Use stories. You can enhance the learning experience through frequent use of stories. The professors emphasize this aspect of the teaching process. The book describes a disciplined approach Northwestern marketing professor Florian Zettelmeyer learned when working for McKinsey. As he emphasized in a commencement address: “Great communication is always built around a story…. I literally mean that everything you communicate has to take the form of a story. Every presentation, every speech, every memo, every pitch you make has to be a story in which your key ideas are embedded.”
Because Stanford accounting professor Charles Lee feels that stories bring concepts to life, he devotes lots of time to finding good illustrations. In his words, “I lovingly collect them.” Professor Richard Shell, who teaches the business law core course at Wharton, adds that “nobody learns anything except on the foundation of what they already know. So your selection of examples, images, stories, and metaphors is crucial.”
The professors often use examples to emphasize the practical value of their teaching. When University of Michigan management professor Gretchen Spreitzer discusses the power of gratitude in the workplace, she introduces a tool called a gratitude journal. To illustrate, she describes a retreat her colleagues conducted for the university’s basketball players at the beginning of a season in which the team reached the national championship game. Following the retreat, coach John Beilein decided to keep a gratitude journal, and she shows her class a film clip of him expressing gratitude to the team and staff.
Balance the big picture with simplification. Your ability to achieve an appropriate balance between the big picture and details is an important aspect of teaching in a law firm or as a leader in a company setting. The seven professors frequently remind students of the big picture—their overarching goal and why it is important.
They complement the big picture with evidence-based details. Their challenge, familiar to lawyers attempting to explain complex legal requirements to clients, is to simplify the details enough to make them digestible. MIT operations professor Georgia Perakis teaches a course titled “Data, Models, and Decisions” that is considered one of the most rigorous courses in the MIT Executive MBA program. Given the complexity of the material, her goal is “to try to see how I can go from the complex model to a simple model. If it’s too simple, I will not capture the real complex problem, so I have to find where to be in the middle.” Stanford’s Professor Lee cited Oliver Wendell Holmes, who referred to this goal as “simplicity that lies on the other side of complexity.” “This is a simplicity,” Lee explained, “that arises from understanding the material so completely that you are able to simplify it for others to learn.”
Be yourself. Being yourself is perhaps the most important lesson from the professors because it provides the authenticity necessary to become a successful leader and teacher. According to profound educator Parker Palmer in his essay “The Heart of a Teacher,” this is the “secret hidden in plain sight: good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher” (his emphasis). Two of the professors received inspiration from Steve Jobs, who noted that “your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life…. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart.”
The ability to be yourself, combined with other practices used by legendary professors, enables you to exercise the teaching skills that are necessary for effective leadership in your law practice and when leading other organizations. In the words of noted Harvard Business School professor Chris Christensen, your teaching experience “allows you to combine the momentary and the infinite” by addressing immediate concerns while also laying a foundation for the future.