P3 is here! My takeaways from INSEAD so far.
Time has flown by, and I suddenly realized it’s almost the end of P3. After going through half of the MBA, I think I am ready to share some thoughts on what INSEAD has given to me and how it has changed my world outlook =). I’ll be writing about my personal experiences, as every student’s takeaways are probably different. I also know that people react negatively to overly generic statements like “the MBA expanded my career opportunities” and everyone waits for personalized revelations. So here you go! The points below aren’t prioritized BTW =).
1. Increased awareness in terms of professional development and future career. A lot of students come to INSEAD in search of a career change – be it function, industry or geography. Some strive to change all the three dimensions. Others push even further to find a job that they will like so much that they will be ready to do it for free. When I was writing my applications, I didn’t expect myself to end up with a very drastic career change; I was OK with a geographical relocation plus a relatively small functional uplift. However, the closer the start of P1 was, the clearer it was to me that I needed to dig deeper into what I had achieved in the past and what I wanted to achieve in the future.
As a result, in my first few months at INSEAD I talked to people from tons of different industries, professions, countries and cultures, attended numerous trainings and counseling sessions, company presentations and even interviews – including those that seemed to be a bad idea right from the start. And a totally new world opened to me! All of a sudden, I started to consider multiple new scenarios for my professional development and approached my search more efficiently . But most importantly, all this work initiated a deep internal process of revisiting my own values, strengths, motivations, stereotypes, psychological biases as well as other career-related factors. It turned out that the habit of stepping out of the comfort zone one gets at INSEAD, helped me understand and accept a lot of things that were completely out of focus for me during my 6 years of work experience. This turned out to be the biggest challenge, after which I could draw conclusions relatively easy and make a plan for the future. This is a very exciting experience – like fireworks inside =). As if someone was blocking you from success, and now you’re finally set free =). I am not sure if I could have achieved this outside of a business school in a context where one isn’t really pushed to think in this direction. I am truly happy this happened to me.
Talking about examples, I realized the importance of quality teamwork for myself. INSEAD’s course Market Driving Strategies helped a great deal in this, as I could see in practice what wonderful results a team of highly talented individuals can achieve if properly motivated. Interestingly, before INSEAD I had always believed myself to be an individualist and perceived teamwork as part of corporate politics rather than a real need, but my INSEAD experience managed to reverse my opinion. I realized that I am truly energized and fulfilled when working in an effective team, so I put it on my checklist for the next job to come. Another revelation has been uncovering leadership skills and understanding what related qualities I should develop in the future. A great learning came from overcoming a fear of either being with “too intelligent” or “too stupid” partners/team members. During my professional life, I had always tried to partner with people I perceived as “equal” on many dimensions, whereas at INSEAD I learned that there are no “gods” or “losers”, there’s only a broken perception lens that turns out to be a major road blocker when it comes to one’s professional development. This brings me to the next point.
2. Expansion of horizons and giving up predefined perception patterns. When a wide variety of professions, hobbies, tastes, personal qualities becomes your everyday reality at INSEAD, you inevitably get used to NOT see patterns or putting labels. In “real” life, a person subconsciously chooses people for his/her network based on shared values and perception. At INSEAD you learn to deal with a very heterogeneous environment, and your success is defined by whether you’re able to let go of your stereotypes and let new things become part of your world outlook. INSEAD teaches you to make a periodic system upgrade =). It turns out that even seemingly insignificant fixed ideas about anything can be quite dangerous. If one has some predefined ideas that, for example, all consultants are smart or that global recession has made it impossible to find a job in Europe – one is doomed to be constantly influenced by these ideas, and they will end up shaping one’s reality, be it personal or professional life. INSEAD’s environment teaches you to perceive people and things outside of biases and stereotypes. After that you’re much more eager to connect with people from other cultures and become much more flexible in working with, say, Korean engineers, French financial investors or Filipino pop stars =). Personally, I have always been a great fan of clichés and labels, so this learning has been truly beneficial for me, though, I’d say I am still halfway through =).
3. Getting acquainted with roughly 80 different nationalities and cultures and integration into a world community. INSEAD has done a great job advertising its unique value proposition of being an international MBA program. So when you start your studies, you somehow take it for granted. I have always perceived myself as an open and culturally aware person. However, after 2-3 months I realized how much I learnt in terms of how people interact, work and make choices in different cultures. This multicultural environment also helped me rediscover my true “Russian soul”, and I discovered a lot on what people think about my culture and how I can position myself in the world’s professional community. I discovered a lot of deeply held beliefs and patterns that influence my class participation, group work, job search, and now I am trying to implement these learnings by deliberately playing with those qualities depending on my ultimate goals and circumstances. By the way, a great deal of help in this direction has come from a course on Strategies in Asia Pacific, highly recommended =).
3. For many of us, business school becomes a very strong tool to boost self-confidence. When you’re successful in your career and life in general it’s quite easy to be confident. However, when you’re surrounded by 500 people who have specially been selected into a rigorous program, the situation becomes quite different. This is particularly true in P1-2, when people are very keen on grades and reputation among peers. INSEAD sets the bar very high, but your classmates push it even higher! So one of the first psychological traps is the necessity to meet the expectations of others. A very serious role in this process is played by INSEAD’s grading system which is forced to correspond to a normal distribution, where someone will inevitably be “average”, or, even worse, “to the left of the mean”. In my view, this is a very good training aimed at challenging people’s true values, ability to listen to one’s own intuition and heart, not follow the crowd and have a personal opinion on things. At the same time – being able to defend this position when others disagree and you aren’t quite sure either, being brilliant at a spontaneous presentation you haven’t prepared for and not freaking out and end up saying stupid things in front of a large audience. All these are indispensable qualities, not only professionally, but also personally.
4. Of course, learning a ton of information on basic business fields like marketing, strategy, operations, finance etc. is also a great value I got from INSEAD. My main takeaway here was my sudden discovered passion for problem solving. It all started in the Strategy course in P2 when I was spending hours passionately discussing various companies’ strategies and was asking myself why I hadn’t noticed this earlier! I remember one night when I had just finalized a group assignment for one of the classes, I couldn’t get to sleep as that process brought me a lot of energy! I think I could go on evaluating strategic options till morning =). At the verge of 30, it’s always pleasant to discover something new about oneself! In P4 I am taking 4 courses in Strategy – something I hadn’t expected myself to be doing at all.
5. A very important skill I learnt in business school is finding a structured way to analyze things. Honestly, I have always been quite weak at structure. I used to know the right answer to most questions at the level of intuition, but would always jump to conclusions too quickly. As a result, I would always end up with one variation of the right answer, but not with the answer itself. My emotional nature and excessively ornate rhetoric made it even worse, so I have always been challenged at analysis and delivery of information in a structured way. After 5 months at INSEAD, I can confidently say that people who take studies seriously can progress a lot. You learn to break down problems into meaningful pieces and work with separate issues at a time. After 10-15 cases, you can automatically see the main issue and tackle it with good quality. You apply different approaches and frameworks, and at some point these come to surface on their own. I have recently received feedback from a very respected classmate saying that I am good at numbers. This was very unexpected and nice to hear, especially because I had always regarded this to be my greatest challenge. By the way, being able to give and receive constructive feedback is also part of the business school environment. I don’t think studying is going to be an easy task for people who want to spend their time “quietly” and without making enough effort to overcome personal challenges.
Boosted analytical skills lead to sometimes unexpected results when you suddenly become very assertive about any information you receive. You literally become a computer that puts on a red flag once it identifies a data inconsistency. At some point you begin to notice inconsistencies everywhere and to question all the data you see – be it in real life conversations, on the internet or in the Financial Times =). I think these qualities make one stand out in the real world, as soon as one realizes how few people actually do these exercises on a daily basis.
So these are my personal takeaways from INSEAD so far. I tried to uncover what most alumni mean when they say: “Business school has changed my life”. I think though, that they underestimate their own role in this process, as in my opinion it’s ultimately up to you how much you get out of it. I am not saying that this cannot be learnt outside business school, but no one really knows how long this process takes once you are living your ordinary life and aren’t pushed to specifically think about these things.