Understanding Complex Systems to Actualize Initiative

by Minerva University | Nov 5, 2018

“Take initiative” is commonly given advice, but actually taking initiative in a professional setting can be a difficult thing to accomplish. Since internships are often young adults’ first experience in a “real-world” environment, coupled with busy managers and the adjustment to a new schedule, some may choose to lay low and stay safe within their comfort zone. But leaders differentiate themselves by both continuously searching for innovative and creative solutions and following through to produce results.

As a self-described “non-techie,” taking an internship at a leading cryptocurrency start-up may not seem like the obvious career move. But for Rebecca Mqamelo, a student from Minerva’s Class of 2021, QUOINE, a highly respected, recently licensed cryptocurrency company funded by Mistletoe, was an exciting opportunity. Not only would she have the chance to develop her writing abilities within the financial services and blockchain sectors, she would be able to work in a foreign country. “Why intern in an English speaking country, when you can intern in a foreign place and parallel your experience with a cultural challenge as well?… In my eyes, the cultural learning is just as important as the professional learning.”

At QUOINE, as with most start-ups, there is not a lack of things to do. After recently receiving licensing by the Japan Financial Services Agency (JFSA) for an initial coin offering (ICO), QUOINE’s next needed to raise capital to ensure company security and build brand awareness. Confident in her abilities, Mqamelo was given freedom and support at the fast-paced, growth-driven environment enabled her to quickly take initiative, self-identify growth opportunities, and lead company-wide projects as a Business Development Intern.

In her first week, Mqamelo initiated QUOINE’s first internal newsletter, the Week, which was sent weekly to over 300 employees. “I realized that as a startup, people needed to get a sense of what the entire company was doing. So I started interviewing everyone from senior management to my fellow interns to share their voices within the company,” recounts Mqamelo. The internal newsletter added a level of transparency that QUOINE needed, increasing cross-team collaboration and building employee brand. Combining her love of writing and community-building, and because she could tell that it helped people feel included, the newsletter was an excellent first project. Mqamelo’s questions during these interviews were more than surface level, too. During one of her interviews, she impressed the Head of Corporate Planning, Roy Akiyama, so much that he recruited her to work on creating a strategic initiative with the Corporate Planning Team, a target-oriented management system.

Mqamelo utilized her cross-team knowledge gained from her newsletter interviews to think about what projects or solutions she could contribute to help various Quoine teams. But it wasn’t entirely the content of her consultative ideas that set Mqamelo apart, but her drive to find, understand, and explain any information that she did not know which made her valuable.

“I don’t expect someone to come in here and understand, say, public-private, key-encryption schemas or how nodes work,” explains Global Head of Business Development and Sales, Seth Melamed, who managed Mqamelo throughout her internship. “What I do expect from people is that when we give them a lead they run with it, and that’s exactly what she did. And she showed so much interest and creativity. I didn’t have to hold her hand. I just needed to give her direction and she ran with it. It was a real pleasure to work with her.

Her motivation to take initiative is innate; Mqamelo is someone who embraces passion and genuinely explores new interests. But the ability to follow through on her initiative can also be attributed to possessing the skills to thrive in complex systems — how to think critically, think creatively, communicate effectively, and interact effectively. By learning broad concepts, Foundational Concepts, and practicing cognitive skills, Habits of Mind (HCs,) Minerva students are able to quickly assess novel environments, identify problematic challenges, creatively think of resolutions, and effectively communicate their process and recommendation to others.

“All the HCs on leadership and teamwork skills we learn, such as #leadprinciples [applying principles of effective leadership], and our Complex Systems course in general helped me through my internship,” Mqamelo says. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what [job] you’re doing — you’re working with people. People are what make the system ‘complex.’ So the challenge is learning to problem solve in diverse groups, as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

This mindset, which uses learned skills and specific ways of thinking almost autonomously in daily behavior is one of the goals of the Minerva curriculum: enabling students, who are already incredibly passionate people, with the competencies to truly succeed.

Knowing how to take initiative, Mqamelo was able to focus on developing her voice for the brand. In addition to managing the company newsletter and strategizing with the Corporate Planning team, Mqamelo also worked with the Business Development team to create content that would differentiate QUOINE from the other ICO competitors in the market. Thinking about long term brand strategy and making stories accessible to both investors and the general public, she built out QUOINE’s public vision both internally and externally.

Melamed acknowledges Mqamelo’s hard work and natural talent, adding that,

“She really quickly understood our vision and was able to articulate it in a form that we could use to explain to the external world. She’s very articulate and she’s put it in a way that people will understand and absorb and appreciate and tell our story… she’s done a great job with that.”

Continuing her work with QUOINE into the academic year as a consultant, Mqamelo is excited to continue creating long form content pieces that dive deep into specific topics in the cryptocurrency sector. “I realized that people appreciate those who share their opinions and attempt to provide some kind of thought-leadership in such a nascent industry. That’s what I do…I probably won’t be launching my own token any time soon, but I found my space in this industry through my writing and my community-building.”

When asked about advice for future interns, Mqamelo’s answer is not revolutionary but critical to follow, “Take initiative.”

If you are interested in learning more about Minerva’s applied approach to professional development, visit our Career Development page here.