Saturday, October 8, 2016

Synthesis/Connecting the Dots

After reading through all of my blog posts in order, I saw several connections, common themes, and a basic logical progression of thoughts that built upon each other.  Common themes included reflections on experiences from my own life, especially during high school.  They all related in some way to the efficiency (or lack thereof) within an organization.  
These common themes worked as connections to tie together a thread of ideas that progressed with each new post.  I started off with the general, explaining my experience in an organization (the track and field team).  I answered basic questions about what the organization was like, how it functioned, and what I got out of it.  In my next post, I spoke on opportunism - a behavior quite common in most organizations.  I shared a time when I did not display opportunistic behavior (a National Honors Society election) and contrasting my actions with a person who did behave opportunistically (one of the students I was running against). I lost the election to my opportunistic peer - this led me to beg the question:  is opportunism good? As I write this reflection, I am thinking about whether opportunism is beneficial in some cases but not others.  How does it effect the common good (in this case, the Honors Society as a whole)?  Rachel (the winner of the election) went on to practice opportunism in her day-to-day responsibilities as an NHS leader.  This helped the society deliver a successful 5k run for charity in which over 100 students raced and raised funds.
I did not think of this at all when I was writing my opportunism post, but while reflecting, I asked myself how the idea of opportunism might relate to my experience on the track team.  I thought of one example: in my junior year of high school (my first year on the varsity team), the varsity girls were supposed to meet on Saturday morning at a nearby hill to train on an incline.  I showed up most Saturdays, along with two or three other girls, but the senior captains never showed up.  Back at school on Monday, they were the ones responsible for telling the coach who showed up for the Saturday hill run.  They asked me and the other juniors who showed up, then they proceeded to tell the coach that they showed up along with whoever else actually came.  The seniors behaved opportunistically, taking advantage of their positions as senior captains to make their lives easier.  In my opinion, this behavior had negative externalities for our team as a whole; the girls who actually showed up were given less credit than what they deserved, and the team was less cohesive.  The seniors were supposed to be leading the workouts, but the juniors were left to figure it out on their own.
In this case, the senior captains’ opportunistic behavior existed in direct opposition to teamwork (the topic of my next blog post).  I gave the example of the team of lifeguards I was part of over the past few summers.  I emphasized the ways that the lifeguard team worked systematically to achieve desired outcomes.  This worked well most of the time, but humans are imperfect, and even with a near-perfect system, performance sometimes fall short.  This was something I did not go into depth on in my original blog post, but it is something I realize after reading my teammates’ and professor’s comments.
Our most recent post was on transfer pricing.  I had a hard time seeing how Illinibucks would be effective and how exactly they would be used; even so, the idea of transfer pricing is an interesting way to look at solving inefficiencies in organizations.  If I had to write another post on transfer pricing, I would look at the ways it might be used in organizations other than Universities (particularly the organizations I have been part of/written about recently).
In short, I believe that the blog prompts were artfully arranged so that each idea complements or contrasts the next; they were created to allow, upon deeper reflection, new ideas to form out of the connection/synthesis of all posts. I learned even more after reading over my posts, finding common themes, and synthesizing ideas.  Though this method of learning has been really helpful, in some ways I still find it hard to connect the different ideas we are learning about in class.  I am not sure which ideas are the most important/which I should emphasize over others. I also feel a bit uncomfortable with the terminology and would like to take a bit of time out in class to look over the most important concepts in a manner more objective than discussion.  I think one way to do this outside of class would be to write a blog post about an article we found (on a credible source such as the New York Times, The Economist, Harvard Business Review, etc.) and directly connect it to the themes we discussed in class.  The prompt would be focused on defined and specific terminology/definitions or economic models that we would try to connect to an article.  I think that the prompts have been pretty useful so far, this is just an idea for something new.


  1. Reading this I think you might want to review the definition of opportunism, which you did look up at the time. (Thanks for doing that.) At issue is whether you are applying the definition correctly. A different expression, being entrepreneurial, comes to mind, or perhaps even more simply, being creative. Those two others don't speak to the ethical dimension the way that opportunism does. Normally we try to encourage entrepreneurial behavior but discourage ethically reprehensible behavior. Perhaps part of your puzzling is to know when it is one but not the other. Sometimes, that might not be easy to sort out.

    Your story of the Saturday practices and lying about it afterwards has no ambiguity at all. That was clearly ethically wrong by the team captains. In the earlier case of the National Honors Society election, was that also true of Rachel? From what I recall of your post on that, perhaps not.

    Your suggestion in the last paragraph is really good. Note that you always have the option to do just that, as long as you connect it to the course themes. You don't have to write to the prompt. It is merely a suggestion.

  2. Professor Arvan,

    To me, opportunism is about making things easier for oneself regardless of moral and/or ethical implications. A definition I found online just now:

    'The taking of opportunities as and when they arise, regardless of planning or principle: "he was accused of political opportunism"'

    Opportunism is something one can be "accused of." This implies that it is a negative behavior, often something to be ashamed of.

    This girls' use of opportunism may have been more overt and definitely less ambiguous, but I still believe it is an example of opportunism. Different people, like Rachel for example, might have different ideas of what opportunism means and how far to take it, but my personal idea is that in most cases opportunism is something that should be avoided completely.

    Thank you for the feedback on my prompt suggestion. I may try it out in the coming weeks!