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Finding My Voice: A Foreign Landscape

  • Jay Kiew, Ivey MBA 2018
  • |
  • May 15, 2017
Finding My Voice: A Foreign Landscape

Jay Kiew, Ivey MBA 2018

I was intimidated.

As someone with seven years of Toastmasters experience, I don’t usually get scared of being judged by other people, but this was entirely different.

During my first few weeks at Ivey, our professors introduced the infamous case method. A class using the case method differs from your standard university lecture because it begins with a problem and trusts that you’re resourceful enough to find a solution. A sample situation might be figuring out why some teams struggle with mediocrity while others flourish. Another situation might be deciding whether a utilities corporation should invest in weather derivatives or not. Each day, we are given different scenarios where we may not have all the information necessary to make a solid decision.

In fact, if you’re coming from a social sciences background (like me), you may never have taken a finance course in your life, making finding that information fairly difficult. Needless to say, the learning curve is extremely steep as you are thrown into the deep end of a pool that requires you to build financial models, analyze accounting ratios, and manage high performance teams. Where the case method gets interesting is when our work experiences come into discussion during class.

Here’s where the intimidation factor came into play for me.

One of the requirements of the case method is meaningful contribution, defined as providing information or insight that drives the class conversation forward.

If you’re thinking “Oh, you mean participation? That’s easy!” – think again.

While the concept of participation was familiar to me, the concept of contribution was not.

While our class could consistently provide good contribution like basic facts and numbers included in the case, one thing I immediately struggled with was excellent contribution. Excellent contribution meant that you had to quickly think on your feet and drive deep, relative insight that brought something new to the table. The only catch was that you didn’t know what the question was going to be and you didn’t know if you had an answer.

Wrestling with the idea of what makes great contribution, I took the advice from our accounting professor to reflect on the past six weeks. Impromptu Contribution has taught me three things:

  1. Look for a hook.

When you’ve raised your hand, your professor has picked you, and everybody is staring at you expectantly, there’s a lot of internal pressure to speak quickly to get your point across. When that initially happened, my face would flush and I would rush out my words as if they weren’t really that important. My lack of confidence, of course, caused the class to think that my contribution was going to be mundane — and their eyes would glaze over.

Then, I stumbled across the idea of a hook one day during our “Leading People and Organizations” session when I started by saying “The manager really has to think about the implications of bacon.” Because it seemed so random, everybody leaned in to hear where I was going to take the conversation. Hooks enable you to draw people’s attention and spark their curiosity. 

  1. Data solidifies your position.

In our Economics class, I stated that Canada was doing great because we were second behind the U.S. out of the G7 countries, both in GDP growth and our unemployment rate. Our professor fired back “How do you know that?” Although my statement was true based on TD Bank’s economic outlook article, I didn’t have the numbers in front of me. I stuttered and stammered while rustling through my papers, only to look ill-prepared in front of my peers. Trust me — having the data points to support your statements is a necessity for credibility.

  1. Act first, pivot later.

I knew I was off my contribution game today when a classmate approached me and asked me if I was sick. “You’re normally really sharp, but today you were slouched over and really dull. I noticed that you were silent and didn’t say a single thing. Are you okay?” Izaak asked. I laughed. While I wasn’t sick at all, I disappeared into my own thoughts. As an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs personality spectrum, I’m an introvert who likes to be prepared. This becomes tough when the privilege of taking the time to absorb additional information or analyze data before taking a stance simply isn’t there.

What really happened is that I became paralyzed by the fear of not saying the correct thing. It took me four hours and thirty minutes (all three classes) to muster the courage to throw my hand up. Finally, when I did, rapid adaptation to a new concept, which I thought was going to be formidable, ended up being fairly easy. The fear was all in my head. Although it’s nice to be prepared 100% of the time, sometimes courage means acting first and pivoting later.

Finding my voice

Although these three things have slowly improved my contribution levels, I think there’s a lot for me to learn. There are many roads to contribution and with each case, it feels like we’re just embarking on the next one.

“Every time you speak, you audition for leadership.” – James Humes