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Shades of Gray

Every year the EC’s breathe a collective sigh of relief about how much easier classes seem compared to the RC year. I remember hearing EC’s last year talking about the contrast. I assumed that the change is driven by familiarity with the case method, and a resulting reduction in stress.

I didn’t think this applied to me, because I wasn’t really stressed last year.

I rarely worried about cases, I wasn’t (very) nervous about speaking in class, I never got a cold call that twisted my guts, I wasn’t job hunting and I didn’t spend more than an hour on any given case (not even the cranberries). I led an idyllic RC life. So I didn’t think I’d feel much shift from the RC to EC years.

Boy, was I wrong. I’m amazed by how much easier classes feel. I wondered at first, do classes feel easier because they are easier? I based my class selection heavily on the professors and they seem to be living up to their reputations. I don’t think they’re soft. They don’t use softball cases. And it doesn’t seem like the quality of class discussion has dropped.

So I asked classmates about the quality of class discussion in other courses. Has it dropped? People gave me crazy looks. Class discussions are apparently of insanely good quality. Then I asked if classes felt easier. Oh, yes. Definitely yes.

My next thought is maybe we’re just rehashing the skill sets we learned as RC’s but in different cases. That would be easier than learning anything really new. I rejected this hypothesis two days later after five classes
ending in, “huh, I didn’t know that.”

A classmate of mine today unwittingly gave me a third hypothesis. He’s aiming for a job in a rather un-sexy industry and my face must have given away a lack of interest, because he immediately followed up with a twist. “They’re really an information technology company that just happens to be in that industry. I wouldn’t have thought so a year ago, but I see things differently now.”

He’s on to something. I see things differently, too. I’m not talking about things I noticed before and can now name and propose a solution. Like when I go to a movie theater and couch my age-old complaints about lines and the concession stand in TOM terms.

Actually, I think it’s more than just seeing. I actively look for and look at things differently. I look for different information, information I didn’t care much about before, like goodwill charges, channel partners and ratchets. I look at different sources, sources I wouldn’t have touched before, like the notes in the back of an annual report and term sheets. And then I do, in fact, see what I find there differently than I would have before. As a result, case prep is more directed, and thus easier to complete, and class discussion is more informed, and thus easier to move forward. (Not to mention benefits in the working world.)

So it’s a new point of view, not slacking professors (as if!) or recycled skill sets, which makes EC classes easier. To my RC friends: you’ll see next year.

October 14, 2003
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