At Harvard: Part 8

I admit I have escaped back home on weekends to get a dose of husband and children during this 3-week stint.  It does one good after living the life of a student–studying until all hours, discussing hot topics with classmates in and out of class, and generally feeling disconnected from the real world, cooped up on a lovely Ivy League campus.

As I was flying home this past Sunday evening, the plane was quite full, but needed some redistribution of weight from the back to the front.  So I was one of the volunteers who moved forward 15 rows and settled in to read my case studies for Monday morning.  The case was about Common Angels, an angel investor group here in Boston.  Along with it, we were assigned two business plans to assess as though we were members of Common Angels.  As I finished one business plan and picked up the other, the woman across the aisle from me asked “May I see that case?”  I passed it to her, she leafed through it quickly and passed it back, saying “that’s my husband’s company.”  We were both incredulous. In fact, so were the women on either side of us.  What are the odds?  Of course, I ended up hearing far too much “inside information” to fairly participate in the class the next day (I was even shown photos of their two children–3 and 6!), but it was fascinating to hear the perspective of the spouse.  The business sells a new software/hardware concept in the architecture-engineering-construction field, allowing blueprints and other documents to be stored on a rugged tablet PC upon which people in the field can take and save notes and send back to the office, ensuring fast and efficient transferring of data from field to office and vice versa. Upon landing, the wife calls her husband and says “Honey, you’re not going to believe this, but I was sitting next to this woman and she was reading your Harvard case study!”  Turns out her husband was coming to class the next day.  In the end, it was an intriguing look at how a concept went from theory to reality and what it took for it to get to a 30-person, successful business today.  Investment aside, It takes a very supportive and committed spouse!

Yesterday, we had two equally enticing cases: Google Advertising and Urban Video Game Academy.  The first showed us why Madison Avenue really has a lot to worry about with Google on the scene.  While Google’s secret is clearly the beautiful simplicity of its search engine, we found that very strength masked its efforts to diversify.  Many of us didn’t realize you can use Google to organize your photos, buy books, write blogs, check out the stock markets, search patents, and more.

The Urban Video Game Academy was a great case to end the session.  It was about a passionate teacher in the Baltimore-DC area who had realized there was a need to create more positive role models in video games for minority children and that under-privileged children spent much of their time in front of screens, affecting their achievement and ability to advance in their education and careers.  So he designed a curriculum to teach video game programming to these kids in after-school and summer programs. His curriculum reinforced the schools’–including science, math, English and more.  This gentleman loved to teach the kids and was confronting a key question: should he grow this organization, as demand from various schools was mounting?

Another important question posed by our professor was: is this a business?  I voted no. This was a passion, a mission. Money was not a motivation. Helping the children advance was.  If he was to grow this as a business, he would need to abdicate power and find another person who was passionate about scaling it up.  Several classmates disagreed.  Some were perplexed by why he wouldn’t want to take full advantage of this opportunity.  In the end, the professor revealed that, indeed, the founder had done nothing to grow this as a business and 3 years later was still doing what he’d been doing at the beginning: teaching a few classes himself. And loving it.

To make her message clear, our professor went on to share a personal anecdote.  Having had a very successful career, always moving upward, she came to the point when she was being offered deanships and presidencies of different colleges.  She went home to her spouse one evening and said “do I need to be Dean before I die?”  She decided not. She loved teaching too much to give it up. An important message for a classroom full of over-achievers who are programmed to grow, improve, succeed, and climb to the top. In the end, follow your heart. Even if it’s not at the top.

Tomorrow is graduation (David Parry and my husband have flown up and even attended classes today!) and then I am off to New Orleans to join Chase and several hardy ATA’ers for some volunteer work with Tourism Cares for Tomorrow.  I will wrap this up when I am back in the office next Monday.

Thanks for tuning in!  Cheers.

Kate Simpson

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One Response to “At Harvard: Part 8”
  1. Excellent post as usual, thanks for writing all this helpful stuff on a regular basis.

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