Trapping the Mouse

Samaira Sirajee is a Co-Founder of Consult for America and currently serves as President of the Penn CFA Chapter. 

Last night I had a board-game night with my two younger cousins. We opted to play the game Mouse Trap where together you build a Rube Goldberg-like mouse trap in order to trap your opponent’s mouse. Having had experience with this game in the past, I had very little faith the mouse trap structure that we would build together would actually work. I figured, however, I would let my cousins discover the wonder of cheap-plastic manufacturing on their own.

After a few rounds, my youngest cousin placed his brother’s mouse in a position to be trapped. It was the moment of truth. As I held my breath in anticipation, I felt a bit sad that his excitement would soon fade. Just as he cranked the wheel, I looked away. I heard a few noises and then there was silence…

As I turned back to comfort my cousin, he jumped up and announced, “I WON!” Much to my surprise, the mousetrap had actually worked. Every lever, seesaw, flip, and roll had worked perfectly to trap my older cousin’s plastic mouse in the netted cage.

Later, while my cousin was informing the entire house of his victory, I wondered why the trap decided to somehow magically work this time around. This game was my cousins’ first time playing so they didn’t know any shortcuts to assembling it correctly. Yes, they had an instruction manual, but the drawings were mediocre at best.

But then I remembered something that at the time seemed like just a bit of child-like excitement. After adding each piece to the structure, my cousins would test the semi-completed model in all the different ways it could be operated and would only move on when it reacted as they had expected. The final completed structure was a product of many intermediate steps, short phases of planning and a lot of experimentation.

The beginning of this new semester marks the one year anniversary of Consult for America at Penn. A little over a year ago, a few of us were brought together by an idea to start a consulting organization that would cater specifically to the smallest and least wealthy businesses and business entrepreneurs in the community. We wanted to attract the brightest and most passionate people to our team and we wanted our name to be known throughout the West Philadelphia community.

However, there was one problem: none of us knew what we were doing. Only one of us had had any experience with consulting in the past and none of us had experience with starting a new organization. We had many discussions about how our first semester would go—whether we should do an engagement ourselves before we invited others to the team or take things slow and create a detailed strategy on every aspect of the engagement. In the end we decided on what I believe has shaped our entire organizational strategy.

We just went for it.

After just one year, our team has worked successfully on three client engagements, trained twenty-four consultants and opened two new chapters at NYU and Yeshiva University. This upcoming semester we are working with three new clients, recruiting an additional seventeen consultants and planning to open a new chapter at CUNY York College.

Although we have no shortcuts at our disposal or an instruction manual to tell us what our next step should be, we are keeping our focus on the end goal and are taking small steps towards it. We will test and retest, fail and then pick ourselves up. Our mousetrap structure is nowhere near perfect but we’re going to keep working towards trapping our mouse—our ultimate goal.