Arjun Yadav's Webpage

Remembering a Great Teacher


Sometime circumstances surprise you with gifts. That's I guess is the nature of circumstances. One of those gifts are the few memorable teachers which you encounter in your academic life. I have yet to meet someone who can't recall at least one teacher who contributed in their life for good. There is always this one teacher in everyone's life. I have had many. The teacher in MBA who forced me to think more deeply about the complicated solutions of seemingly simple problems. To the female PT teacher who called me cute in 8th grade. And this teacher is what I am going to write about today. Not the one who called me cute in 8th grade (as much as I want to talk about that, it's not right to share that here.) let's instead talk about the one who used to bring simple questions to the class and expected not so simple answers. In actuality the answers were simple. Not rocket science. He was a marketing teacher. Guy didn't ask to solve integration equations. He was the kind of dude who would enter the class and the first few words which will come out of his mouth would be in the likes of "Starbucks launched a new flavour of coffee, it failed in the market. Tell me why?" That's it. That's what he would say. Guy wouldn't even tell which flavour. He would spend the whole hour asking the same question consistently. Like some YouTube video whose autoplay is turned on, but with a minor distinction that instead of other videos, the same video replays. Kinda loop mode.

However, in between these repetitions he gives enough time to people to guess the answer. Of course every single guess is going to be wrong. Primarily because of two reasons: one, that as the questions are not specific it's mostly a guess game. Two, the only person in the room who has read the research paper is the professor, as a result he is the natural and sole inheritor of the sacred knowledge of that solution.

But that's the whole point, the goal of his question, as he had said on multiple occasions, was not to get the right answer. But to get any answer. "Finding answer" he would say "will keep your mind working." People would give all sort of absurd answers, he would listen, tell that it's wrong, gives a smile and will continue to repeat the question like a Chad. "Maybe that Starbuks flavour failed in the market because they didn't do the market research the right way." answered the beautiful looking dumb girl of the class. Experience has showed that every class has at least one of that kind. Upon listening to that, the professor replied "Starbucks is a financially strong company. They can hire the best talent to do market research. Do you really think they did not do market research properly? Be specifically, don't answer vaguely." He said that even though he asked his won question in the most vague way. Absurd answers would come from all corners of the class. One interesting thing I found, which makes him a successful teacher, is that under his presence the class participation was the highest comparably to other teachers. Everyone tried to find answer. Every single one spoke. Even the people I once thought can't speak. "Maybe it wasn't tasty enough that's why it failed." someone say. Professor would reply "Do you really think that Starbucks would launch something which doesn't taste good? Won't they even taste it themselves before launching it?". I should add as well that he would also give some 'clues' to the answer. "In this study the clue is" he might say something similar " that the country in which the product failed is mostly cold so people have to wear coat there." Ah! These types of clue used to make the problem more confusing.

He was gentleman enough that after making all of us wrestle with our imagination for almost an hour, he would at the end give the answer and point to a particular research paper. So, as an answer to the question "Starbucks launched a new flavour of coffee, it failed in the market. Tell me why?" he would say something like this "The research on the failure of that product found that the reason it failed was because it did not have a smell strong enough. This was the primary reason. Starbucks consumers prefer something which has a strong smell. Something which gets stuck with their coat and it's still there after an hour of the coffee consumption."

His answers never satisfied me. I mean, you read that yourself, do you think that that can be the reason? No I suppose. But the professor would quote actual research papers. Beherhal (This word has Persian roots, it means anyways.). Beherhal, His class was like an adventure. As adventure is never about the attainment of the destination but about the on the road experience. Similarly, getting the right answer was never the goal but the consistent struggle to think of possible answer was the real adventure. And providing that adventure, is one among many reasons why he left such a mark in my memory.

It is always a little pleasure to think about those classes. Someone might claim that I am intoxicating myself with too much nostalgia. To those I would answer: Life goes on, unless it won't. We must go on, until we can. But there is no harm in indulging in little nostalgia. What is nostalgia, after all, but an attempt to preserve that which was good in the past?