Monday, December 12, 2016

Class Projects

While I am still waiting on some of these to come in, I uploaded the virtual elevator speeches I have received and also posted grades for those teams.   Below I want to make several more in depth comments about the projects.

About the Grading

The grading was pretty generous in my view.  The underlying philosophy with this exercise in particular but also with much of the rest of the course is that this is learning as intermediate product.  In other words, perhaps what you did here can be of use to you to learn something else in the future.  Evaluating that is different than evaluating final product (which is sometimes called mastery learning).  None of you have yet mastered the papers you were reviewing.  With intermediate products in learning, the mistakes can be more useful than something polished.  I really didn't want to penalize mistakes made in earnest.  So the grades were high with very little variation from one team to the next.

About the Virtual Elevator Speeches

If you haven't heard of this book before, you might look at Made to Stick.  There are also a variety of online presentations under that title that you might view.  It gives you a sense of what your job is as presenter.  Surprisingly, you don't present the paper.  Instead, you present connections that your audience might make to the paper.  This is a different task.  It is hard enough when you know the audience.  In this case, your audience was supposed to be students who might take the course in the future.  If I were in your shoes, I would have tried to envision myself (as student) as the audience but without having read the paper first.

One other general point.  If you haven't read the children's story The Princess and the Pea you should.   It is not very long and conveys an important point.  While this presentation was for class only, you can think of it as practice for presentations you will make in the future, possibly where you are a subordinate presenting to upper management.  In that case, it is good to think of upper management as like the princess in the story.  The least little thing might bother them.  You should avoid that if at all possible.  One thing that many presentations did is to end abruptly before the music finished.  That's the sort of thing you should avoid.

Now some more specific comments.  When you write a white paper you typically produce an Executive Summary to go along with it.  That is one or at most two pages which gives an overview of the full white paper.  Many people read only the executive summary.  Or they read that and then a chunk of the white paper on the topic they are interested in.

However, an executive summary is different from a presentation on the paper.  Some of your presentations were really more like executive summaries.  You didn't trust that the images could communicate the ideas.  So you put in a lot of text.  But that is because you were presenting the paper rather than the connections the audience should make.

The most common single error in a presentation made by a subordinate to the bigwigs is to give too much information early on.  The reason for the error is that the presenter is nervous and wants to establish that he or she is qualified to make the presentation.  But the bigwigs are entirely uninterested in that.  Their time is scarce.  Can they get their hooks into the idea immediately or not? If you don't grab them right off the bat, they are lost.

Some groups did have an image reliant presentation but I found the image selection challenging - meaning I wasn't sure what message I should be drawing from the image.  If the audience is confused, it is possible they will tune out before they can catch onto what is being presented.  Group C did a nice job with image selection.  Their presentation is worth looking at.  It really is very simple.  That was the goal.

About the Papers

This is where the bulk of the work was and for most of you I'm sure this was a stretch.    What is most interesting to me is how much overlap there was from one team's paper to the next, although the papers under review were quite varied.  What this showed me is that sometimes you can learn a broad topic by studying something in a bit of depth that is on a particular aspect of the topic.  The particular gets connected to the general.

I am guessing that for most of you reading the paper you reviewed was a challenge and it is probably the case that you won't be reading Econ journal articles in the future, though you might read pieces from Harvard Business Review or other Business Reviews as you try to advance through your career - a much cheaper way to learn management thinking than to pay for an MBA.  (I'm not knocking the formal business training, just saying that you can do your own professional development by reading published work on this stuff.)

The other part of the exercise that you probably won't get again anytime soon is to have someone edit your first drafts for you.  If you do end up in a job where writing a white paper happens now and then, that editing function becomes increasingly important.  If you can learn to be a good reader that way and give feedback to others about their drafts, you will be valued for that.  And if you can't do it, it's good for you to know somebody who can.

You see a lot of bulleted lists out there nowadays, a trend I find regrettable, because then the people generating the lists don't have to connect the ideas into a narrative.  That is left for the audience to do.  Part of the goal behind the paper is for you to understand that the authors really should be the ones who do that, but it is a lot of work.  We easily could have had still one more round of revisions, except for the end of the semester.  Let's be thankful for that.

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