“I look forward to The Wish Game every week – it’s so exciting to learn like this.” – J.L. (student)
A Quick Review
In my MBA course, I am running the Wish Game all semester, based on an exercise I heard about from Rebeca Hwang. Students wrote down 3 big, specific wishes on the first day, such as being able to meet a celebrity, or visiting a certain place. I choose two people to be the wish grantees each week. The rest of the class works all week to deliver those wishes at the beginning of the next class session.
This exercise is about hyper-collaboration, so all students benefit by working together under considerable constraints. Student learn entrepreneurial skills like ideation, customer interviewing, prototyping, selling, and mobilizing resources through iteratively practicing them.
The First Wish
My students didn’t do a very good job with their first wish, which was a test one for my son (to see the Mona Lisa). When brainstorming ideas, they began to think creatively, to stretch their boundaries of what was possible. But when it came time to deliver the wish, it was disappointingly simple, non-engaging, and awkward.
We debriefed how it could have been a more impactful experience for both my son and for them. They could have created the room to match the actual room the Mona Lisa was in. Cleveland has an incredible art museum. They could have reached out to see how they could help (maybe providing space, or design help, for instance). The students felt good accomplishing the delivery, but also felt bad that it wasn’t a more powerful experience for my son. I read in their weekly reflection about the need to
- organize and delegate more effectively,
- share ideas quickly, and purposefully engage the entire group,
- more quickly try (prototype) an idea
- keep the wish grantee’s emotions in mind, as a motivating factor
“Our group wants to WOW! our classmate who we’re delivering a wish for. Now we know how hard we have to work to make that happen.” – M.A. (student)
The First “Real” Wishes
Once I split the class into two groups, I chose two wishes, one for each group to grant. The first week I chose the following:
- pitching in a Chicago Cubs game
- repelling down the John Carroll University clock tower
From observing groups in class, each group did a much better job of interviewing the wish grantee this time. They asked deep questions about why that particular wish, about the specific sights, sounds, smells, emotions, memories, etc. surrounding the desire for that particular wish. I could see the energy and the excitement in the students as they started to grasp how powerful this experience could be, if they gave themsevles to it!
For the wish to pitch in a Cubs game, the group created a player in the MLB The Show 18 video game, and plugged in a Playstation to the classroom screens. The grantee had requested walk-up music (country music, unfortunately!), but due to some technical glitches the group wasn’t able to play it exactly when he entered the room.
The grantee was wearing his Cubs jersey, had steamed hot dogs with ketchup and tomato waiting for him, and pitched an inning as himself on the Playstation.
For the second wish, repelling down the JCU clock tower, the group right away asked the JCU President for permission to either repel down the clock tower, or to at least take the grantee to the top of the clock tower. Both options were denied by the university’s Director of Regulatory Affairs and Risk Management. The group apparently struggled mightily after this point with how to deliver the wish if they could not get him into the clock tower, so they defaulted to purchasing him a John Carroll University flag and a framed picture of the clock tower.
Debriefing the Wishes
I could tell both groups felt a bit defeated, particularly the clock tower groups. I encouraged them, and gave them permission, to not hold themselves back. They needed a pep talk, and I delivered. I understand it is really difficult to think, within an academic course, in such a way to deliver amazing experiences. Students reminded each other that they were letting each other down, they shared that they knew they could dream bigger, and could put more effort into execution.
“We could have done more, and should have done more. We just didn’t believe in ourselves.” B.H. (student in the group delivering the clock tower wish)
The class brainstormed some ideas for them to allow themselves to share crazy ideas. Many students mentioned they didn’t want to seem too crazy, or sound stupid, or set the group up for failure. As one student opened up and was vulnerable in debriefing, others supported him or her, noting that it was good to share and that it helped them all succeed.
I left that class feeling disappointed, but also optimistic that they were catching on. This experience is about letting go of assumptions and safety, and giving themselves permission to practice critical skills that will help them succeed in their future. I think they are starting to understand that.
Ultimately, I want to create a safe space where they can dream really big, they can try and fail, and they can give memorable moments to each other
The Next Wishes
The next wishes I pulled from the bag were:
- To make homemade wine
- To own a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year bourbon
My hope was for the groups to continue to grow their confidence to stretch and deliver a richer, more creative experience each week. What I discovered this week was that they still, basically, hit the easy button. I can’t say I blame them – who knows what I would be comfortable doing had my MBA professor thrown this curveball course at me. I realized I have my work cut out for me to push them off the cliff so they can learn to soar.
For the make homemade wine wish, the easy button was to purchase the student a kit and directions to actually make wine at home. A few members of the group explained what everything was, where they got it, and their thought process behind the wish delivery.
In the wish grantee’s reflection, I learned that his family made wine for many generations, but stopped recently. He wanted to learn more about making wine so his family could make wine together. What a fantastic experience that would be! I asked him for feedback after he received his wish. He said all the requisite pleasantries, thanked the group for the thoughtfulness, talked about how excited he was to try it out. But I knew from his reflection that he was excited to smash grapes and really dig into it. I have a feeling he was a little disappointed. I know I was; my students are stuck at easy.
Purchasing the supplies to deliver a surface-level wish is easy. Creating an emotional experience within a wish delivery is really, really, really hard.
The second wish this week was the student wanted to own a bottle of Pappy van Winkle 23 Year bourbon from the Buffalo Trace Distillery. This group could not deliver the wish on Tuesday, because they did not get a shipment of some things they needed (they and I blamed the Polar Vortex!) so they will deliver this wish the following week.
In reading their reflections, I discovered they first investigated actually purchasing this bottle of bourbon. They quickly realized it was far too expensive for their budget (NOTE: each student contributes $10 each week and I contribute $50 each week, and what isn’t spent rolls over. At this point, there is nearly $700 as teams have spent very little). The next option they investigated was very interesting.
Apparently, someone suggested they purchase an empty bottle, fill it with cheap bourbon, and seal the bottle. A long discussion of ethics ensued, and the group eventually decided they would do the right thing. I think what they ended up doing was to purchase a few empty bottles of various bourbons the student mentioned he wanted to own, and then purchase him a gift card to a local bar for a few glasses of the particular bourbon he wants. Again, they hit the easy button. They purchased empty bottles, and called around to find a bar that served this particular bourbon.
Debriefing the Wishes
We talked again about ideas for creating more value for the wish grantees. I encourage students to put themselves in the grantees shoes. I want them to imagine the excitement as the anticipation builds, not knowing exactly what the wish will look and feel like. And then I ask them to imagine the feeling when it doesn’t live up to expectations, let alone WOW! them. The looks and the nods tell me they hear what I’m saying, and they understand why I am pushing them. But I wonder if they really get the opportunity?
Again, I urge them to think big, to not keep their visions limited to the classroom space. The students keep thinking that they must deliver the wish in the classroom, but I remind them they can deliver it somewhere else, they just need to capture pictures or videos to share with everyone else because the entire class can’t go.
“We keep thinking like business students, not like entrepreneurs. I know we are too focused on executing and not enough on being creative. Between the 13 of us in our group, we have so many resources, and such a large network, but we haven’t tapped into it yet.” A.S. (student)
We don’t talk about the bottle of bourbon wish because he doesn’t know what is in store. But we brainstorm ways to push the proverbial envelope with the wine-making wish. I explain they could have had the student who wanted to make wine smashing grapes in a barrel. Or they could have sent him to a vineyard, or at least called people who run vineyards to get ideas and possibly collaborate.
The Next Wishes
The next wishes I pulled are
- Play in a room full of puppies (especially golden retrievers)
- Visit Greece
I hope they can go big. As I observed the groups interviewing, they again asked great questions of the grantee, to understand why this wish was so important, and what aspects were most important to focus on. The group working on the puppies quickly started calling kennels and shelters, and I believe even found an Uber-for-dogs kind of service that would deliver dogs. Their ideation and quick action is promising.
The group delivering the Greece wish seemed to focus on creating the Greece vibe in the classroom. I heard them talking about food, about renting furniture, about scents, about sand and sun. I’m eager to see if they actually transform the classroom into a Greek scene (particularly Santorini, which the grantee specifically mentioned).
What I am asking my students to do is something very new and scary for them. I want them to learn in an innovative way. Different is scary, I get that, so I do everything I can to give them the space and safety to try and to fail, to learn and to push further next time. They are still dipping their toes in the water. I hope soon they will decide to jump into the deep end, because I know they can swim. And even if they can’t, I have plenty of life preservers.
Beyond The Wish Game
I invite my students to work on a side hustle during the semester. I told them is The Wish Game is like their job, their 9-to-5 gig. They have to be there every day, it’s what pays the bills. But like an entrepreneur, they can also work on the side on an idea they want to start and grow.
Some students engaged this opportunity, others have not. I’ve given them tools to
- identify a problem they are passionate about solving
- identify who early adopters are for a potential solution
- interview early adopters to validate a problem exists
- pivot the problem and/or the early adopter segment
- build an MVP landing page
A few students connect with me outside class asking for feedback and guidance on their side hustle. I see many of them working on something, but similar to a real scenario, they don’t spend much time on it because life takes over and this gets pushed aside. We debrief each week what some are doing, what they are learning, they ask me questions about various assumptions and curiosities they have around starting a business.
I give my students the tools through our learning management system and guide any of them who want guidance through the journey of turning their ideas into reality. This is an opportunity for them to engage or not, to make choices about how they spend their time and resources. Much like an entrepreneur must decide how to spend her time – with family or building a business – and his resources – on a vacation or building a business.
Want To Follow Doan’s Journey?
We will run a series of blog posts highlighting Doan’s journey throughout his semester-long Wish Game Course this Spring.
Get updates delivered directly to your inbox.