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Pimp my Workspace

April 19th, 2013 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

I’m so glad I decided to take Creativity for Business Leaders as one of my final electives at Smith!  The infamous Oliver Schlake is our professor, who brings to class his outstanding PowerPoint presentations, interesting lectures, quirky creativity challenges, and even Play-Doh – among other fuzzy and bendy and bouncy and googly creativity-stimulating items.  I’ve always considered myself a moderately creative person, but I often have an extremely difficult time accessing that resource.  Professor Schlake’s class has taught me that engaging creativity actually takes work, and there are some trusted (and fun!) methods to help people tap into their dormant innovative skills.

Each week we have a “challenge” – an assignment that is designed to encourage us to think outside the box, enter foreign information territory, and spark innovative ideas.  So far we’ve designed a magazine ad for a bizarre product and found “unwanted inspiration” in a magazine we would not normally purchase.  Challenge #3 was called “Office Makeover,” and seemed like a pretty simple challenge: overhaul your workplace for more creativity.  I did not expect this challenge to totally change my life, but it did.

For the past two years (i.e. the duration of my graduate education), I have lived in a studio apartment.  There is room for a couch and a shelf, a bed and drawers.  The kitchen is tight, and we sometimes “picnic” on the floor since we don’t have a kitchen table – we fancy up the floor with candles and a plaid blanket, of course.

My workspace has been the kitchen counter – sitting on a wooden stool, with clean or dirty dishes and my to-do list on the fridge staring me down while I try to focus.  Sometimes the counter is a little dirty, which frequently leads into an intense kitchen scrub-down.  Sometimes I put my computer on a stack of board games as a makeshift standing desk; sometimes I sit on a pillow on the floor, with my computer on the couch and my notes on the floor.  Discomfort and distraction keep me from putting in long hours of work in the house, so I spend many days in coffee shops, and sometimes try to maneuver myself into a productive position in the hammock chair on my front porch.

My workspace was the worst.

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But now it is awesome!  I salvaged a funky table from the back porch, added pillows to a metal chair from the front porch, and scoured my house for items that are quick creative distractions, inspiration, and healthy refreshers for a long desk shift:

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It may not be the fanciest desk on the block, but wow – this workspace has really changed my world.  In the days since the challenge, I’ve spent unusually focused hours hacking away at school work, rarely getting up to put away dishes, reorganize the pantry, vacuum the house, re-write my to-do list in better handwriting…I have a very hard time managing distractions.  But now I have a window view, a comfortable seat, and these healthy-happy-creative workspace essentials:

  • Lighting – The glow of the laptop is no longer burning my eyeballs and my brain!
  • A photo and a plant – A peaceful memory from my backpackin’ days, and another living thing!
  • A view – The outside world trumps the refrigerator!
  • Comfy chair – Wooden stool?  Firewood!
  • Colors – Pens and pencils for every mood!
  • Lavender spritz – A little aromatherapy to get through the long hauls!
  • Hourglass – For one-minute procrastination vacations!
  • Wisdom + candy – Simple, thoughtful, and funny things to ponder + brain candy!
  • Alphabet die – To break through writer’s block!
  • Seaglass – Because I find the shapes and textures and the collection memories calming…

I love my new workspace!

 

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Charity Auction SUCCESS!

April 15th, 2013 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

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April is Team MBA Month, a national initiative to leverage the community, creativity, skills, and hard work of MBA students to make an impact on local communities.  This will be Smith’s seventh year participating in Team MBA Month – you can see some of our prior projects highlighted here.  Last year I had the privilege of coordinating events on behalf of Net Impact, and was thrilled to see so much interest, excitement, and creativity from our cohort!  I knew this year would be even better, but I didn’t realize just how good it could get…

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Last week the MBAA hosted Smith’s third annual charity auction, raising funds to support the Special Olympics.  Students and faculty donated handcrafted experiences to the auction block, including home-cooked meals, a night of bowling, sailing lessons in Annapolis, a professional photography lesson, yoga classes, and many other delightful treats.  A live tally of funds raised was projected onto a screen, and the students formed teams to enter bidding wars on the most popular items.

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We blew away our $3,000 goal, raising a whopping $8,100 for Special Olympics!  When we passed our goal, the MBA Games team gave us a sneak peak at the routine that would go on to win first place at the MBA games at Duke, held the following weekend.  The final item up for auction resulted in an exciting bidding war, and dinner with Professor Faulkender was SOLD for $1,500 – – with an incredibly generous surprise matching bid from Smith Alum Robert Isaman!  It was an amazing event!

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Spring is…almost…wait for it…

April 12th, 2013 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

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There are few things as beautiful as the Tidal Basin during cherry blossom season in DC.  At the peak of the the bloom, the Basin edge looks like it is topped with rich pink and white frosting.  Walking beneath them feels magical.  There are so many other types of blooming trees all around the region at this time – I love turning a corner and seeing audacious white and pink plumes dominating a drab early-spring cityscape.  The best time to enjoy the blooms is in the early morning, with a good friend on a run through the city.  So this week we did just that, and caught the blooms before they succumbed to the unseasonable heat, followed by an unseasonable cold.  Spring has sprung?

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Darden Softball Tourney

April 4th, 2013 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Last weekend I joined 30 of my Smith cohort for a trip down to the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.  The 19th annual Darden Softball Invitational featured MBA teams from Wharton, American University, Darden, as well as a team from the UVA School of Law.

It was a perfect day for softball on Saturday, which was quickly followed by a cold and dreary Sunday…much more typical of the long and soggy winter we’re having this year.  We all reveled in the sunshine, sporting our bright red Smith Softball shirts, rooting for our teammates, and enjoying the hospitality of our hosts.  There were definitely some sunburns and sore muscles – some of the first years even survived a mini-tornado that struck their dugout! – but that didn’t stop anyone from hitting up a Charlottesville hot spot to cut a rug after the day’s competition.

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Never willing an opportunity to ramble about, three of us headed east on Sunday to take the long way home.  After a delicious brunch in charming Crozet, we visited the Starr Hill Brewery for a tour of their brewing facilities – a requisite stop in any town with a local production facility, in my books, ever since the crayon factory episode on Mr.Roger’s Neighborhood.  And we couldn’t leave the Virginia wine route without making a quick stop, so we sipped some samples at Veritas Winery before hopping on Skyline Drive for a charming start to the drive back to DC.

Thanks to the organizing efforts of our MBAA team, the hospitality of Darden, a gift of good weather from mother nature, and a couple of lovely ladies who enjoy rambling about as much as I do, it was a great weekend!

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Customer Centricity through Technology

January 25th, 2013 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

A visit to a coffeehouse used to be a very personal experience.  When I was a barista myself during undergrad, I loved getting to know my customers, memorize their orders, keep up with their work, family, or weekend plans, and offer a cup on the house or a sample of a new pastry as a way to say thanks.  Today, it seems hard to find these kinds of personal connections at a coffeehouse – especially in high-volume shops like Starbucks.

This week in my Marketing Strategy class, we were discussing customer centricity, and how valuable it can be to focus on the customer rather than just the product, and Starbucks was brought up as an example: customer centric or customer service oriented?  Clearly, Starbucks is customer service oriented, a result of managing a fast-paced, steady stream of “double-venti-soy-sugarfree-vanilla-latte-extra-hot-no-whip” all day, with an expectation of consistency in flavor, style, service, and pricing at its many, many, many locations.  The class consensus was that it was too late for Starbucks, they had already strayed too far from their quaint Seattle coffeehouse roots, and there are just too many customers passing through the shops to manage a customer centric model.

…will that be all??

This discussion brought to mind a recent deal hatched between the coffee powerhouse and Square, the (square-shaped) mobile payments card reader developed by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.  In the agreement, Starbucks committed to using Square to process credit card payments in 7,000 US stores, and CEO Howard Schultz joined Square’s Board of Directors.  This interesting partnership hinted that the two companies had something up their sleeve – and in the first few months since the fundraising round, the partnership is proving that customer centricity is possible even in high-volume, java-fueled international operations.

The Starbucks mobile payment app is considered the best of its kind in the US, generating six million transactions in the last nine weeks of 2011.  Partnering with Starbucks represents Dorsey’s goal to redesign the communication of payment to be more attractive to both the buyer and the seller: “There are ways of going about [web payment systems] that are focused on the payment mechanics (i.e. Google), but we don’t think that’s the right way to focus on it.  We think there are ways to bring that human experience to everyone.”

The Starbucks app has been used primarily to drive its loyalty program, which has resulted in multiple billions in revenue each year – and a pleasant purchasing experience.  The next phase, since the partnership, combined the Starbucks app with Square technology, which has become the “Pay with Square” app.  In the 7,000 Square-powered Starbucks, a wireless signal transfers the customer’s personal information from their app to the shop’s Square Register, allowing the barista to greet the customer by name, recall his or her “usual” drink, and offer the available discounts and perks assigned to this person based on their purchasing history.  The customer is greeted, served, and pays without ever having to remove the phone from his or her pocket – and the barista can focus on more important things, like asking about the customer’s kids, recent promotion, or weekend plans.

Square’s partnership with Starbucks represents the young company’s strategic direction: to create a product that improves and closely engages with the customer experience, and returns to “a more personal interaction between buyer and seller; one that harks back to a quainter time,” when purchases were tracked on a ledger, and friendly chit-chat was the most important part of the transaction.  It may seem like a paradox – using technology to build more personal consumer interactions – but as Dorsey says: “that is the pinnacle of technology – when the technology disappears completely.”

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Smith gets Hitched!

January 18th, 2013 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Winter break was epic for many of the Smith cohort: study-abroad trips to Singapore and India, a custom-designed tour of all the hot spots and tastiest sushi in Japan, Terps making their prints on Thai beaches, a couple of cross-country whirlwind interview rounds…Facebook was abuzz with action shots and “food porn” from ports of call all over the world.  It was fun to see everyone come alive and seek adventure, spend time with friends and family, and enjoy a well-deserved vacation.

What did I do over winter break?  I got married!  I tied the knot with my fella of seven years, who I picked up while we were US Peace Corps volunteers together in Tanzania.  I was thrilled that two of my Smith ladies joined the festivities – we’ve become so close during our time at Smith, it wouldn’t have been the same without them!

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PR for Business Leaders

November 23rd, 2012 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

As it turns out, I love participating in pilot curriculum projects.  There’s just something so invigorating about the whole experience – the professor is excited, the students are excited, the school, other classmates, and first year students plotting their electives are all excited – and it gives the students a unique opportunity to help shape the curriculum.

Having thoroughly enjoyed kicking off the revised Entrepreneurship and New Ventures curriculum in the spring, I was eager to participate in this semester’s Public Relations for Business Leaders pilot project, especially with Ken White at the helm!  At Smith, Ken recently moved from the Office of Marketing and Communications into his new role as Associate Dean of MBA and MS Programs, and our cohort couldn’t be happier.  Ken initiated the launch of the pilot project at Smith, which is being taught in cooperation with the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and includes Dartmoth, Northwestern, University of Texas El Paso, and Quinnipiac University in the MBA Initiative Pilot Project.

Last week, The Pincus Group hosted our class for a media training session at a live television studio, where we each took a turn in the hot seat for a live interview in front of a green screen.  We later viewed and critiqued each of our performances.  It was an invaluable experience, and a great way to learn from the professionals and each other.

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The primary lesson I learned during our media training was that the poise, confidence, clarity, and effective communication exhibited by people in the media isn’t just luck or charm or good lighting – it takes practice!  We learned that whether facing the public sporadically or on a regular basis, a leader must be able to identify the audience, intent, and message (AIM) of each appearance.  I was happy to know that it is generally considered uncouth for a reporter to ambush a spokesperson with topics outside of the proposed scope of the interview, but one should be prepared to go on the “charm offensive” if this occurs.  Finally, it is important to remember that the ideal length of a message is 6-8 seconds of speaking, and this message must stand on its own – “be quotable.”

 

 

 

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Global Corporate Citizenship Conference

October 12th, 2012 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

I’d like to nominate Washington, DC as the official American city for conference-going.  I think I could spend all of my days at events related to my various career and extracurricular interests – I live in a veritable “thought mecca.”  And a very cool perk of being an officer of the Smith chapter of Net Impact  is being invited to many of the events and networking opportunities related to responsible business, such as last week’s Global Corporate Citizenship Conference hosted by the Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC).  Together with two other Net Impact board members, I went to hear Net Impact CEO Liz Maw speak on a panel titled, “The Rising Role of the Corporate Intrapreneur.”

intrapreneur (noun) [in-truh-pruh-nyoor]: an employee of a large corporation who is given freedom and financial support to create new products, services, systems, etc., and does not have to follow the corporation’s usual routines or protocols.

The panel included representatives from Hewlett-Packard, Ashoka, and Ernst & Young, which made for a very dynamic discussion about employee engagement in impact-related corporate programs.  The panel was moderated by Taryn Bird, who is on the leadership team of Business Corps, a project of the BCLC which aims to “redefine how companies work together and leverage our respective strengths to collectively address the needs of society around the world.”  The project has been called “A Peace Corps for Business,” which, as a former Peace Corps Volunteer, caught my attention – I truly believe that sustainable development requires a thriving private sector, which can be made possible through the exchange of technical knowledge and practical business skills.  These exchanges are made possible through skills-based volunteering sponsored by employers.  The panelists discussed how each of their organizations implemented employee engagement programs, including the successes, challenges, and the tricky business of measuring impact.

Last year, Net Impact at Smith took on the role of facilitator for Smith’s participation in Team MBA Month.  We had six unique club-sponsored service projects, and a charity auction that raised over $2500 for local charities.  As a local chapter of a national organization, these activities counted towards our service requirements, but we still needed to better integrate the initiative into our core values as a club – among the industry-focused clubs at Smith, we have to be strategic in our sponsored activities to avoid being seen as “the canned food drive” club.  

During the discussion I realized that Team MBA Month provides students with a great opportunity to organize, lead, and participate in events that build community and leverage our skills to do some good – refining the soft skills that are so valuable to our future employers.  The panelists agreed that recent graduates are valued for bringing this type of inspiration and excitement to corporate teams, and as future recent graduates, we can start building this spirit among our cohort at Smith.  

Studies have shown that employees are more satisfied with their jobs when they have a chance to volunteer or interact with colleagues for a social cause; higher satisfaction leads to higher-performing employees – and thus, higher productivity.  However, making the business case to middle management can be difficult, as the effects of employee engagement programs are often intangible, immeasurable, and don’t directly contribute to day-to-day performance – the yardstick of middle management success.  

To help frame a strategic implementation of service projects, Net Impact has created a great toolkit to help both employers and employees create impact.  The toolkit provides a series of basic, actionable steps and worksheets to help guide the implementation of a workplace impact program, which can be applied to external programs as well – as long as key stakeholders believe a project is relevant, engaging, and creates value, it is likely to have a positive impact on employee satisfaction.  

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Learning to be Helpless

October 5th, 2012 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Many of us at Smith commute to College Park from DC, Maryland, or Virginia – there are clusters of us who develop little Smith communities in each of the areas we live.  We study together, run/bike/paddleboard/yoga/travel together, BBQ/happy hour/dine together, and enjoy other urban ramblings-about together.  It’s a wonderful collateral to our program – I feel so lucky to have a great group of classmates and friends in DC.  And when I found myself with a broken leg on the second day of school, I realized how much we’ve become a family.

Living alone with a broken leg is very challenging.  I can’t take out the trash by myself.  I can’t sweep my front porch on one leg.  I can’t change lightbulbs (which oddly all burned out last week).  I can’t go grocery shopping.  Hopping around on one foot while vacuuming, dusting, making the bed, and doing laundry is exhausting.  This loss of independence has been crushing – – oh, and I also happened to be in the middle of marathon training, which has been crushing as well.  I had just completed my first 20-mile run on the Saturday before the Monday that I broke my leg, and was planning to run the Marine Corps Marathon with two of my Smith running buddies in October.  I’m mourning the loss of that early-morning fellowship and missing my favorite days of running: the sunny, cool days on the border of summer and fall.

But I’m thankful.  My Smith family has rallied around me to shuttle me to and from school, help with the trash and sweeping and lightbulbs and groceries.  They’ve shared their cars, their time, and their levity – stealthily rallying the DC team to keep me mobile and in good spirits while I recover.  I’ll never be able to fully express my gratitude for their help, and realize that’s what’s special about a true family – we give according to our abilities, to each according to their need (maybe “liking each other” is the key to socialism).  As it turns out, it’s pretty incredible to be surrounded by people who are driven towards success; even in the simplest scenarios (e.g., “helping Megan up a flight of stairs”), my Smith family helps me feel human, capable, and a part of something great.

At Smith, we are all learning to be leaders – which means we also need to learn how to follow, and gracefully give up some of our control.  As expressed by of the world’s great leaders, Nelson Mandela, “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur.  You take the front line when there is danger.  Then people will appreciate your leadership.”  Learning to follow gives us a chance to observe our impact as leaders; to fit the gloves on future leaders and encourage our team to take ownership and be more engaged in the strategic direction of an organization.  We have to learn to trust our teammates, and have faith that their vision for the mission at hand is of the same design and quality as your own.

Nelson Mandela, “…an ordinary man, who became a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.”

Life with the moonboot (as I fondly refer to my new high-tech accessory) has been an education.  I’ve learned that I can’t do everything on my own, and stubborn independence will never trump the need for a team.  I’ve learned to respect my own limitations, and ask for help – it’s been a crash-course in delegation, acceptance and gratitude.  In return, I’ve been shown such patience, encouragement and support by my Smith family, and am amazed by their integrity and unconditional kindness.  They’ve led me through this challenge, and I’ve learned to give up some of my control – the first step in learning to follow.  So yes, I’m thankful to have learned this lesson, and to have had an opportunity to experience the teamwork of this troupe of future leaders…but I can’t wait to lace up my kicks and hit the trails again.

The MOONBOOT: an education.

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Countdown to the Net Impact Conference!

September 28th, 2012 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

The 2012 Net Impact Conference in Baltimore is just a month away!  Students and faculty at Smith have been working all year to craft a purposeful presence at the conference, including leading a variety of breakout sessions, organizing local off-site business tours, and volunteering with event operations.  Smith’s Center for Social Value Creation is also hosting a Social Enterprise Happy Hour at Hersh’s, which is co-owned by one of our own former Terps.  There are over 100 people from Smith attending and participating in the conference – and that makes this Net Impact at Smith club officer very proud – and super excited!

 

Eric + Amos (2012 Smith grads) are super excited, too (as seen on http://netimpact.org)

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