Transition: Crafting an approach

“I wasn’t interested in leading a double life,” said AJ a former colleague of mine who co-founded Infuse, a not-for-profit entrepreneurship program for inner-city high school students in Silicon Valley.   Her dual risk arose because she works as a program manager at Infinera, a publicly traded optical networking company.   It’s easy to get inspired when speaking with AJ.   She is a bundle of energy and passion.  Aside from being enthused about her work at Infuse I’m fascinated by her dual dilemma ‘approach.’ 

I guess her approach could be summed up in a word, integration.   Or maybe better, creativity.   In trying to build traction for Infuse AJ didn’t appeal to her company’s CEO or corporate philanthropy budget for a typical donation.   She enrolled the CEO in her vision and found a way to get him to commit his digital rolodex.  Once enrolled the two became vested in Infuse’s outcomes.

Is approach everything?   My guess is that it could have a meaningful impact on outcomes if we take the time to think about alternatives…creatively.

Given my AJ experience I read with great interest yesterday’s “Giving Women the Access Code,” in The New York Times Science Times (4/3/12).   Katie Hafner interviewed Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, about her approach to changing enrollment of female students in computer science majors.  The net of it was elegantly simple.

Upon reflection the school found that the initial entry-level course for computer science was a dud.  It played to sweaty young men who were code jocks..but did little to introduce non-coders to the world of computer science.  The school decided to change the course, offering instead a “focus on computational approaches to solving problems across science.”  (The New York Times, April 3, 2012, D1)

Viola!  In a period of 5 years Harvey Mudd went from “single digit female enrollment to nearly 40% for its computer science major.” (The New York Times, April 3, 2012, D4)   On campus, they refer to this transformation as a ‘makeover.’

The unassuming female president, herself a PhD in computer science, shared that the “idea is to make the introductory course enjoyable and interesting enough that women who were thinking of other majors chose computer science instead.”  She acknowledges that movies like “The Social Network,” and companies like Facebook, Yelp and Zynga have also helped.

Can thoughtfulness about approach change outcomes in transition?  I think the answer is yes.   But how can we ensure Harvey Mudd-esque thinking enters into our approach design?  What do you think?

I remember asking a few advisors to react to an approach that we were planning to use to sell EMaven, Inc., the tech company that I founded and ran over a decade ago.   One gentleman, who ran a local software company, said ‘you need to be in a relationship with your buyer two years before the transaction.’   Wow. Two years.  Not quite the gestation we were thinking.  That said his thoughts were incredibly impactful on our approach.  Instead of outreaching to potential buyers with a sales pitch, we outreached with a partnership message.  Eleven months later we sold the company.

The honest truth is that we probably would never have thought of the ‘partnership’ approach.  And honestly it made all the difference.

So, what am I saying?  Be creative & thoughtful about your approach to major milestones in transition.  Test it on a few folks who aren’t afraid to disagree with you.  Just look at the crew from Harvey Mudd….the unassuming campus has achieved rock star status by creatively changing its approach.  Are you ready for the spotlight?

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One response to “Transition: Crafting an approach

  1. Pingback: AJ Thomas on Doppelgängers and Partnerships | Infuse Program

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