Saturday, October 20, 2012

The renowned faculty Open Door Policy: 1-on-1 with Professor Carraway

At Darden, there is normally no class on Friday, and it's usually my catch-up day. On one particular Friday, I had a very open and life-learning dialogue with my Decision Analysis (DA) professor. Let me set the stage for you: I wanted to speak with him about my contribution in class and I believed I was behind in class materials. So, my expectations? That I would be going through some previous cases from classes and trying to learn the materials again. Well, here's how it actually went...

10:15 A.M.
P: Good morning, Gloria. Do you want to go outside? It's such a beautiful day today!
G: Of course!

(As I was getting ready to pull out my cases and jump into my concerns)
P: So, Gloria. I'm glad you came to see me. Now, tell me more about yourself. Where're you from and what did you do before? How're you liking it in Charlottesville so far?
G: Blah, blah, blah...(I ended up talking about humidity in Hong Kong vs. humidity in Virginia, the super hot/dry weather in Oklahoma and some other random stuff)
P: I see. What do you want to do after Darden then?
G: So, I wanted to go into consulting. I mean, I think I want to go into consulting - I just don't think that 1 month into the program someone can actually say "Yeah, I know absolutely that I will only be recruiting for consulting."
P: Right.
G: But then, I was also thinking about marketing, until I came here to Darden and found out that marketing isn't what I think it was.
P: Hmm, interesting. And why is that?
G: I didn't expect marketing to be that number-heavy, I guess. I mean, I know there will be numbers behind it, but I didn't expect our marketing classes to be so driven by calculations. And I'm a little surprised by that. So now, I don't know if I can do marketing...And I am trying to catch up in DA as well because I don't know where it fits in...(15 minutes later, we somehow transitioned into the topic of DA!)

P: Here's the thing: Engine Services is one of the toughest cases here. There are many things going on and you are trying to capture all the uncertainties to help you make a decision. Right? (The meeting happened soon after we had a really difficult case and that I didn't quite get everything during class...) What is really important for you guys to learn is that you know some facts and you know there are some uncertainties there. You want to account for what you know, but ALSO what you don't know. How do you represent all of these accurately?

G: Yeah, I get those things. It's just that I find it hard to "say" it in an excel language. I used excel everyday at work before, but mostly in a data mining fashion, so using excel the way we do in our classroom isn't something I'm used to --- as if that's not excel to me. We are talking about Crystalball and running a risk profile and etc on excel. Obviously, I know only a portion about excel. That's likely why.

P: Let's talk about this. I look at this like a movie or a book, with a general plot and many small character or chapter developments. You always want to hang on to the main plot in any situation, even though you really want to dig into the details of the development of the story. Let me tell you a true story. I had a student in my class a few years back and she barely passed DA --- with the lowest possible grade. But when she did her internship in the summer and came back on ground, she came up to me and said, "Carraway, you have no idea. I blew everyone out of water because I was the only one on my team who could keep the team on the larger plot of the project." Many people are really good at the numbers, but not many can always stay on top of the big picture and drive the discussion in a meaningful way. I'm gonna rely on you guys to step up and say, "hey, I'm not following here. You need to explain it to me again." Or, if the class is getting stuck on a small development within the bigger plot, help drag us out of the mud. Think of yourself as the CEO sitting in a board meeting. If you don't understand what's going on, there is no way your meeting is going to help you at all. Your job is to bring everyone back to that main plot and help everyone think about whether there is a need for discussion on what you are talking about. It's hard, I understand. But that's best way you can help the class and that's one of the best contributions you can bring. And you know what, I'm trying to play less and less of this role in our class, because in an actual company meeting, I'm not gonna be there to do this. You will need to do this more and more as time goes on. Now I'm not telling you to not do the numbers. DO Them and do them right! But never lose sight on the big picture, because that is what's going to take you miles ahead of everyone. And it's the hardest thing to learn, quite honestly. So, always hang on to the main plot and you will realize how valuable you are to any team you will be on.

G: That's such a great story. I hope I can be one of those people....

P: Don't worry. You will be fine. Right now, you are focusing on everything that hit you and bounce right out because you just don't get it. But trust me, maybe you don't realize how much actually went into you. And you will be surprised by how much you have learned in this short amount of time. It's not about the one case that you did good or poorly on. It's where you take DA into your next internship and your future career.

11 A.M.
The talk adjourned after a good 45 minutes. I never referenced a single page on any DA case the whole time. But I've learned some huge life lessons in our 45 minutes.

  • Don't let your previously developed reflex about schooling get in the way of your learning. I'm at that point in my life where it is no longer just about going to class each day and find a way to ace your exams. If you don't actually learn things out of it, an A has no meaning to you. Grad school is about the learning experience. I am in grad school because I want to learn, not because I have to come back to school. I'll admit, I'm still changing my mindset about this and I'm not quite there yet. 
  • Find a way to connect your classes to your life and career. That's more important than trying to be an expert of a single case (although being an expert in cases really help). 
  • It just takes a wise mentor and few words of wisdom to help you see things a little differently. And your entire perspective will probably change. It can be a million-dollar moment for many people. And I'm glad it enlightened me to a whole new level of thinking. 
Prof. Carraway, if you are ever reading this blog, I wanted to say that while I still don't believe that I have mastered DA in any shape or form, I tried in our classroom and I am going to continue to practice DA in the next 40 years of my life. 


  1. Yep. He's great. I talked to him once and I learned a lot as you mentioned too.


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