When all you want is “nothing”

my tryst with minimalism

One of our MBA partners this year, Swati Dalal, shares her impressions of Lausanne and new opportunities.

 

Last year, I came across a beautiful article on minimalism, in which the author eloquently explained how her family had taken a conscious call to follow a minimalistic lifestyle to unclutter their lives. The article really struck a chord with me. It was like looking into the mirror.

More clothes than we can wear, more food than we can eat, more work than we can do, more friends than we can love – maximum life (or minimum) in maximum city. While excessive consumerism has become synonymous with well-being, you don’t need an understanding of welfare economics or Pareto’s principle to comprehend that socio-economic divide is at the helm of most (if not all) conflicts in the world. We love blaming the politicians, the corporate houses, even God, while we hide behind an occasional visit to the orphanage.

I would be a hypocrite to say that I am any different. While the article made me ruminate on my lifestyle, I did not find it very practical. To me, it was an American thought propagated by an Instagram mom. It was her “thing”. Good on Facebook, not so much in real life, at least not in my life.

However, sometimes the Universe knows what’s best for you. A month back, we moved to Lausanne – a new life, limited means. It is incredible how much our context defines our lifestyle. With no family, no jobs and no friends, we had no context in Lausanne to influence our choices. We were “nobodies” and trust me, at times, that’s the best thing that can happen to you!

As we went about laying our new life, I knew it was time for me to embrace what I had been wanting all along. It was my chance at having “less” and living “more”. For the first time in my life, I started differentiating between need and want. And it was not just me!! As I got to know the city of Lausanne, I was overwhelmed by its efforts to reduce improvidence.

This was in complete contrast to my perception of the western world (defined by Hollywood, books, sitcoms etc.). No QSR outlets choking the streets, no big malls luring customers, no under-construction multi-storey buildings, no neon signs glaring in your face. Lakes, parks, walking and cycling tracks, quiet restaurants, antique boutiques. A walk down the lane and you would know that this town is not looking to BUY, not looking to SELL. More people on walk-ways than in the supermarkets, more people in the community centre than in H&M. You already know what the city stands for, and if you don’t, then try recycling! This town does not believe in wastefulness.

I was amazed to see that a city that has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, houses people that consider it a personal responsibility to allocate trash in eight (or maybe more) categories for recycling! From house sizes to recreational activities to food choices, the austerity is evident.

I came across people who make soap at home to protect the environment from harmful chemicals, and those who would feed only whole grains to birds at the lake (no white bread please!). I had never come across this level of social consciousness and it was overwhelming.

Needless to say that the goodness rubbed off, not just on me, but on my daughter as well. From having a room full of toys, she came down to a couple of dolls. And, from having a huge wardrobe, I came down to a couple of sweaters. The change had a purging effect. It was incredible how little we had to choose between, and how much time and energy that saved. I discovered recipes that she enjoyed, and she made paintings, which I put on the wall. We cooked, played, walked, trekked, and we did not need anything to do anything.

Just a couple of days before we left to return to India, we went to a shop which had some toys. As my daughter had not bought a single toy in three weeks, I thought of treating her with something small. I asked her what she wanted to buy, she just looked at me and said “Mom, I don’t want anything. I have toys at home.”

Swati

P.S- We are back in Mumbai and trying hard to keep up with our new lifestyle!

 

 

Inspired and Humbled

While the first week was an awakening of sorts, the second week focused on the high level themes of the program- Digital, Global and Entrepreneurial.

The Entrepreneurship module started with a lecture on defining value in a business but the highlight was the introduction to the protagonist of our first case study- Robert Keane, CEO and founder of Cimpress N.V.. Extraordinary resilience and an incredible ability to change and adapt defined his story and it was enthralling to listen to it live in the class!! We were also introduced to the various factors affecting project success in a simulated game environment. It was a lot of fun collaborating with differing views and scarce resources to drive business value in a project.

Then we explored how digital has started defining winners and losers in today’s dynamic world. We learnt that using digital tools to define and execute business strategy has helped not only businesses but political players around the world. And we learnt that its not about the disruptor but always about the disruption and the need to stay agile and flexible to capitalize on opportunities.

From a global perspective we learnt about how some countries are defying expectations and contributing more to the growth of the world’s economy. From a leadership angle, we learnt about what was needed to become a successful leader in these emerging markets. We also took advantage to learn from the diversity of the class when we were introduced to the politics, economy and culture of 43 different nations in the Life before Microsoft presentation, something that has become a tradition at IMD.

Of all these amazing experiences, one thing stood out the most for me. We started the week with an inspiring story on how to lead in turbulent times by Dr. Tawfik Jelassi. And this summed up my decision to come to a business school and that is to meet incredible leaders and be inspired.

Having been through the turbulence of the Arab spring myself, it was no surprise that I connected instantly with Dr. Tawfik Jelassi’s incredible story. What at first seemed like a normal class on leadership quickly turned out to be a real face-to-face encounter with someone who has the resilience, tenacity and determination to not bend to the odds and still achieve results that were beyond any expectations. Listening to his life experiences was humbling and our own professional hardships were tiny specks compared to the gargantuan effort on his part to lead through those turbulent times.

How does then someone lead in an explosive, polarized, irrational and adversarial world? The takeaway offered by Dr. Jelassi was that emotional resilience is the key. And having the leadership team as your secure base is crucial. The hard choices that you will have to make then are backed up by the leadership team and this allows you to go beyond the unexpected and sometimes the seemingly impossible, even in the face of opposition. When everything is going against you, it’s crucial to stick to your beliefs, trust your instincts and stand by your values. Thank you Dr. Jelassi for this important lesson. We hope we have the chance to apply these lessons successfully.

Parth Reddy

Linkedin

Featured image: Life Before Microsoft at IMD

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Where dreams meet reality

My name is Joyce Tsuchiya, from Brazil. I’m an ophthalmologist by training and I practiced for six years as a cataract surgeon and cornea specialist before deciding to pursue a career change. I come to IMD for a new challenge, big emotions and self development.

WhatsApp Image 2018-01-14 at 20.20.32 photo taken by my colleague Rodrigo Freire

 

Dreams are where we all started, high expectations and lots of hope. We arrived at IMD’s campus all keen on meeting each other, learning and eager for the new experiences to come. We had been listening for quite a while on how IMD’s program is comprehensive, and how it approaches business education from a holistic perspective. We heard about the experienced professors from whom we were going to learn and all the important people we would get to meet. But then, our dreams met reality, and we got hit head front by the first week of IMD’s insane schedule. By the 4th day I was already sleep deprived and started to question my sanity when I decided to pursue such program. It was a hectic, exhausting and an emotional week, and IMD was not about to let it end without a grand finale.

For the 5th day of our journey, we had two off-campus visits on our program, we were supposed to go to Genéve in order to visit EPFL’s (École Politechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) campus biotech and the CERN (read Martina’s post about that part of the visit here). Campus biotech is one of those places science folks dream about. – It is home to the Wyss Center and the Blue Brain Project.

The Blue Brain project is a brain mapping effort, its goal is to create a biologically detailed digital reconstruction of the rodent brain. But you could also call it ‘the perfect marriage between business and research’. BBP develops cutting edge research supported by a professional operation. The project management office controls and facilitates initiatives, in a methodology based on agile and waterfall. Every project must have a science lead, an engineering lead and a project manager.

In such environment, the most audacious ideas flourish. For instance, the e-dura, a flexible implant that can be used for many things, among them bridging a damaged spinal cord and the brain through a computerized interface, therefore restoring walking capability  to paralyzed patients. Or the neurohabilitation treatment that helps stroke patients recover movements. And a project very close to my heart, a retina implant based on tiny photovoltaic cells (20.000 of them!) that restore eyesight to blind people.

EPFL campus biotech is where dreams meet reality, where science meets business. A place where research is professionally managed and organized so that scientists get to build on each other’s work and all of this allows researchers to deliver actionable knowledge and give back to society. Thank you IMD, for taking us there and for showing us how business can be a powerful transformative force.

– Joyce

LinkedIn

 

And the mountains beckoned

We have often heard the question: beach or mountains? There is a scientific study which claims a link between personality and geography. Extroverts have a higher affinity towards beaches while introverts prefer mountains. While I like mountains and other wild landscapes, it is only an ocean which has always beckoned me with a magnetic pull to walk deeper and deeper into its beauty. That said, I’ve a strong inkling that the next ten months in such proximity to snow-capped peaks at a lakeside may alter my preference; though hopefully not my personality! Continue reading “And the mountains beckoned”

Japan: Between Tradition and Innovation

Every Discovery Expedition combines stays within both a developing country and a developed one. The China expedition was therefore followed by a visit to Japan, providing a very contrasting experience.

After landing in Osaka, the group headed to Kyoto, where Tomo Noda, founder of the Institute for Strategic Leadership and active member of Keiza Doyukai (Japan’s Association of Corporate Executives, tasked with revitalizing the economy of various regions in the country), introduced us to local company executives as well as Keiro Kitagami,  Japanese politician within the current opposition party and member of the House of Representatives in the Diet. In addition, visits to historical businesses and cultural sites in the area were arranged.

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The tight schedule for a stay in Kyoto of only 2.5 days was expertly managed by Miko Ozawa, who displayed a level of perfection in her organization that was second to none. From the maps with handwritten notes and highlighted locations handed out to each one of us at the start of a day, down to the Pasmo smart cards for public transports charged with the required amount for all trips during the stay, the dietary requirements verified weeks prior to our arrival in Japan and communicated in advance to all the restaurants we went to – in short: whatever you could possibly think of, Miko had thought about it long ago and down to a level of details that surpassed everyone’s expectations. Less than an hour after meeting her, one of us claimed: “this is going to be the best-organized trip I have ever been on.”

Miko – in many ways – embodies the Japanese values we witnessed again and again during our various interactions with locals. Even in seemingly mundane regularities of daily life, the attention to details, the rigor and absolute dedication to one’s tasks is so prevalent that small gestures such as the refined way shopkeepers hand out the change are opportunities to smile with admiration.

From a business perspective, it was greatly enriching to see how century old companies, such as the tea company Fukujuen, founded in 1790, and the textile company Hosoo founded in 1688, managed to continuously adapt to changing times while staying true to their origins. In the case of Hosoo, this constant balance between innovation and tradition allowed the company to shift from its original focus on producing superior quality garments for kimonos worn by the nobles of Kyoto’s Imperial Courts and the samurai class, to becoming a producer of fabrics for high-end interior and fashion designers such as Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Bulgari and many others. Hosoo reacted to a declining demand for traditional clothing – driven by multiple factors such as Japan’s changing demographics – by exploring new opportunities in which its famous textiles could be applied.

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In our discussions with Masao Hosoo, President of Hosoo and 9th generation of the family running the business, great emphasis was also put on the importance of continuity (according to him, a 300-year-old company is “not that old in the eyes of a Japanese”) and the will to perpetuate the craft, so that people around the world keep  benefiting from the results of traditional production methods such as the three dimensional weaving technique or the special yarn dyeing art of Nishijin.

All business owners and managers we encountered in Kyoto genuinely believed that their mission was – first and foremost – the preservation of ancient traditional arts and values, with financial rationales dictated by NPVs and other metrics only coming in second; business owners acting as guardians of traditional culture and collective identity.

Interestingly, the balance between tradition and innovation permeates all layers of Kyoto’s society and can also be witnessed outside of the family owned businesses. All it takes is a quick stroll through Arashiyama’s Bamboo Forest in the Western part of the city, where encounters with women in traditional kimonos playing on their smartphones are numerous.

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Despite its constant attention on innovation with one of the world’s highest R&D expenditures (both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of GDP), Japan is a country facing multiple challenges: extreme demographic shifts are affecting the entire societal framework, deflation remains an uncured chronic illness, government debt is equivalent to over 250 percent of the country’s GDP in 2016, and Japan’s defense budget has been underfunded for decades, forcing the country to largely rely on the US to counterbalance the growing military strength of China.

Where can Japan find a lasting economic growth that Shinzo Abe is so desperate to bring back?

Or could this entire obsession for growth, largely promoted by economists, industry, and government, in spite of the expected population decrease, be entirely wrong?

What if Japan, with its developed society and aging population, needs a different model?

And while those questions remain unanswered, fuelling a certain kind of anxiety as to what the future may hold for members of Japan’s lost generations, I have come to realise that there are only very few things in life more soothing to the restless mind than an early morning walk through the countless gates – donated by Japanese businesses – of Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine.

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Lucien

On their way home

The first of the groups have arrived back in Switzerland and the other two won’t be far behind.

Tomorrow they will all be back in class, sharing their diverse experiences, learnings and impressions. I’m sure they’ll have some great stories to share and that the presentations will be interesting.

However, for now I leave you with the last photos sent by Sophie from San Francisco.

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Suzy