So why IMD?

You might think that I should have asked myself this question long before I signed the papers. And you are right! That’s what I did, but reading about the journey and jumping on the plane are two different things.

With over 6 years of management consulting experience in my backpack, it was time to rethink: who I was as a professional; what led me to where I was (scary thought); and what I needed to rethink to move forward (even scarier). IMD’s focus on leadership and the mysterious PDE (Personal Development Elective – 20 individual sessions with a pyschoanalyst) were at the core of what brought me here.

Now, several months into the program, with countless classes, multiple PDE hours, extensive coaching sessions, challenging leadership experientials and a file of reflection papers, comes the moment to reflect … was it worth it? Oh yes, it was.

Firstly, I tend to call the stream ‘the total leadership stream’. I say it as it covers a very broad spectrum of what leadership is in today’s complex environment – starting from typical suspects such as self-discovery (e.g. through psychological tests), team dynamics and building and managing high performance teams through less obvious topics of ethics, culture, lie detection and trust building to unique 1-2-1 psychoanalysis sessions.

Secondly, it is immersive. Quite often we discuss leadership as an abstract concept in a vacuum. It is easier to discuss it when you analyze a scientific paper or when you work on team dynamics in a laboratory-like exercise. And do not get me wrong – these are great experiences… to start with. At IMD the leadership stream goes further and is an integral part of the entire program. Innovation week? Sure, why not add coaches to the team to facilitate team dynamics learning on a real project. Start-up projects and ICPs (International Consulting Projects)? Why not include coaches again to teach us how to open ourselves up and build trust through team bonding exercises. These are practical tools we can bring to the professional life post-MBA.

Lastly, it goes deep. Going through leadership experientials where we were put under pressure as a team to observe and learn about the team dynamics or facing uncomfortable questions during the coaching and PDE sessions were not easy. IMD created an environment where we could put away our personas to work with the true “us”, with all its beauty but also with all its imperfections. Hours of honest conversations helped me to confront my demons and that was a very helpful experience.

The Leadership stream is truly the foundation of IMD MBA program. It transforms you in so many ways, repairing some of the damage you carry and opening eyes to the areas you have never looked at. It’s a fascinating, yet oftentimes painful journey. As with everything in life, there is no free lunch. To get the most out of it, you need to open up, face the uncomfortable truths about yourself and help others through sometimes very tough conversations.

If you are looking to transform who you are, IMD MBA is the place for you. If not, then hmm … there are many other MBA programs that are perhaps a better fit 🙂

Thank you Jennifer Jordan, Ina Toegel, George Kohlrieser, Bettina Court and all other faculty, coaches and PDE analysts who are with us along this journey of the discovery of self and the world around us!

Lukasz

Summertime is reflection time

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.

  • Silicon Valley profits from the availability of talent from top technical universities (Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA) along with a legal framework that does not allow anti-competitive clauses.
  • In Shenzhen, the friendly and supportive (also financially) local government created liberal conditions for tech investment.
  • Finally, Dublin benefits from the stable and long-term investment policy of the central government that keeps low and stable corporate taxation along with free technical education to encourage the flow of FDI into Ireland.

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…

Lukasz

Innovation Week – the Grand Finale and the end of week reflections

Friday. That was the day we were all waiting and preparing for – day when 18 teams presented their ideas and prototypes to the UEFA Jury. Through the semifinals, six teams were selected to pitch their innovation ideas to the UEFA senior management and the entire IMD and ECAL community involved in the Innovation Week.

Our team made it to the finals too. We were excited to present our idea, but also very curious about the work of other teams we could not closely follow through the sprint of the last days. We went on stage, presented and waited… Finally, the verdict came… Although we did not win the competition, we got a very positive feedback and hope to see our idea implemented in EURO 2024. But we were not sad – we were happy for the winning team and very proud. Proud of ourselves and of all the teams who put their talents, creativity and sleepless nights to contribute to the beautiful idea of football.

Tired, but happy we headed back to IMD for in-class and group discussions that was planned for Friday evening and the whole following day. It seemed a bit odd to be back in the auditorium after the emotional rollercoaster of the last days with its peak at UEFA HQ, but I soon understood the reason and the value behind.

This week was about UEFA, about innovating the fan experience of the future, but it was also about us – 90 IMD and 18 ECAL students, learning and living the process of innovation. The closing classes helped us to understand what happened in the last days – we reflected on the methodologies and the process we applied as well as on how to switch on the ‘innovation mindset’ through the ‘A.L.I.E.N.’ framework developed by our professor Cyril Bouquet.

Last but not least (definitely not least 🙂 ), we reflected on ourselves and the team dynamics we experienced. Who were I this week? An organizer, a critic, an idea generator, …? Or maybe I had different roles depending on the day and task we were working on? What about the others? How did we perform as a team?

Contemplating the seven traits of high performing teams and to what extent we were a ‘high performing team’ was the true Grand Finale of this week. We discussed, gave and received feedback on our behaviors, both helpful and unhelpful to better understand ourselves and our leadership traits. I learnt a lot this week about diversity and how the variety of talents and ways of thinking we had in the team contributed to the final product we are so proud of. Finally, I learnt also a lot about myself and how my behaviors can impact the team thanks to the honest, direct and also kind feedback I received.

Thank you IMD, ECAL, UEFA, ThinkSport and all other organizations and people behind this experience for this learning opportunity!

Team ‘Safari’ – Alex, Cosima, Daniel, Lukasz, Mischa and Wasan

With gratitude and pride to my fellow teammates: Alex, Cosima, Daniel, Mischa and Wasan – it would not be the same experience without you.

Lukasz

The mind of a strategist

March. This was a very special month of my IMD MBA journey for multiple reasons: International Women’s Day program with a fascinating panel of three female business leaders; the last miles of Module 1, wrapping up all the knowledge taught so far; and the famous integrative exercise, a 48 hour case study marathon in our teams of six. Last but not least, this was the month when we had our strategy course with Professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski (‘Misiek’ as he calls himself).

I was very curious about this course a long time before I started the MBA in January. After several years of professional experience at BCG I was wondering how I would find this part of the program. Would it still be eye opening? Would I learn much or rather refresh the long-known concepts I used to apply in my consulting career? I remembered well some of my older colleagues who claimed strategy is what we practice in strategy consulting, not what we learn at business school.

Finally, I was curious about the professor too. Misiek spent the majority of his professional career teaching strategy at Harvard, well known for its strength in this field. My expectations were high.

Misiek took us on an absolute intellectual roller coaster. Although the majority of the concepts were not new (who has not heard about Porter’s Five Forces?), the way we applied and discussed them was a masterpiece. The professor made sure we all went much below the surface and challenged the way we used to think of the companies we know. Personally, I will never look at Walmart the same way as I used to … 🙂

Some of you may wonder what exactly we have done, what exactly we have learnt but… I will not tell you. Not that I do not want to. I do agree with my colleagues that strategy is something you have to practice. But contrary to their view this is exactly what you do at IMD – you practice strategy, not read about it. Apply to IMD MBA, do it yourself and I can assure you it will be a fascinating endeavor and a time well spent.

Thank you, Professor, for this inspiring journey!

Leadership development in practice

This week was different from the very beginning. It actually started on Sunday afternoon, when the Magic90 reached IMD’s doors to get to know what was awaiting us in the first Leadership experimental – the first of the many elements of the IMD MBA leadership stream – the heart and the backbone of our MBA journey.

The Prelude

It all began so innocently. We met our coaches, got to know the initial exercise and were sent to the dungeons (study rooms!) to start discussions within our six-person study groups. Plain and simple. The magic happened later…

In the evening we lowered our masks and hung up our personas to share a few pages from the books of our lives. Going home few hours later, we knew each other better than we would have thought the day before. And that was just the start, a prelude to the following days. Tired, thankful and excited we were looking forward to the experience.

The experimental

The next days were full of activities in the beautiful (yet cold 🙂 ) Swiss mountains. Physical and mental challenges to solve, discussions to be held, feedbacks to give and receive. However, that was only the surface, something that a cameraman would record in a documentary movie summarizing ‘student adventures’. The true story lies deeper, invisible to the naked eye.

Emotions. We experienced a lot of them. Positive and negative, mild and extreme. Excitement, passion, frustration, sadness, you name it. We lived through them together and individually. Although uncomfortable at times, they let us be even more who we really are.

Discovery. What is critical is that we have not stopped at living our emotions. It was a challenging learning experience about recognizing and analysing what happens to us, to the others and why, when working together on a joint task. How do we react to certain behaviours? How do our actions influence others? What is the impact of emotions and feelings for the effectiveness of a team?

As an example, I remember the discussions we had while analysing the challenges we solved vs. those we did not manage to cope with. One of the learnings was the importance of communication, giving each other enough space to share ideas and identify the talents and knowledge some of us had that were highly relevant for a given task. Sounds simple, does it not? But so often people think they ‘know better’ instead of listening to others…

Irrespective of how trivial it sounds, we realized and felt how critical the human, soft factor is in everything we do. And that is something you cannot learn in a class. You need to experience it.

The impact

Today’s business environment is a world of teams. We may have the brightest minds and most creative ideas in an organization but it will not take us far if we don’t manage to collaborate with and lead others. This week we made a few additional steps to better understand who we are and how we can effectively interact with others. Self-awareness and leadership – two simple words. Mastering them is a difficult and long path, but the award awaits those who dare to walk it persistently.

The award of truly connecting to inspiring and fascinating people that we onboard onto this journey. Financial and business success will be just by-products.

With warmest thoughts to my team: Anya, Kerry, Surbhi, Mischa and Tiziano.

Lukasz

MBA 2019 two week warm-up: what was it all about

Second week down.

Monday, January 14th. Snowy dreams of our Villars trip are over. It seems that real study time begins.

Finance, Strategic Thinking, Leadership and Managing Cases were just the few content areas we kicked off this week, next to more soft training around public speaking and team dynamics. It is hard to believe how deep discussions can go around supposedly basic, fundamental topics. How can we evaluate market entry in a structured manner using strategic thinking techniques? What critical strategic decisions can be hidden beyond ‘current liabilities’ figures? What is country competitiveness and why are some nations more competitive? How can the application of a relatively simple toolkit take your presentation skills to the next level? It was impressive.

Nevertheless, while reflecting today about the last two warm-up weeks, one thought hit my mind very quickly. Although we have already learnt a lot, these two weeks were not really about content. The fundamentals we tapped into were just the background music, the first necessary ingredients of our professional toolkit.

These two weeks were about us.

Firstly, about the 90 classmates with 39 nationalities, interacting with each other, broadening each other’s view of this world and pushing us out of the comfort zone to see what else is out there. Whether it was about business or private life, discussions with my international colleagues helped me better understand why things in Portugal, India or China (to name few) happen as they happen. What do people think, feel and believe that makes them act in a certain way? Although I only scratched the surface of a few cultures, it made me so hungry for more.

Secondly, these weeks were about inspiration. Last Friday we visited EPFL Campus Biotech in Geneva to meet top scientific minds working on the Blue Brain project – a Swiss brain initiative aimed at understanding the human brain in order to diagnose and treat brain diseases that are imposing an increasing burden on world’s societies. We learnt about breakthrough technologies under development that at some point would also need business minds to get traction and make a positive impact in our world.

Last, but not least, we also had fun 🙂 On Friday evening, we headed up to the hills above Lausanne, to spend some time building bonds that we will keep for life. Cosy restaurant, delicious snacks and even more delicious Swiss raclette were of great help to keep conversations going 🙂

To all my 89 classmates – thank you for making this experience so rich.

Lukasz