neil-beardenThe students in my P4 elective, Management Decision Making (MDM), are currently working on their final group projects. As I’ve written on here before, the assignment is simply this: “Do anything you want as long as it helps yourself, your classmates, and perhaps even people outside of the course better remember the course material.”

In the past week, I’ve attended an MDM theme party at a rooftop pool in a luxurious Singapore condo – where people were walking around quoting Wittgenstein, George Soros, Harry Frankfurt, and Confucius. The party served as the launch of a new online dictionary: neilicationary.com.

I’ve attended the filming of a game show in which an Italian Darth Vader played an intergalactic version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, and in which Slavoj Zizek’s descendant was the host. I’ve played the role of a consulting interviewer in a student film — I was the founder of McBearden Consulting. Students have been leaving secret messages in bathroom stalls. (Long story.) It’s been basically a normal week at INSEAD – more or less.

One group used sticky notes to create ambiguous images that can be viewed either as a duck or a rabbit — but not as both at the same time – on the windows of the first three floors of the front the Singapore campus. The course point is that our representations of the world are often highly contingent and arbitrary: sometimes we see a duck while others legitimately see a rabbit. (That sounds a bit cryptic here, I know, and perhaps even a bit postmodern. In the context of the course, the point is quite clear and sensible, I believe.) This group filmed people’s reactions to their art, and then explained to them the significance of the duck-rabbit idea to interpersonal relations.

Here’s a picture I shot with my phone:

On a related theme, another group created stereogram posters, and had an exhibition on campus. They handed out very professional mini-versions of the posters. On the back these there were nice clear explanations of some important course concepts. Here’s one of their posters (i.e., the front side):

*Once you see it, it’s amazing! Try hard.

This morning the INSEAD coffee bar has been serving drinks in mugs that were designed by one group. The mugs have different messages that can serve to remind people of one of the most important lessons from the course: to reflect before passing judgment. That’s an idea that cannot, I believe, be stressed too much — in business and in life.

Another group created a website to help you make better decisions using random images. (You have to try this one out to really appreciate what it’s about.)

Neo from The Matrix also made an appearance in the last class. His group handed out “red pills” that people could use to help see the world more clearly (the course is largely about how our psychological prejudices often give rise to mis-representations of reality). They also provided everyone with a mind map that summarizes the symptoms of “being an ignorant human being” and some treatments (and possible side effects). The professional quality of it was very impressive — I think the pill container and mind map should be sold in stores!

On stage during the last session of the the course, my girlfriend and I watched TV, while throughout I (or, rather, Ned) gave commentary on what we watched — all the comments were linked to psychological traps and so on. (It wasn’t really us: it was two students (both male) playing us (very well!).)

Again, the objective of the projects is to help the students better remember the course material (say 10 years from now).

I’m humbled by the effort and creativity that the students put into these projects. I suspect that what actually happens at business school – or at least at INSEAD – would surprise many people. Besides options pricing and discounted cash flows, we also engage in a bit of philosophy and art. And we have a lot of fun doing so. INSEAD really is a special place.