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MBA Class Interview - Dartmouth College (2004)
Submitted by Professor Alva Taylor
Assistant Professor in Strategy & Research
Director of Business Innovation
Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth


Question
What is it that makes Ender more innovative than the other kids (except maybe Bean). Is it just the power of his intellect?

OSC Answers
Intellect, as normally defined (i.e., IQ), has little to do with creativity or innovation. Creativity is more an art - the ability to make connections and extrapolations, to imagine what has not been seen. But what gives human beings any of their traits? Genes? Environment? An inborn soul? What separates the creative and innovative is partly a bent of personality - some people are very uncomfortable with anything that takes them outside the realm of the familiar (and the world depends on these people for stability, so that's NOT a bad trait); but many people could become more innovative if they simply ask more questions of themselves. I describe in my how-to-write books the list of five questions that should be the guiding light of a fiction writer's imagination:

Why?

Why?

What result?

How?

(and then the word "Else" added on to the end of each of the above.)

The first two whys are not just a gimmick. Why? can mean a mechanical cause - what MAKES this happen? - or a final cause - what was the PURPOSE that led a person or group to do this thing?

You ask these questions of whatever situation you're confronting, to try to understand how things work. But the most important part is to add the word ELSE to the questions. Yes, you think you know why things happen or what will result, but nothing ever has just one cause or just one result, and so you imagine what ELSE might result, or what ELSE might contribute to the cause. Even absurd speculation can sometimes lead to insight.


Question
Was it necessary to have kids to come up with the unique battle strategies? If so what does that say about innovation as an adult?

OSC Answers
Adults can come up with "unique" battle strategies. But adults are often unconsciously limited by assumptions borne of experience. These can be very helpful - after all, children are naive and ignorant! - but all else being equal, they can also be confining. Kids look at things with fresh eyes. More important for a military setting, though, kids - especially kids who think they're only playing - are relatively heedless of risk. That is, they measure risk and plan for it, but they don't prioritize risk to avoid human suffering - their compassion does not interfere with their play.

Adults can keep some aspects of a childlike perspective - but I think the "lack of compassion" feature is not one that is often helpful to adult thinking. Only war requires that compassion be suspended to at least some degree.


Question
Battles are a competitive situation with response. How did Ender stay ahead of the responses?

OSC Answers
I'm not sure what special use of "competitive situation with response" you're using here. "Response" seems to have a special meaning, and so you must clarify what framework you're assuming that I will understand - because I don't.


Question
What role did the organizational structure entrusted with training them play in the ultimate decisions and abilities that Ender displayed?

OSC Answers
There were three main facets to the training of the armies in Battle School. First, there were the rules and situations controlled by adults - the barracks, the uniforms, the basic rules of the game, the way the flashsuits and weapons worked, the posting of competitive listings of individual soldiers and of armies and commanders.

Second, there were the customs that had grown up among the kids - the assumptions, the things that were honored and encouraged. The organization into toons, the sizes of toons, were entirely customary. So was the use of formations. Adults didn't require it, but the patterns were passed along from generation to generation of kids.

Third, there was the fact that the individual commanders were given enormous leeway in their organization, training, and leadership of their soldiers. The teachers did not micromanage. They allowed the commanders to develop their own methods and find out through experience if they worked. BUT they only gave that authority to kids who had shown some promise as soldiers and, presumably, toon leaders; and there were some rules which, if broken, would provoke intervention (except in Ender's case, where they were trying to leave him isolated).

So the "playing field" was created by the authorities, the surrounding culture, and the commander's own free choices. Managers who don't take into account the surrounding culture, or who intervene too often to allow initiative to develop, or who don't intervene at all when a submanager is screwing up or abusing his underlings, are making mistakes. There's a wide range within which managers can choose their own style - but that combination of firm rules, cultural pressures (and lore), and some freedom of action and a chance to learn from error, is, in my opinion, the structure best designed to maximize the ability of the young trainees to learn how to lead.


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