Taking off the training wheels
It's time to start solving real problems
I am regularly blown away by the opportunities my students get as part of TKS. Students are currently working with one of three different billion-dollar companies in Retail and Finance. This is not a "TKS Project" that these companies have given us out of sympathy. These are real problems these companies are working on and don't have answers to, and our students have the opportunity to make an impact. These companies aren't obligated to take a single one of our recommendations, and there isn't a limit to what they take. Any ideas they believe are worth testing will likely be tested. If nothing makes the cut, they won't take anything. This is the real world!
They aren't even three months into the program and they already have the opportunity to shape the path of these companies. 🤯
Not even business school students at the top global schools are doing this. They are doing case studies. And case studies are just another practice problem: all the information you need is in the 10 pages and we have the answer key on what these companies did. Sure, they are great practice and a way to learn, but there is no true impact involved. The great ideas don’t leave the classroom conversation.
This is something I never have had a chance to do when I was in high school. And so now my part is to help my students make the most of this experience. To make sure they are able to create something they are proud of and that has a real shot and making a difference. And to just be so excited about it, living vicariously through the students.
They are just getting started now so there isn't much to report! They spent time on the weekend being intentional about the project itself. Students worked in their teams to set roles, create a project plan, and define their desired culture. These are things most students don't do in school, yet they regularly work on group projects. To nobody's surprise, everyone has group project horror stories. How many of those could have been avoided if students spent an hour upfront going over logistics? How many school projects could have been 10x better by just having a project manager? And yet this isn’t taught in school.
I won’t leave you empty-handed. Are you looking to level up how you work in teams? Here are a few tips we shared with students:
Define your culture and anti-culture. How do you intend to work together? What do you want to avoid in your team culture?
Set clear roles and expectations. Sounds obvious but often goes uncommunicated.Be very explicit about who's doing what, how much time they intend to commit, and what the expected output is.
Create a game plan. As we discussed a few weeks ago, work backward: Determine how much time you have, and where you need to get to. Construct a plan for getting there by working backward.
Students have the next 2 weeks to conduct research, come up with their recommendations, and create a compelling (and beautiful) deck to send to the executives. I'll let you know how it goes.
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Figure it out
If I could attribute my career success to date to one thing, besides luck which I have my own thoughts on, it would be my ability to figure things out. Early on in my career, I got the opportunity to build an app for UNMAS, the UN's mine action service. One of the big reasons I got this opportunity was that I raised my hand and believed I could figure out how to build an app using a new technology (BTLE). My only experience at the time was publishing an app that was a white noise machine. I spent evenings and weekends working with a friend at our office testing the technology and trying to get different prototypes to work. When we finally figured it out and delivered the experience in NY, we got new chances to figure other things out.
Your ability to figure things out comes down to a few key attributes—persistence, creativity, resourcefulness—and your self-confidence. That might seem like a bit of a red herring, but you need to believe that you can figure it out and that taking that path is the right one. This often comes with time and experience; once you've done it a few times it becomes easier to realize you can figure it out.
Having this ability is especially important when there is no clear path forward. You can't just google the answer or ask someone for the right path. Great entrepreneurs and innovators do not have a playbook they can follow to build the future. Instead, they need to start trying many different things that work, approaching the problem like a scientist conducting experiments.
When we tell students to figure it out, we are not trying to be dismissive or discourage them from asking for help. We are trying to help them understand that other people aren't going to do the work for us, and we are capable of way more than we think.
In my experience, my favorite people to collaborate with are those who you trust to figure things out. You don't have to worry about offering too much direction; they will use their ingenuity to get to a solution. Paul Graham writes about this in his essay A Word to the Resourceful:
It turns out there is, and the key to the mystery is the old adage "a word to the wise is sufficient." Because this phrase is not only overused, but overused in an indirect way (by prepending the subject to some advice), most people who've heard it don't know what it means. What it means is that if someone is wise, all you have to do is say one word to them, and they'll understand immediately. You don't have to explain in detail; they'll chase down all the implications.
If you could train yourself on one skill to set yourself apart for the future, it would be your ability to figure it out. And look, most people think that's them. You probably think it's you too. And I'm not saying it's not! But let's try something.
Think of a person you admire who is out of reach.
They might run a big company, be a celebrity, play for a major sports team. The key thing is they aren't someone you already know.
Here’s my challenge for you: get an email response from them.
What are you going to do? How are you going to try it?
Reply to this with a screenshot if it happening if you do it.
Longevity goes mainstream – Disney+ just released a new show called Limitless starring Chris Hemsworth (Thor) about his pursuit of improving his health and longevity. He's joined by Dr. Peter Attia as a recurring guest star; you might remember him from our longevity issue as one of the early pioneers in the healthspan field. I've been making my way through the show and trying to incorporate some small lifestyle changes.
Developing High Agency – I love this twitter thread by startup advisor Shreyas Doshi on having high agency and developing. I find personal agency has strong overlap with being able to figure things out, so if you’re looking to level up, give this a read.
I'm being intentionally vague until the partners sign off on what we can talk about lol.
Ignoring spellcheck because we all get the idea.
If you want to read more about creativity in experiment design, I recommend The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch. Caveat: I still haven’t finished it.