SARAS SARASVATHY, DARDEN SCHOOL

It was a delight to be nominated for the Colley-Mead award. For my Dream Idea, I would like invite Darden students to create a series of 3-5 minute webisodes on actual business situations that involve the whole human being – emotions, body language and failings, in addition to cognitive intelligence and analytical abilities.

 

In my years teaching entrepreneurship to MBA students, I have often felt frustrated at not being able to fully tackle the corporeal and relational aspects of real business situations, even using the case study method.  Over the years, I have developed more “experiential” exercises both inside and outside the classroom.  But recently, I have begun experimenting with theater as a more full-bodied substitute for traditional (mostly cognitive) individual or team presentations.

 

Experienced entrepreneurs often mention the need for emotional intelligence. They even describe high value entrepreneurship as a soap opera involving agonies, ecstasies, misunderstandings – the many-splendored ingredients of drama. Terry Heckler, one of the original co-founders of Starbucks and the architect of that brand and several other successful brands coming from the Northwest once told me he would not come talk to my MBA class because the students are too cerebral and have no heart. A Swedish entrepreneur described the reasons for exiting his beloved venture that he had grown into a global success in terms of having stared into the cold, heartless, soulless abyss of “capital” that his investors embodied.  And when a serial entrepreneur who came to my class was asked about work-life balance, he paused for a while in puzzlement and then turned to the student who had asked the question to say, “You do know that it is ALL life, right?”

 

Darden has long fought for the need to put business and society together at the macro level. The article on the “separation thesis” by my colleagues Ed Freeman and Andy Wicks is a case in point. I wish to enjoin that battle at the micro level, at the level of individual entrepreneurs coming into contact with individual stakeholders in co-creating new futures for themselves and new ends worth pursuing for all of us. But in order to do that, we need to bring into the classroom the “felt” reality of actual business situations in which roles are not yet specified, relationships have to function in the face of multiple uncertainties and passions and interests intermingle in ways we encounter only in the works of great playwrights such as Ibsen, Kalidasa and Shakespeare.

 

I would like to use this award to generate the beginnings of new pedagogy that can not only bring these enfleshed experiences into the classroom, but also engage students to produce them as a legacy that cumulates over the years. In addition to digital media experts and facilities at Darden, I plan to involve a professional theater company to work with me and the students in the upcoming year. The aim is to work out aesthetic, logistical and pedagogical issues connected with putting together an ongoing system for producing these year after year.

 

I am grateful for the Colley-Mead Endowment to get me to actually execute on a project I have been dreaming about for a while now.

Details and Budget

 

I will request students from my classes and also reach out to the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital club at Darden to recruit students to participate in creating the webisodes. I would like a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 25 students who will form 4-5 teams.

 

I already have a collection of scenarios from actual ventures, both from famous ventures such as Staples and Starbucks and ventures started and run by students from my own classes. I will ask students who participate to pick one or two scenarios.  Under a theater guide/mentor such as Jenny Mead (from the Darden school), student teams will then write scripts for each scenario.  So there will be 4-5 scripts for each scenario. Once scripts are completed to the satisfaction of the theater expert, we will have the expert direct each student team in actually acting out the webisode. After a series of rehearsals, we will video-record the webisodes at Darden’s studio.

 

Once the videos are completed, we will upload them to a website and add to it the actual story from the entrepreneur who experienced this situation in real life. Using social media to promote the site, we will also invite comments from other entrepreneurs, especially Darden and UVA alumni.

 

I do not anticipate this project to cost too much.  The primary cost will be to hire a work-study or research assistant to help me manage the logistics of the project. I would also like to offer a fee/honorarium for a good theater consultant.  Below is a rough estimate:

 

Output:

  • Between 4 and 10 webisodes that can be used for teaching and dissemination
  • Interactive website to involve UVA alumni and the broader entrepreneurial community
  • A new and unique pedagogical tool to teach entrepreneurship

 

Proposed budget:

 

Theater Consultant                      $3,000

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