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

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

Innovation Week: Days 1 & 2 – Learn, Question, Engage

Last year, during my Assessment Day, students from the Class of 2018 shared with me their excitement about Innovation Week. I followed their blog and achievements, so impressed with the impact they made on in-hospital patient care in seven short days.

It is our turn now!

This year we take on the 2019 UEFA Innovation Challenge built by IMD, ECAL, and ThinkSport. UEFA is looking for new ways to take football fan engagement to the next level, through enhanced festival/host city experiences, during matches, and beyond, with a special focus on fans with additional needs. The winning idea will be incorporated into the concept of UEFA EURO and implemented during the 2024 tournament.

We know that the fan is the true, beating heart of football. This week we do a deep dive into the fan journey, existing pain points, identify the unsaid, unmet needs, and then brainstorm our way through structured sessions after which we will (*fingers crossed*) land on our novel idea of choice and bring it to life.

IMG_9355.jpgIn-class discussions with Professor Cyril Bouquet before embarking on our innovation adventure

A special part of this journey is that each IMD team is paired with a design student from ECAL’s graduate program. It will be interesting to see our worlds of management and design intermingle. While it may seem that we have differing vantage points, and sometimes we do, both disciplines require plenty of resilience and creativity, qualities we will be banking on to do well this week. I expect that we will push more, and take more risks than we are accustomed to.

IMG_9363.jpgImprov Dinner on Day 1
d67c7825-b75f-47e9-9954-f39bb0165ab2.JPGResearch visits; the sunshine and Swiss scenery are a fun bonus!
de6e88af-fa88-4d48-b444-7cbe5a156177.JPGMore research trips!
a1fe3271-c31b-4645-b9fa-c6189ba83c68.JPGThe research doesn’t really end 🙂
IMG_9376.JPGDiscussing initial learnings and insights over cocktails and a delicious Hungarian dinner

The experience has been quite a whirlwind so far, especially since my football experience is limited to FIFA World Cups and one live match where Spain played Philadelphia (a “friendly” match). Still, a couple of days in, and after many conversations with my football-savvy teammates and the enthusiastic fans we met this morning, I understand the sport better. Following the intensive discussion and study, I expect many light bulbs to switch on tomorrow!

Time to get some shut eye. Sleep, apparently, is conducive to creative thinking 🙂

Surbhi

Everything Is Going To Be Fine

It is one thing to write about transformation. It is a completely different keg of wasps to experience it.

March is here. Temperatures have risen but the forecast says a spell of cold rain is headed our way. I hope not! As we proceed into what legend says the most intense month of the IMD MBA program, we need sunshine to keep our spirits and Vitamin D levels up.

Last week we had a guest speaker session in our Operations class with Erik Winberg, Vice President of Strategic Planning at Tetra Pak. We spent the day learning about Tetra Pak’s Digitally-Enabled Supply Chain transformation project. It stemmed from visible unmet needs in a demanding market. As the team designed and implemented their strategy, they had to overcome challenges to achieve a strong, reliable, and effective structure. We discussed Industry 4.0 and how digital tools can be applied to the supply chain, and the dynamic and critical nature of operations became all too clear. This is reflected in the process we’re going through at IMD, through supply chain simulations and peer CV reviews. In iterative motions, we’re learning, improving, and accepting the discomfort that precedes a better version of ourselves.

thumbnail (1)Erik Winberg and Professor Seifert in discussion with IMD MBA students on digital transformation in the corporate world

If inner transformation is difficult then it is good that we begin work with our Personal Development Elective (PDE) analysts in the coming days. The PDE optional stream is one of the reasons IMD was my school of choice for an MBA program. Of course, I wanted to develop an understanding of the subjects that make up business fundamentals. But all programs offer this at the very least. PDE work stems from the idea that while managing a challenging course load and life transition, students would (and should) have dedicated time for individual reflection with a qualified professional. We may all have different pain points and issues to work on, but the goal is common, to get comfortable with ourselves, and thrive while we are at it.

During the Leadership Experiential almost a month ago (has it really been that long?!) I said “Everything is going to be fine” to my start-up group each time a new challenge arose. We had a good laugh and the line stuck. Yesterday, in the dungeons, I was not smiling as much as I usually do, preoccupied with swirling thoughts of assignments and my python-like to-do list. My teammate and fellow blogger, Lukasz @lukaszkaczynski13, took a second out of his workload and said, “Surbhi! Everything is going to be fine!”

I certainly hope so, for all of us 🙂

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”