Reality is messy

Jul 01 2015

I can’t speak for my teammates, but I personally entered this internship with the wide-eyed eagerness of a kid at an amusement park — I joked the atmosphere on the first day felt like that part in every superhero movie where they call the confused protagonists in to assemble for the first time. We were walking into a media frontier, and as far as I could tell, the only limitation was our own creativity.

On the data team, our first big setback came when we realized our background check concept wouldn’t pan out. It set us back weeks, and we didn’t just kill our product idea — the honeymoon stage of the internship was effectively dead in the water. But my team managed to hit the ground running in pursuit of other ideas, from using Bluetooth beacons to experimenting with virtual reality. And coincidentally, it was during this rebound research that our director, John Clark, shared a friendly reminder: the Lab isn’t Disney World.

John’s comment may have been in the context of us looking into how creepily the theme park uses consumer data and beacon technology, but the mantra rang with a certain personal relevance. We can’t equip consumers in the real world with bracelets to relay their location and identifying information. Got it. The takeaway that struck a deeper chord, however, was the realization that we’re in reality, and reality is messy.

There’s plenty of singing, and occasionally there’s a cute, furry animal running around in the Lab, but Reese isn’t a fairytale. Things are going to go wrong. Consumers don’t like your idea. Issues come up for you outside of work. A company emails one of your teammates to tell her they already offer the product you’re pitching.

Seemingly right as we regained our balance from the first shakeup, we ran directly into another hurdle — team dynamic. With the ever-present countdown to July 31 ticking in the background, we spent hours of a Friday hashing out the assumptions and frustrations that had begun to cripple our productivity. We vented concerns, and we promised resolutions. On several occasions I found myself wishing I had actually read “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” instead of letting the book sit in my backseat for three weeks. But regardless of how anxious it made me, the meeting was a learning experience. It was uncomfortable, it was tolling, and it was necessary.

Coming out of Friday and into a new week, I think we all have a better understanding of where data team is going. What’s more, I have a better appreciation for what we’re doing here on the “media frontier.” We’re not just coasting, abstract thinkers coming up with blow-away ideas; we’re working directly in the intersection of pragmatism and creativity, and that crossroad is a bumpy ride. But in the end, smooth seas don’t make skillful sailors — or employable media entrepreneurs.


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