We are done with our startup presentations and deliverables!
What a whirlwind it has been for all of us! From sustainable footwear to reframing early-stage education, from innovative crop development to customized orthopedic liners, we’ve seen it all over the last four months. With a single mission on our minds; bringing these novel ideas to consumers.
By challenging market segmentation, conducting customer deep dives, and engaging in debates over value propositions, we have moved the needle for these fledgling companies. I know my team has been so vested in the product and concept, it will be a challenge to move on to the upcoming adventures on our agendas. Or perhaps we’re a bit nostalgic since we bonded, and will now need to recalibrate within a new team and create new friendships and memories. Nevertheless, massive congratulations to my peers on achieving this milestone.
And we are not to fear any lack of intellectual challenge … before we know it, we will be in the thick of Innovation Week! But let’s save that for another post.
Onward to a well-earned break. Wishing everyone at IMD Business School and all blog readers a restful and fun Easter! Soak in some sunshine 🙂
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…
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.
In 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.
Paris 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.
“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 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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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!
This week was different from the very beginning. It actually started on Sunday afternoon, when the Magic90 reached IMD’s doors to get to know what was awaiting us in the first Leadership experimental – the first of the many elements of the IMD MBA leadership stream – the heart and the backbone of our MBA journey.
It all began so innocently. We met our coaches, got to know the initial exercise and were sent to the dungeons (study rooms!) to start discussions within our six-person study groups. Plain and simple. The magic happened later…
In the evening we lowered our masks and hung up our personas to share a few pages from the books of our lives. Going home few hours later, we knew each other better than we would have thought the day before. And that was just the start, a prelude to the following days. Tired, thankful and excited we were looking forward to the experience.
The next days were full of activities in the beautiful (yet cold 🙂 ) Swiss mountains. Physical and mental challenges to solve, discussions to be held, feedbacks to give and receive. However, that was only the surface, something that a cameraman would record in a documentary movie summarizing ‘student adventures’. The true story lies deeper, invisible to the naked eye.
Emotions. We experienced a lot of them. Positive and negative, mild and extreme. Excitement, passion, frustration, sadness, you name it. We lived through them together and individually. Although uncomfortable at times, they let us be even more who we really are.
Discovery. What is critical is that we have not stopped at living our emotions. It was a challenging learning experience about recognizing and analysing what happens to us, to the others and why, when working together on a joint task. How do we react to certain behaviours? How do our actions influence others? What is the impact of emotions and feelings for the effectiveness of a team?
As an example, I remember the discussions we had while analysing the challenges we solved vs. those we did not manage to cope with. One of the learnings was the importance of communication, giving each other enough space to share ideas and identify the talents and knowledge some of us had that were highly relevant for a given task. Sounds simple, does it not? But so often people think they ‘know better’ instead of listening to others…
Irrespective of how trivial it sounds, we realized and felt how critical the human, soft factor is in everything we do. And that is something you cannot learn in a class. You need to experience it.
Today’s business environment is a world of teams. We may have the brightest minds and most creative ideas in an organization but it will not take us far if we don’t manage to collaborate with and lead others. This week we made a few additional steps to better understand who we are and how we can effectively interact with others. Self-awareness and leadership – two simple words. Mastering them is a difficult and long path, but the award awaits those who dare to walk it persistently.
The award of truly connecting to inspiring and fascinating people that we onboard onto this journey. Financial and business success will be just by-products.
With warmest thoughts to my team: Anya, Kerry, Surbhi, Mischa and Tiziano.