Wharton – Essay 2

Tell us about a time when you had to adapt by accepting/understanding the perspective of people different from yourself. [750-1000]

This is a sneaky one. And requires a bit of patience to really understand what’s being asked here.

Implicit in this question is the value associated with “accepting/understanding the perspective of people different from yourself”; that value being, of course, “good.” When people are able to step outside their own way of thinking (whether or not they AGREE with the alternative or different point of view), it is good simply TO HAVE HAD that perspective at all.

Now, the best versions of this tend to occur when someone with a STRONG point of view is confronted by a perspective that is threatening to (not consonant with) that point of view. It shouldn’t necessarily be EASY to flip and understand the other person’s perspective. In fact, it’s best when there’s a moment in time when you have to literally stop in your tracks and say, “hang on, in order for me to make sense of any of this,” or “in order for this to move past this stalemate,” or “in order for this process to move forward,” … I need to understand where this other guy is coming from. That moment is conscious. It’s deliberate. It’s a moment where you actually set aside your own beliefs, your sense of right and wrong, your sense of moral/immoral, your sense of WHATEVER, and say, lemme skin this sucker another way–THIS guy’s way. It’s getting uncomfortable and pushing your mind and heart to perceive something in a different way. It should feel uncomfortable at first because it should be a DIFFERENT perspective from yours. If it doesn’t, it’s probably not the best example in the world.

When that process ends, something fantastic tends to happen. Your understanding of the situation, problem, issue, whatever… just deepened. It just became two-dimensional. The more dimensions you can add (outside of the application) the better. Fine, but let’s talk specifically about how this all translates into answering this question.

When you’re describing this moment where you were forced to pause and take in another perspective, we need to be sold on why your way was the right way, initially. Make that case as powerfully, and “insistently,” as you need. This is going to setup the THUNK moment, where you were confronted with some type of competing way of thinking. We need to know what made you stop in your tracks, who we’re talking about here (i.e., describe the “people different from yourself” and what that means in your particular story), and what steps your mind went through to set aside your attitude, consider theirs (describe how uncomfortable it was, if it was uncomfortable—or how LIBERATING it was if it was liberating—walk us through). And then, revisit the original problem with a much better sense. This “much better sense” will only work if you’ve hit us with that initial myopic point of view.

DO NOT get ahead of yourself here and start writing from that liberated point of view. Imagine how awful STAR WARS would have been if Luke was gung-ho about “the force” from minute 1. We need to see the before and after. We need to feel the transformation.

To sum up, make sure to:

1) Paint the scenario from a “before” perspective. Do NOT tip your hand here and come across enlightened too soon.

2) Walk us through (step by step) how the new point of view became relevant. Who the people were. How you resisted maybe, then dealt with the shift in thinking. Walk us THROUGH that step-by-step

3) Revisit the initial “problem” with a refreshed take, now that your perspective just “deepened.”

The take home point in all this is NOT to get ahead of yourself. Make us feel the transformative power of understanding someone else’s point of view.

HBS Three Accomplishments – Again