Interning at an Innovation and Strategy Firm

by Michael Graber

Interning at an Innovation and Strategy Firm

The Southern Growth Studio has on-going internships programs with Rhodes College, CBU, the University of Memphis Department of Anthropology, as well as the Temple Israel Fellowship program. This Summer my son, David Graber, also served as an intern. This is his story.

This was my first summer wearing a collared shirt. More jarring, this was my first summer using phrases like “value proposition, brand strategy, and information design.” Coming in with no relevant experience, I harbored a cynicism about office culture and hierarchies, and dreaded what I expected to be a summer of xeroxing and coffee runs. I imagined professionalism as split into a dichotomy of infantilizing Google-esque work “spaces” and the stiff, all-buttons-buttoned stagnant ecosystem of cubicles. So I was relieved on my first day to walk into a naturally lit office with a few guys at stand-up desks, cutting-up and laughing while somehow still working at an unmatchable pace. It was obvious that everyone enjoyed their job, and that I would too.

Southern Growth Studio exposes its interns to every facet of what it does. I learned the importance of ethnography and research design–which have a shared foundation of empathy–and its application in the real world. I learned how to distill these findings into an industry assessment, and how to think critically to divine a solution to the client’s need. I learned a lot of other things like this, things that don’t transfer interestingly into description.

A big part of the summer was spent working with the other interns on something daunting. We were told to graft the model of “conscious capitalism” onto the least conscious of industries: debt. The Studio intentionally provided very little guidance, bestowing on us the confidence that we could work independently. The project required a ton of communication and creativity, things none of us was lacking in. Even if the business model we formed never sees the light of day (though it will), the project was empowering and fulfilling for all of us.

The most important thing I gained from the internship is a reassurance that abstract skills transfer over into the real world. I have that Linkedin inferiority that most liberal arts students have, caused primarily by an abundance of job openings for STEM kids and a shrinking pool of opportunities for humanities lovers. Michael Graber, co-founder of the Studio, never misses an opportunity to quote a poet or relate some mundane task to a Homeric journey. Mark Levine, president, relies more on dad jokes, but yields a similar effect: people have a place in business.

Before interning, I feared my career track would require me to sacrifice a portion of myself, dilute how I think and talk to a gray that matches cubicles and suits. Now, I know that the real world isn’t as bad as I thought. In fact, it’s so not-bad that I’m actually excited for the time of my life when I’m working for real.

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Michael GraberMichael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.

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