Author: Bear Studios

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About Bear Studios

A company founded and run by students that focuses on strategy, design, and technology for clients in St. Louis and beyond. www.bearstudios.org


Max Klapow, LA ’21, is a psychology-neuroscience-philosophy and cognitive neuroscience double major from Birmingham, Alabama. Max joined the Bear Studios team as a strategy fellow in December 2018. He wrote this for the Olin Blog.

When we think about innovation, a lot of business-school buzzwords come to mind. “Tech,” “corporate shake-up,” “industry disruption”—the list goes on and on. Rarely, however, do we include words like “human,” “heart,”  “connection,” or “understanding” among that list.

By failing to link innovation to its human-centric conception, we further the idea that business is logic and nothing more. Business is spreadsheets, go-to-market plans, careful research, and analytic approaches to engagement.

“It’s nothing personal,” we even say, “It’s just business.”

We’re quick to draw a dichotomy between logic and emotion. It makes sense; emotions seldom line up with the objective reality, so we’re hesitant to trust them.

But this separation has become extreme. Think how we assess skills in the workplace. There are the “hard skills”: spreadsheets, word processing, research abilities, and meeting quotas. Then, we have the “soft skills”: communication, teamwork, problem-solving and understanding the big picture. These so-called “soft” skills are, in fact, essential to making change to both the business world at large and the collaboration and innovation within in.

Emphasizing the human connection

First, however, we must recognize that innovation requires empathy.

In a world where technology is ubiquitous, solutions that offer humans more benefit are the key to engagement. It’s a wickedly simple concept. People want to like what they use. The hang-up, however, tends to lie in the approach.

This where human-centered organizations like Bear Studios, Two Ravens (where I interned last summer as an analyst), and the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship make an impact. Whether it’s regular team brainstorming at Bear Studios, design thinking seminars at Two Ravens, or venture opportunities and networks at Skandalaris, it’s nearly impossible to miss the emphasis on human connection in business.

It is not just small startups or student-run organizations that are capable of human-centric innovation. Large companies are comforted with this opportunities as well. Size may be a factor for the magnitude and ease by which companies innovate, but the capacity exists.

Where companies often misstep is in the front-loading and data collection processes. These two concepts have roots in both the philosophy of science and the scientific method itself. Getting in the habit of expending resources on the initial stages of problem-solving can do wonders for designing an effective and efficient solution.

That’s not to advocate that all problem solving should use the scientific method, but rather draw lessons from the approach. If we can start by defining a problem that needs to be solved and identify the assumptions required for the problem to exist, it might go a long way in developing a solution.

This is because we frequently jump in to innovation and problem solving by spitballing—throwing ideas against the wall and prototyping the ones that stick. It’s expensive, time consuming and often fruitless.

Why? Because it lacks empathy.

Empathy drives innovation

To be clear, empathy is not a complicated procedure that requires company-wide buy-in to be effective. It does not necessarily require extensive training or an immediate overhaul of processes. At its core, empathy asks us to acknowledge each other’s humanity.

In a corporate setting, this can be as easy as beta testing product based on its minimum viable experience, interviewing prospective buyers to understand their pain-points in engaging with your company or product, or grounding a solution in principles of human behavior.

It’s a wickedly simple concept that often eludes even the savviest businesses. Innovation requires empathy because empathy drives innovation.

Olin Business School shares this mindset. Olin’s values-based, data-driven branding promise encompasses both the numerical and relational aspects of business. Olin prepares students to arrive at innovative solutions to the most challenging business issues in a way that leverages both research and relationships.

Whether it’s collaborative case competitions within the classroom or student-run startups outside of the classroom, Olin’s students understand that innovation is more than just a numbers game.

For other companies and institutions, arriving at a point of human-centric innovation takes time and may seem unnatural. Companies exist to make a profit. This premise is simple, but its implications for vulnerability are incredible. Vulnerability means uncertainty.

For investors, for executives and particularly for the students planning to work in industry, we have to start becoming OK with not having all of the answers in order to be able to find them. That means education and organizations that emphasize connection.

If humans can innovate, companies can, too. We just have to be willing to see the bigger picture.

“It’s nothing personal, it’s just business,” creates a transactional view of business. Yet, business has always been personal. It has to be. We are and always will be inextricably tied with the numbers. Whether we can use them to innovate—along with our own humanity—is simply up to us.




Kristine Yim (left) performs during the Lunar New Year festival at Washington University in St. Louis, January 2019.

Kristine Yim, BSBA ’21, majors in marketing and economics & strategy and has been working as a strategy fellow at Bear Studios for one year. She wrote this for the Olin Blog.

There is one interview question we all fear: “What is your greatest weakness?”

I’ve always known I was afraid of change. When answering that question, my immediate response was that my greatest weakness was a fear of failure and discomfort with the unknown. As an individual who lived in a small suburban area my whole life, I didn’t have to face my fears until I decided to attend WashU. New city, rigorous classes and unfamiliar people. I was scared.

I think we all have some level of fear when we face change. Whether you are stepping into an interview, going to a networking event, or giving a presentation, there are many questions about the outcome. When I first came to college, I questioned myself frequently. Will I make genuine friends? Will I be able to do well in my classes? Will I be able to join clubs I enjoy? Although the outcome is important, I believe the process I use to reach the outcome is more important.

I’ve had amazing experiences at Washington University thus far. I joined a student-run consulting business called Bear Studios, performed a taekwondo routine for a full audience, and pledged a business fraternity. This would not have been possible if I stayed in my comfort zone.

Step into the unfamilar

Instead, I decided to enter into situations by stepping into the unfamiliar. I’ve learned that the best way to overcome my weakness is to put myself in uncomfortable circumstances that test my levels of confidence and familiarity. I have had a great deal of awkward conversations, churns in my stomach, and painful rejections, but as I challenged myself to keep going, I finally reached success.

Ultimately, I learned to consider my weaknesses as a form of self-improvement. Although I have become a better risk-taker, it is still a skill that demands improvement. For example, I am in a class called  Entrepreneurial Collaboration: Madagascar, and I will be going to that country over the summer to implement a solution for sustainability.

At first, I was afraid of going abroad for a month for the first time where living conditions are going to be very difficult. However, I knew my desire to help others outweighed any fears or hesitations I might hold. I didn’t want my uncertainty about the future to inhibit my once in a lifetime chance at making a significant impact.

Deep down, I still hold fears about the unknown. However, I have learned to turn that fear into a healthy pursuit of the future and its uncertain opportunities. My time at Olin has challenged me to immerse myself in the most unexpectedly influential experiences, and I hope nothing less for myself in the future.

Pictured above: Kristine Yim (left) performs during the Lunar New Year festival at Washington University in St. Louis, January 2019.




Jacob Finke is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, where he majors in international and area studies and Chinese language and culture. He studied abroad at Fudan University in Shanghai for the summer and fall of 2018. Jacob wrote this post for the Olin Blog on behalf of Bear Studios.

Going abroad always strains relationships. This was something that I was aware of—and worried about—when I decided to study abroad for the summer and fall of 2018. In addition to finding new ways to keep in touch with my family and friends, I was particularly preoccupied about how I was going to communicate with my team at Bear Studios.

Since beginning my time as executive director of Bear Studios in April 2018, Lexi Jackson—my co-director—and I have done our best to communicate as openly as possible, not only between ourselves, but also with Bear Studios’ partners and fellows. We’re a team, and we wanted to communicate like it.

When I went abroad, it strained our communications plan—but I learned some valuable lessons from it.

Have a plan

Before I left for China, Lexi and I wrote up a plan on how we were going to communicate while abroad. Who was going to check our business email? Who was going to update our website? When were we going to have our phone calls? What worked best—FaceTime or Skype? All of these conversations are important—and they need to happen before you leave.

Be flexible

You know the plan Lexi and I drew up? It didn’t last long. Reality got in the way. We flip-flopped between Facebook Messenger and GroupMe before discovering halfway through the semester that iMessage was most convenient. Our roles constantly shifted and were complicated when new responsibilities, such as recruiting new fellows, muddied our beautifully laid-out plan. But we rolled with the punches.

Count on your team

I absolutely made communication blunders this semester. Sometimes, I poorly navigated the time change and sent flurries of texts at 4 a.m. St. Louis time. Other times, because of internet restrictions in China, I was unable to access my work email account for days at a time. When this happened, I knew I could count on Lexi and the team to be understanding—as they were, time and time again. While this was important while I was abroad, I know it will be no less important now that I am home.

I am by no means a communication expert and this semester’s communication plan was by no means perfect. However, it did illuminate some ways my communication can be improved. It also showed me just how important it is to have a team, like the one we have at Bear Studios, that is consistent, flexible, and open to error.

Pictured above are Washington University students and faculty with Fudan University program partners at Thanksgiving dinner in Shanghai in November 2018. Jacob is on the far right in the second row.




Lexi Jackson, BSBA ’20, is the co-executive director of Bear Studios. She majors in leadership and strategic management and political science, and she wrote this for the Olin Blog.

I am still two years out from my full professional career, yet I estimate that I have read more than 10 books on leadership and have heard quotes from a dozen more. Washington University’s focus on developing leadership principles in its students is extensive and deliberate.

Indeed, it shapes students who are prepared to assume leadership roles upon graduation, whether formally or informally. However, building authentic and genuine professional leaders requires more than theoretical studies; leaders are shaped by how they respond to the situations around them, how they foster and maintain relationships, and how they reconcile their mistakes.

In my inaugural year as one of the executive directors of Bear Studios, a student-founded and student-operated strategy and design firm, I have not only witnessed the growth of my own leadership skills, but I have had the privilege to see incredible leaders form alongside me.

One of the hallmarks of working as a contractor in consulting or design work is the unpredictability of each project. Bear Studios fellows are excited by this challenge and are dedicated to meeting every client’s unique request. In situations that demand quick turnarounds or challenging subject material, Bear Studios fellows display some of the most valued leadership characteristics in the professional workplace. Our fellows are adaptable, receptive to feedback, and transparent, openly communicating with clients about how to best translate their vision into timely and comprehensive deliverables.

The secret to our team’s excellent client relations is the emphasis we place on developing relationships with one another. Effective leaders recognize the value of those in their network and work to invest in those individuals so they can grow together. Bear Studios fellows rotate through different types of projects throughout their tenure, collaborating with other fellows who have previously contributed to projects of a similar nature.

Fellows learn best practices from one another and maintain an open dialogue with more senior fellows to ask questions and obtain insights when needed. This practice helps our fellows further develop their skills and provide clients with the highest quality of work.

No leader in our organization, or any other, is exempt from error. Mistakes are a natural part of professional development. Strong leaders take ownership of their mistakes and seek to identify the ways in which they can learn and improve from the situation. Fellows provide an update to their colleagues and Bear Studios management at our weekly team meetings.

During this time, fellows may relay any challenges they are experiencing. This meeting provides a platform for the entire team to contribute feedback and advice for the fellow. Additionally, after each client engagement, fellows are asked to reflect on how they managed the project. Further, fellows receive direct feedback from their clients that choose to submit comments through our client post-engagement form. Analyzing their own feedback with that of their client is a comprehensive way for fellows to gain actionable measures for future improvement.

Leadership is not a book that can be judged by its cover. Leadership encompasses the depth of an individual’s commitment to the success of their environment, the growth of their colleagues, and the extent of their self-improvement. Bear Studios does not develop leaders. Leaders develop themselves by leveraging experiences and experts provided by Bear Studios.

Pictured above: At client engagement projects like the one above, held at TechArtista in spring 2018, Bear Studios fellows are encouraged to lead by creating promotional materials or helping to plan and manage events.

 




Garrett Passamonti, Class of 2021, is a sophomore in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Garrett Passamonti, Class of 2021, is a sophomore
in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Garrett Passamonti, EN ’21, wrote this on behalf of Bear Studios.

My first year at Washington University was full of new experiences, from forming new friendships and discovering new clubs to the initial shock of a college course load.

All my energy was channeled toward doing well in classes and finding a new group of friends. As a cook in the kitchen, I did my best to follow the “standard” recipe of freshman year.

A new year

I came back to WashU for my second year knowing what to expect. The plan was to follow the same recipe I came to love by the end of last year. I already had my friends, knew how to handle higher-level classes, and had some solid extracurriculars.

But only a few weeks in, the dish I had finally mastered began tasting bland.

This year, it’s not all about the novel experience of attending a new school and meeting new people. Instead, it is about solidifying and deepening the relationships I’ve already cultivated. The recipe that defined my freshman year experience—do well in school and find new friends—is no longer there to follow.

Time to become a chef

My education so far has taught me how to follow recipes to cook. It is time to use my cooking skills to define who I am and how I will shape the rest of my college, and life, experience.

When I look at my friends, courses, and activities, I wonder how I am going to form them into my identity. I am afraid of making something I don’t like—but isn’t that why chefs taste test as they go?

What will I make?

Today, I am matching different interests, friends, and activities together, making frequent and careful choices about what tastes good to me.

This year I removed free time from my dish. The only reason I sought free time stemmed from a lack of passion for some activities—so I removed them from my recipe book. It’s not easy to make menu changes, but when I switched from biomedical engineering to systems science and engineering, it felt good seeing more room on my plate.

There was finally space to join a Jazz Combo, take voice lessons, and add on a minor in healthcare management. For me, free time shouldn’t be sought out—it should be avoided. When my plate is full and I’m not trying to find excuses to avoid certain activities, then I know I am being true to myself, developing my own recipe to life, and becoming a chef.

My goal is to make a fantastic meal. This trial and error will take time and effort, but it is worth it. It is important, at the end of the day, for your meal to taste good to you.

Do what makes you happy, what inspires you to push the limits of your ability and grow. Cherish every moment while you cook (it’s supposed to be fun) and stay attentive—you never know when that one ingredient may come along to change everything for the better.

Pictured above: Garrett Passamonti with members of the Stereotypes a cappella group at a competition in Boston, MA last year. The Stereotypes is one of the activities that Garrett joined early his first year at WashU, making it a central ingredient.