Learning to fail at HBS

I’ve spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday reflecting on my first year at HBS. In that process, I wrote an email to a few close friends updating them on my time here. As I started to write this post, I realized that the content of that email fit exactly what I wanted to communicate. So, here it is:

I started HBS a little over 9 months ago with no clear idea what I wanted the outcome to be in two years’ time. Was it to come out with a career change? To finish with a broad network? To, dare I say, “learn”? I didn’t know. What I did know, however, was how I wanted to spend those two years – that is, to be outside of my comfort zone and to spend my time at HBS consciously as an end in itself.

I won’t bore you with the details, but the past 9 months have certainly been a brief, but transformative experience both personally and professionally. It was at HBS where I first felt I was truly getting my money’s worth (every dime of it!). The student body is as talented as it is diverse, and the professors’ excitement is explosive. With that as the backdrop, I’ve gotten the opportunity to explore Ghana while helping a banking client tap into an undeveloped market, as well as launched and shutdown two startups – a culinary curation service (you can see the remnants of it at http://www.zesters.co) and a date idea recommendation engine (the origins of this are as nebulous as its fate). I think I knew this somewhere in the back of my mind, but these last two “successful failures” hit home the importance of failing fast and failing often versus failing over a long period of time. I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned how to cope with the vagaries and uncertainties of startups. I’ve learned the dangers and necessity of making too many assumptions. I’ve learned that picking the best team does not mean picking your best friends – even if they’re capable. That’s just a recipe for disaster!

So what’s next? As I was contemplating what to do this summer, I knew I wanted to knock out three things – 1) get more international exposure 2) get more startup experience 3) get some operational experience. With that, as the summer is dawning upon us, you’ll find me in Zambia, a landlocked country in the south/eastern part of Africa. I’ll be working for a recently launched e-commerce startup (the “eBay of Africa”), helping the small team scale and operationalize. I am equally nervous as I am excited about the challenges of working in an emerging market, but I truly believe that without a little pain and discomfort there can be no growth.

With that, I will stop, because, honestly, I don’t know what lies beyond the next three months. To paraphrase one of my professors, it is ridiculous to plan too far in the future when we live in a world as uncertain as the one we live in today. Besides, I’ve tried to plan for the future before, but, to inappropriately appropriate an Adele quote completely out of context, “the more I do, the less I know.”

– Minh Chau, MBA 2015

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