My Week in ESTEEM: September 24-30, 2018

Author: Sara Ciavarella

Sara CiavarellaSara Ciavarella

This week, I traveled to Boston to meet my thesis sponsors from Allergy Standards Ltd. for an Innovation conference/symposium at MIT, organized by the Irish Management Institute and Enterprise Ireland. In an effort not to spoil everything I learned over the week, I’ll mention the topics we discussed and some highlights and reflections from my interpretation of the course. Read on for a day-by-day breakdown of my adventures!

Poster for MIT Program

Monday: I woke up bright and early at my sister’s apartment in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. After packing up my morning-of-essentials, I walked a few blocks over to the Halstead bus to connect to the Blue Line L out to O’Hare airport. Check-in for my flight went smoothly and just as I entered the long (!!) TSA line, someone whisked the last of us in line to another security checkpoint, cutting the line from ~100 people to ~10. Things were looking up!

Once at my gate, I logged on to work remotely for an hour before boarding began. Throughout the year, I am working remotely part-time for The ABIS Group, a business intelligence firm with whom I worked full-time during my year between graduating from ND for undergrad and returning for ESTEEM. I wrapped up my Monday tasks just in time to board and was pleasantly surprised when nobody sat in the middle seat of my row on the plane. 

The day kept getting better! Not only were there complimentary soft drinks during the flight (hello, ginger ale), but I also didn’t have to pay to watch the first 3.5 episodes of HBO’s Silicon Valley (and I probably could have squeezed in all of the fourth episode had I realized my luck sooner). Don’t know why, but I thought they had gotten rid of both of these amenities on domestic flights. 

Now Playing: Boston - Augustana
Shipping Up To Boston - Dropkick Murphys

Tuesday: After a calm walk over to the MIT Sloan building, the Innovation 4 Growth cohort ate breakfast together and filed in to our classroom and assigned seats. I was surrounded by executives from a variety of Irish-based companies all excited to learn about ways to integrate innovation into their companies’ day-to-day activities. 

Sara in front of MIT buildingSara in front of MIT building

Once my thesis sponsors and I returned to the hotel, we freshened up and headed to the Harvard Club for dinner. The building was beautiful and historic and the food itself was delicious. It was incredible to see portraits of all the past U.S. Presidents who had been members or visitors of the Harvard club and reflect on my own journey that brought me here.

We also discussed “innovator’s DNA” (iDNA), challenges to innovation within an organization and how to overcome them, and how to incorporate different iDNA profiles into an innovative organizational landscape. We wrapped up our sessions with a talk from the head of the MIT label-free research lab who played an instrumental role in bringing MIT-researched technologies to market in the form of commercial products. The day ended with a campus tour, followed by a hors d’oeuvres and drinks reception with all program participants. We first discussed the MIT approach to innovation & the role of innovation ecosystems within established companies. We focused on the difference between “capital-I” Innovation and “little-i” innovation—essentially, that ideas don’t need to be large-scale and grandiose to be a form of innovation, but that the radical, groundbreaking ideas that are typically associated with Innovation can be inspired by, and help inspire, innovation.

Now Playing: The Harvard Variations - Legally Blonde The Musical
Castle on the Hill - Ed Sheeran

Wednesday: Today’s the last day of our program at MIT. We started off with group breakfast again and I *loved* using their make-your-own flavored sparkling water machine for the last time (it’s the little things, you know?). 

One of MIT’s professors of management spoke to us about the 4 Capabilities of Leadership model, which include: sense-making, relating, visioning, and inventing. After an introduction to how each of these should function within an organization, we analyzed how they currently function within our own organizations, and how we could work toward integrating these strategies to improve both internal and external functional efficiencies.

In our last two sessions, we wrapped everything together by working to understand the culture within our own firms, if it’s innovative already, and how, through leadership, we can build a more innovative environment. The goal is to create an environment such that people at all levels of the organization feel comfortable suggesting new innovation and have the autonomy to bring about or champion for all levels of innovation throughout the organization.

Once all the lessons wrapped up, we had a graduation ceremony where each participant was given a certificate of completion for the Leading Innovation course through MIT’s executive education program. We said our goodbyes to our MIT professors, but the larger Innovation 4 Growth program still had a few events on the calendar. After a wrap-up session with Innovation 4 Growth, we had a bit of free time before meeting again for dinner—this time as a whole program. 

In my break, I headed over to MIT’s Barker Library of Engineering, which is in the room directly beneath the dome of their most famous building. Through ESTEEM, I am currently taking an Introduction to Python class, through which we are all enrolled in the MIT-hosted course of the same name on I figured there was no better place to work on my MIT Python course than in the MIT Engineering library, so I took in the beautiful room and made some headway on that week’s online lectures and assignments. Plus with eduroam WiFi, I was able to get online for free instead of the $12+ a day for access at the hotel!

Sara in the Barker Engineering Library, under the MIT dome

Now Playing: Pomp and Circumstance 

Thursday: While the MIT program ended yesterday, today is the last day of this session with Innovation 4 Growth. After a wonderful dinner last night, and me frantically packing up my hotel room this morning, we were off for a site visit of a successful Irish-based company: Globoforce. We all filed onto a coach bus to take us to Framingham, MA where their US office is located. To keep things brief, I’ll let you look up Globoforce on your own, but the experience was incredible. Everyone in the office was so friendly and welcoming. The office itself was designed to work the way humans work, with some features designed intentionally to encourage collaboration and cross-team run-ins after the office expanded to two floors. The workspace was beautiful and I could easily see how it encourages productivity without monotony—the ideal balance for an office, in my opinion.

Sara in front of spot of Boston Tea Party

Collaboration space in Globoforce Framingham, MA officeCollaboration space in Globoforce Framingham, MA office (Thursday)

Once the tour wrapped up and we were on our way back to Boston, I texted my sister who had flown out to Boston that morning to meet me for the rest of the weekend. MAJOR KEY ALERT: there are no ESTEEM classes scheduled on Thursdays and Fridays during the Fall semester, so I didn’t miss any new material and was able to truly experience the city. My sister graciously had moved my luggage to our hotel and was waiting for me at a nearby restaurant with an appetizer already ordered. Since she had a redeye flight over that morning, we decided to have a more laid-back evening and biked to the other side of Cambridge to wander the Harvard campus. I was so excited to see the first U.S. university and feel inspired by the greatness of all those who had been there (and actually studied there) before me. But take note here: I was entirely underwhelmed. Maybe I’m biased because I know how much Notre Dame cares about cultivating a beautiful campus, but other than the appeal of how old some of the buildings were, it left me more assured than ever that I was meant to be at Notre Dame. 

My sister and I went for dinner at a nearby restaurant where I had my first ever pumpkin spice cocktail. It was magical and if I could copy their recipe, I would make one at least once a week. By the time we ubered back to the hotel it was dark so we couldn’t do much site seeing along the way, but I was happier than ever to see my luggage waiting for me in the hotel room. Sisters are the best.

Now playing: Notre Dame Alma Mater - in the style of students at major events

Sara walking the Freedom Trail

Friday: I did no ESTEEM-related activities today other than checking in on the usual Slack messages and Snapchat group. My sister and I had a wonderful time being tourists for the day and followed the Freedom Trail that runs through the historic areas of Boston, connecting the locations of historic buildings and events. We made a number of stops, but still only fit in about half of what the trail included. Overall, the day was wonderful and I highly recommend everyone visit Boston at some point.

Now Playing: Sit Still, Look Pretty - Daya