Module 1: Three Months, Three Life Lessons

ecef6521-0386-4d8f-b5c8-e86f5adbb87b.JPGPost-exam Lausanne exploration 🙂

Exams are done! And we have recovered (somewhat).

Tomorrow my group presents our startup project, and so we wrap up the first module.

It has been three months, full of highs, some lows, lots of laughs, and more late-night, caffeine-fueled, impassioned discussions in the dungeons that I would like to admit. And we are just getting started.

Here are 3 learnings from Module 1 that will stay with me in the days to come…

  1. You can never know everything: I can safely say that the majority of our class has had at least one “deer in the headlights” moment. It is particularly uncomfortable when you are used to overcoming hurdles and enjoying success and find yourself thinking “huh” in class as brand new content whizzes past you on a daily basis. This is when you need your peers. And the acceptance that you won’t learn it all, but you will learn how to prioritize and fill knowledge gaps effectively, a skill that allows you to focus on your contribution to the team.
cb002555-5c0a-4335-b8ba-c1167a0bed72In life, as in ping pong, a good team has your back

2. Conflict, not such a bad thing: Culturally, we grow up with the idea that conflict may be considered rude. It leads to tension and friction. But, you put 90 high achievers into groups of six for three months and then how can conflict can be avoided? My team, fortunately, is almost always on board with each other. But we have had our not so congenial days as well. I think we are better for it, mostly because conflict presents us with a fork in the road; how will you move beyond disagreement? Our reptilian brains tell us to defend our turf, that it is personal when it often is not. But we have a choice in our reactions. Are they helpful? Necessary? True? Not always possible to follow, especially after consecutive hours of clicking away on laptops, the next test only a Canvas update away, but a good aspiration nonetheless.

PHOTO-2019-04-11-20-28-45.jpgParis at twilight, by Shriekanth

3. On occasion, leave the bubble: After exams, many left Lausanne for the weekend, or at least the dungeons. Some further out in Europe, others within Switzerland. I jumped on a train to Florence and hung out with a visiting friend from home. Over delectable pizza and while strolling through the Uffizi, I was reminded of a life beyond the MBA, and that it would be a mistake to focus so much on the minutiae that I forget the context of the world that IMD is preparing me for. Work hard, and walk away sometimes. Find those roses or tulips. Perspective never smelt sweeter.

The Uffizi’s Leonardo da Vinci exhibit displayed the Adoration of the Magi, mostly still in sketch state. This unfinished piece, infused with talent, is considered a worthy piece from the master, the center of a famous museum exhibit.

During and after the MBA program we will remain in sketch state, works in progress. As our experiences compound, the lines become clearer and the colors better defined, but never entirely done.

And that is the beauty, is it not?

We are incomplete, a long road lies ahead, and we are yet masterpieces.

Leonardo da Vinci, Adorazione dei Magi 1482 c.

“The recently restored Adoration of the Magi, commissioned by the Augustinians for their Church of San Donato a Scopeto and left unfinished when Leonardo had to move to Milan in 1482. Yet it is this very state that allows to follow Leonardo’s mind’s creative processes, in all his sketches, ideas, second thoughts and reconsiderations.” – Uffizi Museum, Florence, Italy

International Women’s Assessment Day

International Women’s Day last Friday is hopefully indicative of a world that is ready to accept and adapt to ensure there are more women leaders in business and society. Not only will this deliver positive performance outcomes, it just doesn’t makes sense to do anything less than be fully inclusive.

But while this day sends out a clear signal, to really encourage a genuine future impact on society, education needs to play a key role. Here, we want to play our part in creating a future where equality and diversity is the norm.  The IMD MBA, with our successful history of delivering Leadership Development in an extremely collaborative and diverse program, has set ambitious goals with regard to gender balance. We seek parity. We think we can get there because our class, being one section with such a high faculty to student ratio, creates a powerful and supportive community. A great context: participants know one another well, respect and trust is high, and support is endless.

This year we have partnered with the Forté Foundation for women and added new scholarships specifically targeting female applicants. In honour of the International Women’s Day, we also hosted our first exclusive women’s MBA assessment day on Friday. Experienced women, from different countries, with diverse professional backgrounds, spent the day on the IMD campus meeting the admissions team, faculty and some members of the class of 2019, sampling class and, importantly, participating in our assessment routines. As I said to them, they would not have been invited to campus if we had any doubts about their ability to get through the course. The point of our assessments is not to test basic ability but rather to test for fit and help us identify who will thrive in our special environment. It isn’t for everyone. They should be testing us as much as we are testing them. 

It was a pleasure to spend a little time with such highly motivated and talented people. We wish them, and all women with the ambition to lead, the courage and determination to persevere. We are committed to working with them all to pave the way to a more balanced future.  

Professor Seán Meehan, Dean of MBA Program

The changing place of International Women’s Day in the modern world

I was honored when the MBA office invited me to write a blog entry for International Women’s Day. Despite how far we’ve come in the last several decades, in both my work and personal life, I still see the many (many) ways in which women across the world are fighting for equal opportunities to be heard, acknowledged, and recognized as equal contributors to society.

However, in the last few years, I’ve started to question the importance that International Women’s Day, and other women-specific initiatives, continue to hold in society – especially for the next generation of women leaders.

As a professor of leadership, I regularly hold special gatherings or topical sessions for the women in the class (who are, more often than not, the minorities in the room). Five-plus years ago, these were always extremely popular and well attended. But in the last few years, a couple things happened.

  • First, more women expressed dissatisfaction at being part of such special programs – they felt that they were unnecessary, unproductive, and even, reverse discriminatory.
  • Second, more men requested to join these programs. I always allowed men to join and was initially delighted about their enthusiasm to be part of the conversation. But each time, having a mixed-sex group changed both the focus of the conversation and tenor of the sessions (even in sessions on women’s leadership, more often than not, the men ended up being the ones who talked more than the women).

I’m not sure to what these changes can be attributed. Perhaps it is the move to recognize more than two genders in society, and the accompanying attitude that people should be recognized for who they are rather than what gender they are. Perhaps it is the fear of being labeled as a “feminist” and the sometimes negative connotations that go with the label (e.g., that you prioritize women’s issues over other important issues of human rights). Perhaps it is a natural change across generations to see themselves as distinct from the needs and wants of the generations that precede them. Or maybe it is the new trend for more male-championed equality initiatives in organizations (e.g., see the latest women’s leadership program at the oil company, Chevon, which is led by the male, not female, leaders in the organization).

I’m also not quite certain how I feel about these changes. On one hand, I still see the huge distance that women across the world need to come in order to take their rightful place in society (e.g., as of 2016, only 14 of the 350 largest publicly-traded companies in Europe (the “S&P 350”) have female CEOs and according to UNESCO, worldwide, there are 4 million fewer boys than girls who are out of school before the end of primary school). But on the other hand, I also see the dangers of recognizing women as separate and unique from other genders and seeing their aim for equality as something that they are solely responsible for initiating. I also see the many ways in which men are discriminated against. Maybe not when it comes to getting to the top of the corporate ladder. But certainly in how they get to the top or in wanting something besides the corporate ladder to strive for; throughout the world, we still want our men to be strong, traditionally successful, and several pieces of research show us that we are far more likely to accept the arrogant man than we are to accept the vulnerable man.

Thus, if we have an International Women’s Day, should we also have an International Men’s Day?

But at the risk of seeming like a classic Generation Xer, I am still proud and delighted to see an International Women’s Day – and to see that IMD is taking a strong stand in recognizing it and supporting women to overcome barriers to leadership – both visible and invisible.

I come from three generations of strong women. My grandmother did not get an education past 13-years-old,and yet managed to ensure that her daughter went to university and then law school. And my mother struggled to be seen as legitimate in her profession as a lawyer in the mid-1970s US. I am extremely proud of the struggles that women have gone through to get where we are today, and think that these should be loudly celebrated. I am also aware of the journey left to go. In this push for continued change, I am open and curious to see how International Women’s Day will transform (and be transformed) in the years to come.

Professor Jennifer Jordan

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

The comfort zone ends here

Being one half of two isn’t always easy. Sometimes it requires making huge sacrifices we aren’t always ready to make. That time came for me last June when we found out my husband had been accepted to IMD’s program. At the time we were living a dream life in Perth Australia. 265 sunny days a year, 7 gorgeous beaches within a 10 minutes drive, a fantastic job, incredible friends… it was pretty much the life I’d always hoped I’d live. Now I had to leave it.

Externally, I wanted to support his dreams, after all we were in paradise because he allowed me to chase mine, so how could I not support his? Internally, I was struggling to find a way to accept the impending move. I’d never moved to somewhere I hadn’t personally pursued. I had a million questions I couldn’t answer and that both terrified and excited me.

What I will say about a move this big, is that culture shock… she’s real. For me, it reared its head not long after my husband began school. I found myself alone in this strange suspended state of fear. I became afraid to go out because I didn’t know the language, afraid of not fitting in and offending the local Swiss, afraid of getting lost, of trying new things, of venturing out alone. This baffled me because I’d traveled hundreds of times on my own and I always loved it, but this time felt so different. I thought I’d have more time with my husband, but he became involved with a huge workload from the beginning. I didn’t know anyone here adding to the feeling of loneliness and isolation, and I hadn’t the faintest clue how to help myself out of it.

Thankfully the school has a partner program, and this became a light in the dark. It became a way to get out of the apartment I’d sought shelter in, and it forced me to meet men and women who were in similar situations.

The program held a few classes for the partners after their MBA program began, and through one class I learned about culture shock. Sure, I’d heard about culture shock before, but It never occurred to me It might be the answer to what I was experiencing. I learned not only were my emotions normal, but I wasn’t the only one going through them! Many of the partners were experiencing the same emotional roller coaster I was. This crazy common denominator became the very bridge that helped us through this time and brought us together.

I went home feeling like I had opened the closet doors I’d been afraid to look in, and befriended the boogie man inside. The fear I felt finally loosened its grip on me. I slowly became ok speaking my flawed french to others, I was trying, and most importantly I began to relax, enjoying the newfound time I had.

I won’t say that I don’t still struggle from time to time, because I have my moments, and I won’t say that it’s been comfortable because it hasn’t, but it gets easier. Now I’m no longer afraid, and I’m out enjoying the things that Switzerland has to offer! In the last two weeks alone I’ve had fondue in an igloo, I’ve skied one of the best mountains in the world, and I’ve picnicked by a beautiful lake after touring a castle.

I look back to this time last year and ask myself the question, If I knew then what I know now, would I still have pushed my husband to follow his dream and come to IMD? Yes, because his dreams are just as important as mine, and being able to support that means everything.

Every day here feels easier, and lessons get learnt. It’s such a different style of life to what we left, but that doesn’t make it any less wonderful. It’s an experience that I’ll look back on and be glad I took. It’s taken courage and tenacity to push through the initial settling period but I wouldn’t change a thing, and already feel stronger because of it.

Maddie Genest, 2019 MBA Partner

Diversity: the art of thinking independently together!

Leadership, Experience and Intensity are some of the words people relate with IMD MBA. Over a month ago, I started my IMD journey expecting a lot of academic rigor, a vastly diverse group of colleagues and world class faculty. However, within 8 weeks, I have come to realize that IMD is not just any school, this is a unique experience that will test and impact every aspect of your personality.

A lot has happened in the last 8 weeks. From Risk models and Cartel Pricing to Snow excursions and Leadership camps, we are being exposed a host of different experiences. Add to this the start up projects, study groups, assignments and essays, and the plate looks quite full, if not brimming. But this is not all. Not even close.

What makes IMD a truly transforming experience is the systematic way in which the course intends to bring behavioral changes in candidates. A key lever to this is diversity within the class. Probably the most “glorified” word in the corporate world in recent times, we all know how organizations are trying to leverage diversity to foster creativity and growth. IMD is doing this and something more. It is harnessing diversity to create world class leaders.

The 2019 IMD MBA scholarship winners

90 people, 39 nationalities. Add to this the differences in age, experience, industries and educational background, and you know it’s a riot of flavors (or maybe just a riot!). But at IMD, diversity is not a poster boy. It is a strategic tool to test and transform personalities. As fancy as it sounds on paper, the fact is that most managers don’t know how to deal with diversity, let alone embrace or harness it. At IMD, candidates are being taught to develop this skill by what I call an EPIC strategy.

It starts with cranking up the pressure levels in a highly diverse environment, which Exposes all aspects of one’s personality. To ensure that you don’t miss on any fault lines, feedback sessions and coach interventions are strategically placed to drive the point home. Following the exposure, comes the Planning phase. Equipped with the knowledge of your blind spots and a better understanding of your unconscious behaviors, you are now required to put in place your own behavioral development plan. However, every good plan has to be put into effect and helping us in Implementation are our PDE analysts. Having deep understanding of subconscious driven behavioral patterns, they are our guides as we enter the realm of grey (matter). And finally, comes the Change of perspective and personality, enabling us to become a truly global leader.

As we embark upon this adventure, I feel exposed, but I also feel strong. I feel lost, but I also feel anchored. I know that with me in this journey are 89 others and they won’t let me fall. They will push me till I reach the finish line. And with them as my secure base, I feel ready to change, more than ever before!

Swati Dalal

IMD – Dream for many, reality for 90 per year!

IMD’s MBA Assessment Challenge, Mumbai – May 2018

After submitting my application on 31st March 2018, all I did for the next 26 days was refresh my inbox. On 26th April, I entered an elevator with one of my colleagues. Mobile networks in India rarely work in elevators but that day was different. I read the most awaited email and had to hide my emotions when I saw that I had been accepted for the assessment challenge!

So as anyone would do, I kept reading the email multiple times to live the moment. It didn’t even take a day for a new WhatsApp group to connect most of the candidates. Everyone was proposing a thesis about how IMD was going to make the selection.

On 14th May we received the schedule and pointers about the process. One thing was clear: it was going to be creative and innovative. A day before the assessment challenge there was an alumni panel discussion/networking cocktail. The venue was amazing – 34th Floor, Trident, Mumbai. We all arrived early and started connecting with each other.

The AdCom members, Paola and Jennifer, greeted us and gave us our nametags. Prof. Sean Meehan introduced eight alumni who gave interesting and informative presentations depicting their IMD journey and post IMD career. During the cocktail, interacting with the alumni, I noticed that a few common traits were humility, empathy, and clarity of thought. And we were all impressed that the AdCom members knew everything about us. It takes a lot to know 60 candidates in detail. These things reassured me about my choice of B-School.

The Assessment Day

I could not sleep well. Who can sleep well after meeting 60 brilliant candidates and knowing that only a few would make it to the Magic 90? The facilitator of the assessment started with a snapshot of the day so we all understood what was expected of us. We were clubbed in 9 different teams. I had an amazing team – One Entrepreneur, One Consultant, One NGO activist, and one IT professional. We all thought that this was going to be a walk in the park with our diverse team. But the problem started in first few minutes. All of us had different backgrounds and hence different ways of approaching the same issues. So we stopped and set some ground rules. There were many stages of the assessment day and huge amount of learning involved at each stage. We were so engrossed in the discussion that we totally forgot about the other teams or the jurors. By lunch, we had all become good friends and started knowing the strength areas of each other. Together we were able to finish the assignment in time and we were happy with the results.

The hectic day ended suddenly and none of us wanted to leave. Even now, we are all still in contact. I can assure you that all 56 of us were winners. It must have been tough for the Admission Committee to select just a few of us from that pool.

The Result

I did not have to wait for long. Within 24 hours of the assessment I got a call from +41 number. I could not receive the call as I was in a meeting… I called back and the number was unreachable… I was extremely nervous! After half an hour, my mobile flashed +41 number again. This time I picked it up in seconds. It was Paola, IMD MBA Recruitment and Admissions Manager. She asked for my feedback about the process. She gave a detailed feedback about how I performed. Then within a fraction of a second she said, “We are offering you a seat at IMD”. I could not believe it. I started crying (yes, I literally cried!) I got admitted to the only B-school that I applied for.

The journey at IMD has started now. IMD has exceeded my expectations on all fronts.

All the best in your endeavors!

Vivekanand Pandey, Indian, MBA 2019