Five Beautiful Minds and an ICP

If you look from a distance, we could not be more different. A marathoner from London, a young father from Zurich, a former auditor from Hong Kong, a football fiend from Japan with many years spent in sub-Saharan Africa, and, well, me.

Somehow, after our final client presentation for the International Consulting Project (ICP), seven weeks after we buckled down to achieve challenging targets in a nebulous space, I felt as though I was saying goodbye to dear friends who shared my life values.

“Remember, teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”
–Patrick Lencioni

I suppose it began in our first meeting as a group. We set ground rules, and beyond the usual promises of timed meetings and work/life balance (though honestly the older I get the more the lines are blurred; work is life, life is work), we committed to supporting each other in the most testing of processes, the job search. I felt comfortable in the knowledge that we would have each others’ backs while juggling project tasks with impromptu interviews. Preparing for interviews is stressful enough. Within the first week, we generated trust with schedule transparency on a shared calendar. When one of us was not around, the rest would seamlessly work through other tasks and catch our colleagues up when they returned. We gradually opened up to each other, shared our concerns and aspirations, and soon enough, we felt vested in everyone’s success.

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Whizzing through a Retail Safari in Shenzhen, China

And then there was the project itself. We were tasked to create social media strategic recommendations for a medical aesthetics portfolio. While understanding the needs of the client in the initial days on-site in the UK, we were quickly given a second project because we as sharp, analytical MBA students should be able to churn through what felt like a data tsunami and generate meaningful insights for the firm. Bringing in a diverse group such as ours proved to be incredibly valuable to the client. It can bring a unique blend of optimism, can-do attitude, and external perspectives that are rarely possible for internal employees to provide, no matter how smart they are, simply because they have been at the company for many years.

We’ve had our tough moments. Not against each other, but with each other. I’ve heard of high-performing teams debating ideas and pushing each other to move beyond the obvious to the truly valuable insights. I’ve seen glimpses of this in previous teams, but more often than not, the balance of “care” and “dare” goes off quickly and risks descending into personal attacks. For the most part, our team kept discussions and disagreements centered around the benefit of the project and the client’s goals. Oftentimes we helped each other after finishing our own tasks. It wasn’t about getting individual credit. It was about making the team shine. And shine we did. Our client sponsor, a senior executive, commended our unity as a team in the final presentation. Each team member got time to showcase their work, how it fits into the overall solution and we supported each other through the Q&A session. “No one was pulling the attention towards him/herself. There was a flow within your team that is rare to see.” High praise, and so true, we just wanted to pull attention to the recommendations we had garnered over two months of painstaking research and analyses.

I thank my team for sharing their brilliance and rigor to make this project a success. It was a high point in my IMD MBA and will stay a fond memory, as we begin our dash to the finish line. I am always going to remember singing karaoke with you in a mall in Shenzhen, and our bowling night in London where Daniel was reigning champion.

Thank Yous

Professor Goutam Challagalla, for nudging us along the right digital marketing path, for aligning and reassuring us when things got disorienting. You’ve been an amazing mentor and coach. Angelina, for being stoic and persistent and always smiling despite taking on the daunting role of treasurer. Daniel, for your attention to detail, your kind nature and your willingness and flexibility in adding value to all parts of the project. Maisie, for always being calm under pressure, embracing evolving workstreams, and for bringing your UK expertise to the project. Satoshi, for steadfastly getting through to the core of any matter, for your sincerity to your work, your honesty, and openness.

It has been an honor, and I am so excited to see the amazing things we will accomplish in the years ahead. And for our fondue night next week 🙂

Yours in nostalgia,

Surbhi

The Many Faces of Digital Week!

It’s our last week as a class, in class, working on the same projects. I’m not emotional, yet, mostly because of a ton of ICP and recruiting work that envelopes all of us. But Digital Week, led by Professor Amit Joshi, has promised us plenty of “Code-ak” moments that have kept us entertained and motivated as we delve into programming and data analyses. Enjoy!

Step 1 (Confidence, poise, smiles): We’re a team! We can do this. It’s just Python. And Anaconda. How tough can programming languages named after lethal serpents be? We are IMD MBA champions! 🙂

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Step 2 (Apprehensive yet confident): Okay, this is going to take some more effort than I realized. But still, I can figure it out. We’re going to be fine. We have coaches and we’ve done the Codeacademy course on Python. All good, I hope.

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Step 3 (The realization that there is much to learn sets in): Why is Python not listening to me?! We invented it to make life easier, no?

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Step 4 (Surrender to the inevitable): I’m going to go look for the coaches in the dungeons. And maybe grab a snack. And remember the calming tips my PDE gave me.

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Step 5 (Innovate, observe competitors, get back into the MBA “never-say-die” frame of mind): What are you guys doing? #sharedknowledge

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We are heading into the semi-finals in 15 minutes! Wish us luck 🙂

Yours in code,

Surbhi

Digital Analytics Lab Photo Overview

The focus of this week has been Digital Analytics, with the MBAs learning and applying various analytical and programming skills, including Python. Since Monday, each team has been competing to crack the different elements of a case, using and fine tuning their newly acquired coding skills. By Friday, they have to present their final findings. Which group will succeed first? Who will get the most accurate results? With final presentations due tomorrow morning, the atmosphere in the study rooms is very intense!

Discovery Expedition Part 3 – Dublin!

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!

Helena

Discovery Expedition Part 2 – China

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…

Alex Berry

Discovery Expedition, Part 1: Magic 90 in Silicon Valley!

I am on the flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong, 12 hours of occasional turbulence ahead of me, with 89 other IMD MBA participants and our program team. Two observations of note; first, if you travel quickly enough and have a packed schedule that would put some presidential candidates to shame, jet lag may have a tough time catching up with you. Second, regular passengers are a bit freaked out when they see 90 loud people who all know each other. Haha, I kid. Partially.

26aaf6fd-5475-4dce-98fa-56e1c4dcd3ea.JPGAt Stanford University, Hasso Plattner Institute of Design

So, we wrapped up the first leg of the infamous Discovery Expedition. In these reflections, I will not go through the entire list of people met and visits made because some suspense is good for the incoming class and honestly, I would have to list the entire itinerary because they were all incredible experiences. Professor Jim Pulcrano asked us to share three learnings from our time in Silicon Valley. Where to find the best burrito and the secret behind Peet’s delicious coffee do not count.

Here are mine:

Tech will always need a human touch: We spoke a lot about AI during this trip. We discussed extensively on the Future of Healthcare and the Future of Food. We learned about technologies and products that perhaps only the Jetsons envisioned. And yet here they are, things considered the stuff of science fiction, just a few years away from launch. A common thread regarding the development and success of tech was the importance of empathy, and human connection. Peter Schwartz, futurist extraordinaire, spoke to us on how worrying about robots taking away human jobs is not as much of a concern as we, and Hollywood, are making it out to be. The robots will take on mundane, detail oriented, and repetitive tasks. Humans will have the bandwidth to focus on what really crafts our reality, the human experience, managing change, and understanding what customers want by spending time with them. This resonated with me since I cannot imagine industries such as healthcare or hospitality without in-person connections.

Silicon Valley is a mentality: Growing up in the 90s I heard much Silicon Valley lore. The best and brightest go there to create the impossible and make bank. This is true, even today, though this means that San Francisco as a city is raging its own war with astronomical rents and demographic change. But what has changed is the localization of innovation. Ideas influencing humanity are mushrooming everywhere, in Zurich, Bangalore, and Shanghai. Silicon Valley, then, is a mindset, as Professor Pulcrano reminded us. A mindset to embrace experimentation, learn from failure, and move rapidly towards improved products and services. Wherever we end up in the world, we can create this mental ecosystem for ourselves.

b51b3044-90c4-48ff-911d-5863a250157c.JPGDesign Thinking workshop at Stanford

Do not ask for permission: My personal favorite. A lot of moon-shot ideas get lost in social niceties. I absolutely loved that so many of our entrepreneurs, such as the creator of GYANT, Pascal Zuta, and corporate leaders, such as Bask Iyer, CIO of VMware, and our very own IMD alumni encouraged us to walk on the edge and to not ask for approval for doing so. It really is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. I suppose the only caveat here is that we ask ourselves if what we are trying to achieve benefits the planet and everyone on it. With power, and borderline rebellion, comes responsibility.

beca062f-235a-4ef3-a427-4ed072fadca3.JPGGary Bradski, on the Future of Computer Vision

I am feeling so grateful for these three and a half days in the Valley. As my colleague, friend and flight neighbor Mischa just said to me, “The first leg of the Discovery Expedition blew my expectations. It was spectacularly well organized. The speakers and the level of seniority they had were mind-blowing. My favorite was the session with the futurist, Peter Schwartz, and Bracken Darrell, CEO of Logitech. I’m leaving with this incredible feeling that there are almost endless opportunities out there. We need to keep thinking about what customers need and being creative while attracting the best talent. It was a new and rewarding perspective.”

unnamed.jpgIMD MBA participants in San Francisco

Suffice to say we are feeling quite chuffed. Time to browse United’s movie selection. Onward to Shenzhen.

Surbhi

Bridging gaps: the Digital Armor

According to the Financial Times, Big Data Analysis truly matters: beside strategic thinking, the ability to solve complex problems and influence others along with drive and resilience, Big Data Analysis is one the top 5 most difficult skills to recruit, a testimony of the seventy-two employers surveyed by the daily. While developing and honing the first four mentioned dimensions in the curriculum and the array of group assignments and team projects, picking up the technical skills of Big Data does not necessarily come as easily, especially in the loaded schedule of an IMD MBA Candidate.

With a goal to equip us with relevant knowledge of future leaders based on practical experience, IMD took a bold action and designed Digital Week consisting of Agile / SCRUM certification and Python programming for Big Data Analysis and AI. For many of us, this was a horizon-opening and confidence-building experience. We were amazed by the intuitive tools and business applications Python can be used for. Something that looked like a hard-to-crack pile at the beginning of the week, was a rewarding insightful experience by the end of the week. Maks, who started his own e-commerce in Hong Kong prior to coming to IMD, shares his three unique learnings, many based on retrospective aha moments:

Continue reading “Bridging gaps: the Digital Armor”