Saturday, February 07, 2009

Stanford GSB, Entry 18: Mid-terms, Sticky Ideas, and Governor Meg Whitman?

Mid-Terms and Socializing

On Thursday of this week I lifted up my backpack and found that it was lighter than it had been in a long time. What was missing?

It was “Libby, Libby, Short”. Or to be more precise, it was our 800-page accounting textbook, written by the accountants who bore these three odd-sounding names.

Yes, we had our accounting midterm on Wednesday, and after carrying the very thick textbook around campus with me for the last week, I was glad to finally have “Libby, Libby, Short” off of my back! Literally!

This was our first and only midterm of the quarter for the required Core Classes in the Sloan program (there are two required classes – Accounting and Marketing). Since I had skipped more than one accounting class (surprise, surprise, given that this is my 8 am class!), I figured I had better study hard and do well on the exam to make up for my morning somnambulism (that's a word I learned for my GMAT when applying to business school, hopefully I used it correctly!).

How did I do?

I’m not sure – the results will be handed back on Monday, but we received an email from the professor that the average score was something like 26 out of 30, which is pretty good. That's great news for the class ("All for one, and one for all") but I’m still trying to figure out whether that’s a good or a bad thing for any if us personally, given that we’re all graded on a curve?

Unfortunately, I have one more midterm coming up. My next mid-term is called something like “International Financial Management” – but I just call it my “currency trading class” because that’s what it’s effectively about.

Along with mid-terms, the busy Sloan social calendar marches on. Last night (Friday) we had one of our first international parties – this one was themed on India. Many classmates bought Indian outfits and there was Indian food as well as Indian dancing and culture. I ended up not going (No, not because I’m Pakistani and there are India-Pak tensions in the air these days LOL), but because of family and other commitments. I’m looking forward to the next international party, though.

Making Ideas Stick

At some point this quarter, I’d like to write about each of my classes so you can get a sense of what they’re about. One of my more fun classes is called “How to Make Ideas Stick” and it’s taught by Chip Heath, one of the authors of the book, “Making Ideas Stick: Why some Ideas survive and Others Die” ( the other author is his brother, Dan Heath).

The basic premise of the class (and the book) is that in the human world, some ideas are memorable and persist on their own, whether they are true or not, while others do not. For example, urban myths persist on their own – you only have to hear them once and then don’t have to worry that you’ll forget them. Not only are they easily remembered, but they are repeated again and again virally, with no effort from the people that started the myths (if we could even track down).

Some ideas have persisted across cultures – for example the saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is not only repeated here in the US, but as a quick survey of our very international class of Sloans and MBAs found, has its equivalent in many, many other cultures, ranging from Japan to South America to Europe. Whether the idea is true or not seems to have very little to do with whether it survives in people's minds.

The idea of the class is that brilliant marketers, speakers, and writers use this knowledge of how and why some ideas “stick” to their advantage – either knowingly or unknowingly. And that many of us, who will have to make pitches or market products in the business world should have practice in making ideas more memorable, likely to be repeated - i.e. to “sticky”.

The formula the brothers Heath have found for these ideas is abbreviated SUCCES – Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotional, and Stories.

The way to learn to do this is to practice it, which we do in almost every one of our classes, focusing on a different aspect of this formula. As an example, this week our group had to come up with an example or pitch that would make sense out of whether the following was possible or not: In 2002, Venture Capitalists raised something like $204 billion of capital. In order to justify an 18% return (which is a historical benchmark for VC’s) they would have to return some $1.3 trillion in market value over 10 years.

Our intuition was that this wasn’t very likely. But our group (and others) struggled with a way to make these big numbers (Particularly the $1.3 trillion) “sticky” to an audience of financial investors, etc. Finally I remembered from my Entrepreneurship and VC classes that there were something like an average of 100 IPO’s per year during the height of the go-go 90’s. And in 2008 there were less than 7 total IPO’s, and in the last few quarters of 2008 there were exactly zero.

I also vaguely recalled that there was something like $100 million returned per successful IPO (we looked it up and Google told us it was something like $120 milion returned per IPO).

So we came up with the idea: For this to be possible, there would need to be 3 IPO’s per day, on average, every single day for the next 10 years for the VC’s to return this kind of result! How likely is that given the IPO rates we’ve seen in the past (even in the best VC years there were 100 or so IPO's per year)? Not very likely.

We took a big number, made it concrete, unexpected, and compared it with a yardstick (the 1990’s) that they would all know, and this was a good way to “present” this idea. The class is really about how to “present” ideas to make them more sticky. You can see why it’s fun too!

Meg Whitman – the next governor of California?

One of the entrepreneurship classes at the GSB had a very well known visitor this week – Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay. Meg spoke to the class and then stayed afterwards while the students had lunch for an informal Q&A. Even though I wasn’t in the class, I was able (with the professor’s permission) to slip into the class to hear the end of her talk.

During the Q&A session, she not only talked about her experiences at eBay, but also her future career plans. There has been a lot of speculation (on and off what the republicans call the Internets) that Meg Whitman will be running for Governor of California in the upcoming campaign as a republican. She did after all spend most of the last year working on John McCain’s campaign.

Well, in front of a group of Stanford GSB students, she told us definitely whether she will be running for governor or not, even though a formal announcement has not yet been made. She also said that an announcement would be made formally on Monday, so far be it for me to spill the beans on my little Stanford GSB blog, but it’s kind of fun to at Stanford and at least in this case, to be “in the know”.

Check out on Monday and you’ll be in the know too!

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Anonymous Home in Sandy Springs Ga said...

Dump the 800 pound text book and enjoy the international party!

11:33 PM  

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