My first mistake comes in the form of realizing a big difference between college and the real world. A rude awakening found me just two days into my apprenticeship. On my second day at Holstee, I was assigned my first real task: competitor research. My first thought was “Hell yeah! How official does that sound?!” So I got to work…
I constructed a word document, averaging about one page per competitor. If there was public information about the competiton, it was in this document. I hated numbers in high school and for most of college, so papers were my thing! And this paper…was beautiful. Hyperlinks all over, headers, footers, charts, graphs, the works. Hell, I almost cited the whole thing but couldn’t decide between MLA or APA. It was much more than they asked for. I even came across two other potential competitors during my research and added them to the document. I was very proud of my work. That would soon change.
Due to a miscommunication, one of my colleagues had previously completed the same task. Twenty minutes before I was to present my work, we exchanged documents and the wind was immediately taken from my sails. His was an excel sheet, with three columns of information, summing up almost my entire paper into the raw facts and data. He had also found the same two additional competitors that I had “discovered” (much like Christopher Columbus). His info was obviously easier to work with and manage.
While struggling with how I could have possibly went wrong, I had an epiphany. I was still stuck in college mode- aka “theoretical mode”. Instead of gathering information for my bosses to use effectively, I was writing a paper for my professor to mark up with a red pen. I wasn’t thinking functionality, I was thinking grades, and my heart was set on an A+. I lost sight of the actual purpose of what I was creating, and it therefore had almost no practical use.
So I have a proposal for college (And yes, from now on I will be referring to the group of institutions as if they were one person that I have the ability to address). Stop making students simply write papers. Between Wikipedia and kids who write papers for money, (those kids should be entrepreneurs, they just don’t know it yet!) writing a paper is mostly busy-work anymore. Knowledge is abundant. Application however is not. Assignments where students write a lesson plan and teach their cohorts about a topic would be way more beneficial and useful, and not just to the student who is doing the teaching. Perhaps the mere act of having material presented by someone who is more “on their level” would peak curiosity and help other students process the information more effectively.
Eight years of spitting out papers using an assembly line method came to an immediate halt just one week into the real world of work. I can only imagine what other techniques and information that I “know” will be disrupted on the rest of my journey.