Paying attention to the great idea
Professor Sherry Cook often tells her marketing students, “You are in the business of solving problems. When someone tells you, ‘I’ve got a problem,’ you’ve got an opportunity.”
Cook speaks from experience. When her sister, a teacher and childhood literacy expert, struggled to find fun, reading-focused science texts for elementary-aged children, she and Cook sensed that other educators might have the same problem, and they decided to solve it. Together they found the right illustrator (a fellow Missouri State graduate with a strong sense of the “Nickelodeon generation”) and created The Quirkles, an imaginative children’s book series that combines phonetic reading principles with scientific exploration.
Following their instincts that The Quirkles did not fit the traditional textbook publisher’s mold, Cook and her partners formed a publishing company to distribute their vibrant, “anti-text” science books. Cook took the lead on marketing, attending trade shows and conferences—speaking directly with teachers. “Children are natural scientists,” Cook said. She felt confident that kids would receive the books enthusiastically as long as she managed to sell their teachers on the concept.
Successfully communicating, actively listening
Cook’s strategy paid off, and the first printing of The Quirkles series sold 42,000 copies. It’s currently in its third printing, with apps and videos now available and a follow-up series of more advanced science coming soon. Throughout the project, Cook and her partners have followed where the market has led them. For example, they began packaging and marketing Quirkles experiment kits because teachers requested them. That skill—focused and responsive listening—has been critical to The Quirkles’ success, and it’s one that Cook actively cultivates in her marketing students.
Bringing experience into her classroom
Cook’s real-world business expertise informs her teaching in a number of ways. She knows the importance of exploiting new media capabilities, one of the hottest topics in the marketing industry. Thanks to social media sharing and interactive features such as the new apps, The Quirkles have now reached across the globe. “When a customer calls me, I don’t know if I’m going to be talking to Texas or Singapore, which is inspiring,” Cook said.
When asked to identify the most important lesson she imparts to students, Cook said she encourages them to “be broadly interested in everything” and willing to grow. Calling herself “the last person who would have seemed likely to create a science textbook,” Cook said, “You don’t know what experience you are having today that will be important to your future, so get as many experiences as you can.”