Let me start by promoting a really good idea. Summer Advantage is a nonprofit, yet entrepreneurial, summer learning program designed to arrest and reverse the summer slide, the 3 month math and reading decline that puts low income kids further and further behind their middle class counterparts every year. Not only does Summer Advantage prevent the slide, the Scholars in the 2009 Indiana pilot gained 3 months! When a child goes from a 3 month loss to a 3 month gain, that adds up to 6 months of impact. Earl Phalen, the founder and CEO, is dedicated to Summer Advantage’s replication, at speed, throughout the nation. So you will probably hear about Summer Advantage again.
I heard about it because it was the protagonist of an education innovation case competition sponsored this weekend by the Kellogg School of Management. As a biased reporter, I’m happy to confirm that a University of Chicago Booth School of Business team won the competition. But not my team. There were three Chicago Booth teams in competition, out of nine, which I think is an excellent refutation of certain stereotypes about our MBA program.
My teammates and I didn’t get far because we fell into an analysis trap. Since a passion for in-depth analysis is the reason I started this blog, I’m sharing this “teachable moment.” We spent hours upon hours scouring the details, comparing poverty rates and funding levels between cities, heatedly arguing the fine points, and applying our well-taught theoretical frameworks. We really, really thought through the thing. And we really believe our recommendation is solid and achievable. And then we over-worked our slides, didn’t get enough sleep, didn’t rehearse, and didn’t present very well. I spent about a week on financial analysis that was greeted by blank stares. Maybe it was my stumbling speech and grouchy staring. Not sure.
In the end, we would have done a lot better in competition if we’d cut off the analysis a day earlier and just focused purely on our presentation and getting enough sleep. But we would not have come up with a better recommendation. So, I could sit on my high horse and complain about this. It would feel good. But our recommendation failed to impress because we did not do a good job communicating it. We could have been proving the feasibility of cold fusion, and nobody would have known. And it wasn’t just a competition. Earl Phalen, and his funders, colleagues and advisors, were right there, listening to us, looking for answers to difficult questions. It chafes to have been given that opportunity, and to have wasted it.
The presentation is not everything. But without strong presentation, the merits of one’s argument get lost. When competing with phrasemongers, you have to be smarter AND slicker.