The first two weeks are in the rearview mirror and although there is plenty of work on my desk that needs to get done, now is a good time to take a step back and reflect a bit on what happened so far. Tuesday evening and a cup of tea for a moment of quiet introspection.
At this point, it’s of course too early to make a proper assessment of the program’s impact on my own personal development. The start-up projects have just kicked off and things are only starting to gain momentum.
However, what can be mentioned at this stage is the continued emphasis on the importance of personal values and how much we are encouraged to use them as a moral compass when dealing with ambiguity over the coming months and beyond. Most of us here are looking at the long-term game after the program and are not keen on going for a “deferred life plan”, a concept against which Randy Komisar – partner at one of Silicon Valley’s most established VC firms and author of the “Monk and the Riddle” – warns every aspiring entrepreneur.
We all understand that business can be a powerful driver of change, but succeeding at something you don’t care about and is not aligned with your own personal values, failing to express who you are, can only fulfil you so much.
Recognizing one’s own core values is not just an exercise of self-actualization though.
The world is becoming a more complex and confusing place. A more stressful place also.
Today’s individuals – and by extent, their businesses – operate in a world where geographical boundaries have become less relevant and where different cultures, religions and beliefs are now more closely intertwined. In this globalized world, characterized by an international system that is heading towards multipolarity where no single great power will be able to claim world domination, complexity and unpredictability are on the rise. The landscape is continuously changing. Rapidity and flexibility in decision making are becoming increasingly important. We are moving into what Ian Bremmer, an influential political scientist and founder of Eurasia Group, calls the “G-Zero world”: a world without clear leadership that just witnessed the end of the Pax Americana. The guard rails of the global system expose their cracks, faith in others is fading, multilateral institutions are confronted with limited and dwindling legitimacy. Structures that were put in place to absorb shocks in the event of a conflict have been weakened.
The very fact that the world is sliding towards multipolarity and multiethnicity implies that the ability to communicate and exchange across cultural frontiers gains increased relevance. Being able to communicate and exchange effectively while bridging the gap between religions and ethnicities is probably one of our single biggest challenges in a globalized society; a society that has effectively rendered irrelevant geographical distances but did not erase our cultural differences. Human societies are closer than they were a century or even a decade ago, yet they are still very different. The collision of cultures in this reduced space is at the base of various tensions around the world.
Although divergent opinions and perspectives are a given between individuals coming from different cultural cradles, and can actually be considered a requirement for the emergence of a constructive relationship (otherwise, if we all think exactly alike, there is no real need to communicate and exchange), opposing views can be difficult to reconcile.
Finding a middle ground requires a common language.
Values are that language in the sense that they form the roots out of which every cultural arborescence grows, linking different societies beyond their conspicuous and evident expressions. In other words: values are cross-cultural links; the common ground on which individuals from very different and sometimes even diametrically opposed backgrounds meet each other. By committing to a recognized set of values, we make it possible for our counterparts to assess and understand a part of ourselves. We make it possible to connect.
Consequently, identifying our own personal values in order to reflect and act upon them not only helps us move into a direction that is aligned with who we are, laying the foundation for a path that could deliver the kind of success – both personal and professional – we intuitively aim for but oftentimes feel inclined to avoid taking because of external factors; it also allows others to connect with us.
Business always had and will continue to have a dialectal nature that requires similarities and differences. Correspondingly, the increased flexibility required by our changing environment can only make sense and work if it is set against the background of clearly visible and shared values.
In many ways, a class of 90 students representing 45 nationalities and challenged as teams is a miniature version of what is – in my opinion – increasingly required in today’s world: a global generation that thrives on connectivity, embracing different cultural norms while promoting overarching values.