You are always part of the system

A lifelong reading habit and skill with numbers meant that standardized tests were relatively easy for me. That plus marginal social skills helped me handle the first several hurdles in formal schooling with relative ease. I ticked off a succession of steps in a name brand educational resume and equally name brand early career stops. Come my early thirties, my new bride and I decide to shift from the corporate ladder climb to the academic path. I reach out to a favorite professor and apply to a doctoral program in business.

This is a qualitatively different process and experience. Instead of being one of hundreds or thousands competing to fill one of a thousand spots, I’m one of dozens seeking a handful of openings. To this point, the question has been “do we think you will turn out to be a representative example of the product we turn out?” Now the question becomes “do we want to let you into our club?”

Perfect scores on standardized tests are common. Transcripts with failing grades are not. Now, a relationship with a favorite professor takes on greater significance. To an admissions committee I am a potential risk. With an advocate, there is a compromise path. Leave your consulting position and take a position as a case writer working for your advocate. Prove to the admissions committee that you can produce quality work and they will reconsider in a year.

I did and they did.

What this became was an early step and an exemplar experience in a journey from connecting the dots to solving for pattern. An experience I lived through before I had the vocabulary to describe it.

Rather than rattling off answers to a standard question or teasing out a picture already concealed in a set of existing dots, I was learning a new process. One of formulating and posing questions to see what they might reveal.

A crucial aspect to this change in perspective is that you need to account for yourself when you are solving for pattern. You are part of the system you are trying to understand.