In business, as in life, our experiences frame our perspectives and opinions. Most often, these experiences are reasonable indicators, leading us in directions that make sense. But sometimes, our life framework can trap us in old thinking, preventing us from getting “out of the box” and reaching for new frontiers.
Over the past few months, I had the privilege of working with a group of Wharton MBA students. As part of their curriculum, they are required to participate in what Wharton labels a “Field Application Project.” This year, one of the groups expressed interest in working on a project with Blaschak Coal Corp. Initially, I was more than a little surprised by this interest. After all, the Pennsylvania anthracite industry is not exactly a “cutting edge” sector. Being associated with the rest of the coal industry often turns people away from working with us, so it is refreshing when younger generations engage in identifying ways for the industry to grow and prosper. It was a pleasure working with this diverse group of energetic and highly motivated young professionals.
The group (see the enclosed picture ‒ I am the old guy in the center) was constructed in such a way as to almost define the concept of being “diverse.” Male and female, ethnically distinct, from all parts of the world with professional backgrounds ranging from banking and financial advisory to the military; having studied in schools from the United States to Rio de Janeiro, Chile to France, Russia and New South Wales. From my perspective as a “seasoned” (a euphemism for old and experienced) American business executive, this project was an energizing and enjoyable part of my professional life for these few months.
I have always believed in seeking challenges and looking for people with different perspectives and approaches. However, I confess that it is sometimes far easier to lean on what I know, take my own counsel and go the “easy way,” but that way will inevitably lead us into the “we have always done it this way” and “we tried that once” kind of thinking, and will never get us “out of the box.” This experience of working with younger, enthusiastic professionals, familiar with and schooled in new ways of thinking, analyzing and developing ideas, and not weighed down with the baggage of the past has opened my eyes to exactly that type of “out of the box” perspective.
The work of this team was well done. They used tools learned in their contemporary and world class academic setting. The project provided them the opportunity to exercise and apply their knowledge, delve into learning about a business they knew nothing about and create some ideas that will be evaluated as part of our strategy going forward.
This project was initiated as a part of the curriculum to take this team forward in their knowledge and skill set, but it also reminded me of the benefits of seeking new thinking and not getting locked in to the way it has always been. That might be the most important thing that came out of this work.
Posted on 04/30/18