How the “silly cow” exercise helped to solve business uniqueness in Kenya

I have just returned from Kenya where I was teaching business courses with the Sauder Africa Initiative. Upon reflecting on my two amazing months in Africa, I decided to share one of the most memorable moments in one of my classes.

When you teach business courses in Kenyan’s slums, there are no fancy rooms, Power Point presentations or internet resources. You are lucky if you get a small chalk blackboard and if you get a white board, it is a luxury. This year, Sauder Africa Initiative introduced a new module, SE201 to mid-college students and we did have a whiteboard at our premises!

To my big surprise, students really wanted to learn about new trends in business. I introduced them to design thinking. There might be lots of discussion about design thinking in Europe and North America but hardly anyone has heard about it in our classes. Of course, theory and resources are nice but to really understand the whole design thinking concept, you need to get your hands dirty. And so we did.

The biggest problem the students experienced was uniqueness of their business. In Kenya, most of the students emphasize “fair price” as their main asset and point of difference. I thought to myself: “If  ever hear the term fair price again, I am going to scream and really fail as a teacher”. After the first check of the draft business plans, I said to myself: “That is enough. Lets do something about this”. We used a simple “silly cow exercise” creating  lots of ideas of what the uniqueness of each business could be. No idea was a bad idea, quantity over quality. Finally, people started to think beyond fair price and outside of the box. Victory! The buzz and lively discussion of the groups was one of the highlights of my teaching.


3 responses to “How the “silly cow” exercise helped to solve business uniqueness in Kenya”

  1. Florin Gheorghe


    I’m happy to hear that this Silly Cow exercise worked so well, even in such a different context! What were some of the wildest ideas that people came up with?

    For anyone who doesn’t know about this exercise, here is a brief visual overview


  2. Martina Valkovicova

    Hi Florin! Most of the students tried to stick to the “fair price” concept and the ideas were very level headed and down to earth. It was surprisingly a completely different dynamics than from our workshops. Martina

    1. olimpero

      UBC should have a matser email for important events or notices for the whole university, and make sure that these don’t overlap with other mailing lists. I think what we all find tedious, most of the time, is reading through countless emails all informing us of the same events over and over again. For example, I could receive an email from the new-to-UBC newsletter about an upcoming expo, and also receive information about it from the Arts-list, the Emerging Leaders newsletter, the Arts Undergraduate Society, the IPP updates, and the general UBC mailing list. Furthermore, many students get similar messages in their Facebook inboxes. On top of that, many of the lists like to send reminders of the event as the date approaches. Having so many emails every time one major event comes up is what is flooding our inboxes and causing students to lose interest in reading the emails. I think that each event should be directed to its specific audience. If it is campus wide, then leave it to the general UBC list to mail out. If it is faculty wide, then the faculty can update the students, and so on. Maybe even a matser Twitter account would suffice, since updates can be kept short, sweet and quick. Plus everyone will have access to it and no long emails would have to be sent out.

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