Throughout my life, I’ve always pushed myself to step outside of my comfort zone as a mean to self-improvement. Although I’m embarrassingly clumsy, I begged my parents to sign me up for dance classes and gymnastics because I was eager to improve. Knowing my musical abilities were limited, I took years of piano and guitar lessons to hone these skills. I took classes that I knew might be difficult for me because I wanted exposure to new knowledge, even if that meant failing sometimes. Even though I previously had no direct experience with entrepreneurship, when Allstate announced that they’d be hosting a companywide startup challenge this summer, it only seemed fitting that I take the leap and sign up.
Through the Intrapreneurs @ Allstate Startup Challenge, participants were placed in teams with people of various expertise levels and from different departments to collaborate and create a solution that would improve the customer experience. Within a month, teams were expected to research a problem, brainstorm a solution, connect with outside sources for feedback, develop a prototype, create a business model, estimate costs and profits, and produce a pitch presentation- all while maintaining our “day jobs.” Though admittedly I was intimidated by this project initially, my boss eagerly encouraged that I join. Viewing this as another opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and grow, I signed up.
The first obstacle of the project arose shortly after receiving my team roster. As the only intern on the team, I naively assumed that I would not play an integral role in the challenge. With that thought in mind, I patiently waited for one of my team members to set up our first meeting. After a few days with no contact, I decided to be proactive and take initiative on scheduling time as a team before our first deliverables were due. When I arrived at the meeting that each member had responded “attending” to, I found that it was only me and one other team member there. A few hours later, one of my team members reached out apologizing for missing the meeting while the other two team members replied that they would be withdrawing from the competition. Down two members with one meeting in the book, I was already feeling somewhat discouraged.
At our next meeting, we discovered that the eldest team member had only been at Allstate for 6 months. Most other teams had members who had been with the company for numerous years, so we perceived this as an obstacle initially. While we understood that this may complicate some of our work, we tried to use this to our advantage, framing our team’s input as a fresh perspective. Still, it was clear that there were some gaps in knowledge from our unfamiliarity with the problem. While this was sometimes frustrating, it only motivated us to work harder.
In the weeks leading up to the presentation, more difficulties emerged. Between conflicting schedules and strict deadlines, we were tight on time and rushing to complete all aspects of our project. With only one week left in the competition, we received feedback that we needed to scale back on our solution. After hearing this useful advice, we had a clearer sense of direction, but again, very limited time left. This required some early morning meetings of heading back to the drawing board, but watching our product develop from our vision made it all worthwhile.
Come presentation day, we were rushing to add the finishing touches to our pitch. Walking into the room and standing in front of the judges, I knew that we had given our best efforts, and I think that was evident through our presentation. Although we did not move to the final round of the competition, I was still proud of myself for stepping outside of my comfort zone and for all of the new knowledge I had gained over a months span.
I’ve been told that growth comes from discomfort, and through this experience I can attest to that statement. The obstacles that lined the project served as valuable learning experiences and made the completion of the challenge even more rewarding. By pushing myself outside of my usual mindset and challenging myself to hone my innovation skills, I not only feel more capable of my ability to step into any situation, brainstorm an idea, and bring that concept to fruition, but am also more confident in my overall capability to overcome obstacles.