Whilst scanning my eyes over the immense scope of a new client project last year I decided we could really use a few young and hungry undergrads to deploy on some of the temporary groundwork. It would be great vocational experience for them and could free up our senior team members.
The easiest way of sourcing such resource is your university professors and after rifling through my gmail address book I contacted one of my favourites from undergrad’ days, we’ll call him Hank.
Given that I’d always admired Hank’s forthright approach I should have foreseen his response; “Of course I’ll send you some CVs, but you have to come and give a guest lecture for me first…”.
I agreed and two days later the train tickets landed on my desk. The brief was short and sweet, “talk to them about anything you like” said Hank, “I can only give them so much, we want to weave live examples into their lectures”.
That night I leafed through the student’s curriculum and after four espressos I decided that data and its role in contemporary communications was a decent theme on which to build some slides.
“…but I’ll need to keep it simple, just overviews and synopses” I thought to myself, “I mustn’t scare them, I’ve got to avoid complexity …I wonder if I have any tweed”.
I should note at this stage that this was the first lecture I’d given and on arrival at the business school I was filled with an excitement that I hadn’t felt in any presentations to clients. I met Hank and we enjoyed a catch up over coffee before he led me to the lecture theatre, “It’s our new one!” Hank exclaimed as he scurried excitedly through the atrium, “It’s like Wembley, I’ve never seen anything like it!”.
The door swung open and my nostrils were filled with that lecture theatre smell, I want to say the smell of textbooks and carpets, being fully aware that both of these things are quite odourless but I’m convinced they take on a smell when found in a lecture theatre.
I scanned the rows and saw hundreds of versions of my former self; reading, texting, talking, sleeping, writing, joking and whispering. With the sobering and abrupt sound of Hank clearing his throat into the microphone the theatre fell silent and my jaw tightened a little.
It had been a while since I’d addressed such a number of eyeballs and after a warm introduction from Hank I stepped to the podium and was immediately startled by the amplification of my own voice through the speaker system.
My mind whispered that I’d presented to highly senior clients from some of the biggest brands on earth from New York to Seoul, “you can give a lecture to some undergrads” it said.
I got straight into it, citing examples from brands and anecdotes from the industry and began to find my rhythm.
It was at this point that a hand was raised and a student pitched a question, it was similar to a question I’d been asked by a senior client a couple of weeks prior, but it was deeper and from a very different perspective.
I answered it and moved on.
I began a section of the lecture that had taken the most time to simplify, a bit of a thorny area on the pitfalls associated with the contemporary perceptions of data, once again a hand politely rose into the air and some of the complexity I had removed in the prior nights work was pitched back to me by a curious undergraduate.
As the lecture continued, so too did the pattern of fantastic questions. One after the other, the students threw questions that I hadn’t been asked before, genuine curve balls. I began to release more detail in my answers and still the opinions continued, the debate was fresh and new.
After a brilliant but challenging 90 minutes I retired to a pub for a debrief and final nostalgic chat with Hank and boarded the train back to London.
As it wound into the countryside I felt tired and began to think about why the undergraduates had been so original. They asked questions without fear and without preconception.
Being in an industry, surrounded by like-minded professionals all working towards the same goals makes us a little numb. I’d been asked to come and give a lecture because of the frame of reference I could provide to the students – but after that 90 minutes was done it was my mind that had been opened.
When I got back into the office the following day my team asked how it had gone and I described my surprise at what had been pitched at me. At this point one colleague gave me the idea for the title of this post, he said;
“The batter on a baseball team always includes a left-handed pitcher in his training regime because Lefties have a natural curve in their throw which makes them incredibly unpredictable. Mate, you had a theatre full of lefties!”.
In our industry, undergraduates are “lefties”, so step up to the plate and test yourself.