Monday, February 08, 2010

Guest Post - Michael Goff, D'2010 on Innovation

I’ve been meaning to host a guest blogger for some time now so I’m very happy to welcome Mike onto this space. I’ve long felt that although the 16 of us bloggers are pretty cool there are yet some other cool people we’ve known here that aren’t out on the blogosphere. It’s only fitting that my first ever guest blogger is someone I’m so fond of and so proud of. He's always sporting an infectious grin and it’s hard not to be impressed by his intelligence and his good humor. Mike thanks a bunch for doing this!

I know Mike through our one semester spent together in Section 5 in the first year. He’s wicked smart and always has great contributions in class, but he’s also a really cool guy outside of class. Mike’s one of the many double-Hoos at Darden, which means that he went to UVA for undergrad too. Before Darden, Mike worked for CACI as a technology consultant and come May, will move with Camden, his wife, to Washington, DC to join BCG. Mike matches his awesome in-class contributions with outside-class involvement in Darden Student Admission Committees, BGiA, the UVA Outreach Committee and several Darden soccer teams. In his spare time (and he has plenty), he likes to perfect his chili recipe… and run marathons, like this picture shows! Over to Mike!

One of the great things about business school is the opportunity to take classes outside your comfort zone and to expand your skillset beyond the traditional marketing, finance, operations, etc. functional areas. Last fall, I took a class called “Developing New Products and Services.” The goal of the class was to identify a market opportunity for innovation and then develop a prototype for a product or service to capitalize on the opportunity.

My team identified a gap in modern technology, which allows people to read news conveniently online or on an e-reader, but the decrease in circulation of printed newspapers reduces the opportunity for manufacturers and stores to put coupons in front of consumers. As a solution to this opportunity, our group set out to understand how people shop and use coupons and grocery lists.

I foolishly volunteered to develop and code an iPhone application that would combine the concepts of coupons with a grocery list that could be carried into a store and then scanned for a membership card and coupons. The idea was to keep everything in the one item we carry with us at all times: a cell phone. I don’t regret the task, but it was by far the most difficult task I’ve taken on in business school.

I learned several lessons through this experience:
• First, I’m no developer. I was never good. I proved to myself that I can figure things out, but that’s the end of it.
• The iPhone is an amazing device that can do some crazy stuff, and most of its power stems from some very basic tools and objects.
• There’s no substitute for effective project planning to predict issues before you encounter them. It also helps to know what resources you have available and realize they’re going to be insufficient. The key is the creativity to dig deeper in a pinch to get the job done.
• The secret to problem solving is breaking a system into its component parts and challenge fundamental assumptions that may be difficult to recognize.
• Any time you’re planning to innovate, it’s better to generate lots of ideas and test them as quickly as possible. It’s a lot better to fail early (maybe even often) to get where you want to be.

At the end of the day, we had a great time showing everyone our prototype. I think I showed the app to everyone I know. I’ve never shown my parents a paper or exam, but I was pretty happy to whip out my phone and say, “Ever wanted to search for coupons while you were shopping in a store? There’s an app for that…”


Arun said...

@ Michael - Thank you so much for that sneek peek practical preview of life at Darden. It was as exciting as watching a teaser of a much awaited movie. I cant wait to experience first hand, the learning Darden promises. Did you guys sell your prototype or commercialize the project at the end of your term?

@ Mechanigal - I can see why you speak so highly of Mike! Thanks for this awesome blog

JulyDream said...

@Mechanigal - soo happy you did this!! I read Mike's first post that he submitted to the Darden Student Bloggers as a first year. I thought it was incredibly good!

Anonymous said...

as mike would probably point out as well, the beauty of making chili is the versatility of the dish. the fun in "perfecting" it, as he would also reiterate, is trying new things each time, and never being satisfied with the results because it can always be better. chili is mike's fountain of youth.

also, i'm glad to see him supporting manchester united instead of barcelona.

JD said...

Nice work, Michael. I'm big into strategy, innovation, and problem solving. I think you hit the nail on the head, with your definition of problem solving.

Are you going to be doing strategy consulting for BCG?

-Jason Doran
CLAS '05 and Darden '12 hopeful


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