MBA Admissions: Creativity Lessons from Pogue’s Wedding Proposal

You may be familiar with David Pogue, who writes articles for The New York Times about technology (and writes dozens of books about technology, and hosts many television programs about technology, and so on).  Recently he proposed to his fiancée in a most unusual way: through a fake movie trailer he created and showed at a theater where she was in attendance.  (She said yes.)  People in the audience liked the trailer and asked him to post it online so they could show their friends.  With his fiancée’s approval, he did so—and now it’s gone viral.  He tells the story of his trailer in a New York Times blog post that accompanies his video.  How he did it is impressive.

More, how he did it holds lessons for business school applicants, because at least two major schools ask for presentations as creative as his.  NYU Stern asks applicants to “please describe yourself to your MBA classmates.  You may use almost any method to convey your message.  Feel free to be creative.”  Chicago Booth similarly asks applicants to give “a four-slide presentation” that “broadens our perspective about who you are.  The content is completely up to you.  There is no right, or even preferred, approach to this presentation.”

If you are applying to these or other schools that prompt you for a wide open response, then you must come up with your own creative proposal that gets your audience to say yes.  How?  Let’s look at David Pogue’s approach for some helpful lessons.

  • Get others to help you come up with a great idea.  Pogue got his idea for a fake movie trailer from his kids.  Your idea too can come from family—or from friends, coworkers, or even strangers you hear in passing.  Don’t limit the source of your ideas to yourself.
  • Plan, plan, plan.  Pogue clearly thought out his whole movie trailer in intricate detail, right down to the timing of his on-screen actors’ responses to his live proposal.  Because of all the thinking up front, shooting took just two days.  Map out your own plan for your presentation; it will save you time when you execute it and the quality will show in the results.
  • Use the technology you have on hand, and use it creatively.  Some who saw Pogue’s video thought it cost him thousands of dollars, but it didn’t: he used friends as actors, moving cars as dollies, and still cameras as video recorders.  Creativity doesn’t end with the idea for your presentation; it continues through the execution of your presentation.
  • Know your audience.  David Pogue impressed his audience—his fiancée—simply by being David Pogue.  Through your presentation, the admissions committee wants to know you—the kind of person you are.  Give them that!  Don’t give them a list of accomplishments, or a full chronology of your life, or some made-up persona—just give them you, the person your closest coworkers see, the person your friends see, the person your family sees.  If those close to you can recognize you in your presentation, then the admissions committee will as well.

David Pogue could have proposed to his fiancée in a traditional way.  No one would have noticed.  Similarly, a business school applicant could respond to the NYU and Chicago questions in a traditional way, with a straightforward essay and a standard slide set.  No one would notice—and that’s a problem, because the worst thing you can do as a business school applicant is not be noticed.  No doubt it scared David Pogue to take a big, creative risk; it scares my clients too when they answer creative questions like these.  But if he can do it well, so can you: taking a creative risk got him noticed, and it will get you noticed in a good way too.

By R. Todd King, an MIT MBA, who has worked with MBA applicants since 2001. Todd can help you make the most of your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses.

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