One Saturday afternoon during my second term at the LSE I was wearing glasses made out of plastic cup rims and straws around campus, asking students whether they were interested in smart glasses that tint in different colours depending on what kinds of food you are looking at – red for unhealthy choices and green for light ones. Needless to say, I looked pretty ridiculous and as it turned out, in general, individuals were not really fascinated by my idea. Case closed.
So what was I doing? I was prototyping. It’s a way of finding out whether a new product idea has potential and a means of collecting rapid feedback before investing too much money, time and energy into a project that is not going to sell. It is a relatively new approach to innovation, which is part of my Enterprise Development module of the MSc Management, Organisations and Governance degree in the LSE Department of Management.
However, only later did I find out that this framework can also be applied to building my career: the basic idea here is that there are quick and inexpensive ways to find out whether you like a certain career path within your chosen field without investing a lot of time and effort.
When I started my MSc in 2016 I was convinced that I wanted to go straight into a PhD. However, apart from my undergraduate dissertation I had never completed academic research and knew relatively little about what a career in academia involved. Equipped with design thinking, I looked around for opportunities to prototype my academic career.
As a result I applied for a volunteer research assistant position at the LSE’s Behavioural Research Lab (BRL), which is part of the Department of Management. My position involved welcoming participants, setting up the experiment, recording responses, answering any questions and organising payments. I also got to speak to the professor in charge and quiz him about his thought process and overall research set-up.
It was an incredibly insightful experience and I also saw similarities between my work at the BRL and what I was doing: testing assumptions. Too often we assume that we know things, without actually questioning our assumptions. Research, for me, is the purest form of knowledge: we setup experiments to test assumptions and contribute to the world’s existing knowledge pool.
So what did I learn? I learned that going with your intuition, in life and in business, isn’t always the best way forward. For instance, working at the BRL made me realise that I would like to conduct research in the industry, instead of in a lab. This has influenced which universities I have applied to.
Furthermore, checking assumptions and questioning what we think we know helps us to determine our next course of action. This can be relate to our next big business move, which is why we have the BRL – to check whether managers make decisions based on empirical evidence – but also to our own career choices within the field of business, or whether I should start setting up my own firm to sell smart glasses (the latter one definitely being a no!).
And that’s the amazing thing about the LSE: you are not only on a stimulating campus with hundreds of societies to explore, as well as public lectures and volunteering opportunities such as at the BRL. You are also in a vibrant, international city with even more opportunities just around the corner and the ability prototype and experiment as much as you like. Just take your pick and start prototyping – test your assumption and go.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Viola Tram is a postgraduate student studying Management and Innovation. She’s particularly interested in the importance of so, skills at work and the impact of more flexible working on personal development and identity. Prior to coming to the LSE she did a BA in Italian and Management at UCL and she would like to pursue a PhD in Organisational Behaviour after her graduation.