Merriam-Webster defines a laboratory as “a place providing opportunity for experimentation, observation, or practice in a field of study.” The most prominent version we encounter is for science: chemicals, test tubes, dissection tools, things that help us break the world around us down into smaller pieces to analyze and rebuild or recreate. But by the above definition, the whole world qualifies as a laboratory, if one takes the opportunity to use it. Through the Fisher College of Business Marketing Global Lab, I was able to do just that.
The Marketing Global Lab was a second session fall semester course followed by a capstone trip to Singapore. During the class, we not only did marketing case studies and textbook readings to familiarize ourselves with the pains and gains of going global as a corporation, but we were split into teams and assigned projects to complete. These projects came from big companies, asking for research and fresh, relevant ideas for marketing strategies, which we would ultimately present to the respective company executives during our week in Singapore. My team was assigned to Johnson & Johnson’s Acuvue brand; talk about high stakes and pressure.
I have worked in teams before; no one in Fisher is a stranger to group projects. But never before had I had so many obstacles to a team bonding together, let alone getting the job done. We had very little guidance, save a one page prompt, and had to find a way to put a lot of moving pieces together in a concise, compelling manner. To make matters worse, a member of our team dropped halfway through the course. In theory, this should have made things easier in terms of coordinating and communicating, but we were still struggling to channel all of our research and creativity into a persuasive presentation that did our work and ideas justice. We did not manage to do it in time.
The dress rehearsal for the Singapore presentations took place during finals week of fall semester. Not an easy time for anyone, but my group seemed to have an especially difficult time getting our act together. We had a presentation for the rehearsal, but with as horribly as that went over, we might have been better off to skip the rehearsal entirely. Everything was very scripted and our PowerPoint a weak visual aid. That alone could not have been so bad, but when team members choose to go off script in a presentation they do not know like the back of their hand, there is no coming back. We were embarrassed, furious with ourselves for being so underprepared, and sick of the project that had turned into such a guessing game we were no longer sure there was any merit to our ideas.
Luckily, they call it a “rehearsal” for a reason: we rallied. Over break, team members worked diligently to rewrite the presentation. Our PowerPoint got more than a facelift – something closer to completely reconstructive plastic surgery. We upped our presentation skills game and arrived in Singapore a new team. Well, half of us did, at least. One of our teammates got stranded in London, a city not in his original flight itinerary, and was 24 hours delayed to Singapore. It was not the worst set back we had faced. To be honest, I think we were all excited to present the heart and soul we had poured into the new, improved presentation to get approval.
Once more, things did not go well. Our first presentation to our professor at the hotel in Singapore resulted in more severe makeover work to be done. The flow and order of our presentation was completely rearranged once, twice, then returned to its post-Christmas break product all in 24 hours. Our speaking parts did not change immensely, but parts were added and removed in certain places, some spiels were inverted and reordered and then returned to the first iteration. We were all so mentally shaken up in regards to the material we created and knew inside and out that we were, quite frankly, rather stripped of confidence. We had a lot of help, a lot of people cheering for us. The MBA mentors on the trip offered time and advice for improving our product. They patiently listened to us work through the presentation in a rough draft form, as we struggled to wrap our minds around the final version. For the third time in the course of this experience, we did not make the cut. By the time we re-presented to our professor, our brains were fried, and we were terrified of failure. We were unable to communicate the really intriguing research we had done, let alone the creative applications we had developed to apply this research to a marketing strategy. It did not matter that we had been fully functioning two days prior – we had to do it now. And that meant figuring out a different way to execute the task at hand.
Our presentation was morphed into a sort of moderated panel. When we arrived at Johnson & Johnson’s headquarters, the entire class situated itself around a long conference table. My team sat in the middle, the three of us with an MBA mentor on either side. One of the mentors introduced our project and team members and was meant to transition us between segments of the presentation, but we took it away. We presented like I had never heard or seen my teammates present before. The time, effort, sweat, and tears we had poured into this work was evident in the confidence and exuberance with which we discussed our research and ideas with the President of Johnson & Johnson’s Acuvue Brand and his team. Our twenty-minute presentation was followed by 45 minutes of Q&A; the executives were genuinely curious about what we had learned in our research, and in hearing more about our proposal and the potential benefits it would pose for their business. Even once we broke for refreshments, I continued to speak with executives about our findings and ideas; they genuinely cared and appreciated the journey we had made and the findings we brought to them. Our team finally made it out into the sunlight, and I could not have adequately imagined how warming the success would feel.
I learned a lot through this experience. I learned to deal better with teams; never before had I had such a difficult task in encouraging cooperation and guiding the work we had to do. Maybe that was because none of us really knew where we were going until we got there. Maybe we underestimated how tricky it would be to do our preparation justice in the actual presentation. I am not sure. But I cannot control other people, and that was extremely evident over the course of this project. I think adversity was our saving grace; we had fallen down together so many times that we were all bound and determined to conquer this challenge once and for all, no matter how our work was critiqued nor what setbacks we faced.
I learned to put my head down and barrel through. It did not matter how frustrated I was with the situation, how aggravating our lack of momentum might have been, how much I thought the world was against us; I just had to reset and start again. The alternative option was quitting, and I was not going there. I learned to deal with criticism and disrespect, to separate the hurt from the constructive points and take only the latter with me. I learned that one does not always receive a pat on the back for a job well done, and that a finale could be all the more grand for the mountainous hurdles that might get in its way.
Dealing with and rising from failure is the most valuable lesson this experience taught me. Bodybuilders cannot bulk without tearing down the muscles that exist, and a person cannot grow without being knocked down and rallying to come back strong. I cannot please everyone, but I can put forth my best effort and commit to a task entirely, pushing through the ups and downs. Sometimes adversity wins out, and no matter how hard I work the outcome may still be lousy. But even then, there is effort and resilience to be proud of – I just have to be sure that I leave everything I have on stage with the final product. If I do my best, and do not give up, then I have every right to take pride in my work. The opinion of a boss or of teammates can be taken or left, but when show time comes, I have to be satisfied with my own performance.