How volunteering reminded me Microeconomics is cool

Every year, Deloitte leaves the office for a day, and enters the community for an annual day of volunteering called Impact Day. It’s an opportunity for Deloitte to give back, and share our time, effort, and experience to help and improve local communities.

For this Impact Day, I had the opportunity to spend time at YearUp in Brooklyn, a program that takes under-privileged young adults and prepares them for professional careers. They spend a year in classes and internships learning solid skills on Finance, Information Technology, Presentations, Project Management, and so much more. There are several of these programs around the country, and with the opportunity to step inside, I was excited to see YearUp’s facilities. I could immediately feel the energy and pride that beamed from the program’s leaders.

Beyond the facilities, I was deeply impressed by the students. They are passionate, committed, and talented young adults. Many of them are just getting started in their exposure to the professional world, but any shortcomings are quickly overshadowed through a strong curiosity and interest in learning whatever they can. My fellow Deloitters and I (“we” going forward) spent the day working with them on two areas: elevator pitches and presentation skills. I’ll share a few thoughts on those two areas, and then I’ll share how I was reminded why Microeconomics are cool.

Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch has become an an almost mythical event, shrouded in mystery and glory. There are the anecdotes about someone being given an opportunity to give their elevator pitch and walking away with a multimillion dollar investment or a tale similar to that. With that as a mental backdrop, we were not surprised that the students had a hard time sharing their thoughts. Even with a canned pitch about the YearUp program they were extremely nervous, and there was little personal details in their pitches. There was nothing about them, nothing about their passions or interests. When we asked them to shift gears and talk about themselves, their anxiety went into overdrive. It was almost foreign. However, when they did finally talk about themselves, we saw a whole new side – we heard about career goals, purpose, and even entrepreneurial ideas.

Then we shared with them the secret about elevator pitches. An elevator pitch is not about getting to “Yes”, and while it’s certainly not about getting a “No”, a sole focus on “Yes” or “Good to hear” is not what an elevator pitch is about. It’s about one thing – “Tell me more”. An elevator pitch is successful when it transitions to a conversation. When we told them this, the reaction was amusing. They had their minds set on immediate success, and were relieved that they didn’t always need a slam dunk, they just needed to make sure they stayed on the court, so to speak. We were pleased to see them charged up by our guidance.

Presentation Skills

Next we worked with them to produce a quick presentation about a recent news item. We were surprised at the serious topics chosen for the presentations. We thought the topics would be fairly innocuous, and instead, the issues were serious and sensitive. Topics included Net Neutrality, Carbon Emission Limits, and the Impacts of Raising the Minimum Wage, among others.

Since these are very controversial topics, I won’t comment on the topics themselves, but in working with the students, we noticed that their thinking stopped a little prematurely. The students were great in working together, researching the topic and producing effective slides, but the students had a hard time connecting the dots as we dug deeper into the topics. As we discussed our thoughts, we realized that these students were definitely not unique – many professionals we work with have a hard time connecting the dots.

“Connecting the dots” is a concept that I am confident is well discussed and presented by others in many different places, but is something I define as being able to identify tangentially related elements and connect them together in the context of a broader topic.

For example, as we discussed Carbon Limits, the students had a hard time looking past the obvious. They could grasp alternative energy, power generation changes, and even potential impacts to industrial production, but they didn’t easily see the deeper connections: potential economic impacts, cultural changes, and lifestyle changes. It takes a creative, explorative approach to dig deeper into an issue, yet, it’s a skill and a mindset that is rarely fostered. As we worked through the issue at a deeper level, it was a pleasure to see them realize and understand our given issue at a much, much deeper level. It was impressive to see them begin to realize deeper connections they did not initially consider.

Microeconomics

It was the presentations that gave me the chance to show off a little microeconomics! The last presentation covered the recent rise in the minimum wage in Washington State, and touched on how such an increase could impact New York. One of the points raised during the presentation was on how increases to minimum wage can reduce employment. To one of the students, such a possibility seemed counterintuitive, and I offered to share with him my thoughts on why that can happen. I drew a supply and demand curve on the board, and when I turned around, the lone student grew to about 10 students curious about what we were talking about. I drew a couple dotted lines, talked about market clearing values, and how price limits can impact market equilibrium. Amid a few comments I got the most wonderful comment of all: “That’s cool”.

It was tremendous feeling, not because of the “cool” comment, but because these students were shown something they are not directly familiar with, and it was shown to them in a casual and interesting way. It was a new tool they could build upon, something they did not realize could be incorporated into their thinking. For many of us, it is a tool that we take for granted in our daily thinking.

We all have different mental toolboxes, so I encourage you, whenever possible, to share with those around you something they may not know, because giving others new tools and new skills is pretty “cool”.

One final thought. I could share many details about Impact Day, but the size, history, and contributions made by so many giving and caring members of Deloitte is deserving of so much more than even the longest article on this site. I encourage you to check out the Deloitte website for details about Impact Day, and about how giving back to the community can make such a difference.