drop me a line, and let's talk! :)

Back to the (blog)board!

I love to write.  I've always loved to write.  I've loved writing even before I knew what letters and words meant; ask my Mom, and she'll hold up my scribbles in her notebooks as proof!  I've loved writing when I would read works of literary genius, and dreamt of one day holding my own published work in my hands.  I've loved writing even more after I discovered a passion for poetry at age 8, and fell in love with the art of creative, poetic expression.

The only times I didn't like writing was for tests & examinations.  Why waste the beautiful act of putting pen to paper on proving that you memorized a textbook?!  Perhaps that's why I loved writing this blog during my time at Rotman...  It provided a welcome release from the exhausting intensity of business school, and allowed me to reflect on how I felt.  I viewed Rotman as an adventure even before it started (hence the title of this blog - MBA: Must Bring Adventure!), and what an exhilarating adventure it was!  I got to go to Canada's top business school, learn from some of the finest professors, associate with a fantastic group of peers, and meet some of the most amazing people that I am now blessed to call my friends. :)

Writing became an intrinsic part of my being, and I naturally assumed it would continue even after Rotman... After all, isn't life the biggest adventure of them all? ;)  However, transitioning from business school to business world made me realize that continuing my writing might be tricky with all the confidentiality clauses and non-disclosure agreements.  Whether for an organization or a client, more often than not, you are working on sensitive information, and you owe it to them to protect the privacy of their intellectual property (look at all that alliteration - I must have really missed writing!).  Hence, this blog's been quiet for a little while.  

However, my friends & readers have been encouraging me to get back to writing, and I have been itching to get typing my thoughts!  So, as long as I steer clear of work specifics, I think I'm okay to write about lessons learnt, tidbits discovered, and reflections on really cool stuff (or maybe just stuff I find cool!).  Caveat: just like a car takes a little while to warm up after being out in the cold, my writing may take a little time to stop sputtering and begin purring, but I'm an eager beaver!  So, I endeavor to write about all the awesomeness I come across along this continuing adventure, and I hope you'll join me for the ride! :)

P.S.  Yes, I realize that the title is extremely cheesy, so if you've got any good ideas, comment, email or tweet them across, and I'll credit a title change to you!

Bye-bye Rail Container, Hello FlexBox!

While my journey with human-centered business design may have begun at Rotman, I was determined to not let it end at Rotman. I was determined to continue my pursuit of designing better solutions, and jumped at any and every opportunity to be able to practice my design chops (is that even a term? :P)! Fortunately, I'm not alone in that boat, and when three amazingly talented classmates and I happened to chance upon an interesting challenge to redesign rail freight, we jumped pretty high! The innovation competition challenged us to explore how might we extend network capability and improve the user experience for the UK rail freight industry.

We (Team Novus Capsa) were pretty stoked about the challenge, but we had no idea about rail freight whatsoever! Also, it was kind of tricky to figure out the freight space in the UK while we were sitting in Toronto, Canada! So, what do you do when you don't know something? You research! We reached out to brilliant academics researching urban planning, real estate economics, operational efficiencies, and marketing strategies. We spoke with seasoned professionals who shared their insights from sectors such as shipping, logistics, postal services and industry analysts. We chatted with enterprises, business owners and individuals who had previously, are currently, or may use freight or freight forwarding services at some point in the future. We are incredibly grateful for the knowledge, experiences and insights that these generous individuals shared with us, and they helped us deep-dive into the world of freight.

With the FlexBox Prototype - who says Lego is just for kids? :P

Then, last, but not the least, we looked at the freight container itself, and that's when we realized the box had changed the space of shipping and trade. While the humble box had changed a lot, it remained relatively unchanged since its invention. Well, if we wanted to change the current state of rail freight, we had to change the box. So, that's what we did! We brainstormed, ideated, prototyped and repeated until we were out of Lego blocks!

Eventually we conceptualized a redesign of the box – "FlexBox" – where the box comes to you! It would be a unique freight solution for small and medium enterprises, with door-to-door service. Our concept was to change the box, which would change rail freight, and redefine the rail user experience. Curious? Take a peek at our concept solution, and tell me what you think!  :)


When Life Gives You Roller-Coasters...

I sat down to write a post on a design project, but before I knew it, my fingers had taken over and were typing something completely different... So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, here is my post of gratitude for those cheering me on to ride roller-coasters :) *

Life is a crazy roller-coaster, with plenty of twists, turns & double loops to leave your head perpetually spinning.  But even as you ride this crazy roller-coaster, there's an element of excitement and exhilaration, with a shot of adrenaline to keep you shooting in the direction of your dreams.  It also leaves you a little hyper and loopy, with your family and friends telling you to simmer down and be realistic!  Within this cacophony of emotions, it falls upon you to center yourself with the right combination of idealism and realism, and find your peace amidst all the madness.

This may sound a little odd, especially given my frequent references to roller-coasters, but I am afraid of roller-coasters.  I rode one when I was about eleven, and it terrified the living daylights out of me with its double loop; I couldn't wait to get off, and haven't gotten on one since then.  Why is that important?  Because I think my fears run deeper than I fear, and trying new things, experiences and emotions has always terrified me.  I have been hesitant about doing or saying something I feel, and I have held back quite frequently, with the result that I have a running inner monologue about how I should have done this or said that, and perhaps things would have turned out differently.

A little over two years ago, on a miserably cold evening, a dear friend told me that it's okay to be afraid, as long as I don't live my life in fear.  I made up my mind then to at least try to face my fears instead of cowering behind them.  When faced with the prospect of trying something new, I at least attempted it once, and when thinking about saying something, I at least attempted speaking my mind instead of relegating myself to days of recurring inner monologues.  Even when you try to change something for the better, you do slip into old habits without realizing it, and so it happened to me.  Recently, another dear friend wondered out loud how life could be different if we weren't so afraid, and didn't overthink everything.  It reminded me to keep charging ahead, and face my fears instead of running away from them and hiding.

This Thanksgiving, I am immensely grateful for these Angels appearing in my life, in the form of family, friends and complete strangers, reminding me to do what's right for me, and keep charging ahead towards my dreams.  They often think what they said or did was completely insignificant, but their words and actions are immensely powerful.  While I'm unlikely to get on one of the terrifying roller-coasters at Cedar Point or Six Flags, these Angels remind me to get back in line for the roller-coaster of life, and ride it with my face in the wind, smiling through all the twists, turns and double-loops :)

Take a Moment for Joy!

Sometimes, all it takes is a little moment to remind you of what you need to do, in order to materialize the life you have envisioned for yourself.  I’ve been told that I was a happy burst of sunshine as a kid, brimming with optimism, and beaming with a big smile.  I think, nay, I believe that every kid comes into this world in a state of joy; that’s why they are most likely to smile in their sleep. However, the increasing pressures of the world erase most of these innocent smiles, leaving them with sullen mumbles in their teenage years, and confused drudgery as they transition into adulthood.  At least that’s what it was for me; I turned into a cranky, pessimistic grump, dragging through my days, and for a while, I didn’t think it could be any different.  Until one day when somebody tried guessing my age, and came up with a number that was about ten years older than my chronological age… If you want to give a twenty-something a panic attack, tell them they’re old!  After many hours spent peering at myself in magnifying mirrors looking for fine lines, it hit me.  It wasn’t my face itself that was making me look old, but my internal self, reflected on my face, that was aging me beyond my years.  I took a good, hard look at myself, and realized that no amount of potions and lotions would help me look younger, unless I returned my mental state to a state of joy.  Easier said than done!

Being happy is expected of kids, and hoped of teenagers, but generally elicits confused stares of bewilderment in adults.  I encountered those stares fairly often as I began my conscious commitment towards being happy, and quite often, it was easier to be cranky than happy, but I had to try to be happy, especially if I wanted to be guessed as a twenty-something again!  The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and for me, my journey towards joy started with baby steps – simple things like taking a moment to smile after waking up and being grateful for this new day, rather than just slamming the alarm clock and stumbling out of bed; taking a moment to look up at the sky and breathe in the dawn before getting behind the wheel, rather than succumbing to road rage and honking at errant drivers; taking a moment to ask my colleagues how they’re doing and listening to their response, rather than just getting straight into the task; taking a moment to look at my plate and savor all the aromas and colors, rather than just shoveling food down my throat; taking a moment to do a fist-pump at scoring a great parking spot in a crowded lot, rather than just jumping out and rushing off; taking a moment at the end of the day, to reflect on and being grateful for all the wonderful things that I’ve been blessed with, rather than just grumpily falling into bed, and complaining about everything that went wrong that day.  All it takes is a moment to savor the experience and be genuinely grateful, to change from being apprehensive about all the craziness that awaits, to being anticipative about all the joy that’s waiting to embrace you.

Even though I have become more optimistic and joyous, that doesn’t mean I’m in a continuous state of helium-induced excitement – life has its fair share of problems and disappointments, and it’s natural to feel sad or upset when things don’t turn out as you had hoped.  However, I’ve learned feeling defeated doesn’t mean that I’ve been permanently defeated.  I get angry, sad and frustrated, and I recognize that those are my natural responses; accepting that it’s okay to be unhappy, for just a little while, allows me to take a moment and take a step towards happiness.  Sometimes it’s taking a walk (fresh air amidst nature works wonders), watching a funny movie (laughter is the best medicine), baking a decadent delight while listening to peppy music (cookies solve most problems), talking with a friend (I’m infinitely grateful for my patient, nonjudgmental family and friends), all of the above (What? You’ve never walked to a friend’s house to chat as you two baked, and then watched a comedy while eating cookie dough?), or something completely different (maybe you’re the anomaly in the human species that doesn’t like cookies).  Happiness comes in ebbs and flows, and not everything in life will go your way, but how you respond to the lows, by getting back on your feet, and taking a moment to find that little thing that makes you smile, even if for just a moment, before charging on, full-steam ahead, towards joy.

Why have I been talking about being in a state of joy?  It’s because being joyous allows you to be more proactive towards, and receptive of the even greater joy that awaits you.  I believe that to be true, and have experienced that to be true.  But even when you know something, you forget – we’re only human, after all.  And sometimes, all it takes is a little moment to remind you of what you need to do, in order to materialize the life you have envisioned for yourself.  I was lucky to be a guest at a Rotary meeting earlier this week, where they wrapped up the meeting by passing around their Happy Box, and every member expressed gratitude for something good that they had experienced during the past week.  It didn’t matter if the happiness was big or small, it was the mere act of expressing gratitude, and sharing that joy with others.  The past few weeks have been a bit of a roller-coaster  where I barely appreciated the highs, and tended to dwell in the lows longer than necessary.  The little moment of sharing joys with the Happy Box, reminded me to take a little moment to be truly grateful for all that I have been blessed with.  It may take me longer than a little moment (especially if I’m trying to write about it), but I think gratitude is worth the effort.  So, here goes my top three for today… I am very happy and grateful for my academic and professional mentors who continue to guide me with their experiences and insights; I am very happy and grateful for my family and friends who continue to tolerate my quirkiness, encourage my creativity, and support my dreams and aspirations; and I am very happy and grateful for the invention of chai – it’s the perfect beverage to keep me warm and cozy for when it’s cold and rainy outside, and great for dunking cookies too!  Hey, I already told you I was quirky!  And being in a state of joy isn’t always about the big happiness moments, it’s about being happy to recognize (and appreciate) those little moments that make you smile and happy.  So, thank you, dear reader, for patiently reading this post, sticking with this blog, and sharing your comments and words of appreciation :)

P.S.  I am guessing there might be some wondering on how taking a moment to be grateful and joyous has to do with creativity, design or adventure…  I believe a joyous state of mind not only helps you look happier and younger, but it also helps spark more creative ideas, and this adventure of life needs ideas and solutions that are better designed, with a dash of quirkiness to make you smile :)

P.P.S.  While I will persist in my efforts to be joyous, I promise to have my next post focused more on design and/or an adventurous spirit!  Thank you for your patience and support!  :)

The Adventure Continues...

I started writing this blog - "MBA: Must Bring Adventure!" - as a way to chronicle my experiences during my MBA at the Rotman School of Management, and share my journey with family and friends.  My MBA culminated this summer, with a glorious graduation ceremony that had me grinning from ear to ear, surrounded by wonderful family and awesome friends, some watching and cheering for me from the other side of the world, as I finally achieved this long-held dream of mine.  While my MBA was nothing short of a terrific, high-adrenaline roller-coaster, I feel like the adventure has only just begun. Life's too short to be just ho-hum; it deserves our best effort to bring an adventurous spirit as we charge ahead to leave our own mark on the world.  So, I intend to continue approaching each day as a new adventure, knowing not where it may lead me, but just that it deserves a creative, optimistic and determined spirit.  I intend to continue chronicling my adventures, and I hope you continue to join me on the road ahead...  :)

To Sir, With Love

Edward Ricardo Braithwaite wrote him, Sidney Poitier played him, Lulu sang him... But are inspirational teachers like Mark Thackeray just confined to our books, our screens, and our stereos?  I'm very fortunate to say that I've come across some inspiring teachers and mentors, each one of them playing a role in spurring me on to greater heights.  Some of them appeared in the classroom, some in the boardroom, and some of them offered silent wisdom as they went along their way.  For me, most of them appeared in the hallways and classrooms of the Rotman School of Management, each one of them inspiring me to do better than I thought I could do, and one day hopefully, emulate their insight, foresight and wisdom.  But I wouldn't have found myself at Rotman, learning from these amazing professors, had it not been for one particularly inspirational professor, Roger Martin.

A few years ago, while searching for the future home of my MBA, I perused catalogs, websites, emails, blogs and videos, trying to find something that clicked with me, something that I could identify with, something that would spark my curiosity, and fuel my fire for learning and knowledge.  While Rotman was always in my top choices, it wasn't until I saw a video of Dean Roger Martin at the Business Innovation Factory (BIF-5) Collaborative Innovation Summit in 2009, that Rotman became the only choice for me.  Professor Martin spoke of Rotman redefining business education from "narrow, shallow and static" to "broad, deep and dynamic," and producing business professionals capable of handling today's business problems, but also proactively tackling the wicked problems of tomorrow.  After watching that video, Rotman became my only choice, and suffice to say, I was deliriously happy when they sent me their acceptance letter about two and a half years ago.

Over the past two years at Rotman, I have not only acquired a strong foundation in business knowledge, but I have also been very fortunate to learn from some truly stellar professors, many of whom became mentors, as I navigated my way through this roller-coaster, each one of them providing unique insight that helped me along my way.  But I do owe Professor Martin a special nod of thanks.  Thanks to him, I found myself at Canada's top business school; I understand the incredible value of Integrative Thinking; I discovered my passion and delight for Business Design; I find myself applying Human-Centered Design Thinking principles everywhere I go; I am yearning to tie up Strategy and Innovation in the challenges ahead; I am inspired by the academic pursuit of excellence; and I can't wait to pay it back to my school.

After 15 impressive years as Dean of the Rotman School of Management, Roger Martin stepped down as Dean this summer, and took a leadership position at the Martin Prosperity Institute researching democratic capitalism.  Professor Martin, during your years as Dean, you have had innumerable incredible accomplishments that have elevated Rotman through the ranks.  However, I think your biggest accomplishments would be the impact you've left on your students; we're better today than when we first walked through Rotman's doors, discovering new skills and passions, and raring to tackle the world's little and wicked problems.  And so, it is with utmost gratitude that we say, "To Sir, With Love."

11,111 and counting... Thank You!

So many readers from so many places around the world!  Could this be my new travel bucket list? ;)

I started writing "MBA: Must Bring Adventure!" about 22 months ago, as a way for me to chronicle my MBA journey at the Rotman School of Management.  I've loved writing ever since I was a little girl, so this blog naturally became a happy place for me to share my thoughts... happy & sad, frustrated & excited, freezing & melting, bittersweet & joyous.  What I didn't expect was so many people sharing my Rotman journey, through every reading, paper, report, project, presentation, along with endless cups of coffee.

Today, mustbringadventure.wordpress.com crossed 11,111 views!  That's eleven thousand, one hundred, eleven views, and counting!  And for that, I thank you, each and every one of you! :D

"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." - G.K. Chesterton

Rotman Design Challenge 2013

The Business Design Club's Executive Team with Dean Roger Martin at the Rotman Design Challenge 2013

After experiencing what was undoubtedly one of the highlights of first year, with the Rotman Design Challenge 2012 (RDC 2012), I was determined to pay it forward when the 2013 edition came along.  While the competition itself only took place in March of this year, fervent preparations for RDC 2013 began in earnest shortly after our first year came to a close.  From pitching to prospective clients, to liaising with our competition sponsor, to liaising with generous partners, to scouting locations, to inviting judges, to inviting speakers, to developing learning program, to managing internal and external teams, to managing multiple communication channels, to finally putting together "one of the most awesome case competitions ever" (testimonial by an enthusiastic participant!), and I was very fortunate to be a part of the awesome team behind the magic.

As the RDC Sponsor, Target challenged teams to find an innovative solution to, "How can Target leverage it’s 'Expect More. Pay Less®' brand promise and it’s mantra of 'Design for All' to become and be recognized as a leading company in sustainability?"  Our eager participants came from schools across Canada, United States and Europe (we went international in just our third year!), from Aalto University, California College of the Arts, Darden School of Business, IIT Institute of Design, Ivey School of Business, McCombs School of Business, Ontario College of Art & Design, Sauder School of Business, Sloan School of Management, and of course, the Rotman School of Management.  125 eager business designers fully immersed themselves in the challenge, using business and design techniques and frameworks, to create amazingly creative concepts inspired by unique user insights.  And their presentations resonated the words of our keynote speaker, Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management, offering a creative and "productive combination of analytical & intuitive thinking" to move the business world forward.  Innovation was the theme of the day, with Daniel Duty from Target saying how, "engaging with their guests and building brand love, requires constant innovation."  Kate Heiny also offered words of wisdom for our eager participants, "Dream big, make it simple, make it look good, and you should be set!"

The Judges did not have an easy task as they deliberated extensively (timing one of the rooms was highly enlightening - so much wisdom & insight from our Judges!) to select the final 5 teams from IIT Design, OCAD, MIT Sloan and Rotman (It was a proud day for Rotmanites when two of their teams went into the final round!).  The final round judges had an even trickier task as they reviewed, questioned and debated, before awarding first place to 'Team Meta' from IIT Design, second place to 'We Almost Forgot Our Passports' from MIT Sloan, and third place to 'P-Type' from Rotman!  Yay!  :D  

The RDC wasan incredibly exhausting, yet amazingly exciting experience, and I particularly enjoyed meeting with eager business designers from different schools.  In short, the RDC was like a design melting pot, where like-minded individuals came together, to share their curiosity, creativity, and commitment to innovation, and I can't wait to see what the next year's team has in store for Rotman and business design!


Puppy Therapy at Rotman!

Stevie, the Therapy Dog, showing how her obedience tricks before we started playing with her soggy chew toy!

Now that school's out, I find myself with a little more time on my hands; going from full-time studying to full-time searching still takes up a significant amount of time, but with a little more free time than before.  It's been really nice to spend time with understanding family members I barely saw during my program, catch up with friends for reasons other than group projects & deliverables, get back to cooking for joy & health rather than speed & convenience, get back to working out without worrying it cutting into my study time, read a book not because it related to a course, see a movie without worrying about a paper that's due in a couple of hours, and just take leisurely walks through the neighborhood with my camera and take in everything.  Don't get me wrong, I love Rotman, and it's been an incredible roller-coaster ride that I've enjoyed completely... but sometimes, it's nice to enjoy a less manic pace too! :)

It was on one of these neighborhood strolls that I came across an adorable little puppy that took me straight back to Rotman.  During a particularly stressful period at Rotman, with exam season just around the corner, the Graduate Business Council and the Rotman Health & Wellness Association brought in Stevie, a St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog.  An adorable little 4-year-old female miniature poodle, Stevie loves to cuddle, meeting new people, and playing tug-of-war with her very soggy chew toy!  Although the Puppy Therapy didn't last very long, the after-effects lasted quite a while... I had a relaxed smile on my face for the rest of the day, and I was constantly lighting up with glee around puppies & dogs for a good few days after Rotman's Puppy Therapy session. :D

Spring Term Marathon with Strategy & Design!

It's a little bittersweet writing this post...  It's taken me a little while to write it, because it marks the end of my MBA courses here at Rotman, and it's a little overwhelming to think about this chapter coming to a close.  It's exciting to be finally crossing the finish line, but the last two years have gone by so fast, it feels happy & sad all at the same time.  I've met some amazing friends here at Rotman, been part of some awesome club events, learnt from some brilliant professors, and been guided along this entire process with Rotman's cheery staff!  In some ways, my second year felt like a marathon, right down to the finish line, with so much to do, so much to learn, and so little time!  The same goes for the courses I took during the Spring Term; intense, challenging & demanding, but stimulating, exciting & manageable. Professor Geoffrey Leonardelli takes you into the challenges of designing, managing and leading teams in “Leading Teams.”  With the view that teams work better than individuals, and companies shifting from one-man shows to collaborative group structures, the course aimed at helping us identify gaps in team dynamics, and turn them into opportunities to optimize team performance, particularly given the growing prevalence of cross-functional teams.  While the course offered a number of simulations and exercises to put into practice the theory that was being discussed, I think the most practical application may have been the team project.  It challenged us to act as consultants where we would identify a client, analyze its team’s interactions, and based on our analysis of their team dynamics, make recommendations aimed at improving their team cohesion and building their leadership.  Working on a live case for a live client, with a new team, touched upon almost every element of the course, and really put it into practice.

With the snazziest, smartest, and funnest group of people I've had the pleasure of knowing and working with!  Here's our dramatic pose after our final presentation! :P

Professor Ajay Agrawal takes you into the analysis and challenges of corporate or multibusiness level strategy in “Corporate Strategy.”  The course aimed at moving from competitive advantage to corporate strategy, the boundaries and structure of firms, using size to exploit increasing returns with extreme competition, the strategic advantage of being small, the Innovator's Dilemma, and the role of humanity in strategy.  While the Professor covered all the aspects expected from a Corporate Strategy, he certainly upped the ante, with a visit to the TSO to understand multi-stakeholder corporate strategy in the Arts, a visit by Reza Satchu with candid, insightfuls lesson in entrepreneurship, and a case analysis project that had us pull out all the stops to convince a board of directors to purse our proposed course of action rather than our competing team's recommendation.  He pushed us, challenged us, and demanded more of us, and I think it's because he believes we're capable of so much more than what we do now... while I did utter an audible sigh of relief when this course was over, I'm going to miss his demanding, insightful tutelage.

Professor Heather Fraser takes you through a practical journey of understanding, practicing, applying and imbibing design thinking in “Business Design Practicum.”  While the course covers why design thinking is important to growth and success, and what frameworks and tools can accelerate the innovation and business design process, the best part of the course was how do we apply those principles and tools to the creation of innovative solutions and new business models, through an end-to-end business design project, collaborating with design students from OCAD, for our live client, SAP.  SAP called for an exploration of the Future of Work, with a user-centric approach into how might we help utility workers better serve their customers in the future.  The project itself was almost like a cake, with business and design forming layers of cake and ganache, and feedback from SAP and industry professionals forming the icing on top...  All in all, an exciting experience I was happy to sink my teeth into!

The Fantastic Five (I know, very corny!) with Dean Roger Martin

You might have gathered by now that I'm a Roger Martin fan.  I picked Rotman as the home of my MBA education after hearing Roger Martin speaking about Rotman’s approach to business education, at the Business Innovation Factory (BIF-5), and I loved his course during first year on "Integrative Thinking Practicum."  So when an Independent Study Opportunity on Business Design arose, I jumped at the chance to be a part of it.  Professor Roger Martin, with Mark Leung and Stefanie Schram, guided us as we tackled the user experience challenges of a home healthcare organization with a Business Design Consulting Engagement.  It involved expanding our skillset in Business Design, in terms of ethnographic research, prototyping and business modeling skills, and enabled us to apply a structured innovation methodology to a live project.  Challenging, exciting, demanding, and insightful, the Business Design Consulting Engagement was an incredible opportunity to learn more about and take a practical approach to the practice of business design, and the response and feedback from our presentations to the client and Dean Roger Martin were particularly insightful.  It was a splendid way to wrap up my Rotman MBA, by presenting to the Dean of the school who inspired me to come to this school, and spark this incredible journey of learning about strategy, innovation and business design, and hopefully continuing to practice in my professional life ahead.

So, that’s my view on the courses I took in the Spring Term. Although they were definitely challenging, they were eye-opening in trying to expand my views, exploring different avenues in solving problems, and I particularly enjoyed the live case opportunities.  It feels a little odd to have this roller-coaster come to a close, but what an awesome ride it's been!  Take care, and talk soon! :D

Business Design Hackathon

There are many reasons why the Rotman MBA is an awesome experience, but I think one of the key reasons is because it teaches you to think and do.  It's not enough to just learn something helpful and new, if you don't know how to put it into practice. With that in mind, Rotman DesignWorks hosted its first ever Business Design Hackathon, and they got things off to a creative start with students submitting 60-second video pitches applying to be a part of this challenge.  

Over the course of three days spread out over two weeks, we used design thinking principles to solve a live problem for the Rotman Marketing Team.  The overall challenge pertained to, "How might we redesign the digital student experience at Rotman?" covering three different areas - Internal Communications, Ambient Experience, and Non-Academic Student Culture.  Our team tackled the Ambient (Physical) Experience, with the more focused challenge of, "How might we help students be more informed when it comes to initiatives on the Rotman campus?"  We went out and interviewed students in the full-time and part-time programs, to gain deeper insights into their views on learning about school initiatives, good & bad experiences, and the role of different technologies in their lives.  The helpful creatives at DesignWorks helped us to synthesize our findings, journey map, ideate and prototype, although just when you think you're done, it's time to iterate!  While iterations can be mildly frustrating, they're inherent as part of the business design process, and are stepping stones on the way to helping you build better, more effective & relevant solutions.  We capped off this experience by presenting our multi-faceted proposed solution, the Rotman Huddle, to the Rotman Marketing Team and other Senior Rotman Directors.  Here's a peek at our solution's intro!  

The Business Design Hackathon was a great way to combine my passion, energy and curiosity, with a collaborative, experimental mindset, to gain practice in applying the principles of Business Design, and have some good fun along the way!

Winter Intensive Insights

You know it's been busy when a post on a Winter Intensive course comes just when Spring begins!  I am 33 days away from my last deliverable of my MBA here at Rotman, and it's still pretty hectic!  Whoever said Second Year is a breeze needs to take their heads out of their textbooks!  If all you're doing in Second Year is courses, then of course, it's more manageable.  However, if you're anything like the ambitious, proactive, dedicated students of the Rotman community, you tend to get involved in a lot more than academics - there's club leadership responsibilities, club activities, extra-curricular engagements, and lots of networking - all while trying to balance home, school, and the job hunt. However, as crazy, hectic & exhausting as it is, I truly love it.  And in 86 days, when I walk across the graduation stage, I'm going to miss it even more.  It's exciting to be coming so close, but it's also bittersweet.  More than ever before, I value and treasure every experience that's been happening so far, because I know it's probably the last time I'll get to do it.  I want to take it all in, and embrace it completely.  That's how I approached my Winter Intensive course - Getting It Done - with Professors Brendan Calder & Dr. John O'Dwyer.

With Brendan Calder (aka, Vintage Truck restorer), Dr. John O'Dwyer (aka, Doc with the Cool T-Shirts) & Billy Anderson (aka, the Courage Encourager!) 

Aside from the numerous positive reviews I'd received from my Upper Years (now class of 2012), the fact that it's limited to 25 people only every year with a strong 'Getting It Done' Alumni Network, the Pre-Course Meet & Greet Social, its focus on Integrative Thinking, and the insightful interactions I'd had with the two Professors, one of the key factors that drew me to this course was the fact that it was "a doing course and not a memorizing course."  Getting It Done synthesized the knowledge and teachings from Peter Drucker, William Reddin and Michael Kami, and tailored them to help us become better knowledge workers, who go beyond just efficiency with doing things right, and instead embrace effectiveness with “getting the right things done.”  The tag team of our two Professors - Brendan Calder & Dr. John O'Dwyer - took us through management tools and methods that would link the practices of strategic planning, business planning, managing for results, and continuous improvement, and use it for personal, professional and organizational management and leadership.  We weren't just learning, we were doing something about that learning too - our amazing group took all the insights from the course, and applied them on a daily basis to a management simulation based on running a beach resort.  I firmly believe it worked - our group took First Place in the simulation!  On a side note, after returning from spending the winter break in tropical climates, a simulation based on a tropical beach resort, while it was ruddy cold and snowing outside, seemed a tad bit ironic and cheeky! :P  Alongside the content, exercises and simulation, we also had some insightful speakers, who shared their thoughts and experiences around improving our personal effectiveness, integrating the tools into our teams, making our management styles more effective, continuous improvement, and even courage.  Given that this course was designed to help us improve our individual effectiveness, which as such relates to human behavior, it would be unreasonable to expect instantaneous results.  However, with regular practice and application of some of the tools over the past couple of weeks, I do find myself being more effective with my time and efforts.  Practice it until you perfect it, then practice it more until it becomes a habit, then go learn something new, and then practice and repeat! :)

Earlier, I mentioned that the non-memorizing, doing aspect of the course drew me to it.  I didn't want to just learn something, I wanted to take that learning, and do something with it, which is what I believe most of my classmates are aiming to do... take their MBA, and do something amazing with it!  I've long believed that merely memorizing copious amounts of notes, swallowing textbooks, and regurgitating them in a 2 hour exam is counter-intuitive to real learning; it does nothing to measure your comprehension and application, but merely tests your powers of memorization.  And if, like me, you end up with headaches during the cold, well, there goes all that memorization!  (I've come to accept that Canada has cold weather, however, my body still yearns for warmer weather!)  I'm really fortunate to be taking courses this year that are testing how I apply what I've learnt on real, live problems, rather than how much do I remember of what I hope I've learnt.  In my many years of professional experience, never once did I have a manager ask me to fix a huge problem within two hours without any available resources.  I firmly believe, and I'm not alone in that belief, that the effective utilization of education is the application of that knowledge in ways that benefit individuals, organizations and society, not how much you can memorize and regurgitate.  Education is meant to be impactful, not bulimic, and it disappoints me when people judge you solely on the basis of your test or exam scores, rather than all your other wonderful accomplishments or your incredible potential.  Go ahead, be impactful, make your mark on the world, and believe in your amazing possibilities! :)

Halfway Through Second Year!

I know it's been a while since I've posted anything, and although it's been a little quiet on the blog front, it's been really quite hectic behind the scenes. The first half of December was occupied with wrapping up the Fall Semester, then the second half of December was occupied with an exhaustingly good trip, then the first half of January was occupied with a fantastic Winter Intensive Course, and now, the Spring Semester is off to a snowy start! While there will be more posts to follow on the events of late December onwards, let me get to the subject line... Yes, ladies and gentlemen, in mid-December 2012, I completed half of my Second Year, which officially had me at 75% done with my MBA! That's an exciting, but scary thought... I really only have a couple more months of school until I'm out of here? But I really like school!

Being in Second Year has its perks... You've gotten used to the pace of the intensive MBA program and all its components, you've settled in to the city, you've figured out all the shortcuts to school, and you've figured out where's the best place to give in to your cookie cravings! That said, it's still pretty hectic & intense, but it's just more manageable. The same goes for the courses I took during the Fall Term; intense, challenging & demanding, but stimulating, exciting & manageable.

Professor Brian Golden takes you into the challenges that prevail after you've planned that grand strategy in "Strategic Change & Implementation." Given people’s natural resistance to change, part of me wondered if it was actually possible to teach people how do they implement strategic changes. We were taken through a variety of cases which illustrated leadership, alignment, strategy, structure, systems, influencing change, knowledge management, and even storytelling. I also loved being exposed to these variety of concepts in a variety of forms, from your traditional business school cases & readings, to the Golden Bear Award-Winning "12 Angry Men," to the entertaining "Jamie's School Dinners."

Professor Dan Ariely with Professor Nina Mazar's Behavioral Economics class

Professor Nina Mazar takes you through the different aspects of human irrationality in "Behavioral Economics." Unlike its much older brother - traditional economics - which explores the idea that people are “capable of making the right decisions” for themselves, Behavioral Economics explores “the (quite intuitive) idea that people do not always behave rationally and that they often make mistakes in their decisions.” I really enjoyed exploring how behavioral economics could be utilized to better understand the user, by better understanding their decisions related to options, choices, payments, fines, saving, commitment, behavior changes, reciprocity, morals, ethics, and dishonesty, and then applying that knowledge to two live cases. The highlight of the course was probably the Behavior Economics Fireside Chat we had with Professor Dan Ariely, one of the leading behavioral economists of our time, and it was fascinating to hear about his experiments, and his discoveries about "The Honest Truth about Dishonesty."

Professor Alexander Manu takes you into a completely different direction with "Innovation, Foresight & Business Design." He challenges you to think outside the box, and use non-traditional approaches to solving unseen problems, or unidentified opportunities of the future. This class isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I personally really enjoyed learning about innovation as a behavior, foresight perspectives, new context mapping, disruption, behavior spaces, experience mapping, and using the ambiguity in the world around us, to find and capitalize on its hidden opportunities. Our group - 'The Itty-Bitty, Farm and City, Witty Ditty, Nitty-Gritty, Dog and Kitty, Pretty Little Kiddy Show' - took our learnings through a three-phased process of Discovery, Expansion, and Application, eventually culminating with a business pitch for our idea.


So, that's my view on the courses I took in the Fall Term. Although they were definitely challenging, they were eye-opening in trying to expand my views, and exploring different avenues in solving problems and capturing opportunities. Stay tuned for my next post, where I cover the Winter Intensive Term! Take care, and stay clear of the snowstorms!

Sharing the innovative, creative energy of business design

I'm not a born designer.  Actually, come to think of it, I don't think anyone is a born designer.  However, I do think people can have an inborn appreciation for good design.  From my very early years, I seemed to have a strong leaning towards things that were better designed or better to experience. Perhaps it was my perfectionist streak coming through, but my mother tells me that I tended to gravitate more towards things that were simply better.  I would avoid playing with building blocks that were too pokey for my little hands; I stayed away from little dinky cars with wheels that would get jammed instead of turning; I salivated at food that was more visually appealing and colorful; I smiled and got engrossed with pictures that seem to have some sort of balance in them; I preferred items that were easier-to-use or just more user-friendly (my only exception were teddy bears & stuffed plush dogs - I had (have) an unbiased appreciation and affection for all of them!).  During playtime I would usually hold back on the little stuck dinky car, or the asymmetrical teddy bear, or the pokey building blocks, and let my friend have the better, easier, comfier, smoother toy.  I suppose I felt like something that wasn't as well designed shouldn't detract from their experience with the toy, or take away from the joy of play.

You never too young to experience good design, never too young to appreciate design.  While my journey into business design and design thinking may have only begun last year, I feel like my dedication and my passion for design have been brimming below the surface, ever since I was little.  Does that make me a good designer?  I think it does, because I certainly have a unique ability to put myself into the shoes of the user, and figure out if it really works for them, or they're just going through the motions, and whether they're just experiencing something, or truly delighting in that experience.

My passion for design led me to be a part of the Rotman Business Design Club (BDC), earlier as a First Year Associate, and now as a Second Year Director.  Club activities are a great way to get involved in your whole MBA experience at Rotman, and a welcome break from the hectic pace of classes and careers. For me personally, it's been extremely fulfilling in terms of satisfying my own personal curiosity around business design, and exploring avenues through which I could get involved in it beyond Rotman.  And it's been quite interesting to see it from the other side.  As a member, you certainly appreciate all the events that the club executives put on to help you learn and grow.  As a senior executive, you develop a much greater appreciation for the events, especially when you see all the work that goes on behind the scenes to make things work, and 'delight' our users.  Fortunately, with the Business Design Club and Rotman DesignWorks, we have an amazing group of people, who are really dedicated towards helping students discover and understand the business design space.

Post-Its abound at the Business Design Bootcamp!

The BDC allows me to get engaged in sharing its innovative, creative energy with curious minds, and helping them take it past colorful Post-Its to innovative solutions.  The Business Design Bootcamp is always super-fun (and lots & lots of hard work & teamwork) as you not only learn more about Business Design and its three gears, but also put it into practice, by putting your user at the core of your process and better understanding them, in order to develop a product that better meets their unmet needs, and hopefully even wows them!  The BDC Fireside Chat Series is always a great opportunity to engage with presenters on a more personal level, and get an inside perspective into their work.  The Portfolio Series has been quite exciting in emphasizing the need to engage in the process of design thinking and showcasing that; it's also been an insightful challenge as I reflected upon my own cases and presented them in a clear, concise, convincing and conversational manner.

Aside from studying courses that I'm really interested in and curious about, and earnestly pursuing opportunities that embrace design thinking, I'm generally enjoying my second year at Rotman.  It's not headless-chicken crazy like first year, but it's still hectic, exhausting and challenging.  It's also more fun, as you  develop stronger friendships, and get more comfortable with this intense roller-coaster.  It also feels a little bittersweet, as you realize it's not too far off when this chapter of your life reaches its eventual conclusion.  All you can really hope for is that the amazing friends and inspiring people you've met along the way continue to be in your life in the chapters ahead... :)

Rotman's New Building

Rocking my hard hat and boots during my sneak-peek tour of Rotman's New Building!

Once in a while, you get to be a part of something amazing, and it's even more awesome when you get to share that amazing feeling...

September 5th, 2012, marked a historic day in Rotman's history, with the opening of the brand new building, and it would be an understatement to say that I was excited!  I was so excited about Rotman's new building that I furiously bid for the opportunity to get a tour of the New Building waaay before its opening (early 2012), and get a sneak peek at all the awesomeness that awaited us.  It was quite amusing to stomp around the new building in construction boots and a hard hat, and it got me even more excited for the day when we would finally walk these halls.  It was reminiscent of my anticipation at walking into Rotman's building for the very first time.

On the cover of the Rotman Magazine with Joe Rotman!

I love Rotman, and everything about it.  And I love sharing my passion and energy for the school with everybody I meet.  So it was no surprise when I extended my Rotman Ambassador role into being a Tour Guide at Rotman's New Building Opening, and it was so exciting to take new visitors through that same experience, starting from the historical North Building (affectionately referred to as NOBU by Rotmanites), into the brand new South Building (SOBU), taking them up that pink staircase (the pink was taken from the Rotman magazine 'Einstein' issue cover on 'Thinking About Thinking'), through its fancy new classrooms with the perforated city backdrops, through its study rooms & student lounges, through its majestic glass-walled event hall overlooking Robarts & the historic PhD House, the pep of zesty green with Rotman DesignWorks, on to its outdoor terrace & green roof by the Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking, the invigoratingoutdoor terrace & green roof by the Business Information Center, and the glass-walled courtyard by the Martin Prosperity Institute.

It was an awesome opportunity to be a part of this incredible moment in Rotman's history, and see business visionaries such as Dr. Marcel Desautels (he's also a talented tenor!) and Joseph & Sandra Rotman (Yes, the very same Rotman after whom our school is named! They were awesomely wonderful people to speak with!).  It made you proud to be a part of this new wave of transforming business education, and reaffirmed my decision to come to Rotman to learn creative, integrative new ways of solving tomorrow's challenges today!