Lessons from the Guest Lecture

Vance Hall
One of the newer building on campus, I think Robert made out well.

Those of you who follow the Thursday Doors series knew this was coming. It has little to do with the doors, and surprisingly, it has little to do with my lecture. Oh, don’t worry, (or perhaps I should say don’t be too quick to rejoice) I’m going to sneak a little bit of that lecture in.

The first thing that I want to do is to dispel the notion that I am some kind of noteworthy academic type who wanders the college circuit giving guest lectures. I’ve written before about the fact that I, along with a group of other business folks have been serving as mentors in an undergraduate Management Information Science (MIS) class for several years. If you’re interested, you can read more about that here. I’ll try to not repeat anything from that post. I have also benefited from the kindness and service of mentors in my life. I’ve written about that, too. The professor of the class in which we served as mentors made the following request:

Can any of you guys fill an opening for a guest lecturer this fall?

Several of us asked for more information. The exchange between me and the professor should help you put my role into context:

What’s the subject?

This would be for my graduate level class on IT Strategy. You can talk about anything that might relate to the topics covered in the study guide.”

He attached a PDF copy of the study guide.

I could talk about the way our strategy is influenced by other factors in business, like my budget. Would that help?

That would be perfect. These guys need to know how things work in the real world.”

In the real world.

I hated that expression when I was in college.

Every time I heard someone use that expression, it carried the connotation that I didn’t know jack. On several occasions, that expression was proximate to the phrase “college boy” and it was being used to limit or prevent my participation in a project. Often times, a project for which I had been trained.

There are two ways to deal with experience and the specialized knowledge you have acquired: you can keep it to yourself and use it to your advantage, or you can share it with others.

I guess there’s a third way: you can proceed through life without thinking about it, but I’m going to ignore that because I’m hoping to convince you that you should share it with others.

IT Strategy Effect
Ideas, knowledge management and your approach to technology change with the nature of the business.

At one point during my “lecture,” I put up the image at the right. Yes, I use the same high quality illustrations at work as I do here. My point was that “your technology strategy has to be influenced by the context in which it has to be implemented.” When I showed that, the professor interrupted me. He asked the class if they remembered a previous lesson. He started asking them questions, jogging or attempting to jog their memories from undergraduate classes they had taken. He was drawing parallels that I barely could imagine existing between the concept I was attempting to illustrate and the vast body of knowledge he has in his head.

I was impressed!

We often think that teachers, regardless of academic level, have an easy job. With few real working hours, lots of days off and covering the same ground year after year. I’ve heard people say, and I’ve probably said it myself, that “once they prepare a curriculum, they’re pretty much set for life.”

Wow, that is so not the case.

The real world that I was trying to expose these students to was not lost on the professor. He had done research, he had read, he had adapted his curriculum to reflect the ever-changing real world. Although many of the concepts in his study guide looked familiar to the ones I had learned when I was in graduate school, the application was radically different. I was speaking to this class as a way of reinforcing the lessons they already had learned. Or, maybe ones they were ignoring because they couldn’t imagine how those lessons would ever would matter in the real world.

Lessons, at every educational level, are planned, practiced, delivered and reinforced. We, those of us in the real world, can help with that last task. As parents, we help with homework. We volunteer to chaperone field trips. We go into early grade classes and read stories. Later, we participate in Career Days. These are all things most parents are familiar with, but it doesn’t have to end when your kids go off to college or directly into that real-ish world.

I wouldn’t recommend mentoring or lecturing in a classroom where your child is a student, Oh the embarrassment, but I bet there’s a campus within easy driving distance where you could share some of your experience, insights, and skills. I would also bet that you will be impressed with the quality of the educational experience you participate in and that you will feel better about yourself and the educational process and professionals when you are done. That, plus the benefit of saying “I was asked to be a guest lecturer”, it does feel kind of good.


  1. I think you and that prof do a great service for those students. I see too often that college students are still sheltered from the realities of the outside world. You should be very proud of yourself, Dan.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks. I am happy to help, and I always come away with some additional insight about education or my job. In this class, we had several nice discussions and I left there thinking about the ways in which we could improve things.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post, Dan. You got me thinking about what I could possibly offer a class – the answer is nothing. I’m not particularly qualified in any field (read: career), and yet I have a very heavy dose of “real life” each and every day. Which really goes to show that “real life” is as much a perspective as a practice. Does that make any sense? I haven’t had my first coffee yet. :P

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Linda. Our local high school has done a Saturday session where people come in and talk to students about a variety of real life issues. We had a neighbor, whose daughter dropped out of college when McDonald’s offered her a full time position at $11 an hour. They sent her to that session so she could find out how little money that really is. Young (and old I guess) people make uninformed or under-informed decisions all the time. People who are willing to share life experiences can help, the problem is finding the venue/program in which to participate.


  3. I also hated the expression ‘the real world’ as a student. Um, we are all in our own little worlds! Sometimes our little worlds overlap with those of others. That’s real, no matter how old you are.
    It’s nice you mentor :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I think the problem comes with the overlap. When your world boundary crosses the boundary of my little world, there are going to be issues. I think the issues are worse when the world you are entering is particularly little. I’ve seen that throughout my career and I’ve never really understood why that attitude persists. Mentoring is fun, and very rewarding. It’s like parenting with children who actually appear to listen.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Good post Dan. I wish more business executives would take the time to “give back” to those who are just beginning to learn how life is outside the bubble of the classroom. I’ve had the opportunity to guest lecture several times and always find it a rewarding experience, even it it was not a particularly engaged professor or class. I am currently planning a Career Day program at LincolnTech in CT to explain the opportunities in the RV industry to their diesel mechanics and automobile related courses. We are going to bring in a couple of motorhomes and have presentations throughout the day on various aspects of the industry. They had no idea what the RV industry was all about. The sessions I enjoy the most are those relating to marketing and sales. This is an area where I find major differences between what students are being taught in the classroom and what technology solutions companies are incorporating into their business plans. There is a large gap here and we need more volunteers from business to bring enlightenment to some of the professors who have not kept up with the changing business world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your plans for that Career Day sound amazing Bob, good for you! The biggest eye-opener for the students in this class was the fact that a technology strategy is constrained by a budget. We had just recently completed our 2016 budget here at work, and they were amazed that we have to “guess” that far ahead and that we will be bound by those estimates. I tried to explain that we are trying very hard not to guess. The professor in this class manages to stay on top of things, and I can’t imagine that it’s an easy task.


  5. Excellent post, except for the fact that I had to click on the graphic to get it to enlarge and read the print, which reminded me I am old, but that is not your fault!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Years ago, I read a great article in the Ashton-Tate Journal (Gosh, remember them?). It was titled “Dawn Patrol” and used the metaphor of a pilot going on his first mission and who would either be shot down (most likely) or survive.

    The article covered all the things they do not teach you in school about implementing a project. It covered the insufficient budget, the resistance from rivals, the subject matter experts who understand their job rather than their subject matter and my personal favorite….. that some people have found ways to make money other than salary on their job (corruption).

    When we say “real world”, we are talking about the things that make a real difference on the job. Like the “Dawn Patrol”, the best student in the class will be shot down if they don’t get one arcane detail right – and the trick is knowing what that detail is and responding to it correctly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the comment. The Ashton-Tate reference does make me feel old, but that’s a very good point and a great analogy. When I was working as a consultant, we stumbled across corruption on several occasions. It was always easier to spot from the outside looking in than from the inside.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post. When I taught I always felt like the best lessons were the ones where I also learned something, too. When there is a kind of collaboration of students, teacher and community something meaningful can happen.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You’re so right about college professors, Dan. It’s not easy to prepare and maintain a curriculum, and it’s certainly a challenge to keep the material fresh and interesting. I was impressed during my time in school by those who did their job well (which was uncommon, unfortunately). I teach writing to the intern groups that come through my office three times a year, and it’s WORK. At least if you want to do it well! And it sounds like you do. Good job!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Paul. We have worked with interns, and it is a lot of work. My boss says, “if you’re going to hire an intern, you need to make it an educational process” and that means work. I don’t know if I could do it three times a year. Passing skills like yours onto young people or people starting out in your field is such a benefit to them. Kudus to you for doing that.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wonderful! You make a good point about the benefit of seeing education in its own environment. Knowing that teachers strive to understand the world outside of academia matters. Will you write about any unique conversations occurring in class or at the recruiting/info tables?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sammy. I may write about the discussion around that illustration, but I thinkI would stick that on my woefully neglected business/technical blog. I’ll mention it here if I do.


    • Thanks. The room was really cool. It had a projector but also a few large monitors and one large touch-screen. So I could draw on my presentation and control the flow from just about anywhere in the room.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. When I see how darn smart you are, I get intimated. I was clueless with your chart and the curriculum had my eyes crossed. Say what? I am very glad to know you are a mentor and helping those college students grasp the fact that school and the “real world” are two very different matters. I had the shock of my life when I began to actually work in the field I graduated in. Great post, Dan. I will make sure I have all my spelling, etc., correct when I comment here. Tee hee …. Still have to me though, I must say. <3

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much Amy. For your information, I’d never recognize a spelling error in a comment. I’m not so smart, I just have experience. You have it in other areas. We all get through each day, and that’s what’s important.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I wish we had someone like that come to the university to tell us about the real world applications of the concepts we had been theoretically taught. We were loaded with so many things it was hard to tell what we’d need from what we wouldn’t. The department had failed to take into account market requirements when they wrote the curriculum. Electrical engineering was all complex mathematics, every concept was presented mathematically, yet when we looked around we didn’t see where those equations would apply. What I did during my industrial attachment felt irrelevant, unrelated to the lectures I had attended. To make it worse, most class concepts actually became irrelevant once we were in the real world. School environment is quite different from that of the “real world”—I also hated that term, by the way. I felt left out, that after going almost crazy studying engineering I was still not ready for the world.
    I think you did a great service to those students.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I was studying chemistry, I had no idea what a chemist actually did in industry. When I was studying business, I had know idea what an analyst or systems designer did. The first time education matched the real world was when an employer sent me to a project management class. Thanks for your support Peter.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I know that teaching isn’t for the weak. I used to be a ‘sub’. I’ve always been aware of the fact that I would not make a good full-time teacher. But how many are there in the field that are good at teaching these day? I do think that the numbers of teachers who aren’t giving enough to the students is growing by leaps and bounds. Their hearts just aren’t in their work. To be an effective teacher, I believe your heart and soul must be poured into it daily. And then people wonder why the U.S. is slipping down so fast academically.

    (Just my opinion)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Deb. Your husband is the one doing the hard work. It’s pretty easy to bounce into a classroom a few times a year. Day in, day out is a whole ‘nother thing. My brother is a retired teacher and I know how hard he worked. He still coaches kids in an academic club.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I always like your style of “talking” where I can usually follow you and I love your illustrations, charts and ways you take us through processes. You could easily be a teacher (assitant prof or a “grad ass,” which we affectionately called the grad students) when you retire, Dan. :)
    This looks like a “pie” chart with innovative thoughts added. Happy Friday, to Dan and his editor in chief :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Robin. I enjoy teaching, but I’m not sure I would enjoy all the prep work required to keep a class like this current. It is something that I think about for in my retirement. You never know.


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