This essay is proving challenging for many people!
Please provide an example of a team failure of which you have been a part. If given a second chance, what would you do differently? (250 words)
We mention a variety of high level tips on the Columbia MBA Essays page and our Columbia SnarkStrategies Guide goes into greater detail. And recently we came across a goldmine of help that we’re offering up to all of you.
We’re doing so with a caveat: We get a lot of people reading these here posts! If you borrow too directly from the information we’re offering, there’s most certainly a risk that someone else — or multiple someones — will do the same.
ALWAYS USE OUR ADVICE AS AN INPUT TO YOUR PROCESS — not the process itself.
The other risk with this guidance we’re offering is that it’s SO sophisticated that if you use it too liberally, most adcom readers will be all, “Huh?!?? This person is analyzing stuff from the doctoral level. Why do they even need an MBA?” We’re not saying to dumb it down intentionally; we’re saying that lifting ideas too directly can backfire.
One solution to that? Cite your source. We don’t suggest doing this more than once in an entire application and even then it’s got some risk – but it possibly could work. You could say something like “In researching the question of ‘team failure’ I found an article in…” and attribute your source. (You don’t have to do it formally like an APA citation would be done, just tell the reader where you learned about whatever you’re using as part of your argument.) Again, don’t do this more than once in an entire application, and maybe even once is too much.
When you’re in school or out in the workforce, it’s rare that you’re expected to know all the answers. Instead, most professions expect you to know where to FIND the answers. So referencing an external source of information in an MBA application essay can be suitable.
Okay, so what is this information that we’re about to share with you, that’s so sophisticated and special it’ll change your Columbia essay 3 game?
It’s an older Harvard Business Review post on the causes of failure in organizations, and it’s fascinating.
This part is pure gold:
Here’s what the author talks about in terms of her research into the standard causes of failure in an organization:
Although an infinite number of things can go wrong in organizations, mistakes fall into three broad categories: preventable, complexity-related, and intelligent.
She then goes on to explain that preventable failures are when someone did not follow the standard or routine practices — “when they don’t, deviance, inattention, or lack of ability is usually the reason. This is obviously focusing on documentable processes like on a manufacturing line, but it can be applied to other types of jobs, too. For example, is it standard practice that a director reviews stuff before it goes to the client? If so, and you skip that review, and something bad happens because the materials were not accurate, then that’s a preventable failure and you can explore for yourself why it happened.
Complexity-related failures are said to be “unavoidable” because of the “inherent uncertainty of work” where you’re faced with novel situations that have no precedent. Because they’re unavoidable, then there’s probably no one to blame that they happened — which may mean that they’re not going to let you say anything very interesting if you use such a failure as the answer to the question that Columbia has asked.
Then the third category she calls “intelligent failures at the frontier” and boy, doesn’t that sound sexy! These she even calls “good failures” because they mean that the organization is pushing the limits and trying to change the status quo. These could be excellent to cover in an MBA essay, especially for this question — but we’re doubtful that many BSers will have too many examples (if any) to share from this category.
We invite you to read that article (yes, all the way through) and reflect on the analysis she’s offered. And then be very careful how liberally you choose to adopt it. Certain admissions folks have been known to sign up for the blahg to check out the advice that we offer to all of you, and you wouldn’t want them to too easily recognize stuff that we’re saying here in the essays that they read from you later on.
And if you haven’t picked it up yet:
Tell us what you think.