Finding the right ingredients to activate your “superpowers”Featured

What is your superpower? Are you even aware that you have a superpower? Do you know the ingredients to activate your superpowers?

In one of the case competitions I participated in during my MBA at the University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management, the entrepreneurs were asked about their superpowers. In an increasingly competitive environment driven by innovation, I’ve found that differentiation and building on the value you offer are indispensable.

The question also caused me to self-reflect: how do you develop your superpowers? Are superpowers the result of self-awareness or circumstance, or both? Knowing yourself, the environmental factors and activities that bring out the best in you are important to maintaining mental health and activating your strengths.

Having a long-game perspective, exposing yourself to high-growth environments, and having the patience to develop new skills are important if your goals are difficult to achieve (yet worthwhile) and require you to establish pre-conditions for success.

Having contrasting experiences helps identify the right environmental variables to see you thrive, develop and activate your superpowers.

Throughout my career, I’ve taken on challenges that seem insurmountable at the time due to a lack of resources or a steep learning curve that meant I had to learn new technologies at a rapid pace.

Before the MBA, I started my career as a technical marketer, rapidly became a subject matter expert across multiple ad platforms, and I tried to build a minimal viable product on excel to make my work easier. I’ve learnt that agility is crucial in the face of growth and possibility.

After moving to Adparlor, one of the first Facebook marketing partners, I contributed significantly from a product perspective during their transition from legacy to a self-serve platform. I experienced incredible success after growing client daily budgets from $1K - $15K for a campaign launch, as a result of successfully hitting the client KPI.

Through both of these early experiences, I discovered that I’ve enjoyed collaborating with tech teams to create solutions that can improve my workflow.

At OMD, I helped Fortune 500 clients with media planning. I started managing and training junior team members and spent more time presenting to senior client leadership. I leveraged my expertise in search engine marketing to represent OMD at a panel hosted by the (IAB) Interactive Advertising Bureau of Canada to talk about the rise of voice search. When one of my clients was losing market share to the dominant competitor in the field, I was aware that their problem is not marketing-related in nature and required other innovative solutions. This became a trigger for me to get my MBA.

Learn to understand and deconstruct both positive and negative or constructive feedback.

Don’t let other people who don’t know you define or prescribe adjectives to you based on faulty heuristics. The upside and downside of living in a diverse world are that people grow up differently and have different values. While the dominant cultural work norms and industry values will dictate collective preferences, I’ve discovered that it is really important to figure out what is important to you because ultimately you need an environment that activates your strengths, or “superpowers”.

I’ve heard a lot of feedback, both negative and positive. I ultimately believe that feedback is a good thing because it tells you what the other person values (usually in contrast to what you value).

I believe that a lot of what self-development boils down to is developing new skill sets to fulfill your objectives, in my case, that was pursuing a startup idea. That means going out of my comfort zone of being a technical expert to test and develop a wide-ranging set of skills: public speaking skills to convey my ideas and vision, persuasion skills to help target clients, understand the value of the product, learning no-code platforms to deliver quick MVPs, and even business development. And the toughest of it all: selling directly to powerful contacts.

Eventually, it is also about coming to terms with your strengths and weaknesses so that you can delegate or seek advisors, or gravitate to the right markets and industries.

Develop self-reflection skills and learn what motivates you.

Because of the nature of my MBA program, I spent more time than usual reflecting on my own and my manager’s leadership styles and skills. A core part of self-development is the ability to find the repertoire and frameworks that are useful for you to develop self-awareness.

Self-awareness, just like leadership, is a skill set and requires practice. It is perhaps ironic that we require a variety of environmental conditions and different experiences to help us self-reflect on motivation. How much of your motivation is triggered by external circumstances or intrinsic ones?

Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned through my career is that you could excel at a certain role but it could still drain you. All the awards that you acquire from your job cannot make up for the health sacrifices you make. The principles behind the way you approach life could change.

For example, I’ve learnt that even though I excel at presentations, the logistics of traveling to a client's location is enough to exhaust me if I have to do it often. Just because I thrived within a chaotic environment does not mean it is conducive or sustainable to my mental and physical health. For instance, I find that I feel energized when I need to provide evidence and backup for certain claims.

The most valuable lessons I’ve learned from my MBA are classes where I get to work with real-life clients because they helped me gain the most practical insights.

When I chose Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, I was particularly interested in the Creative Destruction Lab and its access to founders. It was the sort of place where you want to be to see what startups are doing to change the world.

After meeting many startup founders in the Creative Destruction Lab, I’ve learned that developing personal unfair advantages and branding is very important for entrepreneurs to acquire unique insight and set themselves apart if they want to get funding or attract the right talent. In startup language, an unfair advantage refers to a unique selling proposition that your competition cannot copy easily. For an entrepreneur, this means the founder or founding team has unique insight, experience, or solutions that capture the market quicker or faster.

I’ve participated in a variety of case competitions related to startups, product management and venture capital to try to understand how to evaluate the likelihood of success. I was inspired by start-ups that take it upon themselves to solve social impact challenges.

Case competitions were an effective means of testing knowledge in a practical, solution-driven manner. We won second place in a healthcare management case competition hosted by Eli Lilly in 2017 and our team became the first-ever Rotman finalist out of fifty teams to join the Global Impact Investing case competition in 2020 hosted by the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

Working with other students in entirely different industries will help you understand their thought processes.

I’ve appreciated the academic experience because it brings my mindset into learning and reflection mode. The courses I’ve taken have provided me with new ways of thinking about problems; topics specifically on business design thinking, leadership styles, technology and its ethical implications, social innovation, and impact investing have broadened my perspective about the various ways you can have an impact on the world. It fundamentally changed the way I approach problems.

From an intellectual development perspective, I’ve become deliberate in investigating true root causes, questioning existing measures for success, reframing problems, and readily seeking out research from a variety of fields. For example, are the KPIs (usually from a financial perspective) we’re measuring sufficient and adequate to indicate success? What if the frameworks we’re using are outdated and there are other measures we’re missing?

The pre-condition to self-reflection is making the time, also known as taking breaks.

I had to undergo surgery when a benign ovarian cyst was discovered and during my recovery, I was forced to take a break from the MBA program when I had a severe allergic reaction. My frustrating experience with the Canadian healthcare system led me to research problems affecting healthcare.

After realizing that burnout is prevalent across many careers, I began investigating a mental health startup concept. Since then, I’ve created several minimal viable products and prototypes.

I believe in terminating the true root causes for mental health crises: abusive relationships, co-morbid yet undiagnosed physical health conditions, side effects of medications, and subtle discrimination issues at work. What could be the drivers of this problem? If we examine this problem from the perspective of workplace policies, according to the research at Rotman, without establishing critical mass, affirmative action can incur negative reactions toward minorities instead of bringing positive change.

While I’ve developed the confidence to launch a software startup, investigating root causes of problems such as persistent workplace burnout and retention problems and applying such insights to create new solutions is the most difficult barrier to overcome. Toxic environments can arise from clashing personalities, incompatible workstyles, limited resources to complete projects, hostility toward minorities, and many other possible factors.

Making time to self-reflect is crucial, whether you do this yourself or with a therapist or coach. The objective for each individual is to understand the root causes of burnout. The first-order concern is that people cannot unleash their ‘superpowers’ if they’re burnt out. We're working on this trillion-dollar global problem today, and we'd appreciate your help if you can tell us your current experience of navigating toward care solutions, or perhaps you don’t expect or prefer to seek such solutions in the workplace.

In conclusion, superpowers are the result of self-awareness and adaptation to circumstantial challenges.

Knowing yourself and the types of activities that bring out the best of you is important to maintaining mental health and activating your strengths. A long-game perspective, persistence and patience to develop new skills are important if your goals are difficult to achieve (yet worthwhile). Contrasting experiences are crucial to developing awareness of environmental variables that activate your “superpowers”. Understanding and deconstructing positive and negative (or constructive) feedback is great for gaining self-awareness of your values in contrast to others’ values. Self-reflection is a habit and a skill that takes practice.

Depending on your self-reflection skills and life experience, you may or may not find the MBA to be one of the best options for you to improve or discover new ways to look at problems, see new possibilities, and find or create the environmental variables that unleash your “superpowers”.

Are you looking for co-founders or would like to have a brainstorming session on a new idea to solve a known problem? What do you consider to be your “superpowers”? Alternatively, what type of “superpowers” do you want to develop?

Have you found your therapy or coaching sessions to be helpful towards understanding yourself better and actualizing your goals? What are the issues (whether they are from the workplace or family) you’ve addressed successfully with your therapist that you believe could’ve been proactively prevented if you or others have developed skills that guarantee productive and positive outcomes?

Wonderful piece @jacquelinechan! I especially resonated with: "While the dominant cultural work norms and industry values will dictate collective preferences, I’ve discovered that it is really important to figure out what is important to you because ultimately you need an environment that activates your strengths, or 'superpowers'."🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻I'm curious about your experience with CDL (currently considering applying). Do you mind if I DM you to chat?
thank you Rebecca! Happy to share my CDL experience.
DM'd you :)
Great article! Familiar and unfamiliar feedback is important. I found advisors to be especially valuable and also customers when you're one on one with them. Finding the superpower is tough unless you've been through enough battles to see where you've achieved small wins. Startup land is a grind but they don't call it a five-year-overnight-success for nothing.
Thank you Jen! I definitely think that activating superpowers rely more on the environment. We don't always choose our environments but we can try the best we can. That's why I believe that getting that psychologist / therapist / coach perspective could be helpful to changing the environment that works better for us.I agree with talking to customers and advisors. Things take longer than expected, and I understand why there's advice to launch something quickly (it's a motivational and building momentum type of problem)
Beautiful piece, thank you for sharing! Makes me wonder about my superpowers now :)
Thank you, Olga! Hope you find yours.
Thank you, Olga! Hope you find yours.