Midterm Madness-The Agony and the Ecstasy

After last week’s round-up of newsworthy notes from Aldrich 110, it’s time to walk a more reflective road. Does it look like the Kids of Special K will really emerge `Transformed’ from the halls of Aldrich come 2002, just like it said on the packet? As we Januaries crawl back into the light after two anxious weeks of midterm course evaluations, let’s pause to review the effects of the first grading round on our fellow travelers through HBS space-time.

Anxiety about midterms, I hear you scoff! Granted, the exams are but diagnostics with little impact on final grades. But spare a thought for the sorry souls who rip open their professor’s midterm class participation communiqu‚ to find the gears of self-perception and reality clashing harshly. At first soothed by the inevitable jaunty openings relating to overall section performance, this benighted bunch soon learn their own contributions are distinctly 4th rate-or 4th quartile, at least. And just as they’d deemed themselves worthy of their Aldrich hot seats! How empty now ring the words of the wise old owls during Foundations, when they bid us focus on learning, not grades.

While the damned cringe, their neighbors grow drunk on the sweet elixir of success. Look, see how those incomprehensible figures cast into the confusion of a tough TOM or FRC case were rightly recognized as sound analytics! Marvel at how motherhood spouted in LEAD or MKT was, on reflection, Solomonic in its wisdom and foresight! Strong grows the seed of self-belief in the bellies of the chosen.

Yet this maelstrom of self-doubt and self-affirmation seethes beneath the surface. Only by acute observation of post-midterm behavioral adaptations can the observer hope to divine the identities of those acknowledged as shining stars from those who must scurry for salvation in the twilight of Term I. Three approaches are oft selected as pathways to winning classroom performance:

(a) Shoot for the moon. Disdain frequency; rather, commit to quality. Speak in class but once or twice a week. Cometh the hour, declaim-preferably from the celestial heights of SkyDeck-with the poise and passion of Martin Luther King himself. Deliver insights so transcendent as to cast the quotidian contributions of lesser fellows into the dark shadows of trivia and irrelevance. Eschew chip shots and multiple contributions at all cost. Such guerilla tactics can only dilute Baker-grade brand equity.

(b) Play the percentages. Speak often-though not more than twice in three classes, thus ensuring supra-threshold performance on frequency. Attend only to ensuring your comments are representative of one whose IQ exceeds 90. Use references to others’ comments as tactical devices to signal your understanding of the unwritten rules of the classroom game. Avoid praising classmates’ `braver’ comments lest you convince your prof they were actually worthy of Category (a), and not in fact the crazed delusions of first impression.

(c) Remember Desert Storm. Drop cluster bombs. If you loose enough missiles, some are bound to strike home. Beware the dangers of friendly fire: avoid inflicting excessive collateral damage on same-sectioned study group mates by stealing their best ideas or sharking them viciously when they attempt to sell your own hand-crafted numbers in Finance class.

But enough of mockery. On a more serious note, the Kids of K in fact appear to have responded to their participation feedback with maturity and common sense. Some of our quieter folks have made notable efforts to speak up in the last week-and in so doing have proved exactly why they deserve their spots and just how valuable their contributions are to the rest of us. It’s particularly good to see the development of impromptu one-to-one in-class dialogs between classmates knowledgeable and interested in topics that come up during case discussion. As ever, though, a few Very Special Ks have had starring roles this week and deserve our congratulations in

To newly-engaged Viki Danics, blessings and best wishes for the future! Your tale of `how I got the ring’ is second only to Arnaud and Corinne Lesegretain’s courtship story in its box-office potential.

To Jason Wallace, whose wife recently bore him a son, William, all good wishes! William Wallace, eh? You make this Scotsman’s heart sing!

In the next issue: NK meets NB at Grafton St. with unpredictable results, and the decorating committee gets serious. Don’t miss it for the world.