A trip back to the IMD cocoon

Today’s guest entry welcomes back our Brazilian 2006 class blogger, Rafael Altivini.

When I boarded the train to Lausanne on March 3rd, I made sure I got a left side window seat, facing opposite the train’s riding direction. That’s how you get the most spectacular views of Lake Geneva, the vineyards and the alps as the train comes out of the last tunnel just before reaching Lausanne main station. This has been part of my sort of ritual over the last ten years every time I get a chance to go back to IMD. The ritual continues like this: right after leaving the station I walk down “avenue William Fraise”, make a quick stop (with a sigh) at number 6, find the window of our apartment on the third floor, try to visualize the inside of our flat, and then carry on walking down the hill, following the same streets on which I used to bike to IMD every morning in 2006. Finally, I reach “chemin de Bellerive”, walk by “Gymnase Auguste-Piccard” and enter the IMD MBA building through the Foyer, passing by the coffee machines and feeling again “the smell of the place”…

I think of IMD as a transition space connecting two distinct chapters of my life – and I believe this is how many other people actually resemble it. Many executives lie (mostly unconsciously) when they say they go to business school to “increase their business knowledge”, “gain more tools for their management toolbox” or “round-up their engineering background”. The truth is that people gravitate to business schools and MBA programs because they want to gain space to reflect, to explore (themselves), and to transition into something new, different, and hopefully better. In that sense, I believe business schools are like a sort of cocoon where a type of transformation takes place. Cocoons are safe holding spaces, full of nutrients to allow the metamorphosis to happen. As I walked into the MBA building on March 3rd, I felt again this sense of security, serenity and the presence of knowledge – elements that enabled my transition back in 2006.

Exploring transitions (more specifically career transitions) was the theme of the event I joined on March 3rd at IMD. I came to Lausanne that day as a member of an HR panel discussion with the 2017 MBA class. We’ve talked at length about finding a job, finding purpose, getting real. We’ve talked about how to get out of the cocoon in good style, with some nice wings and a paycheck if possible. But the discussion highlights (at least in my view) were the moments where we talked about learning from one’s own failures, when we explored a few “not-so-successful” stories and what one has learned out of them. It was perhaps the protected IMD cocoon that allowed us to go there, to touch some taboos in a mature and constructive manner. It made me think of the power of vulnerability (you’ve got to see that famous Brené Brown video if you haven’t yet seen it) and how it shapes our career decisions over the years.

As I left the IMD cocoon that evening and took the metro back to the train station, I reflected that my ritual coming back to IMD that morning had perhaps been a sort of re-entry process back to the transitional space, a step-by-step reconstruction of my state of mind ten years ago, and that my day at IMD actually turned out to be a small lapse-video version of what has happened since then.

As my train departed from Lausanne main station that evening, I had this grin in my face. So much energy in a few hours, so many memories reawaken. Brace yourselves, class of 2017, for your transformation has actually just begun.