Our series of summer postcards continues!
Our series of summer postcards continues!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Suffice to say we are feeling quite chuffed. Time to browse United’s movie selection. Onward to Shenzhen.
Madiba had foreseen, perhaps, that those who aspire to shape the world need a reminder, that in the pursuit of intellectual and economic success, we should take our hearts along for the ride.
After Module 1’s rigorous training on frameworks and discounted cash flows, I daresay we felt pretty good about our knowledge on the essential MBA toolkit. But is there value in using tools without a burning mission, or a vision that sees beyond profit?
Enter Professor Knut Haanaes, Professor of Strategy at IMD and Dean of the Global Leadership Institute at the World Economic Forum (WEF). Since the first lecture of our Business and Society course, Professor Knut asked us to evaluate cases and ideas through three lenses; systemic change, corporate contribution, and individual responsibility. With this in mind, we dived into the tough conversations about maintaining performance while protecting the environment, ending inequality, and driving accountability for ethical behavior. For me, the striking thing is that despite our cultural and personality differences, and even if we disagree on how to proceed, as a class we have been united in our concern for society at large, and are seeking ways to make a fast and effective impact.
“Magic 90” with Professor Knut Haanaes at the World Economic Forum
A fresh perspective on vision and intent: Stories are incredibly powerful in their ability to change minds. We benefited from many through a range of guest speakers during the course. Our session on the WWF goals reminded us how much in peril our natural world is. Yves Daccord, Director-General of the Red Cross (ICRC) wowed us with his adventures and learnings in overwhelmingly high-stress and often unfamiliar situations. He is one of our most memorable speakers in the program thus far, and believe me, the bar is set high. He achieved this without slides, his stories so visceral and relatable that we hung onto every word. Our President at IMD, Professor Jean-Francois Manzoni, also did a session with us on navigating corporate culture and even redefining it as we progress in our careers.
Challenging companies to do better: This is where it gets trickier. During a class discussion on palm oil, the narrative drove me to question consumer choices. Do we really need palm oil to be in everything? Can we be weaned off of it? Do the orangutans really need to die because we like Nutella on toast? And the corporate argument against ending palm oil use is that livelihoods of farmers are then being taken away. The “aha” moment here is that even if my heart is in the right place, my mind needs to have a business plan. It is more convincing to show that we can transition farmers to other crops such that a manufacturer can still realize profits, just in a new and different, perhaps even more lucrative way, without causing harm to the planet.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDG): SDGs are a call to action, comprising of 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for completion in the year 2030. Professor Knut assigned each group to a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). For each SDG we needed to state the current status, challenges, and the role of business in generating solutions. My team worked on SDG 3, Good health and well being, with a focus on Mental Health in the Workplace. Presentations were conducted yesterday, the last day of the course.
We began early with the sunrise to drive over to Geneva. We met with Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of WEF who reminded us that the future will not just be hinging on technology, but also on talent and trust. Furthermore, he urged us to pursue our goals using brain, soul, heart, muscle, and nerves, all our faculties, to make the best decisions for all stakeholders.
After a fascinating afternoon at the United Nations, we arrived at the SDG space. While listening to my peers’ presentations, I realized these issues aren’t unsolvable. As consultants, bankers, and executives, problem-solving is part of our ammo. “Fix it! Create it! Figure a way around it!” The challenge is really the scale of the issues that plague sustainability. And they are of our own making, our miserable track record of individual focus and ignorance of widespread consequences.
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Nelson Mandela
Professor Knut asked us if we felt optimistic or pessimistic. When I think of the Great Pacific garbage patch or gender equality being 200 years away, my heart sinks. But my friend and colleague, Mirko, shared a message of hope as evening approached and it was time to head home to Lausanne: “I am more positive about the world’s outlook, because all of us in this room are leaders of tomorrow and this course showed us the importance and urgency to act and bring back the balance between profits society and the environment. My wish is that every one of us will take the big responsibility to take these learnings into the real world by adapting our lifestyles and leadership for a better future on our planet.”
Professor Klaus Schwab at the World Economic Forum
I remain an optimist, with good reason.
And I end this post with words of wisdom from Professor Knut. When I asked him about sustainable goal setting and his aspirations for our class, he shared the following …
“Good business is about balancing the short and long-term. If we take a long-term perspective it is clear that sustainability needs to be a top issue for all companies. If we take a short-term perspective, it may look less important, but only until you are attacked in social media. So today any smart company needs to address sustainability for the short and the long-term. That, to me, is great news!
The MBA class will be better leaders that we have seen thus far. In part, because the future will demand more leadership, even put a premium on it. And I think you have it in you. I know you will set higher targets on yourself than even I would have!”
The course has ended, but our contribution to the change has just begun. May we do good, and do well. May we find our greatest glory.
(special thanks to Olivier for the incredible photos!)
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!
With gratitude and pride to my fellow teammates: Alex, Cosima, Daniel, Mischa and Wasan – it would not be the same experience without you.
The parkour came to the end, the pitch day arrived. We headed to the UEFA Headquarters in the morning to present 18 unique and fantastic ideas to a jury conformed by @ECAL, @Thinksport, @UEFA and IMD experts. Six incredible ideas made it to the finals and just one got the final prize: autographed jerseys and exclusive tickets for UEFA tournaments.
Being outside the business environment and working with ECAL students gave us a different perspective on approaching problem solving. This week we proved that there is never one way to do things and making some room for innovation ignites fantastic results.
After working together for a week, Jawaher, our ECAL team member, observed: “you guys start thinking on the earth, we usually start from the clouds”. Design thinking and innovative ideas start there, happen up there. Experimenting and navigating them towards the ground makes those ideas tangible, transforming ideas into action. The end of the innovation week is here, today, where the clouds and the ground met.
I’m told it’s day 3 of Innovation week, however there are moments where I am not so sure! Today has been a whirlwind of discussion and activity as we ventured out of the traditional business school environment and into the tangible reality of innovation and design.
The challenge of taking the UEFA EURO Fan experience to the next level has been accepted enthusiastically by the class. Each of the 18 teams are now coming to terms with the obstacles that stand in the way of their ambitious design goals and there is a real buzz about the place…
Our new location for the next 2 days is the 3rd floor of the UniverCité Coworking design space, a short bus ride away from the centre of Lausanne. Large warehouse-like working areas make up the top floor of this industrial looking building and there is a somewhat controlled chaos of desks, flipcharts, start-ups and people strewn across any and all of the available space here. It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on, but something reassures you that, whatever it is, it’s pretty exciting and you should definitely be getting involved!
Coming from a start-up myself I was fairly confident that I would have something to bring to the table this week. I’ve dabbled in a bit of innovation here and there I thought and I’ve definitely been to enough football games in my time…
… turns out however, it’s a touch trickier than I had anticipated. Apparently there are a lot of really useful design principles and working methodologies (such as parkour) which have the added benefit of guiding you away from coming up with something that is designed entirely with yourself in mind. Who knew?
So, after a few soul searching moments where I tried to understand my own relevance in the world I awoke to the fact that my team were getting on with things and slowly but surely our idea was beginning to take shape. We are specifically putting the experience of families at the heart of our work for UEFA and after each carefully considered iteration you truly begin to appreciate the investment, dedication and team work required to bring about significant innovation…
As Philippe Starck once said “Getting to the heart of things, is never easy”, but hopefully 2 days is still enough time!
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.
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.
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 🙂