Fridays from the Frontline: Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone in Business School
Business schools often highlight “experiential learning” opportunities as a hallmark of their MBA programs. In this Fridays from the Frontline, Sami Abdisubhan, NYU Stern MBA ’20, walks us through what one looks like as a student. Read on for how the challenges of the experiential course transformed his skill set and perspective, to better prepare him for the professional world.
Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone in Business School
Sami Abdisubhan is an MBA2 who spent his summer internship at Anheuser-Busch. Sami serves as VP of Marketing & Operations for Stern in Africa (SiA), VP of Training for Stern FC, and Co-President of the Association of Hispanic and Black Business Students (AHBBS). He is specializing in Marketing and Business Analytics.
One of the values of earning an MBA is exploration. Whether it’s exploring a new industry, function, city, or experience, there lies opportunity in an unusually supported manner when at business school. A subset of this value proposition is something NYU Stern’s Dean, Dean Raghu Sundaram, said to us on our first day of LAUNCH, Stern’s orientation: business school is the best time in your careers to fail. Despite the irony that I’m paraphrasing, this was a moment that I’ve cherished from orientation. There is no safer environment to professionally experiment than business school. The stakes will not be lower! This line from our Dean helped me get through an experiential learning class I took in my first year called Consulting Lab: Branding and Innovation.
Coming into Stern, I wanted to pivot my career into consumer marketing with a focus on brand management. While brand management is effectively a general management function, there is a responsibility to own how a brand is portrayed and understood and that has always been my interest and passion in marketing. When available, I jumped at the opportunity to register for Consulting Lab, knowing it was an experiential learning class; experiential learning, as it sounds, is a format of learning obtained through real-life projects and business challenges. I saw this class as a way to train myself before my summer internship, brand management at Anheuser-Busch, in that fail-safe environment that Dean Sundaram mentioned.
When I started the class, I was very excited to hear from the client about the challenge they brought to us. There was a thrill to it: a large financial services firm was coming to us, graduate students, to support a project with which they genuinely needed help! A slight problem arose: I didn’t understand the challenge. The prompt was clear to me and I understood the need for the project from the client’s side – I just didn’t know where to start. For the most part, my project team was in the same boat and as the solutions-oriented people we are, our minds immediately went to products/changes the client could implement to fix the problem. However, we were quickly reminded that we didn’t understand the problem fundamentally and hadn’t gone through the right analysis to get there.
This start was not what I had hoped. Not just because of the slight project-related hiccup, but also because this is my aspired career. I’ve planned for this since I started writing business school essays. Was I wrong? Will my summer internship be a nightmare? These thoughts and questions had me considering dropping the class as some others – not on my team – had done. However, one of my goals before starting at Stern was to create a different experience than my undergraduate experience. In college, I wasn’t really involved in extracurriculars and didn’t challenge myself, both of which I regretted. The 20-year-old me would’ve dropped this class after the second session for no other reason than to avoid difficulty. Not this time. Again, harkening back to the idea of a failing to learn, I made sure to embrace being out of the comfort zone.
This does have a happy ending: in one of our group project meetings, as my team members were brainstorming, all of it clicked. I literally let out a big “Ohhhhhhhhh. I got it.” From then on, we went to do very well in the class, presented a viable solution to the client’s executives and, after impressing, earned a good mark overall. Coincidentally, my summer project at Anheuser-Busch was incredibly creative in nature, focusing on advertising. My experience doing branding-related work in Consulting Lab was by far the most influential to my success over the summer and converting my internship into a full-time offer of all the classes I had taken first year. For that, I’m thankful I was able to reflect in the moment to think back to my MBA goals prior to starting and we were reminded during orientation that there is no other time to try and fail and to not run away from failure than business school.