Our series of summer postcards continues!
Our series of summer postcards continues!
I have been asked many times, “What does ‘Real Impact. Real Learning’ mean?” during calls with prospective MBA applicants. Although I have multiple examples to share, I would like to share my experience during our Business and Society course.
We as a group (self-named Developing Developers) were scheduled to present a TED style talk on UN’s SDG#1: No Poverty. It was a marvellous day organized by our Professor Knut Haanaes where we went to United Nations, World Economic Forum and the Innovation center in Geneva.
Priscila and I presented our group’s work to the world. It was followed by a group hug by the “Developing developers” to celebrate our hard work in jotting down our experiences and solutions for tackling the problem of poverty.
So where is the “Real” learning here?
The day before the presentation: I was doing mock presentations in front of my group for feedback in our renowned ‘dungeons’ (study rooms!). The first mock was horrible, the second a little less horrible, you get the idea.
Although I have done numerous presentations, the thought of presenting in public still gets my palms sweaty. In comes my classmate, Joseph, the master of public speaking with his ever helping attitude.
We practiced in our auditorium with Jo providing valuable feedback and support. Understanding our public speaking misery, he uttered his three golden rules for public speaking:
I am really thankful to Joseph who was in the auditorium with me and Priscila until midnight! Helping us, perfecting us, supporting us!
This was not a learning I would ever find in a book or in a classroom, but only with the special bond we share at IMD!
Yes, summer break has finally arrived! In fact we have been enjoying the break for a week already, but it takes (or it took me) a few days to slow down and shift gears. Now, far away from Lausanne, I spend my days reconnecting with family, reading books, sleeping and … reflecting. Yes, summertime is a well-known IMD MBA reflection time too.
It is seven days since we came back from the discovery expedition and I sit down to think through what this experience means to me, what I have seen. But do not worry – my colleagues described the highlights so well already that I will not repeat it all over again! Instead, let me share few observations with you.
Key success factors. Silicon Valley, Shenzhen, Dublin – all three seem to be very different, yet I think there is a common foundation of their success – each location created its own, very favourable environment for innovation and the growth of the tech industry.
None of the tech hubs was born overnight. It took years to reach the current state of development, but their examples show how powerful and difficult to copy a solid, long-term strategy and development could be.
Key ‘failure’ factors. Interestingly, all three hubs are plagued with the same challenge – rapidly raising real estate prices and living costs. With costs of living comparable to the most expensive financial centres of the world, not only locals, but also incoming tech talents find it challenging to finance a decent living standard – a situation that can become a key threat to further growth if it is not resolved in time.
Culture and mindset. Thinking about differences among the tech hubs, culture and mindset came to my mind as the biggest, single difference among them, especially between Silicon Valley and Shenzhen. I am European – born and raised in the Western culture, I have seen and heard the Silicon Valley mantras of taking risks, trying things and failing fast, being ready for the next challenge. And these concepts equally apply to Shenzhen. What I found different, however, is the approach towards sharing ideas and taking real life application to the next level.
What I saw in the U.S. are people who speak about their ideas as loudly as possible, trying to validate their thinking before investing much time and effort into development. Having talked with entrepreneurs in China, I think the things work differently there – you keep your head low, work hard and fast to develop your idea, hoping to get ahead of the fierce competition that will put an enormous pressure on you the second you start getting attention. Limited IP protection and the general readiness to immediately copycat solutions can, at least partially, explain the different approach in China.
On the other hand, Chinese entrepreneurs are willing to, and can, put their ideas into action much faster and deeper than their colleagues in the West, especially in heavily regulated areas such as e.g. healthcare. Let’s take as an example the AI-supported decision tools that in the West are mainly in the testing stage. In China they are already applied across multiple large hospitals, allowing for collection of real world data and further development and adjustments of the solutions at a pace that more conservative legal frameworks of the West do not allow for.
The race to become the next technological leader of the world has already begun. Who will be the next leader? Or perhaps we will not have a clear leader anymore? I do not know the answer, yet I strongly believe that cultural and legal aspects will play a significant role in the game with East and West having its strengths and its weaknesses when it comes to technological advancement.
Luckily, I have a few more days of the summer break to reflect further on it before the next marathon starts…
Now that the Discovery Expedition has reached its end, our MBAs are ready to enjoy a well-deserved break!
Over the next few weeks they will be traveling the world to visit family and friends; explore career opportunities and network; relax, sightsee or try out new activities. As usual, they seem determined to make the most of every second, and will be sharing blog / instagram postcards with us to share their various summertime adventures.
Here is the first one:
Visited the flavor and fragrance company, Givaudan in Geneva, with 11 of my classmatese today – a chance to engage our senses!
Have a nice summer!
The last stop of our Discovery Expedition was by no means the least one. After another 13+ hours flight, Dublin greeted us with a wonderful weather only seen few days a year. After the experiences in Silicon Valley and Shenzhen, I was wondering how Dublin was going to surprise us and I am glad to say it did not disappoint.
I could write a lot about every company we visit and every speaker we had, from Mike Beary, AWS Country Manager, who told us about the importance of storytelling when doing your presentation, or Shay Power, from IDA the Irish Industrial Development Agency, who told us the history of Ireland’s growing economy, or our visit to Accenture, Facebook and Citi, but it would not do justice to the visits, plus it is impossible to cover everything from just my point of view.
What I want to share in this post are some of the things that made an impact on me:
Gary McGann on entrepreneurs: this year at IMD has been all about learning about entrepreneurs: the ideas, the drive, the effort it takes to make it to the other side. We got a chance to meet entrepreneurs here in Switzerland via our start-up project, and also during this trip in Silicon Valley and Shenzhen. Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and forms and there is no magic recipe for success. What Gary said that resonated with me was that a good entrepreneur will need a wing man that keeps them out of trouble. He also talked about the need to have equal amounts of fear and courage.
Accenture on what the post-digital era will look like: Accenture visit was filled with great presentations that included banking, the forces shaping the changes in the world, and their work with non-profits to drive users to make positive choices. My personal favourite was the presentation on the tech trends are creating the foundation for the post-digital era where we saw five trends they believe we need to keep an eye on. You can read more about it here
Tiernan Brady on how to make change happen: Tiernan talked to us about how he successfully led the campaign for marriage equality in Ireland and Australia. Even though his experience was on “getting the majority to vote for the rights of a minority” I personally found his message applicable to all our future careers as business leaders. He talked about the importance of showing respect even when you don’t agree on the ideology and how the world is too quick to decide who you are and the way you deliver your message is as important as the message itself. We were happy to learn that on the same the Dublin Pride Parade was happening and some of us managed to join to show the support for diversity and inclusiveness.
Overall an extraordinary experience, with fully packed days and a lot of ideas to open our minds to the realities of the world. Professor John Walsh and our program Dean Sean Meehan put together an incredible agenda for us. I cannot close this post without thanking the MBA team that supported us through the whole two weeks: Gitte-Marie, Gyopi and Sandeep: you guys are rock starts! It takes a lot of planning and patience to carry 90 people around the world and keep us on our toes, thank you for all your help and support!
Now we are all getting ready for a much needed break and hoping the next four weeks don’t go by as fast as the last six months have!
After a 14 Hour hop over the Pacific the class touched down in Hong Kong, en route to Shenzhen, for the second and much anticipated part of the MBA Discovery Expedition 2019!
For many of the class this was our first visit to China and came against the backdrop of increasing trade tensions between the US and our new hosts… An interesting moment to discuss and learn more about the rapid rise of the private sector here in China!
First and foremost, the efforts made by the Chinese members of the 2019 class cannot go without mention. Whether it was organising evenings out in great local restaurants, helping with on-the-fly translations or organising Karaoke for the entire class, their contributions made our experience of Shenzhen an incredible one. They were always extremely generous with their time and as a class we are extremely grateful to all of them for the welcome we received and the experiences we shared as a result of their help and organisation! It was a great example of the value such a diverse group brings to this year and they should be extremely proud!
Of course, there was also the small matter of our intensive 5-day back-to-back schedule. Professors Bill Fisher and Mark Greeven had clearly invested months of work into this trip and it showed. The class was also very grateful to the Haier Group and James Wang for their insight into the local market and start-up community.
During our first day we were sent out into the sprawling metropolis of Shenzhen to complete a number of day-to-day tasks ranging from ordering a DiDi taxi purchasing something at Hema Supermarket or enjoying some daytime Mini-Karaoke TV, naturally… Needless to say, if you don’t have WeChat or AliPay or your Mandarin is rusty, these tasks can prove far more challenging than you could imagine… but in the oppressive 35°C heat we managed it, eventually, and the trip was off to a great start!
The next few days went by in a matter of seconds. Company visits to Tencent, Huawei, Ping An, UBTECH and others demonstrated more than could be satisfactorily recorded here. These companies are operating at a scale only possible in China and they are unafraid of the risks and scepticism surrounding new applications of AI, Machine Learning and Facial Recognition. They scale fast or they fail fast.
On top of this, a few common themes prevailed throughout our visits to local companies – a 6-day work week for many start-ups pursuing market domination, a government willing to go to great lengths to support technological development locally and a national obsession to educate the next generation in STEM & Computer Programming subjects.
Last but not least an unexpected detour! After meeting a French E-Bike start-up at one of the sessions, 10 members of the class took a spontaneous trip out to Huizou 惠州. We wanted to understand what it was really like to setup and scale a manufacturing operation in China, away from the bright lights and skyscrapers of the city. After a supposedly short ride, that turned into a 3 hour marathon of traffic and rain, we made it to the Carbo Factory. There we saw first-hand the challenges of going local here – finding a partner, setting up a JV, raising funds, getting the right shipping in place, protecting your IP from the competition – and it was truly impressive to see how founders Lynne and Lauryn have managed to overcome these. One of the many highlights of the trip.
As we headed to Hong Kong Airport the following day it was clear that even though we had experienced so much, this was only just a tiny perspective of this complex and vibrant market. But, most importantly, it had given many of us a unique perspective to build on for the future…
The second lap of the Discovery Expedition is nearly over! After four days in Shenzhen, meeting companies, startups and alumni, tomorrow they will complete their final company visits and depart for their next destination: Dublin.